Last week, the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA) called for physiological and psychiatric evaluation of candidates contesting in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
The NMA, which is the professional union for medical doctors in the country, believes that medical tests of the candidates would provide a clear insight into the health condition of those aspiring to hold sensitive leadership positions in the country.
Its president, Dr Uche Ojinmah, said some of the tests that candidates should undergo to ascertain their state of health and fitness for office include simple medical check-ups such as chest X-ray, cardiac echocardiography, abdominal ultrasound scan, urinalysis, kidney function test, liver function test, blood pressure and blood glucose assessment among others.
“We also want them to undergo psychiatric evaluation. These shall exhaustively evaluate the people vying for the ultimate job in Nigeria,” he added.
Ojinmah argued that if any candidate had a mental problem or a neurological problem, or if any of his organs is damaged that may not be treatable, or he is psychiatrically unbalanced, the person should not be allowed to get into high office.
He added that if people applying for jobs in the public service, like medical director or chief medical director of hospitals, are made to undergo these tests, the same should apply to politicians contesting sensitive executive and legislative positions.
The call by the NMA for medical checks on the physiological and psychological conditions of candidates for public office is not a new one. Back in April this year, the director-general of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Brigadier General Buba Marwa (rtd), had stirred the hornets’ net when he advocated that candidates vying for political offices should be made to undergo drug integrity test.
The cacophony of voices that sneered at such a suggestion based their contestation on the point of law – that there was no legal provision for subjecting candidates to drug integrity test. Such rhetoric has also been directed at the recent call by the doctors’ union.
However, as a newspaper, we are not surprised that such calls have been coming up ahead of the 2023 polls due to the nation’s recent history. In this political dispensation, the health of the president, or otherwise, has impacted gravely on governance and political stability. The administration of the late President Umaru Yar’adua was abridged by his frail health and eventual death in circumstances that nearly put the country in a constitutional crisis of succession until the Senate wisely hatched out the doctrine of necessity that has now become part of our nation’s political lexicon.
As if that was not enough, the present president, Muhammadu Buhari, has spent a considerable chunk of his presidency looking after his health in foreign lands at huge cost to the nation in terms of governance and expense. At the last count, President Buhari had gone on medical tourism for about eight times, spending about one year of his eight-year tenure in hospital.
While a WHO report says that over 20 million have mental health issues, the medical director of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos State, Dr Olugbenga Owoeye, said studies had shown that one in every four Nigerians suffers one mental ill-health or another. That is about 50 or 60 million Nigerians! Whichever figure is true of the situation, it is grave enough and goes a long way to support the recent call by the NMA.
It is a fact that, for now, there is nothing in Nigeria’s laws that mandates political office holders to prove their mental and physical fitness. But legal or not, no sane nation would like to put the fate of millions of its citizens into the hands of medically unfit people.
In the United States of America from where Nigeria borrowed its democratic system, the Constitution allows members of a president’s cabinet or Congress to remove a president from office if he is mentally or physically unable to serve. In Nigeria, a person must not have been adjudged to be medically unfit to hold public office. But how does one prove it without a test? The person does not have to be raving mad before he can be passed mentally unfit.
As a newspaper, we wish to align with those who argue that if lower and mid-level public servants who implement policies handed down from above are made to undergo fitness tests before being hired, it should be the same for those making the policies.
It is from this standpoint that we urge the National Assembly to initiate a process of legislation that will provide for compulsory medical and drug integrity tests for all persons seeking to hold public office. The general behaviour of politicians and public servants in Nigeria especially the tendency to be corrupt is sufficient proof that something is wrong somewhere. The earlier the obvious anomaly is identified and rectified, the better for Nigerians as a people and the polity as a whole.