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NIGERIA: Politics and the Curse of Old Age

The definition of old age depends on who you ask. At what age does a person stop getting older and actually become old? When does old age begin? Pew Research Center, a Washington DC-based fact tank put this old age question to 3,000 adults from 18-65. Old age begins at 68; under 30, old age begins at 60; Above 30 said before 60; as people age old age moves back; the older people get the longer they think it takes for a person to reach old age; under 30 and 49 think old age begins at 69; 50-64 believe old age starts at 72; 65 and older said old age begins at 74; On average women said old age begins at 70; men said 66.

The politics of the 4th republic is mimicking the politics of the second republic (1979-83). The 75-year-old Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) was the presidential candidate of the Nigeria’s Peoples Party (NPP). The Natioanal Party of Nigeria (NPN) said Zik did not pay his tax to which Zik famously replied "I paid my tax as and when due." NPN politicians of Igbo extraction started lampooning Zik as the grand old man; "Okenye nagwo ofe" (deceitful old man). Igbo cartoonists joked with his age and asked him to quit the stage. After the elections, Zik in his now famous treatise adroitly titled: "History will vindicate the just" angrily said:

"I am 78 years…God shall punish the wicked…those who are using the print and electronic media to make mockery of old age…they will not live to be old…they will die unwept and unsung . . . the futility of insulting old age…it is unAfrican and inhuman to make mockery of old age, because Africans and all human beings pray to God to prolong their life-span. Nevertheless, those Nigerian politicians who indulge in this abomination shall not live to be old…Amen! Amin! Ise! Ashe!"

Sooner than later the said politicians started dying one after the other. Whether the cause(s) of their deaths were due to Zik’s curse; jinx; evil spell; or just foredoom is conjectural but the deaths had an eerie proximity to Zik’s curse. Recently, Femi Fani-Kayode, Director of Media and Publicity of the Jonathan Presidential Campaign Organisation inferred that the 72-year-old Muhammadu Buhari is "mortally ill" from prostate cancer. Raising fears about the health of a man who could become president recalls the presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua who died in office in 2010 from a kidney- related ailment.

Fani-Kayode said ". . . to prove to the Nigerian people that he really is as ‘fit as a fiddle’… by taking a brisk walk or even jogging . . . before any of his rallies . . ." The Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose gave Buhari a presidential death-wish and employed the language of a guttersnipe in newspaper adverts to drag his gubernatorial office in Ekiti to the mud. U.S. President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, 17 days shy of his 70th birthday; China's Paramount Leader Hu Jintao was 66 while Japanese premier Taro Aso was 68. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left office at 76. South African President Jacob Zuma is 72. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is 90. Silvio Berlusconi, three-time Italian Prime Minister took office in 2008 at 72.

The comparison of Buhari’s health with the late president Yar’Adua is not tenable. Yar’Adua never really campaigned. At a PDP presidential rally at MKO Abiola stadium in Abeokuta (2007) outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo called PDP presidential candidate Yar’Adua over his cell-phone: "Umoru! Umoru!! Can you hear me?" Yar’Adua was in a German hospital. Even 88-year-old Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, did not show signs of senility or doddery when he hollered "Buhari is too old to be president". Buhari campaigns energetically in two separate rallies in different states a day standing erect like an old soldier.

The age of a man is not indicative of his health status; the fountain of youth is not predicated on good health. Buhari may even be healthier than some of his younger political opponents. Old age must not be trampled upon in whatever guise for the sake of votes. In Greek mythology, Geras was the god of old age. It was considered a virtue whereby the more gēras a man acquired, the more fame, excellence and courage he was considered to have. I hope that General Muhammadu Buhari will not acquire the gēras to imitate Zik by placing a "curse" on those "who shall not live to see old age".

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