Buhari’s mental health as a matter of public interest

— By Duncan Odey —

Some months ago, a group of American mental health professionals published a book: “27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”. It became an overnight bestseller, thus indicating that the book’s postulations resonated with the global public.

Even as the book used President Donald Trump as an illustration, I found that the key points enunciated in the book are germane to assessing the mental health of Nigeria’s President Buhari.

So, while anybody is free to disagree with the book’s postulations, most will agree that the mental health, like physical health, of public figures is a legitimate topic for public discussion. In medicine, mental impairment is considered as serious as physical impairment and it is just as debilitating and of equal impact on fitness for public office.

In the wake of the bloodletting that has become the hallmark of the Buhari presidency, it has become pertinent to put some of Buhari’s decisions within the purview of his mental fitness for office.

There are many examples, including but not limited to his abnormal silence on herdsmen terrorism, his violence towards IPOB and his general hatred of Igbos and people of South South, his violence towards Shites, his abnormal appointment of only Fulanis to sensitive offices, his extraordinary speech impairment, etc.

Past violence is the best predictor of future violence, and Buhari has shown: verbal aggressiveness, boasting about the atrocities of the civil war, inciting violence in others (baboons and dogs) and an attraction to violence. Specific traits that are highly associated with violence include: impulsivity, recklessness, paranoia, a loose grip on reality with a poor understanding of consequences, rage reactions, a lack of empathy, belligerence towards others and a constant need to demonstrate power.

This reminds one of the peace that reigned in the land while Buhari was away on medical leave, only for him to return and unleash violence in Igboland. Herdsmen terrorism also spiked once Buhari returned from the U.K. Why?

There is another pattern by which Buhari is dangerous. His cognitive function, or his ability to process knowledge and thoughts, has begun to be widely questioned. Many have noted a distinct decline in his outward ability to form complete sentences, to stay with a thought and to use complex words. This is dangerous because of the critical importance of decision-making capacity in the office that Buhari holds.

Cognitive decline can result from any number of causes – psychiatric, neurological, medical, or medication-induced – and therefore needs to be noted. It’s instructive that Buhari underwent a debilitating level of different medical procedures while he was in the U.K, and around then, it was reliably reported that he lost his cognitive abilities to the point that his handlers prevented his own wife from seeing him.

Indeed, at no other time in Nigerian history have people been so concerned about a sitting president’s dangerousness. This is not because Buhari is an unusual person – many of his symptoms are very common – but it is highly unusual to find a person with such signs of danger in the office of presidency of Nigeria.

The barrage of public criticisms of Buhari in recent times is worrisome for the effects it would have on the president’s stability. Given that Buhari has shown marked signs of psychological fragility under ordinary circumstances, barely able to cope with basic criticism or unflattering news, it’s highly likely that he would begin to unravel with the encroaching public criticisms especially in the sphere of social media that he is unable to gag.

And if his mental stability suffers further, then so would public safety and national security. A case in point is Buhari’s fast-paced building of an expensive railway link into a part of Niger Republic known to be a migratory route for herdsmen and ISIS terrorists.

It’s becoming evident that Buhari views violence as a solution when he is stressed and desires to assert his power. Paranoia and overwhelming feelings of weakness and inadequacy make violence very attractive, and lethal weapons very tempting to use. Again, Buhari’s orders to kill unarmed Shites and Igbos are indicative of the tendency towards using violence to mask mental degeneracy.

It does not take a mental health professional to see that a person of Buhari’s impairments, in the office of the presidency, is a danger to all Nigerians, except the few that personally benefit from his unusual decisions. What mental health experts can offer is affirmation that these signs are real, that they may be worse than the untrained person suspects, and that there are more productive ways of handling them than by deflection or denial.

One of such ways is for Nigerians to begin now to wax more vigilant to their personal and collective safety as a people while Buhari remains president.