What if Tinubu has Parkinson’s disease?

THE rumour is rife that the APC presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Several videos online captured his right hand shaking uncontrollably. On other occasions, he was assisted for balance by people nearby, or was found dozing off at public events. Yet nobody could speak with certainty, at least for now, that Asiwaju is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The candidate also has not disclosed information about his health condition. When The ICIR contacted his campaign organisation in August for confirmation, mum was the word.

The only hint about Tinubu’s medical condition probably was conveyed in Professor Wole Soyinka’s criticism of Emilokan’s song by the members of Pyrate Confraternity. The Professor of Literature, while condemning the song, alluded to a pan-African historian and writer, Cyril Lionel Robert James, who also was afflicted with PD before he died in 1989. According to Soyinka, the Trinidadian historian “suffered from Parkinson’s disease, but remained alert, lucid and combative for decades after the onset of the disease.”

That reference, some concluded,  was a dead giveaway. Soyinka unwittingly let the cat out of the bag.


Notwithstanding, researchers have linked hand tremors to Parkinson’s disease, though the incidence rates in Africa are lower than those reported for European and North American populations.

In a longitudinal study conducted by a University of Lagos Professor of Neurology,Okubadejo Njideka, and others, few genetic studies of PD have been reported from Africa and none in blacks. But that was a 2006 research.

In several studies published by The Lancet, an authoritative science journal,  PD is described as a brain disease that affects body function. In the early stage, the symptom is barely noticeable on one’s hand. Over time the condition worsens as the disease progresses. The main motor symptoms of PD, according to the studies, are tremors, stiffness and loss of balance or slow movement, while the non-motor symptoms include memory loss, daytime sleepiness, leaking of urine, constipation, depression, psychosis, fatigue and others. At some times, the speech also gets slurred. Those who have come close to Asiwaju confirmed that he exhibits some of those symptoms.

While visiting the Emir of Gombe palace last Saturday, BAT dozed off. At the Arewa Lecture in Kaduna last year, he also missed his steps and stumbled. And at the APC convention held at Eagle Square in Abuja, he staggered down the stairs while going to make his speech.

Research has confirmed that PD can be debilitating because there is no cure yet, but medications can significantly improve symptoms and the victims can live up to a ripe age while working.

For instance, C.L.R. James lived to the ripe age of 88 before he died of a chest infection. Muhammad Ali, the boxer, coped with shaking hands and poor balance since 1984 when doctors diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease. He lived for 32 more years before he died at the age of 74. Award-winning actor, Alan Alda, 86, announced in 2018 on CBS This Morning TV news show that he was diagnosed with PD. He tweeted four years ago “My life is full. I act, I give talks, [and] I do my podcast, which I love. If you get a diagnosis, keep moving!” Today, the old man is still alive and, perhaps, still juggling balls as he was found doing on Twitter years ago.

But none of these guys had sought to lead their country as president, like Mr. Tinubu does. And that is where the odds stack higher against the APC candidate. The man wants to superintend over a nation of 200 million populations for 1,461 days, starting from May 29 when he would be exactly 71 years two months old.

Assuming Asiwaju is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, how could the disease affect his presidency if elected in 2023?

The ICIR sought the opinions of neurologists in Nigeria and abroad through interviews and their published works. One of them is Onwuekwe Ikenna, a professor of Clinical Neurology and Internal Medicine in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ikenna stressed that Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurodegenerative disease noted for its clinical features of motor and non-motor nature, including cognitive impairment.

“There are other causes of parkinsonism other than Parkinson’s disease. Only a competent neurologist can make the distinction. But the clinical outcomes of Parkinson’s disease and other causes of parkinsonism are similar.”

He said because of the progressive neurodegenerative nature of Parkinson’s disease, it can be very disabling, and deter patients from performing day-to-day activities to the extent expected of a healthy person.

He explained, “Fatigue is very common in more than 80 per cent of cases and the motor and non-motors features may make it impossible to function physically and mentally over time. The medications only serve to retard progression and provide temporary symptom control. Their side effects can also be troublesome and difficult.

“Over time the individual with PD gets worse physically and mentally, despite medications. A few surgical procedures on the brain may eliminate tremors but the other features worsen down the road.

“PD patients in the early stages may be able to function to a restricted extent with adequate treatment, but the prognosis worsens over time. Such people are best advised to gradually reduce their undertaking physical and mental duties that they will have difficulty performing. Mistakes can be made in such duties with significant impact on the person or system, including serious and often fatal personal injuries as falls become more frequent over time.

    “So such patients are often advised to stay away from demanding jobs, especially a demanding job like the presidency. “PD reduces life expectancy and death comes earlier than expected from a variety of complications.”

    Ikenna, whose current research focuses on epilepsy and stroke, listed notable figures around the world who pulled back from public life due to Parkinsonism, such as  Michael J Fox, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Billy Graham, Linda Ronstadt and George W. Bush.

    “Fitness for Presidency should include having requisite good physical and mental health, in addition to other stated criteria. The job requires someone who is on the top of his or her game,” he concluded.

    What if the patient is newly diagnosed with PD? How much chance does the fellow have to beat the generation?  In their paper, Dino MuslimovićBart PostJohannes D. Speelman, and Ben Schmand provided an answer. They submitted that a patient newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is most likely to suffer memory loss as the person gets older.


    Ajibola Amzat, Managing Editor at The ICIR. He can be reached via [email protected]
    and @ajibolaamzat on Twitter.

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