The First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, yesterday, disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari, unknown to many people, suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years, following his involvement in Nigeria’s civil war without rehabilitation, his overthrow as military head of state, and subsequent detention for 40 months without being charged with any offence.
Aisha said Buhari’s loss of three consecutive elections further complicated the situation she was confronted with at 19, when she married him and, therefore, became the unintended physiotherapist for his recovery.
Speaking as special guest of honour at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Armed Forces Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Centre (AFPTSDC) initiated by the Mrs Lucky Irabor-led Defence and Police Officers’ Wives Association (DEPOWA), the first lady said she suffered the consequences of PSTD at an early stage in her marriage to the president. She chided politicians, who lost primary elections recently and had become almost inconsolable, with some making themselves unreachable by switching off their phones.
The first lady stated, “I want to thank DEPOWA for this foresighted vision of establishing a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Centre for our soldiers. Indeed, PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by terrifying events.
“It is a reality that soldiers and military families have to live with, despite its negative consequences. Being a soldier’s wife or a retired soldier’s wife and a wellness expert, I understand the challenges associated with PTSD and its impact on military families and the nation.
“My husband served the Nigerian Army for 27 years before he was overthrown in a coup d’état. He fought civil war for 30 months without rehabilitation; he ruled Nigeria for 20 months and was detained for 40 months without disclosing the nature of his offence.
“One year after he came out from detention, we were married, I clocked 19 years in his house as his wife, legitimately. I suffered the consequences of PTSD, because having gone through all these, and at the age of 19, to handle somebody, who was a former Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s Armed Forces, to tell him that he is wrong is the first mistake you will make.
“So, at the age of 19, I had to figure out how to tell somebody of his calibre that he was wrong or right and that was the beginning of my offence in his house, and contesting elections in 2003 and failed, 2007, failed and 2011, the same thing – all without rehabilitation – I became a physiotherapist.
“Finally, the whole nation rose against the misuse of power and bad governance. He only succeeded when it became a movement and here we are today. He ruled Nigeria before and he is ruling Nigeria now and this is the last time and final.
“Failing election for three times was a big blow to every contestant but those that have contested for just yesterday, a simple primary election, they are still living in a traumatic condition, I tried to console them, I tried to talk to them, some of them have switched off their phones up till today, just because of a primary election.
“You can imagine myself at 19 years, handling somebody that went to war, suffered coup d’état, then lost several elections, and, finally, getting to the Villa in the 2015. Also, for a woman to tell them that this is wrong or right in Nigeria and Africa is a problem.”
She commended the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces and their contributions to nation building, saying, “In that case, I want to use this opportunity to appreciate members of the Armed Forces of Nigeria for their sacrifices and contributions to nation building.
“The fallen Heroes remain evergreen in our minds and many with us are wounded physically and mentally. I want to appreciate their wives and families; I want to let them know that the whole nation is with them.”
Aisha stated that the PTSD centre was important to members of the armed forces and beyond, stressing that soldiers are the primary victims.
She said, “This centre is timely, as PTSD is a problem that really deserved solution of this nature, and providing facilities for treatment and rehabilitation of patients is key. Therefore, fund raising is not the solution, the solution is the federal government that sent them to war front to take responsibility in taking care of the mental health of returnees from war front. PTSD cuts across all ages.”
The president’s wife, then, halted the scheduled fund raising for the project and pledged that the presidency and the armed forces would take it over.
She stated, “I thank DEPOWA for this initiative and the military establishment for supporting them. I call on them to ensure that this centre provides quality and sustained care for soldiers that suffer from PTSD.
“It is the responsibility of the whole armed forces to extract from their budget and build this centre. Mrs Irabor, it is no longer your project; it is my project and the project of Mr. President, we are going to work round the clock to make sure that it is completed and commissioned before we leave office.”
President of DEPOWA, Mrs Vickie Irabor, said the centre was born out of compassion for families of soldiers and research conducted by the association.
According to her, “We have identified the extraordinary challenges being faced by officers and soldiers on the frontlines in securing our nation by fighting terrorism, banditry, and other societal ills. Some of these challenges range from physical injuries, mental health issues, and sometimes, sadly, paying the supreme price in the defence of our dear nation Nigeria.
“While we have hospitals to take care of physical injuries, we have realised that there is a huge gap in mental health responses globally, including Nigeria, especially, in the treatment, management, and rehabilitation of PTSD, faced by families in the armed forces.”
She stressed, “In response to these issues, DEPOWA, under my leadership, decided to pursue the implementation of a novel, first-of-its-kind, Legacy-based Armed Forces PTSD Centre. When completed, the centre will help evaluate, counsel, and provide adequate support to personnel and, by extension, their families before reintegration from conflict zones.
“It will also help to enhance national, regional, and global stability, as well as help, boost military capability to continue to deal with all forms of insecurity. I believe that establishing this facility will be a step in ensuring the stability of military families post-conflict engagements and encouragement to officers and soldiers that help is available should they need it after assignments. The facility will also serve as a repository for future research on mental health challenges in the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
The event was attended by former President of Malawi, Dr Joyce Banda; Vice President of Liberia, Dr Jewel Howard-Taylor; Member, UK House of Lords, Baroness Sandy Verma; Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum; Minister of Defence, Maj-Gen Bashir Magashi (rtd); Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Lucky Irabor; and the service chiefs.