Yar'Adua Preserves Ghanaian Democracy at the Expense of Nigeria's

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A Nigerian federal high court judge tonight (1/29/10) dismissed a plaint by some leading members of the country's bar association aimed at forcing ailing President Umaru Yar'Adua to hand over the reins of governance to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. In ruling against the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the judge, Mr. Dan Abutu, observed that “The failure [of Mr. Yar'Adua] to transmit a written notification to the [Nigerian] National Assembly before proceeding on vacation is not unconstitutional.”

Needless to say, nobody has ever accused Nigerian political culture of either being among the most democratic in the West African sub-region or of being necessarily one that is remarkably inflected with functional efficiency and democratic soundness. To be certain, Nigerian democracy is anything but democratic; and it is not even certain that there has ever existed, in reality, any organism or creature called “Nigerian Democracy.” What we have here, instead, is something that might aptly be characterized as the uneasy musical chairs of a political arrangement, whereby presidential power is alternated between the Hausa-Fulani-dominated northern-half of the country and the relatively far more fragmented and multiethnic south.

There is also this equally uneasy arrangement whereby executive power, precisely the presidency and the vice-presidency, are dialectically distributed geographically between the North and the South. And so, in essence, the kind of Third-Republican – Ghana is in its Fourth-Republican phase – political arrangement that passes for constitutional democracy in Nigeria may actually be best described as GEOGRAPHICAL DEMOCRACY.

As hinted above this system, which may be the most suitable for a country whose political climate more often than not verges on the outright chaotic (and here, the obvious allusion is to the Nigerian Civil War/Biafran War in which a reported five-million people lost their lives), has tended to favor the relatively more cohesive and homogeneous Northern Nigerians. For instance, while the Yoruba-descended President Olusegun Obasanjo maintained an Hausa-descended Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the dangerously tottering tenure of President Yar'Adua, another Hausa-Fulani-descended Nigerian citizen, on the other hand, has Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, an ethnic minority who hails from the riverine South-Central enclave of the country.

Going by the logic of a democratic culture being invariably carried by the majority, one would have expected the substantive Vice-President of Nigeria to have come from among the Ibo/Igbo majority in the eastern sector of the country. Fortunately though, for the most part the Ibo/Igbo, who have not been wholly satisfied with this bizarre regime of GEOGRAPHICAL DEMOCRACY, have admirably been acquiescent.

What appears to be complicating matters on the nascent Nigerian democratic front is something that, for want of any scientifically objective designation, might be aptly termed as the TEMPORAL EQUALITY OF REIGN/ENTHRONEMENT. And the definition of the foregoing is as simple as the following: and it is that since the Yoruba-descended President Obasanjo maintained constitutional residency at Aso Rock – the Nigerian presidential palace – for eight years, or two electoral terms – the staunch supporters and sympathizers of Mr. Yar'Adua appear determined to have their subject also maintain his official Abuja residence for at least four years and theoretically eight years, or about exactly the same duration that Mr. Obasanjo held court in Abuja.

Alas, the preceding, however, entails one significant problem: and it is the glaring fact of there being absolutely no guarantee, whatsoever, that the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) is set to retaining power at the next poll in a little under three years' time. And to be certain, the longer his supporters and sympathizers allow Mr. Yar'Adua's heart and kidney ailments to unnecessarily hold up the smooth governance of Africa's most populous nation, the more likely it is that angry voters are apt to remember this bizarre “Yar'Adua Syndrome” and cast their ballot accordingly. And if the latter happens and the winner from the largest parliamentary opposition party also turns out to be a southerner, then, as New Yorkers are wont to say, there well may be hell to pay.

Still, in the current Nigerian scheme of things, there appears to be no other feasible or constructive, alternative political arrangement which is apt to meet with national consensus.

Let me also take this opportunity to vehemently disagree with the ruling of Judge Dan Abutu, by observing that the mere fact of there not being any constitutional stipulation for President Yar'Adua not to absent himself from both the country and the very duties for which he was (presumably) elected and is being fully salaried without an expressly written notification to the Nigerian National Assembly, does not acquit or exculpate Mr. Yar'Adua from the legitimate charge of having illegally absented himself from work without permission or leave (AWOL).

Consequently, it is erroneous for anybody to describe Mr. Yar'Adua's unofficial two-month-plus sojourn in Saudi Arabia, as of this writing (1/29/10), as a “vacation.” And just what sort of president takes a two-month-plus leave from the business of the people barely one year into his premiership, and at such a critical and delicate juncture in the country's security and economic history?

Anyway, what piqued my interest vis-à-vis the foregoing, however, was an article captioned “Yar'Adua Prevented Kufuor from Rigging Polls,” which appeared in the Ghanaweb.com edition of August 2, 2009 and was sourced to Thisday, the controversial Nigerian newspaper. In the latter, longtime strongman and peremptory proprietor of Ghana's ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) is reported to be claiming that President Kufuor had, somehow, intended to rig the December 2008 presidential election in favor of Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Of course, no well-placed insider of the now-opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) believes this absolutely vacuous talk of Nana Akufo-Addo being the bona fide candidate of President John (Kofi Diawuo) Agyekum-Kufuor in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. One only needs to recall the original version of the National Honors List put forth by presidential lieutenant Kwadwo Impiani, in order to either confirm or contradict the preceding observation. It is also rather amusingly strange to hear a career coup-plotter and pathological political bully imperiously describe Messrs. Kufuor and Akufo-Addo as having been hell-bent on staging an “adventure” entailing massive “electoral fraud and theft in 2004.” Needless to say, the Mabey & Johnson epic pontine scam, criminally engineered by the Rawlings-led NDC, had not broken yet when Ghana's most infamous Robber Baron registered this absolutely baseless charge.

In the final analysis, what is of utmost interest here is the glaringly embarrassing fact that the man who purportedly, singularly guaranteed that the NPP would not rig the 2008 presidential election, does not seem to remarkably appreciate the simple fact of democracy functioning best when the collective, and morally greater, interests of the people are made super-ordinate or prioritized over and above the interests of a few individuals and their cronies. Among the Akan, there is a maxim which exhorts as follows: “Se Kwatrekwa Se Obema wo ntama a, tie ne din,” loosely translated as: “If Mr. Naked promises you a bolt of cloth, just listen to his name.”

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI), the pro-democracy think tank, and the author of 21 books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]


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