Umaru Yar'Adua & his Political Marabout- by Chido Onumah
By the time this piece is published, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would have been away from his job and out of the country for one month. As is the case
with many things Nigerian, we are gradually getting used to going on with our lives without a president. How long this will last is anybody's guess. For a secretive regime, it is instructive that the presidency volunteered the information that the president is suffering from acute pericarditis.
It points to the seriousness of the president's condition and the fact that the presidency knew this wasn't going to be a short trip. Last week, at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, minister of information, Dora Akunyuli, told an incredulous nation that the president was responding to treatment and urged Nigerians "not to be apprehensive" about the president's health. Like the prophetess that she is -- one who is more in touch with God than her sick boss a few hours flight away -- she stressed that “the FEC affirmed that God was answering the prayers of Nigerians on the health of President Yar'Adua.” Before Akunyuli, deputy senate president, Ike Ekwerenmadu, had upped the ante in garrulousness with his comments that the president could stay outside the country for a year and it wouldn't matter.
There have been other dim comments about the president's health, including that by the senate president, David Mark, calling for a week of nation-wide fasting and prayers. The president's adviser on legislative matters – the man who has the unenviable job of informing the National Assembly of the president's inability to perform his constitutional responsibilities – Mohammed Abba-Aji, has also alerted us to the fact that while he was governor of Katsina State, the president once stayed away from his job and outside the country for six months. The attorney general of the federation, the irreverent Michael Aondoakaa, capped a month of inanities from the presidency with his statement describing those who have urged the president to resign as ignorant.
According to Aondoakaa, "There is no evidence that he is not exercising his powers as president. He has his vice-president and his ministers whom he delegates power and functions to. The powers of the president are not exercised territorially. Yar'Adua can exercise his powers anywhere in the world, on the plane, at the meeting of the United Nations or even on his sick bed, as long as he is not incapacitated by the sickness.” For good measure, the attorney general noted that "The president can exercise his powers through the vice-president and ministers while on his sick bed and that is what he has been doing. For example, the Chief Justice of Nigeria wrote a letter to the president and copied me that he would be retiring on December 31, that the President of the Court of Appeal has just retired and that their replacements have not been screened by the Senate. I sent the letter to the principal secretary to the president who transmitted same to the president who approved it and sent it back to me.
" It is heartwarming to know that the presidency is actually functioning, even if it means working from a hospital room in a foreign country. Lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, has taken on Michael Aondoakaa, arguing that the loquacious attorney general "must be made to understand the fact that the nation's Constitution does not allow the president to govern from Saudi Arabia." Falana contends that the president's absence is affecting important state matter, including the implementation of the Niger Delta amnesty programme, the swearing in of the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who in turn is expected to swear Justice Ayo Salami as the new President of the Court of Appeal. While lawyers engage in their legalese, perhaps it is important to pose some commonsense questions. If the president is not incapacitated, why hasn't he spoken to Nigerians or members of the National Executive Council in almost a month? Why haven't Nigerians seen any pictures of President Yar'Adua in four weeks? Is there any particular reason Aondoakaa and the president's handlers are keeping him away from Nigerians other than the fact that he is incapacitated?
If the president is not incapacitated, why hasn't the vice-president, the man the constitution gives the power to stand in for him or replace him in the case of incapacitation or death, spoken with him or seen him since he left Nigeria? How convenient and what does it mean for our national security and pride (issues I am sure are not on top of the attorney general's list of concerns) to be flying, faxing or emailing letters and materials to a sick president in Saudi Arabia? Why can't the vice-president act on behalf of the president and deal with these issues in the spirit of Section 145 of the Nigerian constitution? What would happen if there was a sudden attack by neighbouring countries who obviously are watching the situation in Nigeria?
These are questions that ought to concern the president's men even as they entrench themselves in the absence of the president. It has been rumoured that the new chief justice will be flown to Saudi Arabia and sworn in at the Nigerian Embassy. It would be the height of the reckless impunity that is the hallmark of the Yar'Adua government, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility, even if, in the spirit of sustaining the current hoax, the chief justice would come nowhere near the president, but Nigerians would be given the impression that the swearing-in actually took place. The deception has taken root and the perpetrators have become so desperate and emboldened that they are willing to do anything to sustain it, including if possible, keeping the president out of his desk and out Nigeria for as long as they can. What they can't do, however, no matter how hard they try, is to keep Yar'Adua as the president of Nigeria beyond May 29, 2011. There is a bright side to the current charade and lies churned out daily by what is left of the presidency in Nigeria. If ever there was a time for a government of the people in Nigeria, the time is now! Since independence, Nigeria has not had the good fortune of electing a government that is responsive to the yearning and aspirations of citizens.
We have a golden opportunity to redress this national malady. The president's abandonment of the country he swore to serve and protect has created a new political order. Even a party like the PDP with its knack for self-destruction would find it difficult, if not impossible, to field Yar'Adua as a candidate in 2011. It is left for progressive forces who truly believe in Nigeria to unite and ensure that this fraud is not sustained beyond May 29, 2011. They owe it to the country, future generations and the 150 million people whose lives are currently on hold. It will take a lot of effort though because even as our prayer warriors are urging us to pray during the day for the president's quick recovery, they are holding nocturnal meetings in furtherance of their self-seeking agenda.
Onumah is coordinator, makeyourvotescount.org