1914 to 2012: Nigeria And Her Predicaments

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Since flag independence in 1960, Nigerians have, for the most part, skirted the issue of nationhood: Is the amalgamation worth preserving? If so, under what economic and political arrangements; and what’s to be done to arrive at a more ideal union? These are some of the questions that have bedeviled the country. Afraid, unwilling or incapable of providing the answers, Nigeria have simply trudged along on shaky foot — oblivious of its surrounding and destination.

The origin of these questions can be traced to colonial-Britain’s expedient maneuvers of 1914. Even today, as we examine the shenanigans of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the predatory philosophy of the oligarchy, we see that they are related to these unresolved questions. We also see that the acquisition, maintenance and exercise of power, and the structure of Nigeria’s political infrastructure is flaming the bonfire. What should have been a simply constitutional question is turning out to be a messy quagmire.

In the absence of foul play, there is nothing unusual about a President dying in office. William Harrison was the first United States president to die while in office. The last was John F. Kennedy. In all, eight sitting US Presidents have died by way of illness, natural causes or assassination. Franklin D. Roosevelt for instance, died of cerebral hemorrhage. In the case of Nigeria, four chiefs of state have died in office: Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and J.T Aguiyi-Ironsi were both killed in 1966; Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in 1976; and Sani Abacha died under conditions that are yet to be well explained, in 1998.

Whether they were deposed, resigned, or assassinated, the rumor mills have always been rife with conjectures about the health and sanity of Nigerian leaders. President Yar’Adua is not an exception: Ever since he came to national prominence, there have been rumors about his health. Early in his national outing, he was flown to Germany for what was said to be catarrh related.

The reason given for his absence seem suspicious — especially since millions of Nigerians suffer from the same ailment on a yearly basis and which did not warrant hospital. The spuriousness of the official statement gave birth to rumor mills. Some speculated that the President had incurable cancer of the lung or liver (cirrhosis); while others hedged he had kidney and/or heart problems. Some even speculated the President had all four ailments and was therefore a few weeks, if not days, away from death.

Outside of the four-walls of his doctors’ office, and perhaps President Obasanjo’s mind and secret dossier, no one knew for sure what was wrong with him. What we knew for sure, was that the President had medical issues. This was the case until SaharaReporters boldly asserted that President Yar’Adua was suffering from Churg-Strauss Syndrome (CSS) — a condition not many have ever heard of. It wasn’t until November 19, 2009 that the Presidency released a statement announcing that: “Preliminary medical examinations suggested ACUTE PERICARDITIS (an inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart).”

Unfortunately, the President’s condition and the attendant deception have gone beyond political jest. It has become, or is becoming, a national crisis with global ramifications. Every Head of State/Head of Government, since General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, has found ways to create crisis. We had the Abiola/June 12 fiasco perpetrated by Babangida; there was the Sani Abacha Military-to-Civilian President drama, and the Olusegun Obasanjo Third Term distraction.

All the aforementioned, pales, in so many ways to the festering crisis — a crisis that has the wherewithal to undo Nigeria at the seams if it is not resolved and resolved on time. On the surface, what we see is a situation where a group of very powerful oligarchy is scheming to abridge the Constitution and the sensibility of the overwhelming number of Nigerians for their own political ambition. The imminent dangers of the continued political game have been enunciated by some public intellectuals, including Leonard K. Shilgba, Sonala Olumhense, Reuben Abati, Kay Soyemi, Aliyu Tilde, and Osita Mba.

Professor Leonard Karshima Shilgba’s treatise is especially profound. Amongst other points, he averred that: “…If a group of revolutionaries should strike, the blame should be laid at the door steps of the national assembly…No concerned revolutionaries would permit a preventable vacuum to the detriment of their nation…Nigeria is not the north; neither does the north hold the sole right to either violence or psychological scare. I speak as a northerner from Benue state…If any group or individual from the north or south makes the mistake of taking Dr. Jonathan out, it would be an incalculable error, whose consequences can only be imagined. The swirl of discontent only awaits a crack to break loose.”

Why, why would any one or any group of people hold Nigeria to ransom? Why would any group of people act as though their political ambition takes precedence over the national interest of Nigerians? Could it be that this president’s ambition and his worldview, and the worldview and ambition of those around him are such that they think very little of the country? What arrogance, what hubris. Something else, our collective silence says a lot about us: we are imprudent and we are cowards. We sit still while a group of people take us for fools.

Decision-makers, diplomats, political leaders, students and practitioners of international relations recognize the fact that domestic politics have a bearing on international politics. This crisis of governance and crisis of responsibility should not have arisen in the first place if Nigerian leaders and the ruling class truly love their country and have the decency and political sagacity to look beyond their self-interest.

Their actions and inaction not only make Nigeria look bad, it adds to her reputation as a nation incapable of elementary arithmetic. In the end, therefore, it speaks to our national culture and also speaks to the diminishing presidency of President Musa Yar’Adua. But in spite of this political and cultural untidiness, the international community believes fundamental changes can still take place — even if not under the current administration.

The immediate concern, as revealed by some diplomatic dispatches, is to see that the “current condition does not deteriorates.” Several world capitals have, in the last 8 days, sent urgent messages to the Presidency, advising “you must follow the dictates and requirements of your Constitution.” “No usurpation of the Constitution would be tolerated. And neither would military coup be welcomed.”

Sooner or later, death would come knocking. It will come to the farmer, the carpenter, the lawyer, to the governor and to the Pope. But somehow, Nigerian politicians delude themselves into thinking they would live for ever. In the case of President Yar’Adua — even as we wish him well and a very long, healthy and joyful life — one of three things is bound to happen: (a) fully regain his health; (b) partially regain his health and enjoy a subdued living; or (c) die from his ailment. But what if he dies? We would miss him, we will mourn his passing. But life must go on. Our nation’s life must go on.

Following the order of succession — and in order not to create leadership vacuum — the Vice

President must assume the presidency in the event of death, incapacitation or any other reasons prescribed by law. Simply put: Vice President Jonathan Ebele Goodluck is mandated by the Constitution to take over the reign of government. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution — Sections 143-146 — so affirmed.

What happens if the President dies? Constitutionally, Vice President Jonathan Goodluck takes over. But it is not as simple as that. Two questions follows: Is Nigeria ready for an Ijaw President; and more importantly, is the northern wing of the PDP ready to forgo their planned eight-years in office? But really, are these the types of questions we should worry ourselves with? The Nigerian Constitution supersedes any internal arrangement fashioned by the PDP. Zoning or no zoning, Nigerians and their constitution knows best.

Most commentators and observers (including this writer) have, in the past tended to underestimate the toughness, the shrewdness, the vision and the ability of the Vice President. Recent events have shown that this is a man made of the right stuff. Calm, and mild-mannered by disposition, he is not a push-over by any stretch of the imagination. And by all account, he is very loyal and trustworthy; yet, strong willed and exceptionally brilliant. In recent months, a clearer and more accurate picture of the Vice President is emerging: “He does not rock the boat in turbulent water…he is focused and determined to achieve common good and noble causes.”

All through his academic career, he was known as a man who considered others first before his own needs. Politically, he is a non-politician, non-political: A man who does not allows his political or personal ambition to get in the way of the peoples dreams and aspirations. If he’d been born, say, 30 years earlier, he most likely would have been one of our better nationalist. At the end of the ongoing national debate/crisis, he may yet be the last man standing, embraced by history and by posterity.

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