If President Yar’Adua Dies

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

There is nothing unusual about presidents dying in office. William Harrison was the first US president to die in office. The last was John Kennedy. In all, there have been eight sitting Presidents who died by way of illness, natural cause or assassination. Franklin D. Roosevelt for instance died of cerebral hemorrhage. In Nigeria, four chiefs of state have died in office: Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa were both killed in 1966; Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in 1976; and Sani Abacha died under mysterious circumstances in June of 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. Yar’Adua is not an exception: there are lingering questions about his mental and physical state.

Ever since he came to national prominence, there have always been speculations about Yar’Adua’s health. In recent days, there has been news account of his being flown to Germany for medical treatment. No one knows for sure what the matter is, leading some to speculate he has incurable cancer of the lungs, disease of the liver (cirrhosis) or kidney problems. In the early days of his tenure, it was derisively said he was flown overseas to be treated for the common catarrh. Outside of the walls of the presidency and his doctors’ office, no one is sure of what ills the President; what’s for sure is that the President has had periodic health challenges. But what if he dies or become incapacitated by his health problems?

Following the order of succession — and in order not to create leadership vacuum — the Vice President takes over from the President 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 President’s responsibilities in case of foreseen or unforeseen situations. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution is very clear on such matters. Chapter V1 for instance states that:

Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President (145)

The Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason in accordance with section 143 of this Constitution (146).

In the later years of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, the President sidelined his Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. Whether the President was gravely ill or not, dying or not, on vacation or not, Abubakar Atiku’s role was reduced to that of a bench-warmer. The relationship between the two men was so bad that it reminded one of the Wars of the Roses. In the end though, both men self-destruct; and are likely to be severely condemned by history and posterity. From all indications, no such animosity exists between President Yar’Adua and V-President Jonathan. Both are opposites of their predecessors; and also seems to be pawns in a larger game of intermestic chess. Of the two, Jonathan is clearly the weakest and easily disposable. Today, he holds the office in name only. He wields no political power or has any type of influence and has no budgetary control of any sort.

The Vice President is not in charge of anything or anybody. He is like a trophy, seating in silence on the dusty shelf of the President’s underlings. Occasionally, he is allowed to make hollow pronouncements and attend worthless seminars. When President Yar’Adua is hale and hearty and alert, he “inquiries into this and that,” but otherwise, the real rulers of the country are a dozen or so men including Baba Gana Kingibe (Secretary to the Government); General Abdullahi Mohammed (Chief of Staff); General Abdullahi Sarki Muktar (National Security Adviser); General Luka Nyeh Yusuf (Chief of Army Staff); Mahmud Yayale Ahmed (Minister of Defense); and Shamsudeen Usman (Minister of Finance). Four other Northern State Governors are also said to be part of the oligarchy.

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 Northern Nigeria ready to forgo their planned eight-years in office? I do not foresee a time when a Northerner will not be either the president or vice president. This time around, the presidency, they believe, is theirs for keeps for eight years. With that in mind, here are the five likely scenarios should Yar’Adua becomes incapacitated or die:

  • Buhari “wins” at the Supreme Court, in which case a Northerner continues as the President;
  • After “due consultation,” Jonathan remains the VP, but a Northerner is brought in as the president;
  • Jonathan Goodluck ascends the presidency, but only ceremonially, a titular president, guided by a very powerful vice president;
  • Something untoward happens to Jonathan Goodluck that makes him wish he remained in Bayelsa State as the governor; or
  • A military coup d’etat takes place…

However, should any of the aforementioned conjectures come to life, the foundation and fragile unity of the country may be severely tested. First, it will embolden the Niger Deltans, especially the segment that favor secession, to make bold their demands for a separate nation-state. Secondly, it will provide an avenue for the Yoruba to boldly challenge Northern hegemony. Both groups have been in a relationship of convenience for more than fifty years. Thirdly, the Igbo are likely to split between ardent Biafrans and those who favor “one Nigeria.” Either way, there will be fire on the mountain, flood in the valley, and rumblings in the jungle.

Almost from the beginning of time, on the territorial space call Nigeria, was a band of roaming groups, kingdoms, emirates, empires, caliphates, and stand-alone groups. But without taking into consideration the vast differences in cosmology, mythology, religion, ethnicity, and the people’s aspirations, the British colonial administration created Nigeria in 1914. Independence followed in 1960. Then and now, there is no sense of nationhood or a sense of belonging. Therefore, a miscalculation on the part of the North, East or West may “correct the mistake of 1914.” May be not! No group in Nigeria, oligarchy or not, is ready to allow for fragmentation and disintegration. At least not when there is abundant oil in the Niger Delta, the same Niger Delta that is home to Jonathan Goodluck.

In so many ways, Musa Yar’Adua and Jonathan Goodluck are different. But somehow, in a twist of fate President Obasanjo brought them together and dumped them in the lion’s den. Both men are camera shy, lack charisma and have questionable vision of the future; both men would rather remain in the background, not to be heard and not to be seen; and both men had no presidential ambition. It could be argued that both men are made for the classroom or for farming and fishing; and both men are predisposed to be pushed around. Now that they’ve both been dropped off in Aso Rock, there must be days and nights — long days and long nights — when they are unable to sleep or think or drink or eat, cursing President Obasanjo for all the troubles he caused them.

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bimbo December 13, 2010 - 8:57 am

Pls is this Yemi Oyedele from Ipetumodu?

Unity C.Nwogu January 15, 2010 - 9:26 am

Welldone bros for this article. In any case,I do not wish Yaradua dead,rather let the will of Almighty God be done in his life.

However,if we must move foward in this country as one entity,people must stop being sentimental and tribalistic.

Oh God of creation!Direct our noble leaders.

atiku December 5, 2009 - 4:45 am

YarAdua should step down or atleast die to help nigeria move forward, he is making his condition worst by sitting there adding more thinking to his sickness,if he wAnts to live for more months before his death, he should atleast resign now, but if he wants to stay there bcuz the so called wife and those benefiting from him are advising him to stay so they could steal more, i pitty Yardua, abacha’s death will be much better than his in few days, oloshi ori ope YARADUA..

hally September 3, 2008 - 9:57 pm

speechless…i think there are a few people that need to be wiped out of the government….only then will Nigeria see progress…those few are just in thousands!!!!

Muyiwa Isaac April 29, 2008 - 4:04 am

Yes. I quite agree with you totally on this piece. My fear for Nigeria will be confirmed if anything happens to President Yar’Adua. But come to think of it, why did the man accept this offer from Baba Iyabo when he knew so well his health status? I really pity the man cause ruling Nigeria is one of the most difficult task anybody would wish. Only tough people with exceptionally good health can tackle the big bag of problem called Nigeria

Yemi Oyedele April 18, 2008 - 2:50 pm

This is a briliant and very insightful article that should get a lot of Nigerians, be you at home or in the diaspora thinking.

Firtst, pray that Yar’Adua lives, pray that the scenario that Sabella painted albeit vivdly but correctly never happens.

I am afraid for Nigeria and Nigerias but will never stop praying for her as a nation.

As long as the injustices to the Niger Delatans people continue, as long as seemingly stronghold on both political and military power remain the way it is, as long as almost all the major political offices and military strategic positions are filled by one part of the country especially the present political dispensation, as long as the part of the country that produces 99% of its wealth has nothing to show it, there will always be a call for the country to split up.

However, we have more to gain from our unity if properly managed than each region goin alone.

My fear is that what guarantee ior assurances are there for a separate Odua Republic without the Ijebus, the Ekitis, the Ijeshas asking for a separate countries or a Biafra Republic and aggiataion for a separate countries by all the ethnic groups that make up the Igboland, same argument for Arewa Republic with aggitation for separate countries by the fulani etc.

This is a fragile country but we all need one another.


ephraimadinlofu@hotmail.co.uk April 17, 2008 - 6:31 am

A guestimate but seemingly correct analysis. However, I believe that North or no North, Nigeria will sooner than later disintegrate into regional governance or outright independent states. There won’t be any fear of wars or trumpet of wars. It will happen so peacefully just as most of Eastern Europe/ Soveit Union have separated and are now at peace. I had suggested in my article “OPTIONS FOR NIGERIA’S POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT” in {NVS} and nigeriansinamerica of 17/03/08 that Nigeria cannot continue as it is now. It is a contraption {a molue},that isn’t working at all. Let us call a spade a spade and end the pretensions. So, whether Yaradua dies or lives and the North kills Jonathan or lives him, in a fake coup, the fact remains that “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression” ala Awolowo and “there is no basis for Nigeria’s unity” ala Yakubu Gowon.


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