Nigeria and its hijackers

by Okey Ndibe

Nigeria is in danger of entering an unprecedented stage as a hijacked entity. In fact, the polity is in the throes of what ought to be called its proper name, a coup-in-progress. A small but desperate cabal is surreptitiously consolidating its illegitimate power grab.

Nigeria has been reduced to Umaru Yar’Adua’s private toy, a plaything reserved for the sole pleasure of the man and his cronies.

As I write, Mr. Yar’Adua (whose self-appellation as servant-leader has become the cruel joke it was designed to be) has been away from Nigeria for more than forty days. Apart from his wife, and a tiny circle of associates, few Nigerians can swear that they know for certain where Yar’Adua is. All we know for sure is that he’s not in Aso Rock, the official residence of the Nigerian president. Most Nigerians imagine, of course, that the man is in a hospital in Saudi Arabia – not because it’s proven fact, but it’s simply the official line. It’s impossible to vouch for any information that comes from a government that’s raised duplicity and deception to the level of art.

Forget, for a moment, that Yar’Adua’s “presidency” still reeks – despite the shameful verdict of the Supreme Court – of illegality. Worse, before our very eyes, a cabal hitched to Yar’Adua is usurping the sovereign will of Nigerians. That group is acting in the name of an enfeebled man who (at this writing) has absconded from his post.

Michael Aondoakaa, Yar’Adua’s Attorney General, may not be at the center of this usurpation, but he strikes me as chief coordinator of this orchestrated conquest of Nigeria. Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai – who’s perhaps the most ambitious “presidential” spouse in Nigeria’s history – appears to be the chief engineer.

It no longer startles Nigerians to hear it said that Aondoakaa is the worst attorney general in his country’s history. Nigeria has had some pretty unimpressive attorney generals, but Aondoakaa stands in a class all his own for mediocrity and crassness. Now he’s adding something even more dangerous and troubling to his resume: a facility for defending the degradation of the Nigerian constitution.

It is a constitutional anomaly when a man who presumes to be Nigeria’s president disappears indefinitely to a foreign address without handing over the instruments of governance. If an American president has to be sedated briefly for a medical procedure, he usually hands over to the vice president for as long as he is under sedation. The business of a nation-state demands adherence to such scrupulous standards. But this is not the case in Yar’Adua’s notion of statecraft. He and his handlers appear contemptuous of the idea that the nation’s interests are paramount. Here is a “president” who seeks, above all, to subordinate Nigeria’s interests to his desire for self-aggrandizement. That’s why he routinely bottles the “presidential” seal and steals away with it to any hospital he visits, usually for prolonged treatment.

If Yar’Adua doesn’t know better, it’s Aondoakaa’s job to tell him that it’s not permissible to proceed on open-ended medical trips without inviting his deputy to act in his absence. Yet, it’s either that Aondoakaa knows just as much as Yar’Adua does, which is little, or – scary as it is – knows even less than the man he’s supposed to be advising on legal and constitutional matters. That, or Aondoakaa’s personal interests are served by encouraging Yar’Adua to affect disdain for the Nigerian people and their constitution.

At any rate, when Nigerians began to bemoan the vacuum created by Yar’Adua’s absence (a vacuum, by the way, that is just as pronounced even when Yar’Adua is embedded in Abuja), Aondoakaa remained nonchalant. When he stirred at all, it was to tell Nigerians that Yar’Adua remained able to govern from any location in the world. That’s how little the attorney general thinks of governance; if it pleases Yar’Adua and his cohorts, he may govern from a hospital where, for all we know, he may be on life support.

Then, in a curious twist, the attorney general reportedly forwarded a letter to Goodluck Jonathan asking him to act as “president” under a rather shady, even illegal, arrangement. Several Nigerian newspapers reported that Jonathan suspected a nefarious plot, and refused to be entrapped.

It appeared that the concession that Jonathan rejected was necessitated by two looming crises. One had to do with the signing of N353.6 billion supplementary budget; the other with the swearing-in of Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Those who mistake Nigeria for Yar’Adua’s private possession soon discovered that they didn’t need to cede control to Jonathan, however briefly, in order to avert what appeared to be imminent constitutional perils.

In a stunning maneuver, the cabal that’s gradually perfecting its hijack of Nigeria caused it to be announced that Yar’Adua had “signed” the budget from his hospital bed. Pronto, one constitutional headache was erased by that signature stunt performed by a political magician who once threatened to thrash those doubting the vibrancy of his health in rounds of squash. In another act of dubiety, Yar’Adua’s resourceful cabal persuaded outgoing Chief Justice Legbo Kutigi to break with convention and swear in his successor.

Here, then, is how things stand. It’s looking good – very good, even if temporarily – for the cabal that’s bent on stealing and then ruining Nigeria. With the supplementary budget “signed,” they have secured the cash to operate as they wish – for the next two or three months. If anybody needs to be bought or intimidated, there’s the cash to do it. They have also established a precedent, namely, that future budgetary requests could be sent from Yar’Adua’s unknown hospital address and “signed” in the same manner, in perfect secrecy.

In effect, a physically and morally sickly Yar’Adua and his cartel have morphed into a foreign power, with Nigeria as their conquered outpost. No Nigerian need set eye on Yar’Adua any time soon; his inner circle has proven that the man can govern with the same effectiveness quotient as when the man was ensconced in Aso Rock. Since he has always been a disaster even when resident in Abuja, odds are that he would continue to rule with the same aptitude for ineptitude from his secret foreign fortress.

The new arrangement will permanently silence those (disgruntled) elements demanding that Yar’Adua pass the baton to Jonathan. Aondoakaa and his sponsors need never break a sweat from now on. Even if Yar’Adua becomes incapacitated, that fact would be conveniently withheld from Nigerians. He would continue to rule – that’s the operative word, rule – by the say-so of his trusted confidantes who best understand Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda and who know what’s good for the subjugated colony called Nigeria.

Given the new set-up, it would be possible, if not easy, for Yar’Adua to blitz the competition and win a second term without making one appearance at a campaign rally. All that’s needed to secure him a victory is to exercise his right, under his notorious electoral “deform” plan, to appoint the new chairman and commissioners of the electoral commission. Then the coast would be clear for staging another electoral “moon-slide.”

With the cloud hanging over Katsina-Alu’s investiture as chief justice, the Yar’Adua cabal may well have paved the way for the entrenchment of a sp

ineless judiciary, one willing to rubber stamp any electoral verdicts, however disreputable in the eyes of domestic and international observers.

It’s safe to say that Nigerians have never had it quite as bleak as under the Yar’Adua dispensation. Until now, we’ve had a succession of rotten rulers, but never one surrounded by a coterie of such primitive mindset, animated by a determination to hold on to power even from a hospital’s intensive care unit.

It’s heartening that many Nigerians are speaking up, and taking legal action, against this imposition. Yet, one worries that Nigerians are, on the whole, still far from recognizing the nature of the challenge before them. We are, it seems to me, witnesses to a coup-in-progress. The choice before Nigerians is a simple one: decide whether to let a small bunch complete its hijack of a nation, or stand ready to resist the cabal intent on designing a peculiar hell for the rest of us.

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