Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Yar'adua: Between Power and Health
We all wish our President a quick recovery from his illness. However, given the nature of his sickness, I strongly believe that he should resign. I very much doubt that there could be a better decision he could take. This is better for him, better for his family and better for the country. We have toed with the sickness of the President for long now, we have seen an incredibly active person deteriorate in weight and retard in vigour as his health continued to collapse since he assumed office. The optimism that he can survive at least his first term despite the failed state of his kidneys is still there in many of us. We will fervently wish a miracle of some sorts would happen and he regains full health. However, that does not seem to be happening. Miracles are not under the control of mortals. The Heavens decide when they happen.
Lest I am misunderstood, I must rush to say that I am not precluding the survival of Mr. President. Not at all. His survival is indeed to be wished. However, my advice is rather built on the premise that in his present condition he cannot effectively manage the affairs of this contentions country and any attempt to assert the contrary as many of his associate would naturally do for their narrow selfish interest will only exacerbate his condition and push him closer to his grave with a speed faster than he would if he were to accept the reality and resign now. However, the fate of a person should not be left in the hands of people living fat on his predicament, nor should that of a nation be retarded because of their selfishness.
I can validate my argument using three fundamental instruments: health, constitution and religion. The most recent official report on the condition of the President is not reassuring at all. His physician is quoted saying that the President is suffering from acute pericarditis, a heart disease that has rushed him to Jeddah. This is in addition to, and perhaps a consequence of, his chronic renal failure. The Presidency has always tried to play down the precariousness of his condition. First they said he travelled to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and will use the opportunity to see his doctor. Even on Wednesday, we were told that he will attend the summit of Arafat on Thursday. The following day, the confession that his condition is not that optimistic was made clear with the revelation of his ailing heart condition. Nigerians have been wondering about the logic behind these attempts to hide the obvious. Finally, this time, the nation is told that the Vice President will act on behalf of the President. Early in the week, the Daily Trust published a terribly pessimistic photograph of the President which was widely circulated on the Internet. These are pieces of facts which if put together will persuade any passionate mind to arrive at one conclusion: that the condition of the President is not optimistic.
I can trust the kidney if it promises that its patient could linger for some years, just as Yar'adua, Obasanjo and the entire nation trusted Yar'adua's kidneys in 2007. In fact, we were told that he has been on their moratorium throughout his eight years as a governor. It appears, however, that they have been pushed to a limit. Physicians have said that "infection" of the pericardium could be as a consequence of the chronic renal failure. I cannot dabble into that because I am not a medic.
What I cannot trust, however, is the heart. It has failed to keep its promise any time I came across it. First, it was my in law, the late Pharmacist, Huseini Falaki from Daneji in Kano City. I still remember the last time he visited us in my house at Shika in Zaria in 1991 when I was still a PhD student at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. My wife, his sister, burst into tears when she saw how he considerably lost weight as a result of his heart condition. Few weeks later, he passed away quietly in his sleep. The second was my elder brother, Tijjani, on whose demise I wrote Losing a Brother in 2002. He was diagnosed with pericarditis, like the President, and treated to satisfaction, we thought, by a doctor friend of mine. He returned home, discharged from his hospital bed. One evening, I passed by him and heard him telling a friend: Jiki ya yi kyau saura kawai karfi ya dawo (I am now fine; what remains is just regaining my strength). Poor man! That evening he went to bed early, listening to BBC Hausa Service 8.30pm news. He did not live to hear the end of the thirty minutes programme. He was found dead the following morning with the radio still tuned to the frequency on which it was the previous night.
How could I trust the heart in case of Yar'adua after these experiences? Once beaten, they say twice shy. I was beaten twice. I do not know what the English would call me. I think three times would be foolish. I believe that long term rest is the best advice any physician will give to a person in that condition and Yar'adua's physicians have been prudent enough in that regard. But for obvious reasons he still pushes on with his daunting responsibilities as the President, perhaps until now. Here the President is not fair to himself because his intransigence will only further complicate his situation and reduce his chance of survival.
Yes. The Constitution. Just as I was writing this piece, my iphone prompted me of the arrival of an email from naijagroups.com. A group member, Lola Sawyerr, has posted a mail asking Nigerians to be patient with Yar'adua and his illness until the obvious end is around. "Nigeria," he wrote, "has one president and his name is Musa Yar'adua, whether sick or alive. And if he chooses to rule by proxy of his wife or someone else other than his VP, as bad as that might seem, I say so be it! Just educate your people that next time around they should vote for someone with the energy, intellect and gravitas to perform the duties of the president." This argument may appear perfect on the surface but it cannot hold water even constitutionally.
I do not think the constitution allows for leadership of this country through proxy. The President as a patriotic citizen is expected by the constitution to be honest and declare his incapacity on his own. The constitution expects him to resign and give way to his VP. If he fails to do so, as another writer posited, the Senate ultimately is required to impeach him. As at now, the Vice President, who is acting on behalf of the President, has told us that he has been communicating with his sick boss. This sounds reassuring but not convincing.
A contemplation of an incapacitated president ruling by proxy can happen under the totalitarian rule of Tito in Yugoslavia or Kim II-Sung's North Korea. However, it has not even happened in Communist Cuba and I wonder how a liberal democracy would tolerate it. I know that America had a President, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) who suffered a stroke in 1919 and who for the remaining eighteen months of his second term remained paralysed on his left side. But check his pictures during that period and compare them with that of our President. Moreover, American institutions even then were far stronger than our corruption ridden democracy that is dependent more on individual discretion than on rule of law. I wonder how far we can go with the proxy-hood of either Turai or Dahiru Mangal.
The choice between power and survival would be a difficult one for Yar'adua, though it is one which he has to make, or be forced to make, sooner or later. Compelled by survival instinct or persuaded by his comrades, or by both, the President is most likely to prefer a natural exit no matter how inevitable over a courageous resignation. I understand his problem: there is a lot to lose in a country whose tradition spites at continuity. People build their fortunes around a godfather. In our history every godfather leaves the scene along with the opportunity he accords his cronies. Hardly would anyone inherit such liabilities for he too has his own battalion in the waiting. This is the fear which Yar'adua and his cronies would naturally entertain and their refusal to allow him to enjoy his last days quietly is based on this parochial interest and no other reason. We have seen some of them even going as far as forging a matrimonial relationship in order to consolidate their power and achieve the goal of re-election in 2011 using unscrupulous means. It is pathetic if he will remain there on their behalf.
In conclusion, I think Yar'adua presently has a choice to make between his health and power. The recent report on CNN that he will not resign shows he has chosen to retain his power at the expense of his health. To me, it is a bad choice because, as we have seen above, it could be the surest way of losing both. When the heart fails him, as it failed my in law and brother, it may not send him the signal to decide otherwise. He is allowing the ample chance to slip away now. I wish he were wiser.
29 November 2009