By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Update on Yaradua's Health
The last three days brought some significant developments regarding the illness of the Nigerian President, Umaru Musa Yar'adua. First, a window into the seriousness of his illness opened to the Nigerian public by a revealing publication of Daily Trust yesterday, 2 December 2009. It said the President was brought out of an intensive care unit (ICU) after nine days of admission there. While in the unit, the paper continued, only his wife was allowed to see him twice a day for not more than ten minutes a time. Other prominent members of his kitchen cabinet named by the newspaper were so far not allowed to see him despite his transfer from the ICU.
This report which emanated from a close associate of the President according to the paper has for the first time revealed to the confused Nigerian public that the condition of the President does really call for concern. It is a sickness whose degree demanded that the President be completely cut off from the rest of the world, denying him even the mere presence of his ever caring wife – Her Excellency, the First Lady, Hajiya Turai. With this revelation, we can understand the origin of the rumour about his death. At least it lays credence to the story that he has been in a coma of a sort. In Africa a person in such state could easily be mistaken to be dead. Many are so buried, only to wake up and helplessly give up to the insurmountable suffocation of their graves. The lucky ones wake up as they are prepared for burial… May Allah grant the President better health! His transfer from the ICU to a normal ward signals some hope. Thanks be to God.
However, that report lasted only for few hours on the page of the web page of the Daily Trust. When I returned to the site in the evening, the story has been removed or relegated beyond the frontage of their news page. Its position was surprisingly but not unexpectedly replaced by four or five less significant stories. Did the paper realize that it has leaked too much? Was it under pressure to delete the story? Why did it show us a picture of a president as healthy as Mike Tyson instead of the sad one it published last week that shocked the country?
You see, the truth always has a way of revealing itself. The Daily Trust, for obvious reasons, I believe would be the last newspaper to publish a lie against the President. It published this one not to damage the President politically but to aid him. Reporting on his improving condition will certainly raise our hope. However, what the Trust missed is the negative consequences of the revelation. The report has messed up with whatever the establishment has been saying about his sickness. With it, I am even beginning to doubt the pericarditis 'story' accredited to his physician. It is very unlikely that a first time patient of pericarditis will require a nine days in ICU. The future might reveal something more serious regarding his heart.
The ICU admission has also falsified the claims of the Vice President who six days earlier told Nigerians that he is in constant contact with the President, speaking to him twice daily! Haba. How could someone in ICU be receiving telephone calls when even his closest associates – his chief economic adviser, Tanimu Kurfi; his son in law, Isa Yuguda; and the richest man in the country, Aliko Dangote – have spent over a week without catching a glimpse of him? The ICU must be the first of its kind in the world. I can understand the Vice President if he tells a white lie regarding the poor condition of the President because he as the constitutional heir apparent does not want to be seen as entertaining the possibility of his enthronement. However, what I cannot understand is how Ikira Aliyu Bilbis, the Minister of Health, told newsmen that "everything is running well in this government; all of us are in constant contact with him…" as I heard this morning over Deutche Welle Hausa Service. That way, through the ICU admission window which was opened innocently by the Daily Trust, Nigerians can see through most of the misinformation they were fed on by those who want to underplay the gravity of the President's sickness.
The second development was the call by over fifty prominent Nigerians for the President to resign. Their list included former Senate President, former Speaker of the House of Representative and many members of the ruling PDP in addition to members of the opposition all of whom have held reputable positions in the country. They are people whose words, in my view, cannot be dismissed because they have been in a position to know the demands of public office. Their call was significant even though it was most likely to fall on deaf ears, not because the President is not in a position to hear them but because the beneficiaries of his administration will not be willing to succumb to reason.
The third was the result of yesterday's Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting which dismissed the call for resignation of the President by his ministers, as expected. What is actually surprising is how the ministers arrogated to themselves the right to initiate the President's resignation, citing section 144 of the constitution. They confused the situation of voluntary resignation which is presumed in the constitution and a compulsory one or another in which the President is unconscious, which the section is talking about. The President, like a holder of any public office, can voluntarily resign at any time for his personal reason. To compel him to stay in power beyond his wish or against the personal assessment of his incapacity would violate his fundamental right to liberty and even, in this case, to life. I wonder how this presumption escaped the judgment of many lawyers that commented on the matter including that of the Minister of Justice who is a member of the FEC. The cabinet has the prerogative to initiate the compulsory resignation of the President due to ill health, not when he decides to do so voluntarily. Moreover, the appeal to resign is directed at him, not them since, as the cabinet members claim, the President is healthy enough to be communicating with them daily; unless they know what we do not know about his degree of illness.
However, Nigerians understand the desperation of the FEC members. I expected them to urge us to give the President enough time to recover such that he could take a decision of his own. Why would they jump to shut the mouths of Nigerians who are simply advising the President to resign? What are they afraid of if he listens and acts appropriately? Why do they vow that the President will NOT resign? Do they feel his pains? Do they know his tomorrow? They cannot be referees in their own game. Our language is that of health and good governance; theirs is that of power, raw power, a la PDP.
I even heard Bilbis, forgetting the case of Ariel Sharon, saying that President Roosevelt spent his tenure on a wheelchair. This is missing the point, again. If Yar'adua's case was simply locomotive, none of us would have wasted his time advising him to resign because the wheelchair can take him anywhere. However, we have at hand a President with a chronic renal failure and, now, a heart disease, in addition, that makes him less capable to handle the daunting demands of presiding over the affairs of a contentious country like Nigeria where the rule of law is only mentioned but not followed. Here, no thanks to our military legacy, the President, like every Governor or Local Government Chairman in the country, has to approve every routine affair of government: every expenditure, every movement, every allowance, every appointment; every allocation, settle every squabble (and they are many), and so on. Or are the ministers and other cronies of the President praying for him to remain as a lame duck such that they can do as they wish with our resources. A report in Saharareporters has already indicated that some of the ministers are seizing the opportunity of his illness to flout his orders.
Finally, at the beginning of the week, we heard how pro-Yar'adua's forces started the agenda of rigging the constitution against the Vice President, claiming that, should the reason arise, it’s the Senate President who will preside over the country before a new President is elected within three months. They have revived the old argument that the North will be shortchanged if power is handed over to a southerner. The North referred to here is not the geographical North, but the interest of the northern beneficiaries of this administration. I doubt if the North in any way has gained anything by the departure of Obasanjo. Likewise, it will not lose anything from the Presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. That is why the prominent people who called for the resignation of the President, majority of whom are northerners, were quick to categorically add that he be succeeded by the Vice President for the remaining eighteen months of his tenure.
These are the developments so far. We will continue to monitor them as we wish the President a fast recovery so that we can here from the horse's mouth. We wish he will have the strength again to directly inform the nation on his choice between power and life. Those who for ulterior motives are now choosing power on his behalf should please shut up.
3 December 2009