By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Yar'adua: Testing the Nerve of Nigerians
I was prompted to write this article by what I consider to be a very important revelation by the BBC Hausa Service which it aired just an hour ago, 6.30am, 4 January 2010. It reported that it contacted the King Faisal Hospital (KFH), Jeddah, to learn about the hospitalization of Yar'adua. An official of the Hospital who spoke to the radio station said Yar'adua is not on admission in the Hospital. When it inquired if he was there earlier, the official asked it to direct its enquiry to the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
The revelation, coming from the BBC, was a shock to me. Though I have never believed all the stories told by government officials on this matter before, my imagination never went as far as questioning his whereabouts. Some Nigerian newspapers and internet discussion groups have reported the same story earlier but I deflected it as mere conjecture. However, this morning the story was coming from the BBC, a media house which has kept a difficult balance between British imperial interest and objective journalism. I quickly concluded that Yar'adua's illness is becoming more serious than I thought.
The sickness of the President has raised serious constitutional and political issues here at home. This is an issue that started with the rumour of his death, which the authorities denied a day later. However, as the days passed, the pessimism about his condition grew especially with the official revelation that he had a heart failure. A week later, there was the news of his possible relocation to Germany which was abandoned by his aides because it will exacerbate the political temperature and embolden the opposition.
Matters worsened when it was clear that the President left the country without handing over to the Vice-President. So the latter could not constitutionally attend to urgent matters of state needing immediate attention. The advice for resignation of the President in the interest of his health was rejected; the call for the Federal Executive Council carries out its constitutional responsibility of ascertaining his condition of health was rebuffed; the appeal to the President to hand over power temporarily to the Vice President was turned down; finally, the suggestion that the President be shown on video to convince doubting Thomases and re-assure his teaming well-wishers at home and abroad was dismissed. These are the suggestions of Nigerians who do not seem to know the real condition of the President. As for those who know it, they are involved in the intrigues of succession: Who should succeed Yar'adua and who should not.
Then last week something curious took place. Officials claimed that the President has signed the supplementary budget. Judging from the hundreds of commentaries in the media, this was taken by so many Nigerians as another lie. There were counter claims that the signature was forged, not least by the G58 group, who did not hesitate to remind Nigerians that the official who took the file to Saudi Arabia for the President's signature, Mr. David Edevbie, is already on trial in a British court on charge of forgery, among other things. For the first time also, the Chief Justice of the Federation was sworn in by his predecessor, not by the President or his deputy. Etc. The military is also operating without a Commander-in-Chief. I wonder, as another commentator said on radio, who gave the command for the army to quell the kala kato riot in Bauchi early last week.
The political atmosphere in the country was so thickened by the smoke of doubt that some journalists rose to the occasion and started contacting the KFH on the real state of the matter. The BBC, it appears now, was just one of them. I am convinced that its report that the President is not at KFH is true and it is strengthened by the refusal of the Nigerian Embassy in Jeddah to answer the call of the station. The whereabouts of Yar'adua, the Nigerian President and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces is not known to its citizens.
Now, after concluding on the uncertainty of the President's whereabouts, we can now move to the next question. What actually is the condition of health of the President? Is he sufficiently ill to consider himself or describe him as "unable to discharge the functions of his office?" Here we will be guided by a number of facts, all leading to a very gloomy conclusion.
First. As a carryover from the previous section, the President's whereabouts speaks volumes about the gravity of his illness. Any illness which will require his treatment overseas, beyond the National Hospital or any of our Teaching Hospitals must be qualified as sufficient to prevent him from running the affairs of state at least temporarily. In this case, the President was rushed to KFH, almost the best you can find in the rich Kingdom. As if that was not enough, he is now moved elsewhere, to a more sophisticated one, in the Kingdom or beyond it. Does the nation need more to tell it how serious is the President's illness?
Two. The President has now spent forty-two days away. What other than a debilitating illness would keep him absent from office and the country for so long? Or has he proceeded on a holiday in the Bahamas or is he cooling off on one of artificial Islands of Dubai or in one of palatial harems of Saudi princes that are rich in both fruit and flesh? No. These are not his habits, if we will be fair to him.
Three. The President was unable to carry out the obligation of handing over the affairs of state to his deputy when he left for medication, suggesting, in the best of scenarios, that he too ill to do so. To claim otherwise means that he absconded in violation of constitutional provisions.
Four. All what his aides said about what he will do on his trip did not happen. He was not at the summit of Arafat; he did not return "next week"; he did not sign files daily, otherwise, the supplementary budget would not have waited so long; etc. His inability to do any of these indicates that his condition is serious.
Five. There is no contact between him and people that should be reaching out to him. All the claims by Jonathan and some of his ministers that they are in constant communication with him have now proved to be blatant lies. We had some reports that some people visited Saudi Arabia to see him initially. Now we have none. When as a candidate in 2007 the rumour of his death was circulated, the then President Obasanjo contacted him on telephone in far away Germany to the hearing of the crowd at the rally. "Umoru they said you are dead. Tell dem say you dey kampe." said Obasanjo. The recuperating Yar'adua then replied that he was healthy. The matter was immediately put to rest. Obasanjo could be ingenious sometimes. Today, Obasanjo has the same stake in the health of Yar'adua as he had in 2007, if not more. He has a telephone. The whole nation is here, ready to listen, once again. Yet, there is no call going, and no answer coming. Instead, Obasanjo has moved from his house at Ota to Abuja, negotiating the deals of succession.
Six. Since the 'pericarditis theory' proffered by his personal physician at the beginning of his illness and the stories that he 'is fast recovering' from his wife, there is not any official report about the deterioration or progress of his health. Would the President be hiding the deterioration as a sign of his disdain for Nigerians or concealing the progress in order to taunt them? Both vices could not be the trade of any honourable leader with sufficient commitment to his people. And the Yar'adua who won the subsisting peace in the Niger Delta, who increased our electricity supply from its dwindling status to over 5,000MW, and who is the champion of Vision 2020 and 7-Point Agenda is indeed sufficiently committed to Nigeria. The heart, however, speaks through an interpreter: the body. So if we have not heard from his willing heart, we are free to conclude that the body is surely seriously sick and incapable.
Seven. The handlers of the President and other officials are incapable of producing an audio or video recording of the President doing anything for forty-two straight days. This is unusual. Presidents are human. They fall sick as any of us does. Agreed. However, whenever they do, all means are employed to explain their level of illness by showing the physical state of their conditions to reassure their citizens or aid them in preparation for the inevitable, thereby closing the gates of uncertainty. Nigerian officials have defied this custom and their inability can only mean that they have something grievous to hide. They are afraid of the power of information. The secrecy that shrouds the illness of any President should only signify the imminent fear of his political demise and the hopelessness about their fate.
To conclude this section, I would like to state that I am fully convinced, from the foregoing, that the illness of the President has reached a state of serious concern for the nation: that he is indeed "unable to discharge the functions of his office" as required by the constitution? Who will argue to the contrary on the basis of facts or logic? I put forward a challenge…
Let us now briefly explore what the constitution prescribes under the circumstance. To be fair to the President, I doubt very much if he is in any position to communicate his opinion on the matter. Section 145 of the constitution that demands his personal transmission of his bad condition to the Senate cannot apply. We have missed that chance months ago.
We are left with Sections 144 and 146. The former is hinged on the President "suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging his functions of his office", the ascertainment of which will involve the Federal Executive Council (FEC), a team of medical experts and the Senate. That is why Nigerians called on the FEC to do initiate the investigation right from the beginning of the problem and it refused. Section 146 speaks about the Vice President holding office of the President "if the office of the 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 or 144 of the constitution."
Now, with the President refusing or unable to transmit his inability to discharge his duty as President and the FEC refusing to undertake an investigation into his illness, where do we turn to? Our options lie with the judiciary and the legislature. That is why some Nigerians went to court demanding an order compelling FEC to act accordingly. I hope the court will act in the best interest of the country in this moment of trial. The National Assembly, without waiting for the court, can, as a start, pass a resolution which it will require the FEC to oblige.
Right now there is nothing anyone can do to install Jonathan as Acting President. It is shameful that FEC members have chosen to give priority to their interest over that of the country in gross violation of their oath of office. What is wrong with a mere investigation? Why should anyone abdicate if he is not hiding something? But this is an insolence which they cannot hold for long. Unless something is done, Nigeria itself will be infected by the President's contagion. As I indicated in my first article on the matter, we must say no to any leadership by proxy similar to that of Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, as a recent contributor warned. It is Yar'adua who took the oath of office as President, not any other. We want him here or we must be allowed to see him there.
I consider this as the most important test for the Yar'adua administration so far. Should the future prove its officials guilty of such grievous matters like concealment, fraud and forgery, which they cannot escape the longer they fail to tell the truth, Nigerians will welcome their prosecution later. Then, we will not pay attention to anyone claiming that he is being persecuted." Aha.
In addition, there is the need for everybody to put up a fight in order to save this nation from an imminent crisis. Media houses need to be more forthcoming. They should investigate and inform us of their findings on the illness of the President and his location. They should be ready to express the opinions of Nigerians about the matter. We need powerful editorials. The NBA and other professional bodies, labour unions, student organizations, religious bodies, elders, market women, political parties including the PDP, etc, should all come out and give their contribution.
Other nations have an obligation to the citizens of this country not to conceal the truth about the matter. No nation should be an accomplice in the dubious crime of concealment. If it does so to Nigeria in its dire moment of need, we will definitely count it as an enemy. We are appealing to the patriotic citizens of that country as well as their governments to furnish us with any necessary details about the matter. Here, no country carries this burden more than Saudi Arabia, the country which the President first visited and where he, possibly, remains to date.
In the end, the world will act commensurate with our actions. It will be willing to give us whatever respect we deserve from how we handle the affairs of our nation. We have faced many challenges before. On the one hand, we won some. We won independence from the British, reunited the country after an unfortunate civil war, recaptured power from the military twice, and won the battles of June 12 and Third Term. On the other, we lost many. For over forty years we lost the battles against corruption, nepotism, sectarianism, election rigging and an entrenched capacity to destroy whatever is standing. In the forgone struggles, history has recorded people accordingly. It saluted those who sacrificed and condemned those who succumbed. The country is today held captive. Yar'adua administration is testing our nerves. It is left to each of us to decide what history would scribble for his or her on its pages. And the pages of history are many, just as its judgement could be damning.
4 January 2010
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