Politics Nigeria — March 5, 2010 at 12:37 PM

What President Yar’Adua must do

Nigeria is adrift again. The reason, this time, being the reported sudden and dramatic return of President Umaru Yar’Adua who was away in Saudi Arabia for a medical emergency. The anxiety which once gripped Nigerians while he was away has again returned. Recall that the solicitude was created due to Yar’Adua’s refusal to pave way for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to act as President in his absence. Eventually, the Nigerian Senate and House of Representative through “brute force” restored normalcy by passing two separate resolutions respectively. The resolutions empowered Jonathan to become Nigeria’s Acting President, ending 78 days of power vacuum.

The way things currently are, Nigeria is like a distressed wayward ship drifting dangerously toward a rock. There is imminent danger and, unless Mr. Yar’Adua takes some positive action for the sake of the nation, the future looks bleak. No one knows for sure if Yar’Adua still has his reasoning faculties intact. While he was away in Saudi Arabia NEXTreported that the President had suffered brain damage. That report kicked up a storm of controversy, but NEXT stood by its story, claiming: “we stand by our story, to wit: we have it on good authority that the president has suffered brain damage and other impairments, and is no longer able to effectively discharge the office of president. Anyone who claims we are wrong should please produce our president, so that he can speak to us directly as Nigerians, and not via an audio clip through a foreign news organization.” So, when the president suddenly returned to Nigeria surreptitiously and under the cover of darkness, the gossips, speculations, and innuendos, which were already in a frying pan cooking, jumped off the pan and straight into the fire. Now the rumours have taken on a new and dangerous intensity like a summer brush fire on a windy day.

At press time no Nigerian, apart from his wife and immediate family, had seen the President. Not even Dr. Jonathan, the Acting President, had seen him. Is that not really odd, even for those who want to give the President the benefit of doubt? Although it is hard to believe, based on the current situation of things, that the president while recuperating has all his reasoning faculties intact, I am still working on the assumption that the president is alive and mentally sound. My assumption is borne out of statements from his family and aides that the president is responding to treatment and that his health is improving. If that is the case, then the President should show himself to Nigerians so that they can know that he is alive, has suffered no brain damage and, consequently, still capable of leading the nation. That is not too much to ask. He should do that for the love of his country.

Earlier, Special Adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, reportedly said that the President “wishes to express his profound gratitude to all Nigerians for their prayers for his recovery, their exceptional generosity of spirit and their appreciation of the fact that all mortals are subject to the vagaries of ill-health.” While it is true that all mortals are subject to the vagaries of ill health, it also true that all mortals who happen to be leaders have a moral responsibility not to mislead their followers. Good leaders must show honesty and transparency to those they lead, especially if rumours abound that the leader is dead or incapacitated and unable to govern.

Consider the case of Fidel Castro, the former Cuban leader who became ill in 2006 reportedly from acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding. The world’s rumour mill went into overdrive with talks that Castro was dead or terminally ill to the point he was incapable of governing Cuba. Realizing that the rumour that he was dead or incapacitated and unable to rule was bad for his country Castro arranged to be filmed in his sick condition and shown world-wide on television. By that act Cubans were reassured that their leader, though sick, was still alive and not permanently incapacitated to rule. Later on July 31, 2006 he temporarily handed over power to Raúl Castro. That temporary transfer of power was later made permanent.

The importance of the Castro incidence is that even a communist dictator realized the need and importance of being transparent to his subjects concerning health matters. Castro was smart enough to fathom that creating a sense of power vacuum would do his country no good. Unlike Yar’Adua, Castro had no constitution, Senate or House of Representative to answer to; yet he chose to show himself frail and fragile on world television. Why can’t President Yar’Adua, who was democratically elected, do the same?

The President, by donning this garment of secrecy, is doing damage to Nigeria and himself. I don’t know whose idea it is to stonewall on this matter – Yar’Adua’s, his wife’s or his aides’. Regardless of whose strategy it is, the scheme is misguided. It will put a permanent dent on the President’s legacy if not reversed soon. Those advising the President to continue on this cause of action or making these bad decisions for him are only doing so for their selfish interests. The aides or political operatives responsible for the continuation of this drama may think that they are insulated from any consequences. By the time it is all over they will find out to their detriment that they had miscalculated.

This game plan of total secrecy and deception is born out of emotion without the benefit of intellect. The President or his supporters in this matter act like Nigeria is a personal property of theirs. So, it (Nigeria) must be protected from real and imaginary enemies of the Yar’Adua family. Wrong. Nigeria is a nation and is no one’s personal property. It has all the rights and privileges of sovereign nations as enshrined in the United Nation’s charter. The President or whoever that is in charge of his estate must rise above sentiments and make the right call. If the President is incapacitated and unable to govern then he should step aside or resign and let his deputy Dr. Jonathan finish the rest of the term.

The real question now is: What foot prints will Umaru Musa Yar’Adua leave on the sand of time? The President or his wife, Hajia Turai, and those who love him must rally to save his legacy in Nigeria and in the world. Time is running out. To act otherwise is fatuous and uncivilized.

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