The president is sleeping. The president is awake. The president is hale. The president is ailing. It is now 48 days since Umaru Yar’Adua boarded a jet to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. There swiftly followed a statement detailing, for the first time, the nature of his condition. The move was hailed in some quarters as a bold step towards a more open discourse about the health of our president. The subsequent month and a half of stony silence, innuendo, rumour and allegation proves that nothing can be further from the truth.
For almost two months, Nigeria has being left rudderless. The more cynical might suggest that it lacked direction even before the listless and low energy president’s departure. But his absence has left the ship sinking in a sea of illegalities. Every Nigerian should be worried, as we are. Apart from a lingering fuel crisis and constitutional irregularities, the Niger Delta and Bauchi crises are again threatening to get out of control. And now we are on the world’s radar, fair or not, as an exporter of terrorists.
It is strange that in an administration that is noteworthy for its political jostling and aggrandisement, not one person has had the courage or presence of mind to seize control of the situation. Everyone is sitting around twiddling thumbs and thoroughly confused about exactly what to do next. Small cabals and cliques are being formed and all we hear are of clandestine meetings in the middle of the night.
Goodluck Jonathan, the acting President, has been prominent only by his reticence, awkwardness, and an acute awareness that he appears to be the wrong man at the wrong time for the job. The Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, has been at his ignorant best in his public declarations of the constitutional protocol that ought to be observed in the President’s absence. His bizarre proclamation that “the president can rule from anywhere” is likely haunt him forever.
The president, wherever he is, will at least be pleased to hear that the rebranding project has been a success. He will be less impressed to hear that the rebranding means that we are now considered one of the seven deadly terrorist nations. How tragic it is that in the throes of our country’s most precarious diplomatic crisis, there has not been a peep from the president. President Barrack Obama, already a quiet critic of Nigeria’s failings, must be apoplectic. One wonders whom he has been communicating with during the furore that has ensued following the Christmas day terror attack. One wonders if he has even bothered.
It is little wonder that there are murmurings that the military is growing restless at the general uncertainty. Ibrahim Babangida, at a time when he ought to be mourning his wife, reportedly spent the festive period consulting with various military factions to stave off a possible coup. It would be tragic to even contemplate the military coming back to (mis)rule. At NEXT, we are opposed to all unconstitutional acts, especially unaccountable government.
Is there anybody who actually understands the constitution and can apply it? The new chief justice, Aloysius Katsina-Alu might be himself compromised because he was sworn in by his predecessor, something that has never happened in Nigeria’s history. Again the president’s absenteeism has forced the setting of a murky precedent.
And then there is the small matter of the 2009 supplementary budget that could not be signed because, alas, the president was nowhere around to do his job. This turned out not to be a problem in our Abracadabra political culture: a signature magically appeared, purporting to be the ghostly president’s, authorizing the release of all those precious funds.
We really must be a gullible lot. We are being asked to believe that there was sufficient wherewithal to sign a document but not the strength to make a phone call or a recording to tell a 150 million that he’s doing ok.
The signature is quite rightly being investigated for possible forgery.
The behaviour of the First Lady, Turai Yar’Adua, is also rather curious, if not outright shamefully disingenuous. It is curious not by her actions but rather by her inaction. Rarely has she passed up the opportunity to be a visible presence in the public arena. Yet since the start of the trip there has not even been an acknowledgment of the prayers and get-well-soon messages that have come from all corners. Things must really be that bad.
Despite his obvious shortcomings, a quick ascension of Mr. Jonathan to the presidency is our best bet now. We must end this paralysis while avoiding a constitutional crisis. Our country is too fragile to be left in the lurch.
The National Assembly reconvenes on January 12. We hope the self-described “honourable” members have enough awareness to realise that the constitution is being abused. They must re-assert their constitutional responsibilities for the sake of democracy, and for the sake of our much abused nation. If the federal executive council, whose sacred duty it is to declare the president medically unfit, continues to prove reluctant to do its job, our legislators must do theirs.