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No country should ever treat its President’s illness…

By Bisi Lawrence
It has been a week of drifting events full of expectations, like the coming home of our President from abroad where he is said to have been receiving treatment  for ailments renal, and cardiac, and what have you.. Then there was the “rumour” that Governor Fashola of Lagos State was going to be impeached by the Lagos State House of Assembly and, the cliff-hanger of them all, the Anambra Governorship election.

And although this page avers that it is no longer very much interested in sports, but how could CAF suspend the Republic of Togo for two editions of the Africa Cup, because of “governmental interference” over a tragedy of that magnitude?

*No country should ever treat its President’s illness the way we have so callously, so carelessly, handled President Umar Yar’Adua’s sickness. Seeking to clothe it in a veil of secrecy, the fragile cover devised only allowed for the emergence of a variety of speculations, suppositions and plain mischief.

While a growing section of the public clamoured for a favour of the truth, a group, that quickly earned itself the label of a “cabal”, kept up a string of half-truths and damnable lies about the sate of his health. At last it all degenerated to a situation of open litigation in which senior lawyers and not-so-senior lawyers, and even non-lawyers at all, felt rightfully positioned to freely quote certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution at one another.

The sections that came in for battering were 144 and 145. But one needs little more than a glance to perceive that the “Executive Council of the Federation”, that is the “body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation” is actually charged with the responsibility of adjudicating on the physical or mental fitness of the President for his office, unless the National Assembly stepped in. But for a long while, the Federal Executive Council continued to waffle, and the National Assembly kept twiddling its thumb.

The situation may not have lent itself to the imagination of those who wrote the Constitution. No one could possibly have envisaged the possibility of such a lengthy absence from office, unrelieved by any clear-cut informative explanation.

All the same, the court gave a clear verdict against the Constitution, and eventually, gave two decisions which shall not be commented upon here, since no less than the Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Andoakaa, SAN, has cautioned that it is not given to anyone to interpret the court’s ruling; one simply complied.

The Honourable Attorney-General himself could have easily fooled us, though, going by some of his own comments. Others have in fact, actually tried to fool us, stating that the President could sign a bill into law in any position, from any part of the world; assuring us that anyone could be  as fit as a fiddle after hospitalization for weeks on end; and alerting us that President would soon return this week, next week, on Tuesday, next Wednesday, or maybe on the next… .

All that led to a headline which would have been ludicrous if the subject was not of such a grim nature. “Nigeria in search of the President…” What? Come on now, I said to myself; are we talking here about a dog, or the President of a w hole nation? I mean, it’s not as if he were lost… or something?

We are now at a point where almost every group within the society is making a demand or contriving an ultimatum, in connection with some positive action about the President’s absence from the country. Even the Senate has bestirred itself to call for some action too.

The nadir of the developments in the whole event, I believe, was established in the request to borrow an ambulance plane from another government to ferry home our President, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the seriousness of whose ill-health was thus confirmed by that request itself. Can Nigeria no longer afford to bring home our President, at whatever cost, from any part of the world on our own? With all we have been put through, does this nation not deserve to be spared the deplorable indignity, which that request compounds?

*It was not without cause that Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State was nominated “Man of the Year” for 2009 by no less than two national newspapers. He was also mentioned as the next best candidate in one or two other publications.

So well had the Senior Advocate of Nigeria captured the adulation of the populace even beyond the boundaries of his State and across political party lines within the nation, that even his opponents in other camps openly express their admiration of this young man whose achievements have tended to put the earlier efforts of his predecessors in the shade.

He seems to have the Midas touch as almost every one of his endeavours elicits wide approbation across the populace. His tenure appears destined for consistent success in an atmosphere unpolluted by bickering and muddled thinking. Or that is what one thought. His harvest of excellence was divested of bitterness.

Or so one was made to think. However, all along, there were denials that he was running a collision course with his predecessor in office, the formidable Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, the former Chief  Executive of the State was said to still insist on playing a role – in fact, a domineering role – in the official affairs of the State. He even glorified, it was alleged, in the pompous appellation of “Governor Emeritus”.

How droll! The loudest voice of the denials was, and still is, that of Governor Fashola himself. He should have been easy to believe since it is a well-known fact that it was the former Governor who virtually paved the way for him to occupy the gubernatorial seat of Lagos State – a fact which he openly admits and acknowledges at every opportunity. But the tone of the refutations began to attain a strident pitch with the passage of time.

At last, it all exploded in a public rally staged by the supporters of the Governor against an alleged attempt to impeach him. The voice that rose against that allegation, rather feebly as it proved, was that of the Speaker of the House of Assembly; but everyone knew whose hand was at work. That was confirmed when it was reported that the Ashiwaju stormed out of a meeting called by the Oba of Lagos, His Royal Highness Rilwan Akiolu to effect a reconciliation.

The Speaker with his followers was thus exposed as no more than a cat’s paw that he really is in the set-up. And what a set-up!

First, latch on to an indictment of a seemingly serious facade, howbeit from a hazy source, against a designated target; then with a show of righteous indignation, pretend to probe that source of the accusations while actually gunning for the target. You can always then plead that you were only being fair in examining both sides.

Governor Fashola has so far adopted a conciliatory position. He declares that he really does not need the loud support he has been getting. But he really might. He has expressed the wish that there was a precedent of this nature in matters of succession to which one could refer.

But the Awolowo/Akintola entanglement has a few similar aspects. It was also a case of succession in which the former leader eventually fell out with his successor after a long drawn-out disagreement, which was kept under cover. In the interim the successor also adopted a conciliatory attitude at first. But the former leader kept pushing until at last, the successor became desperate and threw defiance in his face.

It is futile  now, as it was then, to adjudicate on who is right or who is wrong. But we can be sure that the result now would be as it was then. It was the Awolowo/Akintola squabble that split the political bastion of the Yoruba, the Action Group, wide open, and the people have never been the same since then. If Governor Fashola continues to be pushed, there will come one heave too many that may make him rebel. And the Action Congress will never be the same again. Must the Yoruba people always destroy the elements of what makes them beautiful?

*Campos Square is the centre of what is known as the Brazilian Quarters which itself, is in the heart of Lagos Island.

That was where those who were carried into slavery settled when they returned to Nigeria, having gained their freedom after the abolition of the Slave Trade. Many of them were artisans, some became merchants but most of them clung to the Roman Catholic faith in which they were reared. The Yoruba name for the area reflected that fact – Popo Aguda. (The area of the Roman Catholics).

We who grew up there love the locality with a passion. It provided vast opportunities for the high jinks of youthful life in colourful setting tinged with the flavour of history and far away places. Let me stop there before this delectable subject runs away with me.

The aspect that recalls it to this page today is the opening of the mini-stadium which is another enviable feather in Governor Babatunde Fashola’s cap. It is built on the site of what used to be a cemetery where several notable Lagosians were buried. It provided various meeting-laces for young boys some seventy years ago among the imposing tombstones and disused graves.

We clambered over the memorial structures without any qualms, though we recognised, and indeed respected, those whom they covered. Very prominent among them was that of the first black Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, which was a red marble obelisk. Close by was that of his illustrious son-in-law, Thomas Babington Macaulay, founder of the first secondary school in Nigeria, the CMS Grammar School. Slightly to the South of that was “The Lion of the Bar”, Sapara Williams.

To the extreme South was Madam Tokunboh who gave her name to the street bordering the Brazilian enclave to the East. That is, as they say, to mention a few.

Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, the first Governor of Lagos State, first had the cemetery cleared when it was uncared for and degenerated to a fearsome hang-out of drug-peddlers and violent criminals ensconced, as it were, in the centre of the city.

The place was levelled, and a building containing some offices was erected there. A vast space was left lying fallow, and was variously used for open-air social functions, until the young boys converted it into a playing field of some sorts.

That is what has now been turned into a model mini-stadium at the confluence of Joseph Street and Igbosere Road.

No matter how the turbulence in the Action Congress plays itself out, the stamp of excellence already established by the Fashola administration will remain indelible in the social history of Lagos State. This mini-stadium is only one aspect of it.

*The decision of CAF to ban the Republic of Togo from two competitions of the Africa Cup Competition is an affront to the sovereignty of every nation in Africa except, perhaps, that of the Angolan Government which it seeks to defend. The Togolese were attacked on their way to Luanda for the recent Cup of Africa Nations by Angolan rebels. Two members of the contingent were killed, while others were wounded. This was virtually on the eve of the tournament.

The Angolan authorities disclaimed all responsibility in the ghastly affair, and wondered why the Togolese travelled by road. But everyone had been reassured of the security in Angola, irrespective of ones’ mode of transportation.
The stricken Togolese were ordered back home by their government, and rightly so. They could not be expected to go into the tournament with a shattered morale, and to pull out of it was a decision ONLY their government could have taken.

That was what CAF condemned, in their wisdom, as “governmental interference” – or some tripe like that.
The teams represent the people and GOVERNMENT of each nation; they play their NATIONAL anthems. They parade under the NATIONAL flags and even play in the NATIONAL colours of their countries. Does CAF know the meaning of interference?
Time out.


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