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The President’s issue

By Bisi Lawrence
I am sure that you are of the opinion, like the rest of us, that time flies; not just that it passes by, but also that it does so rapidly.

And so it would seem. But, when you come to consider it, time really experiences no movement in itself. Rather, events that take place through time are the elements that create that impression. The truth is usually stated more graphically in the popular expression, “a lot of water has passed under the bridge.” Precisely!

However, since we can only estimate the duration of an activity by being aware of its progress, the developments surrounding it take on different representations of time, stemming from our consciousness of its extent. For instance, a child growing up right before our eyes acquires suddenly, as it were, a bigger profile depending upon our own awareness of its growth. If we had been preoccupied by other events, it  would  indeed seem sudden. Otherwise, it all looks normal, or retarded even.

That is what has been happening in the case of the President’s issue. But it has not stopped other activities from running their course, especially in the ever-bubbling public life of Lagos State. The enchanting  progress of  the Governor, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, through the gamut of innuendoes and intrigues keeps the environment  lively for he is engaged with another kind of “Cabal”.

That fits into our loose philosophical trend today in a way, since our preoccupation with the events in Abuja has tended to pull a veil across our view of other events in the country. However, a lot of water is still flowing under both the Eko and Carter Bridges.

All this regrettable rigmarole about President’s Yar’Adua’s illness seems to have been going on forever. One has been looking with anxiety to an end of an incident which at one time, headed dangerously towards Armageddon. There have been several twists in this continuing tale of uncertainty. The latest, before this page was put to bed two days ago, was that even the President’s own mother could not get to see him. That connotes the extreme. But let us start from the beginning.

It is a shame that Nigeria, at this time of  her history as a nation, is still without the medical facilities that are required to treat any kind of disease, be it of the heart, the lungs, the kidney or liver – or even “foot-and-mouth.” What is the noise of Fifty years of Independence all about then?

The President of our country is, like all human beings, entitled to be ill at any time, and we almost lost every trace of  him while he was seeking for treatment in a foreign land. During most of these fifty years, we have been wading through “black gold” up to our knees, and what have we achieved with all that wealth except an unsavoury  reputation for all sorts of corruption and crime?

This is what occurs to a land where investigators transform themselves into the investigated; where the law-enforcement agencies are the least to be trusted; where so much is spent for such little achievement; where leadership is a joke and justice a jest; and the people have become separated from the sense of true ideals to embrace a distorted construct of meaningful existence.

That, for me, is well defined as the initial consideration in this agonising event of the President’s illness. If  he did not leave Nigeria, we would not have had to wait for so long and so painfully for his return. If we did not to have to experience that pain, we would not have undergone all the trauma and confusion it has entailed.

The “passing scene”, has revealed various characters during this period. Many of them, like the rest of us, were opportunists. Now, opportunists are a resourceful breed of adventurers, who are quick to squeeze out honey from any kind of saccharine material, and lick their lips openly thereafter.

So a pretty sight usually presents itself to be relished when a kindred spirit of this species clashes with another, and the fur begins to fly. Not every politician is an opportunist, though the ranks of these ladies and gentlemen are awash with many who are associated with seeking self-advancement through the processes of governance. We see them these days as members of what has emerged under the tag of “The Cabal”.

But we also see some of them as opponents of that exclusive power structure. They are birds of the same feather. They are generally after a vantage position derived from the ongoing situation, while pledging their undiluted loyalty to the President. We know that Aondoaka is now at daggers drawn with Akunyili and that the former Attorney-General is on the losing end at the moment.

But I daresay the script may not have been written for the triumph of the clever at the final curtain, and we may still be one or two scenes from that. In any case, neither of them is disparaged if identified as opportunists, plain and simple, at this juncture.

Courageous, honest and forthright as our Dora may be characterised, even in the grip of passionate altruism, should she continue to be in the same group with an assemblage which she continually criticises for wrong-doing? Akunyili could make her position no less honourable by resigning her position in the Federal Executive Council today.

Rather, the Minister of Communication and Information continues to caress the softness of her Cabinet position. But then, what if  the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, finds a pillar of comfort in her presence in the midst of a cabinet that is yet to demonstrate any express loyalty towards him? Convolutions within convolutions, eh?


Another twist, perhaps, is the limited part which has been played by the military so far. They have maintained that they would not be pushed into saddling themselves with a burden that the Constitution does not provide for them.

This commendable role will be noted by history. The position of the Brigade of Guards, however, has to be understood. They seem to be modeled after the old Praetorian Guards, whose first loyalty was always to the Emperor, or Head of State. Their reception of the President was in the best traditions of their calling.

Their reason for existence is the protection of the President, and that will always be their first preoccupation and response. I do not pretend to know more than that, not having ever put on a uniform beside that of a Boys Scout, but I am assured from experience that the Brigade meant no discourtesy to the Acting President.

I also sympathise with Segun Adeniyi, the Chief  Press Secretary to the President, who may still be dizzy from the cloying nightmare that has stayed with him for these past weeks.

His official position is one that usually quickly deepens into an intimate association, as we have witnessed in past regimes. The condition of an ailing President thus affects his Press Officer in more ways than one.

Unfortunately, his official woes and personal trauma have been heightened by those who mistakenly, or mischievously, misunderstood the slip he made of addressing the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, by the former title of  Vice President.

He was instantly chastised from some quarters to the extremely ludicrous point of some people demanding his resignation. He has since gracefully corrected the slip and we can only hope all is forgiven. These are difficult times for all of us.

And not the least of those who have found the going a bit trying is former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He only joined in the clamour for ailing President Yar’Adua to step aside if  his sickness would be too much for him to continue in office, and that raised the tsunami from all directions. What did the man say out of turn? I mean, was that not what everybody was saying?

The truth, of course, is that several sections of the country had it in for him already. They contended that it was his entire fault; that he had foisted the presidency of Yar’Adua on the nation, knowing full well that the former Katsina State Governor was not in good health.

Admissible as that may be, it is absurd that he would have been able to mark out the course of a prognosis to precisely follow the developments of the recent weeks. Even then, the motive for such an action would seem to be rather obscure. But there are indeed times that try men’s souls – and women’s, too. At that, Turai may have been a much-misunderstood person.

In any case, she may actually be a maligned person in connection with her role in keeping her husband incommunicado up till now. What most people fault is her putative motive, and they may not be entirely correct.

But, in the final analysis, she has no power to go against the 1999 Constitution which is expansively replete with steps that can be taken by either the National Assembly or the Federal Executive Council to remove a President from office on grounds of ill-health and other reasons. These are distinct provisions which bear no reference to the desires and designs of any citizen, no matter his or her rank in government or in the society.

But those who should take the necessary step have deliberately faced another direction, striving after fruitless measures – like a hollow attempt to change the Constitution solely in the bowels of a constituent assembly. But that is wrong and they know it.

A while back, about five months ago to be precise, we were obliged to view the activities of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola against the background of his prospects for a second term.

He had begun to rise gradually from a low profile to the full height of a contestant that would be hard to beat in a tussle for the Lagos State governorship.

His performance had been almost faultless, his conduct impeccable. He was in favour with the populace despite his prosecution of his projects that adversely affected the lives of several elements of the citizenry.

But they seemed prepared to accommodate all these disconcerting developments, especially in the area of urban development which dealt a severe blow on a slight percentage of the population in accommodation and commercial premises.

However, the people rather upheld the positive innovations in mass transportation, educational facilities, improved sanitation and appreciable efforts in the improvement of security.

They continued to give him a pass mark, and openly expressed their enthusiasm for a second term of office for him. Even his opponents conceded that he had outpaced them already in the trace. But there was one snag, which has now given way to another. Let’s view the second one first.

Governor Fashola’s nomination for the governorship had run into headwinds at the party level. Those who considered themselves as hard-core politicians not only resented but also openly rebelled at what they considered the ascendancy of a non-politician.

His main supporter and sponsor was Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, a rough-and-tumble political figure who was the State Governor at that time, and who virtually carried him like a babe through the jungle of opposition he faced. But the babe, in time, developed into an adult, able to think for himself, and to talk for himself.

But every thing continued to look nice and cozy between the Governor and his protege. Fashola openly acknowledged his profound appreciation for the help of his sponsor, and they both lived happily – but not ever after, once it was revealed that Fashola had plans of his own.

The “cabal” which had supported him now proceeded to tackle him with the ferocity of a spurned female lover. They have instituted several moves, including a thinly veiled attempt at impeaching him.

This has, without a doubt, approximated a snag to his return into office, but it only materialised with the clearing of an earlier snag.
Fashola had himself declared initially that he had no interest in second term.

That was the earlier impediment. He likened a return to office to the plight of a dull pupil who was retained in his class for the inability to gain promotion to a higher class. In the meantime, he went on working hard to captivate the imagination of the populace.

Their resentment now awaits those who are bent on sending him out of office without the opportunity of a second term. And now Babatunde Raji Fashola has spoken. For the progress of  Lagos State, State Governors should have enjoyed a second term in office, he declares. I think I am going to enjoy this. So, no more delay; no more detour; full speed ahead!
Time out.


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