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Still on Yar’Adua

By Obi Nwakanma
REACTIONS from various quarters on President Umar Yar’Adua’s recurrent hospitalization in a Saudi hospital reflect the profound dilemma of the situation for Nigerians. Of all the reactions, the most remarkable and possibly subversive is the proclamation in the Senate that the president could, if he chose, stay in the Saudi hospital for one year.

Such a declaration coming from the Senate of the republic is unfortunate, and if I were given to hyperbole, I might even say tragic. The laws of the federation are clear, or ought to be clear, on the expectations on anybody in the function of the head of state and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the federation. If such a person is unable to carry out their roles with their full faculties, and if they are absent from the execution of that role as a result of incapacity in a certain time frame, the senate of the republic is duty bound to commence the extraordinary inquiry into their further suitability.

At the core of this is the willingness of the parliament of the nation to secure the integrity of the state because the state is prior. The failure of the senators to recognize this duty to the nation reveals the dreariness of the Senate. That statement from the pit, rather than the floor of Senate proves once again the rather sorry quality of thinking in the Senate of the republic. No voice has risen in protest. No voice spoke for the people.

No voice appealed to the spirit of a nation seeking purpose through simple acts of heroism and fearlessness. There are no Ciceros in the Nigerian Senate. The Senate’s apologia took a rather weird tack when the president of the Senate, David Mark decreed a seven week novena on the nation in prayers for the ailing president. Until then, many of us did not know that David Mark had combined his cushy job as president of the Senate with the even more inscrutable job of the pastor-in-chief of the federation.

The situation became even weirder when the ranking senator from Enugu, Ike Ekweremadu began to wax lyrical about Yar’Adua’s situation, comparing it with the experience of the American president Woodrow Wilson who suffered a stroke in his presidency but remained as president six months after. Dr. Woodrow Wilson had indeed suffered a stroke in his fight with the opposition to establish the League of Nations, and was away from cabinet meetings for six weeks. He returned a most perfunctory president.

In other words he was merely “photo.” He had symbolic presence but not a soul in the scheme of things. What Senator Ekweremadu, therefore, failed to tell in his strange allusion to the story of the 28th president of the United States of America is that the last six months of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency were the most ineffectual, and was possibly tolerated because he was at the very end of his presidential term. This is certainly not the case with Yar’Adua, who is only half way into his term.

In any case, their circumstances are different. Woodrow Wilson, who by the way was a thoroughly racist president, had the full complement of structures which are unavailable in the current situation of Nigeria. America was already a fully established Federal Republic. Nigeria is at the turbulent and demonic stage of nation-building. I am also highly leery of such comparisons when it suits public officials who draw imaginary parallels with America, as though we must learn everything from America.

True, there is much good that Nigeria can learn from America and her experience, and there is even more that Nigeria must consciously do without. A few days ago, the Conference of Governors met in an emergency session in Abuja under the charge and invitation of Governor Bukola Saraki. They of course discussed the situation of the president and also declared solidarity with the sick president. According to their communiqué published in the Nigerian papers, calls from various quarters demanding the resignation of the president are “unconstitutional”- a “betrayal of the constitution” they said. But how is that? They did not tell us.

President Yar’Adua, if we must listen to the wisdom of his doctors, and other experts in the field of medicine, is in a very serious state with acute pericarditis. He is currently hospitalized, but it is not his hospitalization that is at issue. Anybody can be hospitalized. It is the frequency of his medical pilgrimage, as well as the realistic prognosis of his condition that has led to this outcry from Nigerians.

We do the president no favours at all by allowing his party to detain him in power for their own ends. Yes indeed, the president seems more like a hostage in power now. That is not a good thing. President Umar Yar’Adua must be allowed to return to his Turai, away from the “push-me-I push- you” politics of Nigeria. The president deserves our greatest sympathy and support in this moment.

Nigeria’s best interest will be served with the resignation of Yar’Adua, simply because, it is quite clear that Yar’Adua is not functioning at his highest human capacity. His frequent absences are proving too difficult and too expensive for the order of good governance in Nigeria. If any worker in a government or commercial service takes ill as frequently as the president and has been hospitalized and absent as frequently as the president has been from his office, such a worker would long have been retired and cashiered for diminishing productivity.

If the president of Senate and the governors of the state are unable to recognize such a situation, then they will be guilty alongside other things, of double standards. It would, therefore, be left for the electorate to exercise their true democratic power by organizing a nation-wide recall process for any of their representatives who refuses to do their duties by them.

Given the chaotic state of affairs this possibility is not too far off the picture. The frequent vacuum created by the absent president is thus such a security threat, and it is on these grounds or on these considerations that this situation ought to be seen and resolved. Perhaps the initiative now lies with the Nigerian electorate who deserve good governance and honest leadership.


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