By Donu Kogbara
EVER since Mr President took off to Saudi Arabia to take care of his health, words like â€œrudderlessâ€ have frequently been used to describe the country he left behind.
It is commonplace nowadays for both Nigerians and foreign observers to shake their heads sadly and say that the Government barely exists and is likely to grind to a halt at any moment. There is much talk about the â€œdangerous power vacuumâ€.
I can understand these viewpoints.
After all, when a Head Of State mysteriously disappears for several weeks to a distant place where he can neither be seen nor heard â€“ and when rumours abound that he has died or is in a coma – an atmosphere of doom and gloom is inevitable.
And, sure, it is not Mr. Presidentâ€™s fault that illness has incapacitated him for so long. Any human being can get sick.
But this is a particularly bad time for him to be in silent purdah mode. We are going through a worrying fuel crisis. The economy is in lousy shape. The Niger Delta problem has not been properly resolved. Hundreds of potentially volatile former militants are restlessly kicking their heels in various camps and need to be given a solid new raison dâ€™etre at the earliest opportunity.
Meanwhile, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a boy from one of the best families in Katsina, Mr. Presidentâ€™s home state, was recently arrested for trying to blow up a plane in the UnitedÂ States. And Nigeria has just been added to a list of nations that the Americans regard with suspicion, thanks to Abdulmutallab giving them the impression that we may become a major breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.
Nobody reasonable can blame citizens for feeling insecure and abandoned under such circumstancesâ€¦or blame the international community for concluding that we may very well be on the verge of total anarchy and/or paralysis.
I myself have been extremely fearful about the future in the past month or so.Â But it suddenly occurred to me this morning that my fears are not entirely justifiedâ€¦and that I am being emotional rather than rational.
Letâ€™s look at the facts
Despite the Presidentâ€™s absence, Nigeria does not appear, in my opinion, to be anywhere near coming to a complete standstill. OK, so we have endless headaches to contend with â€“ constant electricity outages, for example. But the national grid has not collapsed into total chaos. And I am not spending any more on diesel for my generator today than what I spent six months ago or, indeed, six years ago.
Despite the Presidentâ€™s absence, law and order has not broken down. Armed gangs are not roaming the streets as they do in some other countries like Somalia. We are not barricading ourselves in our houses any more than we used to before.
Despite the Presidentâ€™s absence, there is plenty of food in the market. We are not suffering from the kind of crazy consumer shortages and hyper-inflation that Zimbabwe â€“ for instance – has suffered from. We donâ€™t have to carry huge bags full of naira to the shops when we want to buy a loaf of bread.
Despite the Presidentâ€™s absence, airports are running as normal, as are so many other state-run and private sector institutions.
Despite the Presidentâ€™s absence and the widespread annoyance and worries that it has generated, Nigerians are still having fun and getting on with their lives. I receive endless invitations to weddings, christenings and birthday parties. And I have to say that when I am able to attend such social events, I donâ€™t notice any refreshment-related inadequacies, whether the events are hosted by VIPs or ordinary folks. The wine flows.
There is always plenty of fried chicken and moin-moin or whatever. And most important of all, there is also plenty of laughter.
In other words, despite the Presidentâ€™s absence, it is Business As Usual. Nigerians have an amazing ability to endure and overcome disadvantageous situations. And Nigeria as an entity has a surprising penchant for staying afloat.
There are times when I feel that we are too passive, too cowardly and too willing to tolerate nonsense from our rulers. But I also think that we deserve to be congratulated for having such a cheerful collective spirit and survival instinct.
And I know that many Vanguard readers will be furious with me for saying so, but I think we should sometimes praise the many Government officials â€“ policemen, teachers, PHCN staff, Ministers, parastatal heads, etc, etc, etc â€“ who prevent this country from completely collapsing, whether the President is on seat or not.
I KEEP hearing that a significant percentage of Northerners feel that it is their â€œturnâ€ and are absolutely adamant that the North has a â€œrightâ€ to be in the hot seat without any interruptions for two full terms â€“ i.e, until 2015 – and are viciously fighting behind the scenes to ensure that the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, does not take over if anything happens President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua.
Such diehard tribalists make me wonder whether the One Nigeria dream is viable.
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