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Politics of health

By Bob Anikwe
SENATE plans impeachment. Senate asks Nigerians to pray. Senate orders Yar’Adua to do this. Senate…
I went to my bank the other day and met a lady teller complaining about “too much talk” over the President’s ill-health while “people who should know are not hitting the nail on the head”. I was intrigued by this remark. Who are the people that should know, and how do they go about hitting the nail on the head in this matter?

“The issue is quite simple,” she said. “The President is incapacitated, and someone needs to exercise power and get the country moving. Why can’t the National Assembly understand this simple fact and do something about it, instead of talking, talking, and talking?” she asked.

She was right about the talking, talking, talking bit. I started to say something and stopped because she was not interested. She merely hissed and went back to counting money. Perhaps she sensed that I was about to convert her banking hall into another National Assembly of talk.

What I wanted to say to the lady was that the politics of Mr. President’s health is propelled by fear bordering on paranoia. A few weeks back, there was fear that the country was moving to a point where the unthinkable could happen – such as a military takeover. It was in the air of Abuja, thick, heavy, and pregnant. State governors were flitting in and out of the capital.

Added to renewed rumblings in the Niger Delta, and yet another round of blood-letting in Jos, the country appeared primed for violent change. But the military, keeping its ears to the ground, picked up the rumour, and quickly went public to dismiss it.

It was at this point that the politicos came up with a tried and tested strategy to dash hot water on our fearful bodies, and get us jumping up and down in righteous indignation. Now everyone is talking, and skirting the issue that since 23 November 2009, our President took his symbol of office to a hospital bed, and asked the country to wait for him to get well before any further key executive actions and decisions are taken.

If you needed proof of how effective the diversionary national talkshop has become, take a gallery seat at the Senate Chamber where this current national jaw-jaw was launched. Discerning Abuja residents are looking on in amusement as the group of establishment and conservative senators have suddenly found a “radical” voice, while the traditional hotbed of radicalism – the Lower House – looks on askance.

The talkshop has become a calming balm to the fearful souls of government appointees in Abuja, although they are still assailed by two monsters – the Kingibe factor and the Goodluck factor.

The first level fear of political appointees in the Federal Executive Council is the Kingibe factor – a real fear that if one does not show absolute loyalty in words and deeds, one may be shown the door when the big masquerade makes another magical return.

As a result, Nigerians who wanted to bellyache over the President’s absence were quickly shushed, and asked to instead pray and sympathise with a sick man. Although ministers and other appointees – including the elected Vice President – prefaced their public speeches with prayers for the President’s quick recovery, no one could stop the army of political cats from mousing. Public officials continued their prayers during the day while at night, the politicos congregated to plot power succession scenarios.

The second fear is about Yar’Adua’s deputy, the man of good luck. With wild stories circulating about how the President’s health condition was deteriorating, the prospect of Goodluck Jonathan assuming power appeared very bright. To be sure, this fear that Jonathan could succeed Yar’Adua, was fuelled by what began as a joke in bars and other watering holes of Abuja. All through his life, so the story went, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan always succeeded his bosses. Powerbrokers picked up the rumour and did not find it funny.

The fear of Jonathan succeeding his boss became palpable when the President failed to return after a month, leaving important affairs of state unattended to. Among these were the swearing in of the nation’s new Chief Justice (eventually done by his predecessor on 30 December, an unprecedented move), quick response to emergency situations, such as the Jos uprising (the army was eventually deployed by the VP, another worrisome precedent); swearing in of permanent secretaries (yet to be done); high-level intervention when Nigeria was branded a terrorist state to watch by the United States, and the controversial signing into law of the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation Bill (whodunit?).

Since no one knew when to expect the President’s return, it slowly dawned on the powerbrokers that they could not sustain the equivocation and continue to dismiss suggestions that the VP exercises temporary power.


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