Yar'Adua: Beyond The Clerics' Visit

Monday, April 12, 2010

By Reuben Abati

The Yar'Adua camp may soon run out of new devices in its bag of tricks and mischief in the attempt to retain a semblance of power, authority, control and relevance. What are the next possibilities in the seemingly endless power game in Abuja? A quick review of some of the steps that have been taken so far to keep the Yar'Adua Presidency alive may be necessary as a way of conveying the scope of their desperation. First, the President refused to hand over to his Deputy, nor did he ask for a leave of absence as constitutionally required. When it became clear that his stay in a Saudi Arabian hospital would not come to an end so soon, they began to spread the story that the man was strong enough to sign the 2010 Appropriation Bill, and that he did. With Yar'Adua being brought to power as Acting President through a radical intervention by the National Assembly, no less a civilian coup, the President was rushed back to the country under the cover of darkness to lay claim to his "throne". But the palace courtiers underestimated the Nigerian people who insisted that they did not believe that the president had returned unless they saw him. This then resulted into the adoption of fresh strategies.

On one occasion, we were told that the President was seen drinking tea with a cousin of his. On another occasion, the Presidential convoy drove round Abuja: The sick President was reportedly taking fresh air! On another occasion, he was supposed to have attended Jummat service at the Abuja Central Mosque. And now the clerics' visit which has also back-fired. What President Yar'Adua and his strategists want to prevent is a situation whereby the Yar'Adua presidency is completely forgotten or it goes down in history as one of the many accidents of Nigerian history. They also probably want to retain power in the hands of the proverbial North. They also want to frustrate and sabotage the Jonathan Presidency having seen that Jonathan is striking out on his own. But in all of these regards, their strategies have failed, indeed the most ludicrous being the selective and arranged sighting of the President. If they want public sympathy, they do not have it.

There is also no sense of protectionism over the Yar'Adua Presidency by the North. Except for minority voices like Datti Ahmad, most Northerners are just as unhappy with the uncertainty that President Yar'Adua's illness has brought and they are incensed by the desperation of a narrow clique pretending to be struggling for power to protect the Northern interest. The biggest obstacle to the Yar'Adua camp is the consensus that has now emerged around the subject that Nigeria is more important than any individual. The Yar'Adua strategists are further hobbled by the role of the international community particularly the United States. America is showing such an unusual interest in the Jonathan Presidency that must be understood nonetheless for what it is.

There has been so much talk about having a stable Nigeria because of the implications for regional security. But I sense a cold-blooded calculation: perhaps the Americans are not just interested in Jonathan, but also the possibility of his becoming President in 2011, in order to quieten the militants in the Niger Delta. Perhaps if the militants see one of their own with that famous cap and walking stick pumping hands with Obama, and one of their own as Minister of Petroleum and another fellow from the creeks as Minister of the Niger Delta, as is now happening, they will let the oil wells flow, and America's strategic economic and security interests in the region will be better served. So given the facts of the case, what other tricks can the Yar'Adua group come up with? What other chances do they have?

They have lost a major chance in the court of public opinion. Even the most unreconstructed cynic should know that public opinion matters a lot in a democracy. By playing games with the Yar'Adua sickness, his wife and aides have lost the battle in the court of public opinion, local and international. I do not see what tricks they can use to reverse that. Not with the Egyptians about the same time of Yar'Adua's sickness handling the same problem with regard to President Hosni Mubarak in a more civilized manner. They have pushed themselves therefore, and their man to a point where it appears they all stand condemned. And it is most unfortunate because Yar'Adua as a person may be their victim and not the instigator of the wrong steps they have taken in his name. When a man is sick, he needs help. But when he is surrounded by equally sick persons, then he is truly lost. The only chance that they have hereafter is for the President to suddenly regain his voice and energy and become strong enough to return to office. That will change everything. Illness makes Yar'Adua vulnerable, the mishandling of his politics makes him pathetic, recovery will reduce his vulnerability as physical strength fetches him political strength. It is the miracle he needs. Even if he were to recover, he will need to convince the public that he is the same person, for there may well be a few cynics asking for a Presidential DNA.

Medical experts extrapolating from the little that has been made public about his state of health insist that he stands no real chance, all the same. If that is so, I still do not see his wife and strategists giving up. They will continue to keep him and manage him, and now at least they have succeeded in telling us through the clerics that he is strong enough to sit down and shake hands, so they may stay with this with the hope that even if it is one month to the end of his Presidency, he will become strong enough to reassert himself and torpedo the Jonathan "interregnum." I use that word advisedly in this context. It is partly why they have refused to allow Jonathan to see him. They assume that granting Presidential audience to Jonathan would mean endorsing him and his Acting Presidency. So should we all wait for that moment when President Yar'Adua returns to be the man to hand over power to the next President or to turn the Jonathan Presidency adrift? If it is within the powers of the Yar'Adua strategists to do this, they will. This is obviously no longer about Nigeria. It is about naked power and ego. They have invested so much energy. They will fight to the finish, to borrow an appropriate cliché.

But there is another side to it. Should they be allowed to fight to the finish? In the eyes of the public, and let's give credit to the Jonathan strategists who are playing an equally desperate game, an impression has been created in the public sphere that Nigerians are tired of the Yar'Adua games; they just want to move on; they want the country to make progress. So, if there were to be a vote in the market today and a choice to be made between the President and his Deputy, Nigerians will queue up behind Jonathan and ask that he should be allowed to complete the remainder of the Yar'Adua tenure, while the sick man seeks the miracle he needs. Aware of this, the Jonathan strategists are exploring and exploiting their advantage. Jonathan is off to America and if he meets with Obama, that will be a deadly punch. That will give the impression that Nigeria is truly moving on and that Jonathan is in charge, because mark this, there may be no reference at all to Yar'Adua in Washington DC!

Jonathan has also told Nigerians that he will personally handle the power portfolio. He knows that what all Nigerians as well as investors in the economy want is just regular electricity supply. He is trying to reassure us that he means well and that he intends to meet us at our most critical points of need. But he may have made a terrible messianic choice. Chief Bola Ige is no longer here, but I think the word came out when he was in charge of the Power Ministry that there is a crazy cabal in the power sector that does not want regular power supply, the same cabal that has stopped the distribution of pre-paid meters, and has gone back to the old regime because a pay- as-you-go system in the power sector is not good for corrupt business just as Nigeria having regular electricity will smash their cash pots. By electing to take on this powerful Mafia, Jonathan may have resolved to slaughter the dragon or go down with it. Whichever way and in whatever direction, his resort to populism may become his Achillee's heel. Whether he likes it or not, the Yar'Adua matter is something he would still have to address.

There has been a lot of speculation that one of the first assignments that will be carried out by the Jonathan cabinet is to invoke Section 144 of the Constitution to set in motion the process of removing Yar'Adua from office on the grounds of incapacitation. I don't see that happening. Jonathan already holds all the aces. It won't be in his interest to trouble the ghost. Section 144 requires that a medical team of five physicians be constituted with one of the five being the President's physician to conduct a medical examination and report on the fitness or otherwise of the President. If this is pursued at this stage, the opportunity to do it having been lost when it presented itself, the whole country will be confronted with practical difficulties. One, Mrs Yar'Adua and other Yar'Adua strategists will make it impossible for anybody to have access to the President. Without a physical examination, there can be no report. They could take him out of the country in the dead of the night, the same way he came and block access to him. Should anyone then produce a report anyhow, the President's physician who seems to be complicit on the other side, will go to court and insist that he has not been carried along and that he has a constitutional right to have his opinion considered. Finish.

Another strategy would be for the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against the president on the grounds of "gross misconduct" as the Constitution states and "gross misconduct" here is as the lawmakers define it. That there has been "gross misconduct" is not in doubt. But who will bell the cat? The Senate is spineless. The House of Representatives is politically conservative. So, Yar'Adua is not likely to be impeached. That leaves us with a situation therefore whereby the Jonathan group will continue to hope that Yar'Adua does not recover and that the Acting President gets a chance to prove himself and impress Nigerians well enough that he can be considered favourably as a candidate in 2011. With that being the situation, Jonathan may also have his own team of clerics who are praying secretly: a war of the clerics known only to the gladiators! And if Yar'Adua recovers and returns to office, the calculus will change radically with far-reaching implications.

The more I look at it, the more all of this is beginning to look like a lose-lose situation for Nigerians. The saddest part of it all is that the same man who prepared the grounds for this misfortune is now said to be going up and down recommending Ministers and playing the Godfather. Obasanjo. Should Obasanjo be the one now to call the shots about our future or should he be responding to questions about the past and the opportunities that he wasted? Hmmm, o ma se o, what a country!

Related Posts:

0 Feedback:

Site Meter