Saturday, May 11, 2019 1:06 pm
Recently, Nigerians remembered former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died nine years ago. Though a man who meant well for his country, his personal health condition did not allow him to function. However, certain individuals around him kept Nigerians in the dark about his health. Bellow is a story TheNEWS (hard copy), published on the issue on 15 September 2008
“Yar’Adua’s Problematic Voyage”
President Umar Yar’Adua’s travels abroad to treat his pestersome ailment(s), but the refusal to come clean to his compatriots throws up anxieties, uncertainties, rumour mongering and some dangerous power calculations
Confronted by journalists on the continuous absence of his boss, President Umar Yar’Adua from the country after the unusually short Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting Wednesday last week, John Odey, the Minister of Information and Communication was obviously at his wits end on what to tell the news hunters. His dilemma was understandable. Odey, just like the other information managers working for the President, had been under considerable strain since Yar’Adua’s supposed few days trip to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday 20 August. Their problem has to do with how to manage the information at their disposal as well and the deft political moves going on.
Two days before the trip, Saharareporters.com, an online news agency, had reported that the President was going to the oil-rich country for medical attention. The choice of Saudi Arabia, the agency said, was to deflect panic and apprehension over the Nigerian number one citizen’s health that may result from another trip to Germany. Yar’Adua had been frequenting a German hospital before and after he was elected as Nigeria’s President to treat a kidney problem.
The Presidency was said to have been worried over the publicity and anxiety about the President’s health when he went to the German hospital for treatment earlier in the year. Nevertheless, Segun Adeniyi, Senior Special Adviser to President Yar’Adua on Communication, told journalists the same day the President left the country that the trip to Saudi Arabia was for the performance of umrah, the lesser hajj.
But some days after the trip, the assertion that Yar’Adua had gone to the oil-rich nation for medical treatment in the guise of going for lesser hajj was confirmed when news broke that he had been taking treatment at the King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. French news agency, AFP actually quoted an administrative official of the hospital as confirming the development. “Yar’Adua has been at the King Fahd Armed Forces Hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah,” the agency said, quoting the unnamed official who was not specific on the President’s medical condition or the treatment he is undergoing. AFP also reported that Saudi military police were on guard at the hospital managed by the Asian country’s defence ministry and where ruling family members and senior officials are usually treated.
The belief that all is not well with Yar’Adua was further confirmed by the cancellation of a trip scheduled for Thursday 28 August to Brazil by the President. This was in spite of the fact that the advance team from the Presidency was already in the South American country awaiting Yar’Adua’s arrival. “The Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil presented a note to the Brazilian authorities saying the visit has been cancelled due to official reasons. He did not give details of the postponement. As far as we are concerned, we don’t know why the trip was cancelled,” Andre Luiz Azevego Santos, Deputy Chief of Mission, Brazilian Embassy, Abuja told The Punch, a Lagos-based national newspaper, in confirmation of the cancellation of the scheduled visit of the Nigerian president to his country.
The dearth of information on the President’s whereabouts and health has spawned a rash of speculations in the media and among the Nigerian public. But even with the overwhelming evidence that Yar’Adua is undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, his aides in Nigeria insist that their boss is in the foreign country for a religious rite. While answering journalists’ questions after the FEC meeting of Wednesday 27 August, Odey refuted reports that Yar’Adua was lying indisposed at a Saudi Arabian hospital. According to him, the President was still engaged in lesser hajj and would return to the country after the conclusion of the Islamic religious rite.
When confronted with the fact of cancellation of the scheduled visit of the President to Brazil as evidence that all was not well with the Nigerian number one public official, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, who was to be part of the entourage, donned his usual double speak toga as he said the trip was only readjusted and not cancelled. However, if the Information Minister had intended to quell speculations over the state of health of his boss by his statement, he failed spectacularly.
Although Odey was playing pranks with the matter, the planned trip to Brazil exposed the minister and his troubadours. This situation was dramatised by a National Compass columnist, Dotun Oladipo, thus: “What gave fillip to the suspicion that Yar’Adua is sick was the cancellation of his scheduled state visit to Brazil, even after his security personnel and aides had arrived the country. A state visit is not something you cancel without very cogent reasons. Most of the presidential state visits that had been cancelled in the past were occasioned by diplomatic row or disasters of monumental dimension and not because a president decided, in an impromptu manner, that he needed to be cleansed, through a holy pilgrimage, before meeting the ‘devil’ that is hosting him. And you can indeed, despite the harsh economic environment in the country, credit Nigerians with some sense of dissection of issues. Thus, by the time members of the FEC and the presidential spokesman, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, were telling us that the President was on holy pilgrimage, we knew they were not telling us the whole truth, as you say in the courts, concerning the state of health of Yar’Adua.”
Rather than abate, rumours on the state of health of Yar’Adua had by Saturday 29 August reached a feverish pitch with the unconfirmed report that the President had undergone a successful kidney transplant in some national dailies. As published in the newspapers, the President had by his side while undergoing the transplant at King Fahd hospital only his wife, daughter, two physicians and security aides. Ironically, as grave as the information about the surgery was, there was no official confirmation or denial from the Presidential Villa.
The anxiety about the President, however reached a head on Sunday 30 August when the rumour mill went to town that he had passed on to the world beyond. As usual with such rumours, nobody can trace its origin. The lot again fell on the Minister of information to dispel the rumour. In a statement in Abuja, Odey said the President was expected back in Nigeria soon after his trip to Saudi Arabia “where he is on lesser hajj,” and urged all Nigerians to continue to be law-abiding and support the administration to fully realise its goals.
Virtually repeating his statement of the previous Wednesday, Odey said in a press release issued on Sunday night that Yar’Adua was hale and hearty. “The Federal Government wishes to appreciate the concern that has been raised in the newspapers and some sections of the media over the past few days on the state of health of Mr. President, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua. The Federal Government wishes to restate here that Mr. President is very well and healthy. He is in good health to steer the affairs of the state, to bring about better livelihood for the generality of the people of Nigeria. He is expected back in Nigeria soon after his trip to Saudi Arabia, where he has gone on lesser hajj,” the Minister said, without any reference to the story making the round about the treatment being received by the President at the Saudi hospital, just as he was vague about the actual date his principal would return to the country.
This prompted the opposition Action Congress, AC, to accuse the FEC of “feeding the public with deliberate lies over the health of President Umar Yar’Adua.” The party also said the state of the President’s health cannot be treated as a private affair, “because as a public official – and the foremost one at that – whatever happens to him is of interest to the citizenry and affects the entire country”.
In the statement issued in Abuja on Sunday 31 August, signed by AC National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, the party commended the media for “unearthing the truth: which is that President Yar’Adua is undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia rather than going there for lesser hajj as deceptively disseminated by the FEC”. The party noted that government’s information managers have again failed the nation’s call for a full disclosure of the nature of the ailment Yar’Adua is suffering from. “We recall that while in office, (unelected) President Ibrahim Babangida told Nigerians when he was going abroad for radiculopathy treatment. Much more is expected from an ‘elected’ President,” the party said, noting that the veil of secrecy over Yar’Adua’s health “can only lead to unhealthy rumours, which will in turn create an atmosphere of panic over his (President’s) health status – with dire implications for the country’s overall wellbeing.”
Dr. Kayode Soremekun, of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos advised that the situation required that the Information Minister issue bulletins daily on the state of the President’s health. Dotun Oladipo, a columnist with National Compass waved off those who he said were playing the ostrich with Yar’Adua’s health. He wrote: “In an age where information dissemination cannot be controlled again, courtesy of the Internet, and where public officials are now evaluated in the main by their sincerity, it is futile engaging in such infantile lie.”
The anxiety over President Yar’Adua’s health continued last week even as some newspapers indicated that the reported kidney transplant of the President was nothing but a ruse. Also, information attributed to unnamed ‘sources’ in many newspapers last Monday morning that the President would return later that day turned out to be false. In the same vein, there were reports that Yar’Adua would come back to the country last Tuesday night to enable him chair the weekly FEC meeting the next morning.
This information, which was as usual attributed to “highly dependable government sources” in one national daily, also turned out not to be true at the end of the day, as President Yar’Adua was conspicuously absent at the meeting. “When the President left Nigeria, he told us he is going to lesser hajj,” the Minister of Information said while carefully picking his words in response to enquiries on when Yar’Adua would return to the country after last Wednesday’s FEC meeting. Prodded further on the mission of the President in Saudi Arabia, Odey who said Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has been in constant touch with Yar’Adua, cautiously added a caveat: that the President may have decided to use the opportunity of his visit to the oil-rich country to do a medical check-up.
However, the Minister later told journalists that he would confer with the Vice President to know when Yar’Adua would come back to Nigeria. He promised to make the information available to journalists later last Wednesday. But this had not been done as at the time of writing this story last week. Rather, there was further confusion about the actual state of the President’s health as Saharareporters.com reported that Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua, the President’s wife who is with him in Saudi Arabia, was insisting that her husband be taken to the German hospital he was used to. The website said this was sequel to the request by the hospital to use one of her kidneys for her husband. “After running a battery of tests, the team of doctors concluded that the kidney meant for the replacement was likely to suffer tissue rejection from him. They advised that tests be conducted on his close relatives to find alternative donors. His wife and daughter were tested, and his wife proved compatible. She was, however, unwilling to donate an organ in Saudi Arabia. She instead opted for it to be done in Germany. Her condition would mean that Yar’Adua would spend a prolonged period of time in Germany to recuperate,” the online publication reported.
The news agency reported that following the refusal of the first lady to cooperate with the medical team, one of the President’s brothers it identified as Major Audu Yar’Adua, has been allegedly flown to Jeddah to undergo organ compatibility test.
Yet, there have been other reports which alleged that what the President is suffering from is Churg Strauss Syndrome, another serious illness associated with the inflammation of blood vessels which often results into allergy.
Yar’Adua’s trip to a German hospital earlier this year was to receive medical attention for allergy. But not a few people believe that the management of information about his latest trip has put Nigerians under considerable stress and tension. “Life and death is not a thing to be played with and the government and Presidency owe us the fact, so that the speculations will be less. If you don‘t fill the gap with facts, then speculations will run riot. I don‘t know other nations that seem to enjoy half-truths more than perhaps we Nigerians,” Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo said last week when emphasising that Nigerians have a right to know the true medical condition of the President. “Initially, they said he went for only lesser hajj. But it has now been confirmed that he was admitted to a hospital in Saudi Arabia. And doctors had to be flown in from Germany to attend to him. I think it’s a shame that those in charge of information in this country, who are spending public money on such matter, cannot be honest. This should be the last time Nigerians accept this shame,” Femi Falana, Lagos lawyer and President, West African Bar Association, said.
Aso Rock sources however revealed that most of the aides of the president, especially those in charge of his information management, are as much in the dark about the real purpose of the trip to Saudi Arabia as most Nigerians. “What the President told his aides was that he was going for umrah and he travelled with only members of his family. Not even Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was aware the President was travelling for medical treatment. So, how do you expect them (the aides) to tell Nigerians or the press otherwise? You must also know that most of these aides have no access to him (Yar’Adua) in Saudi Arabia,’’ a source in the Presidential Villa told this magazine last week.
According to him, characteristic of Yar’Adua, only a few members who have constituted themselves into a cabal around him were aware of the real nature of the trip. There were reports of some Ministers and aides of the President who were on assignments outside Nigeria obviously planted in some newspapers last week to give the impression that the wheel of government has not ground to a halt with Yar’Adua’s absence from the country. But the quietness of the Presidential Villa in the past few days is enough evidence that the chief occupant is not around.
It was also gathered that the President’s inability to attend to state functions has been stalling the process of governance, since the machinery of state has virtually been halted pending his return to the country. The concern of many Nigerians last week, this magazine gathered, was not just about how soon the President will return from his medical trip abroad, but how many of such journeys he may yet have to make and the effects on the nation. “Honestly I am not bothered by when the President will return. I am absolutely bothered by how soon he will have to go back there,” a government source revealed last week.
Yar’Adua had also battled with ill health for most of the eight years he spent as the governor of Katsina State. Sources in the state told this magazine that Yar’Adua regularly travelled outside the state seeking treatment during the two terms he spent as governor. But Nigeria is a much more complicated entity which governance demands full hands-on approach unlike the largely rural Katsina. There were calls last week that Yar’Adua should appraise his current state of health vis-à-vis his ability to carry on functioning effectively as the Nigerian President: “Nigerians need the security of knowing that they have a leader that is capable of dealing with the complexities of the nation. For Yar’Adua’s health to continue to be such a prominent concern even after a year in Aso Rock, does little to assure the people and the world whose eyes are on Nigeria for a variety of reasons,” said Solomon Sydelle, a social commentator.
Even the controversial Pastor Kunle Bakare of Latter Rain Assembly who had earlier declared Yar’Adua the Nigerian saviour is seeing a different vision now and is singing a different tune. “The President was not mentally and physically prepared for the office. The Presidency is not a birthright or an inheritance handed down from a father to a son; it is a call to serve. It is time for Umar to go home. It is better for the President to go back to Katsina and continue to be a lecturer than waiting to create a constitutional crisis in the country,” the cleric said during service in his church penultimate Sunday, even as he led his congregation to pray for the president’s speedy recovery.
The President’s Affliction
But what exactly is the President’s ailment, and why are his minders so secretive about it?
TheNEWS learnt that added to his kidney problem, believed to be functioning at ‘‘unacceptable’’ level, Yar’Adua was diagnosed of Churg Strauss syndrome, a rare condition that causes inflammation of blood vessels, lungs, skin, nervous system and abdomen. Medical experts contend that the ailment could be caused by effects of asthma medication called leukotriene modifiers. The failure of Yar’Adua to willingly disclose the nature of his sickness has also fuelled rumours that his team of doctors, led by Dr. Salisu Barau Banye, may have wrongly diagnosed him of asthma and placed him on leukotriene modifiers.
The dermatological defects on his face and arms, say experts, are symptoms of Churg Strauss. The disease affects small blood vessels, majorly of the lungs and is common in people with severe asthma. Once untreated, it can become severe, affecting other organs, causing multiple organ failure.
But the disease responds well to conslicoteroids. However, its long term use may be dangerous.
the President’s illness is critical, according to a United States-based Nigerian medical doctor, Dr. Edward Oparaoji, the Global Medical Affairs Chief of Nephrology Section, Shire Pharmaceuticals, in Pennsylvania, USA.
He revealed to the America-based Empowered Newswire that Yar’Adua might have sought medical attention in Saudi Arabia due to a possible refusal by a hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, to carry out a kidney transplant on him. Oparaoji said the President might have been suffering from Churg Strauss Syndrome, CSS. This, according to him, is “rare and one of many forms of vasculitis diseases characterised by inflammation of blood vessels, especially small arteries and veins”.
He added that the President’s alleged condition may not be “surgically operable on ethical grounds in a Western hospital”, adding that the disease might have reached an advanced stage. “It (CSS) is likely that it has severely affected other more vulnerable organs such as the lungs, abdomen, skin, prostate, nerves and or muscles,” he said.
The medical doctor maintained that there was the likelihood of bacterial, fungal and/or viral infections, due to the drugs used in CSS. This, as he explained, depresses the body’s ability to withstand infections.
If the above conditions exist, Oparaoji declared, then Yar‘Adua may not have qualified for kidney transplant, especially in any transplant centre in the West. “Kidney transplant is possible when one has no other severe or life-threatening condition such as CSS (a badly managed one for that matter), that may hinder transplant,” he added.
The Power Calculations
Anxiety over Yar’Adua’s health has begun to create knee-jerk responses in political circles. In other words, questions are being asked and behind-the-scene power calculations are going on. It is not that Nigerians wish their President dead, but the way the Information Minister, John Odey, bungled information about his principal’s state of health helps to exacerbate tension, making critics to raise constitutional issues.
Last Tuesday, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a human rights lawyer whose lung cancer treatment in a London hospital is not hidden, advised Nigerians to pray earnestly for the quick “recovery and survival” of President Umar Yar’Adua. The lawyer wrote in a statement he issued, that for close to two weeks, Yar’Adua had not been governing the country, since he had been receiving medical treatment, including surgery, in Saudi Arabia for an undisclosed ailment.
This, as Fawehinmi put it, is contrary to the official announcement that the President went on lesser Hajj. “The fact is, Yar’Adua is sick and he is unable to govern the country because of his illness. Nevertheless, he deserves the prayers of all Nigerians because he is our President and I appeal to all Nigerians of all religious persuasion to pray for his survival and recovery,” Fawehinmi admonished.
Falana said those hoarding information on Yar’Adua’s health were violating the constitution, adding that by virtue of Section 144 (of the Nigerian Constitution), “we have got to a situation whereby we have to initiate the setting up of a medical panel by the President of the Senate to examine the President and diagnose his ailment and find out whether he is capable to continue to govern us”.
“The constitution has already envisaged that the President of the country may fall ill and he may not be able to take up the functions of his office
“Indeed, it was gathered that one of the reasons why the state of health of the President is being jealously guarded is to prevent calls for the invocation of Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution which states that the President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if:
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(4) The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.
145. Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.
Perhaps, it is this aspect of the constitution that the Information Minister, John Odey is afraid of.
Unfortunately, Yar’Adua does not want to throw in the towel. Okey Ndibe, a Columnist with The Sun, lamented: “A man with Yar’Adua’s health woes should have made the prudent choice of retiring from public life to devote full attention to himself. It’s a pity that the man didn’t have the strength of character to rebuff the flattery of those who wanted to install him in Aso Rock as an enfeebled stooge. Of course, it is not uncommon for a person, even one in weak physical shape, to decide to make self-disregarding sacrifice in order to advance the public good. But nobody who has watched Yar’Adua in office would testify that he evinces passion about bettering Nigeria. He is, at best, a confounded figure who is dozing while Nigeria sinks into depths of despair.”
There are many Nigerians who fervently wish the President well. Ikedife who berated those thinking in the absolute is one of them. He reasoned that when people are expecting a dead tree to fall, the living one may even fall before it. He cited when people started peddling rumour about the death of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s late president. “Most of those who got involved in that misadventure died before the great Zik of Africa. Life and death is not a thing to play with, and the government and the Presidency owe us the fact, so that the speculation will be less.”
However, there are the uncharitable elements who have been having negative expectation with regard to the President. They have started looking at a post-Yar’Adua political scenario. They drew the attention of Nigerians to Section 146 of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates that the Vice-President shall hold the office of President if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason…
The Constitution says further:
Where any vacancy occurs in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (1) of this section during a period when the office of Vice-President is also vacant, the President of the Senate shall hold the office of President for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of a new President, who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office.
(3) Where the office of Vice-President becomes vacant:-
(a) by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal in accordance with section 143 or 144 of this Constitution;
(b) by his assumption of the office of President in accordance with subsection (1) of this section; or
(c) for any other reason,
the President shall nominate and, with the approval of each House of the National Assembly, appoint a new Vice-President.
At the centre of this scenario is Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from Bayelsa, one of the South-South states. “It is quite doubtful whether the Hausa-Fulani will allow him to rule,” a Lagos-based businessman expressed.
Those who hold this view pointed to the recent appointment of new service chiefs by Yar’Adua before his departure, a move that many considered premptive against a possible coup in his absence and a “way of making sure that coercive power remains in the North against any eventuality”.
On 20 August, President Umar Yar’Adua announced a major change of guards. The Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, and the three service chiefs were all replaced. The CDS, Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, was replaced by Air Marshal Paul Dike, who was the Chief of Air Staff, while Maj-Gen. A.B. Dambazau, General Officer Commanding the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army, was named as the new Chief of Army Staff, replacing Lt.-Col. Luka Yusuf.
Also, Rear Admiral Isaiah Iko Ibrahim, the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Training Command, is the new Chief of Naval Staff. He took over from Vice Admiral G.T.A. Adekeye, while the new Chief of Air Staff is Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin. Until this appointment, Petinrin was the Air Officer Commanding the Nigerian Air Force Training Command.
Apart from citing that there are rumblings in the military right now, they are also apprehensive of the possible irredentist configuration of the present service chiefs.
Critics who pursue this argument believed strongly that if the North cannot prevent Jonathan from ruling since the constitution is clear on that, “they may stage a coup”.
However, the North may, according to these extreme critics, not find Nigeria easy to rule if they
shove Jonathan aside because “the place is a boiling cauldron already”.
The Presidency, meanwhile, has denied any underlying motive in the change of service chiefs. It explained that the changes in the command structure of the country’s armed forces were not due to any perceived threat to the administration as being speculated in the media. Olusegun Adeniyi, presidential spokesman, said in a statement issued in Abuja that the changes were made in the normal course of affairs and were not a reaction to any particular occurrence. Adeniyi argued further that a change of guards in the armed forces had been on the cards for sometime, since both the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Azazi and the former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Adekeye, became due for retirement several months ago. “The changes were not made earlier because of the President’s insistence that things be done properly at all times. He demanded proper background checks and briefs on all those recommended as replacements for the outgoing service chiefs and also undertook necessary consultations,” Adeniyi concluded.
However, there are other critics who hold the view that coup is no longer fashionable in a highly globalised world. They believed that the North might use a different strategy. As an Ibadan-based academic reasoned: “The North will allow Jonathan to be sworn in alright, in case Yar’Adua becomes incapacitated, but the case against the 1997 presidential election will take a different turn. The Supreme Court might be pressured to annul that election and order a fresh one through which a northern candidate will be fielded for the PDP.” The university don added that with that development, the constitution will not be violated.
This magazine gathered that the prospect of President Yar’Adua not being able to carry on either through the invocation of this clause of the constitution or voluntary resignation as a result of incapacitation is already spawning series of intrigues and calculations, especially among the Northern power elite.
The fact however is that no less than four Nigerian leaders at the highest level of government have died in office. Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa were both killed during coups in 1966, while General Murtala Muhammed was still in office as head of state when he was assassinated during the Dimka coup of 1976. The death of General Sani Abacha, allegedly after eating a spiked apple provided by some Indian prostitutes in 1998, in fact ushered in the present democratic experiment.
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State, will step into the office of the President, as stipulated in section 145 of the constitution if his current boss, the former Katsina State governor leaves office for one reason or the other.
But it was gathered that the North which regained power at the federal level after eight years, which some politicians from the region have continued to describe as the worst period for the region politically and economically, will not allow it to slip off their hands after less than two years without giving a fight. It was also gathered that the current agitation for resource control and frequent description of the North as parasites by some Niger Delta activists has further strengthened the region’s resolve to seek ways of holding on to power at all costs, in spite of the provision of the constitution if Yar’Adua vacates the number seat.
Writing in a popular website, nigeriansinamerica, a Nigerian university instructor based in the United States, Sabella Ogbobode Abidde noted that it is improbable that the North will allow the eight years they have to be in power at the centre courtesy of PDP power rotation agreement to slip off their fingers. “Is Nigeria ready for an Ijaw President; and more importantly, is Northern Nigeria ready to forgo their planned eight years in office? I do not foresee a time when a Northerner will not be either the president or vice president. This time around, the presidency, they believe, is theirs for keeps for eight years.”
Indeed, the thinking of the North about the whole issue was well expressed in a back page article published in Daily Trust of Tuesday 2 September, written by Muhammad Al-Ghazali, a regular columnist with the newspaper. While contemplating the possibility of Yar’Adua’s death, Al-Ghazali put the fears of the North about the prospect of Goodluck Jonathan presidency this way: “For people accused of parasitic tendencies by the South-South with the tacit encouragement of the South-East and the South-West, it bears little comfort in knowing that the man constitutionally assured to succeed President Yar’adua is Jonathan Goodluck – an authentic son of the Niger Delta… But one thing we can be sure of is this: as a genuine son of the soil, if Jonathan Goodluck succeeds Yar’adua, he will come under tremendous pressure from his own people to deliver. A lot will depend on how he goes about the process. Whatever he eventually does, the people of the North in particular have every reason to be apprehensive.”
The columnist added: “If the President should die tomorrow, it will only trigger a chain of events which nobody in his right senses can foretell… If the South-South, aided by much of the South, elevates its parasitic allegations against the North to point of provocation, it will ultimately lead to a backlash and the hardening of positions, even possibly the tensions of 1966!”
Abidde came out with five likely scenarios that the North may put in motion to neutralise the constitutional provision that allows the VP to take over or to neutralise the VP himself: Buhari “wins” at the Supreme Court, in which case a Northerner continues as the President; after “due consultation,” Jonathan remains the VP, but a Northerner is brought in as the President; Jonathan Goodluck ascends the presidency, but only ceremonially, a titular president, guided by a very powerful vice president; something untoward happens to Jonathan Goodluck that makes him wish he remained in Bayelsa State as the governor; or a military coup d’etat takes place. Just like Ali Ghazali, the university instructor was however quick to add that any of the scenarios is capable of shaking the unity of the country to its very foundation.
Meanwhile, some deft footwork is going on among the political class. A source told TheNEWS that there have been some secret meetings between former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida lately. In his own Yoruba enclave, Obasanjo himself has been holding meetings, making sure that attempts by certain elements in the present dispensation to reduce his stature and completely rubbish him come to nought. As an Aso Rock source revealed: “There are plans to deal with vocal South-West elements that may want to stand against the political calculations of the North and three among them are Obasanjo, former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande.”
The process to cut Obasanjo to size started a long time ago with the move to reduce his influence as the chairman, Board of Trustees, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Sunday Punch, 10 August 2008, reported that some PDP leaders from the South-West may have “gone back to the drawing board to plan how to give former President Olusegun Obasanjo a safe landing over the plot to remove him as PDP Board of Trustees Chairman”.
Top level consultations, as the newspaper reported, were in progress among major stakeholders in the party from the South-West zone on strategies to be adopted to neutralise those opposed to Obasanjo. After the PDP NEC meeting in Abuja on Tuesday 12 August, an ex-officio member of the PDP National Executive Council, Alhaji Ismail Yemi Yusuff, was quoted as saying that the South-West leaders were determined to ensure that the former president was treated with respect and dignity. “We shall do everything to make sure that Chief Obasanjo is not rubbished. We agree with the propositions for the amendment of PDP’s constitution, but many things are involved. The PDP South-West caucus will seriously implement the decisions we all reached at the NEC meeting, including the one on the setting up of standing monitoring committees to evaluate the performance of elected officials in the zone. But the South-West caucus will not allow Chief Obasanjo to be rubbished.”
In spite of this development, Chief Godwin Daboh Adzuana submitted: “We believe that there is no way the present leadership of the party and President Umar Yar’Adua’s administration can achieve real changes as long as Chief Obasanjo continues in that position. We are succeeding towards putting an end to the arbitrariness and domineering influence that had been holding PDP back. Obasanjo must go.”
The other aspect of giving the opposition a bad name to hang it was the allegation of coup plot, levelled by the PDP publicity secretary, Professor Ahmed Alkali, against Chief Bisi Akande, Action Congress Chairman. He claimed that Akande made a statement that he was interested in the collapse of the PDP so that AC could be in charge. Alkali went further to accuse a coalition of opposition parties, Nigeria United for Democracy, NUD, of perfecting plans in concert with some foreign elements to create chaos.
But Lai Mohammed, the AC publicity secretary, reacted that Akande only expressed a wish that the election victory of the PDP would be upturned by the Supreme Court that is handling presidential election petition cases. He wrote further: “The allegation by the PDP amounts to shooting the breeze. And it is the handiwork of a ruling party that has no initiative on how to address the plethora of problems facing the country and how to ensure better life for the country’s long suffering citizens.”
– Additional reports Ademola Adegbamigbe.