Yar'Adua: The Game is Up

2010-02-07
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper


President Umaru Yar'çdua's political strategists ought to have seen by now that the game is up. And looks like they have, with Senator Muhammad Abba-Aji assuring the Senate that a Presidential letter asking for permission to proceed on vacation, and for his vice president to act for him will be submitted before the Senate's Wednesday deadline. Seventy six days after he left the country for a Saudi Arabian hospital, the President and his handlers have suddenly learnt that bitter lesson that although you may fool the people some of the time, you cannot do so all the time. In 76 days, they managed to erode whatever goodwill was left for the President. Who has not yet spoken up on the President's French leave? The solidarity among the members of the Executive Council of the Federation collapsed with the Minister of Information and Communications crying foul. Thirty-one Governors have also asked that the game had gone on for too long, it should end. They want power handed over to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. If this fails, the Senate has already served notice that it would be left with no option but to commence impeachment proceedings against the President. MEND's declaration of the end of its ceasefire is also linked to the President's prolonged absence, and the militants' refusal to discuss the way forward with an officially handicapped Vice President.

I believe the Senate will get the letter now. It was a pathetic Abba Aji telling the Senators that the letter will be delivered. He tried hard to debunk allegations that he had been sitting on the letter or that a letter was actually written which nobody has so far been able to account for. He went as far as labelling the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a liar. What kind of government are they running in Abuja that the SGF would not know the difference between a letter written in January 2009 and another written in November 2009. It no longer matters. They are trapped in their own web of deceit. Another letter can be written. Getting the President to sign it should not be a problem. If he could sign a voluminous Appropriation Act document with notes and figures, on his sick bed in far away Saudi Arabia , it must be easy for him to sign a single page. I he is in no position to do so, his thumbprint will do. It is now Yar'çdua's fate as president, not Nigeria 's future, that hangs on the weight of a letter and a signature.

When that letter eventually shows up, the way will be paved for the realisation of Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution. The uncertainties, the humiliation and the heart-wrenching gerrymandering that preceded this moment could have been avoided if the President and his advisers had simply acted right from day one, and if they had not insisted on playing games. One obvious message that we have seen is the fact that Nigerian leaders are often so reluctant to obey the same laws of the land that they swore to defend on assumption of office. The law matters little to them; what matters more is their own self-interest. It was Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa who revealed the thinking of the Yar'Adua camp on the matter when he declared, one point after the other, that the President can rule Nigeria from anywhere (I suppose that includes the grave), and that the President is not obliged to hand over to his Vice, and that the Vice President does need any official authorisation to start acting as President. These have now been exploded as untenable.

When Yar'çdua's letter finally arrives and Goodluck Jonathan assumes powers legitimately as Acting President, the triumph would be that of civil society. That critical group will be in a position to claim again that it is truly the soul of the land, otherwise the land would have been completely desecrated by power mongers for whom only power matters. The power of public opinion would also have been demonstrated. It took an overwhelming rise of public opinion for the men and women of power to realise that the people can no longer be deceived, and that telling the people lies about the President's health amounts to a political "419." Shall we label the people's unanimous stand, our Saudi Arabia Revolution?

This has not been without some gains with regard to the relationship between the President and Vice President and Governors and their Deputies in Nigeria , and the fact that the Constitution is meant to be obeyed. President Yar'Adua may have been reluctant to hand over to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan because he does not trust him. Between 1999 and 2007, we had many cases across the country of Governors ignoring their Deputies. In one state, the Governor always travelled with his Deputy, even if he was going abroad for a medical check up. The Deputy didn't have to be ill; he was taken along all the same, so power could be handed over to someone else. In other states, the Deputy Governor was sidelined and the Secretary to State Government or a Commissioner was asked to act; that this was contrary to the Constitution was conveniently ignored. In the more problematic cases, the Governor got the state House of Assembly to impeach an assertive Deputy Governor.

Even now, almost 11 years after the return to civilian rule, Deputies are treated with suspicion. It has taken the shabby treatment of Goodluck Jonathan for the National Assembly to come up with a Bill to amend the relevant sections of the Constitution. The lawmakers want to review Section 145 of the Constitution to indicate that should the President be absent from office for more than 21 days, the Vice President will automatically assume office as Acting President. A similar review will apply to Governors and their Deputies. And that is important. But there is an additional step to be taken and that is to address the mischief of a President or Governor deciding to travel with his Deputy, to allow a figure head to stand in. Section 144, so thoroughly abused in this case by Yar'çdua's Cabinet is also in urgent need of amendment.

Another gain is the further exposure of the opportunism of the Nigerian political elite. The same men and women who only three months ago would not cast as much as a glance in Goodluck Jonathan's direction are all trooping to Abuja to express loyalty and pay homage. The signs are clear: the crowd of opportunity-seekers is beginning to hedge their bets and position themselves for a Jonathan Presidency. For the second time in his rather short career as a politician (11 years only), Goodluck Jonathan is being thrown up by fate and circumstances to assume power, following the absence of his boss. In Bayelsa state, he completed then Governor Alamiyeseigha's tenure, after the Governor ran into EFCC trouble and gaol. The stage now seems set for his emergence as Acting President. How lucky can a man get?

Having spent more than two years in Abuja, the Federal seat of power, witnessing at close quarters, the intrigues of power, Dr Jonathan should know by now, that Abuja is different from Yenagoa, and that what is about to happen to him, is far more serious. He should think of the date, 1914 and beyond. If he gets to office as Acting President, he will be setting sail, to put it metaphorically, on the river of life. I hope he has a life jacket. And that he can swim. He must begin by eschewing bitterness. He must add to that a quick understanding of the historicity of the moment, and the weight of the assignment. He would have very little time, the next general elections barely a year or so away, and it is within that extremely short time, given the fact also that his boss may return at any time, that he must prove himself. He should expect no sympathies from the moment he assumes powers and he should be under no illusion that any form of help will come his way.

His wife, Patience Jonathan will also automatically emerge as Acting First Lady. We have had too many issues with the wives of public officials particularly First Ladies. As First Lady in Bayelsa, within a few weeks, Mrs Jonathan had turned herself into quite a subject of notorious news. Should her husband show up as Acting President and she as Acting First Lady, she must be counselled that the Presidency of Nigeria is the biggest platform imaginable; hamlet manners will not be acceptable. Nigerians are impatient. We hope there will be no issues with Patience Jonathan should she temporarily step into Turai Yar'Adua's shoes who we hope, by now, will be smart enough to read the handwriting on the wall. As Nigeria prepares to move on, we wish President Umaru Yar'Adua speedy recovery and pray for him.


II:

South Africa's Sex-President

The world may be laughing at Nigeria for having a sick President, but we are at least much better than South Africa where the people are now saddled with a problematic President. The problem with President Jacob Zuma is not a disease but his reckless libido. It is sad that at the World Economic Conference in Davos , Switzerland , the more exciting contribution from South Africa had nothing to do with economy and development but President Zuma's statements about his polygamy, his promiscuity and Zulu culture. Democracy throws up all sorts and that is probably what makes it beautiful. Whatever it throws up, society gets a chance to learn fresh and often unimaginable lessons. After the end of apartheid, South Africans had Nelson Mandela as President. He is father of the nation, the eternal symbol of South African renaissance.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki cut a fine picture of decorum and dignity. The current President is neither Mandela nor Mbeki: he has nothing of their attributes. He came to power riding the wave crests of populism but as President he has robbed the office of its gravitas, turning South Africa into a laughing stock. He has confirmed the average African's worst fears, that in good time, South Africa often touted as a special African country (under Mandela and Mbeki) will go the way of other African countries. Zuma , South Africa 's most prototypical African President to date, has proven this to be true. In a country where women's rights used to be taken seriously, his treatment of women as sex objects puts all South African women to ridicule. In a country where HIV/AIDS poses a serious public health challenge his love of unprotected sex jeopardises the safe sex campaign. Polygamy may be accepted among his Zulu stock, but his fathering of a love child raises grave moral questions.

Zuma has 20 children from so many women. A former wife committed suicide claiming that marriage to Zuma was "hell". He has three official wives, all playing the role of First Lady collectively and in turns. The mother of his latest child, a love child, is the daughter of his friend, Irving Khoza, head of South Africa 's World Cup 2010 organizing committee and owner of the Orlando Pirates football club. Zuma has had to pay a fine as Zulu custom requires for putting Somono Khoza in the family way outside wedlock. He insists that he loves his wives equally. He was once quoted saying he could not contract HIV because he took a shower after having unprotected sex. Jacob Zuma may be good at winning popular votes, but as President, he is working too hard at becoming an embarrassment to his country. He has complained about excessive media scrutiny of his private life. He talks about his cultural rights. How about his responsibilities as a national role model? His party, the ANC is preaching a "one partner" message to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS but the President keeps many women and talks about cultural rights. In 2005, he was accused of raping another friend's daughter.

He is scheduled to visit the United Kingdom in March as a guest of the Queen. In June, South Africa will be hosting the World Cup. What will South Africans do with their President: other men will be afraid to leave their wives alone with him for a second. While Jacob Zuma hops from one bed to another, the black voting majority which brought him to power in the hope that he will show a better understanding of their plight in post-apartheid South Africa is badly short-changed. They remain poor, homeless and alienated as they keep wondering: what has the end of apartheid brought us? The opposition wants President Jacob Zuma to undergo a sex-addiction therapy. ANC members want Zuma to be left alone. They should be singing Lethu Mshini Wani (Bring me my machine gun) and their guns should be trained on Zuma if that will force him to concentrate on the job. It is a shame.

 

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