Political power and Yar'Adua's illness

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Edwin Madunagu

I have attempted, on several occasions in the recent past, to comment on the question of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's illness and the "crisis" and politics it has generated. On each of such occasions I had failed woefully. In the last attempt I ended up with just one paragraph.

I tried to write a letter-to-the-editor, but later considered this inappropriate for a columnist. The point is that the current political "problem" before the nation somehow appears to me to be very clear and uncomplicated.

A very long time ago, I read the story of a South American country whose President was blind for the last three years of his tenure. The fact was only revealed when the man died, or was overthrown, for some reasons other than the man's blindness - a fact that was general unknown to the public. It happened a long time ago, and I have forgotten the details. But the point is clear: the nature of political power or, more correctly, the nature of executive presidency. Some years ago, under the caption, Blind men in power, I told readers of the case of an Iranian government film censor who was a blind man. He would go to the theatre with an assistant and form his judgment on the admissibility of a film on the basis of what his assistant told him, since he could not see. He later left office, but not for his blindness. Again, the point is clear: the nature of power. Lesson: Under this fraudulent political system and fraudulent rulers Nigeria could run almost indefinitely without a President. But the Nigerian people have no reason to accept that option.

Not too long ago, in this column, I wrote about Agreement and Protocol and tried to establish the links between them - in the sense in which I used the terms. For any major agreement between two or more powerful entities there is also a protocol. The agreement is the version for public consumption, the ideological statement. Not that it is entirely false; it is only superficial. And the parties know this. The protocol is the fundamental agreement. It is either unknown to the public or is only partly so. Never fully. The protocol holds the agreement and if it collapses, the agreement collapses. The ruling blocs of Nigeria gave us an Agreement between themselves which they imposed on us and called the 1999 Constitution. But they have a protocol which includes the "zoning formula" or its particular application, the "rotational presidency". In this application, the "North" and the "South" take the presidency in turns, eight years per turn. Many Nigerians think they know what the blocs mean by the "North" and the "South". But they are mistaken. The terms are narrower than we think.

Now, by some accident (some cynics or conspiracy theorists would say "strategic plan") a problem arose when it was the turn of the "North" to occupy the presidency after the "South" had had its first eight year slot: President Yar'Adua, the representative of the "North", who is expected to be there for eight years, fell ill, and has been sick even before he assumed office in May 2007. He has spent only two years and a half out of a lot of eight years. Holding up only the Agreement (the 1999 Constitution), or rather their interpretation of the Agreement, or their expectations, many Nigerians have been clamouring for a temporary hand-over of the presidency to the Vice-President who, by a section of the Agreement, is from the "South". But the "power block" which guarantees Yar'Adua's presidency, citing the same Agreement (or 1999 Constitution), says No. The Nigerian people, however, have the right and the duty to hold the power blocs to the Agreement they gave the nation - as defective as it is. And that is what is happening. But it should be clear: We do not love the 1999 Constitution.

It is the two blocs that cannot resolve the problem they created. And they cannot resolve the problem because while we, the Nigerian people, hold up the 1999 Constitution (the Agreement), the ordinary democratic expectations, and the dictates of modernity, they, the power blocs, are focusing on the protocol which we know only in part. Nigeria's power blocs do not trust each other. That is the problem. And when I say "power blocs" I do not mean the leaders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or their Board of Trustees or their National Executive Council (NEC) or their National Working Committee (NWC), or even their National Council. No. These are all front formations. Nor do I mean the National Assembly or its leadership. The power blocs are the internal clolonizers of Nigeria.

According to the 1999 Constitution, the stage is set for the inauguration of the Vice-President as Acting President either if the President writes a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly to the effect that he or she will, for some time, be unavailable to perform his or her duties, or if the Council of Ministers sends a communication to the National Assembly indicating that the President is no longer able to carry out his or her functions. None of these has happened - more than two months after President Yar'Adua traveled abroad to attend to his health. The stalemate will be broken only if, somehow, the power blocs reach an agreement, in spite of their mutual mistrust, or the issue is forced by one of the blocs, either deliberately or under popular pressure. I cannot predict what will follow. Otherwise the matter will remain the way it is until it is naturally resolved - whatever, the consequences to the nation and its peoples. The Nigerian people are more patriotic than the power blocs, the self-proclaimed leaders.

Various functionaries of the Nigerian state, mere emissaries of the power blocs, have been insulting the nation with all sorts of positions and explanations. We have been told that the President of the Republic could rule from any point on the planet Earth, that the President could be absent from his seat indefinitely, that the President has not violated the Constitution in any way, that there is nothing the National Assembly could do in the absence of a letter from the President indicating his unavailability, that we should forget the issue and simply wish the President well, etc. Nigerian people, their organisations and their leaders have also responded in various ways admittedly with different motives. There will always be different motives in matters like this. The popular position is however clear: adherence to the 1999 Agreement. But again I say: We are not in love with the Agreement.

On a humanist and personal level, I feel very deeply for President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. I sincerely wish him quick and complete recovery. He was my Comrade in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was then a cadre of the radical students' organisation, Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN) in Zaria / Kaduna axis. It was in pursuance of the strategy to duplicate that name and the organisation's general programme in all the tertiary institutions in Nigeria that we initiated the formation of MPN in the University of Calabar in July 1977. But that was a long time ago. I don't know how on earth he came to join the Peoples Democratic Party, or how he became the governor of Katsina State and served for eight years, or how he became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Cynics may respond that many of my closer friends and Comrades are in PDP. I would not respond.

Nigeria is bigger than any single individual or group, or more correctly, the battle for Nigeria is bigger than the preservation of personal relationships, past or present. It is even bigger than the preservation of family relationships. From the depth of my heart I wish Yar'Adua quick and complete recovery. But I also wish that this crisis, in whose centre he is, will be another opportunity to look at certain parts of the Agreement which the power blocs gave to us in 1999. They include: the question of Executive Presidency as distinct from Collective or Collegial Presidency or Parliamentary System and the question of genuine decentralisation of the state. All the ambiguities and silences deliberately introduced into the Agreement should be removed.

As I recently told some friends, the politicians of the First Republic would have easily resolved the present problem without violating the Agreement or the Protocol. But it appears the current power blocs are unable to rule in the old ways. Nigerian people also appear to be refusing to be ruled in the old ways. Something is, however, still missing: the two positions have to cross. The entire political system is a fraud against the Nigerian people; and the present political dispensation - at all levels - emerged fraudulently from the fraudulent political system. What do we do?

I remember a saying which I understand exists in several African languages. It goes like this, in approximate translation: If a tree falls on another tree, together constituting an obstruction on your path, you may remove the obstruction either by lifting the trees one by one, starting from the one on top, or gathering your strength and lifting up the lower one, thereby also removing the one on top. All depends on your strength, and your brain.


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