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Beyond Yar’Adua

Image removed.Last week, Yobe State Governor, Mr. Mamman Bello Ali, died, abroad.  In the United States.  

Mr. Ali’s passage is bound to turn the quiet concern of every Nigerian to our perennially-sick “leader,” Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua.  Mr. Ali died one day after Yar’Adua was to have left for treatment abroad.    

Instead, he began an impromptu two-week “vacation” that his spokesman said he would spend within Nigeria’s borders.  I commend Yar’Adua for this decision.  Hopefully, ordinary Nigerians will run into him at the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River, which will do wonders for tourism in the country, but I doubt that.

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Yar’Adua’s “vacation” has not gone without controversy.  Yar’Adua did not inform the Senate he wanted to go on vacation.  Perhaps he did not know; he would not be our first leader to read only the sections of our constitution that grant him authority.  In any case, with one part of the government claiming he had handed over to the Vice-President, another said he did not hand-over “per se,” whatever that means.  

It would seem that this development is not entirely reassuring to the half of the government that sees the presidency as personal to Yar’Adua.  Spokesman Adeniyi seemed to have been bristling with considerable discomfort last week when he addressed the press, bouncing off questions with other questions with the dexterity of the Flying Eagles goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye deflecting shots away from the goal line.  

Reporter: Is the president uncomfortable with the Obasanjo/Atiku reconciliation?
Spokesman: Why should the president be uncomfortable with the former president and former vice president?
Reporter: [On the President’s vacation]: Why now, does it have anything to do with his health?
Spokesman: Why not now?
Reporter: There are speculations that some doctors will be flown in from Germany?
Spokesman: From where?
Reporter: From Germany.
Spokesman: To where?
Reporter: To Nigeria.
Spokesman: Okay go and wait for them at the airport.

It is strange that a man as sick as Yar’Adua is would suddenly convert his treatment plans into vacation plans, and expect to be fit to swat his own mosquitoes in two weeks.  But I agree with the spokesman that like everyone else, the President is entitled to rest.  What is questionable is that the so-called vacation was so sudden.  It is also being oversold: Mr. Adeniyi said the President would “relax, refresh and reflect on governance, but also engage in intellectual exercise.”

That does not make sense.  Ill-health is no opportunity or signal to begin R &R, let alone intellectual rigour.  Even if Yar’Adua originally meant well, it is now clear that he is incapable of the demands of his high office.  Is there any Nigerian who truly believes that the man is capable of a full week’s work?  

I do not, and we deceive ourselves if we say a nation of our size and complexity can be led by a man who is operating at less than double capacity.  Our country is demanding of a vigorous 24-hour man; it is the worst form of conceit to suggest we can thrive under the watch of one who is merely clinging to power.

If Yar’Adua is so sick they are having to doctor his pictures and videos—instead of doctoring the patient—is that really wise?  He was a person before he became President; shouldn’t that person, in poor health, be seeking the best medical care without having to worry about family or nation?  How low and selfish can we go if a man chooses to put his nation on hold while he struggles to survive?

This reflects extremely poor judgment reveals our President as a selfish and power-hungry Nigerian.  In his mind, his interests are superior to that of his nation, which explains why he is working at preserving his presidency, not what would elevate her.  Regrettably, we now have a patter where, when a Nigerian leader travels—or falls sick, or is drunk, or visits his concubine—the nation must wait.  In Yar’Adua’s case, we are on that sick bed with him, and he knows it.  

Away from that bed, only a fool would argue that a leader who mistakes spending billions of Naira on electricity generators for an energy policy would remember him.  Only a fool battling HIV would believe that Yar’Adua, on his sickbed in the best private hospital settings money can buy, would remember him.  

Only a fool would think that on that hospital bed, Yar’Adua is actually concerned about the millions of Nigerians who lack drinking water or jobs or safe highways.  Only a fool would think that Yar’Adua, on that bed, is concerned about his seven-point plan, or the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, or the so-called Vision 2020.  

Only a fool would think that Yar’Adua—a man who is keeping Maurice Iwu in INEC while he proclaims interest in honest elections; a man who is maintaining some of our most indolent and corrupt former state officials as advisers; a man who, having surveyed our 140 million population, picked Tony Anenih as the one most capable of the chairmanship of the Nigerian Ports Authority—is concerned with the values of decency, morality, rule of law, justice or development.

Yet, in the midst of all this, President Yar’Adua thinks he needs a vacation.  What is the vacation from?  If it is merely to fulfill the principle of rest, it would be difficult to quarrel with it.  But if it is rest from his labours, what labours?  Much of Yar’Adua’s tenure has been a waiting game: about his health, his cabinet or his budget.  I do not know exactly what toil he has undertaken, or what game of tennis or squash he wants to recover from.  Has he conducted an election that was unannounced, resolved the Niger Delta situation, or fixed our unemployment?
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Has any item on his agenda been completed?  How many Nigerians has he saved from dying on our roads?   While he hobnobs with crooks and appoints to office their cronies and servants, how many children has he inspired to serve our country with every drop of their blood?

In Yar’Adua’s hands, the past is the present.  That past was a crisis of governance.  In Yar’Adua’s hands, and in the context of his paranoia, poor health and absence of focus, uncertainty and chaos are taking over.    Yar’Adua is not thinking of what would move Nigeria forward, most quickly, for most people.   

But chaos may be just what we need.   Except that chaos does not usually benefit those who created it.  

But we cannot wait.  We must neither be forced to wait, not become the victim of the greed and selfishness of a man who did not win an election in the first place.  We must refuse to be the victim of a leadership that remembers us only in the period between medication and bed.  

Still, there are people who have Yar’Adua’s ear.  They may want to reassure him that leadership is not always the power you control.  Leadership is more eloquent and robust when it admits of a reality that is bigger and bolder than those who wield it.  Leadership is not Yar’Adua, and beyond him we must now critically look.

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