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Nigeria: Who is Playing Politics With the President’s Health?


30 December 2009

By Abdulazeez Abdullahi

Those who describe the calls on President Umaru Musa Yar’adua to resign as a result of his ill health as unpatriotic and assert that those who do so are playing politics with the serious matter of the president’s health miss the point. In my opinion, it is those who insist that the president continues to hold the reigns of power despite his apparent failure to do so effectively who are actually guilty of playing politics with the matter. I fail to see any other way to explain the great length members of the Federal Executive Council had to go to convince Nigerians that all is well in the country and telling us that the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan is in charge and capable of running the affairs of the country other than politics at play. Some may describe the ministers’ actions as patriotic – and I concede it may be - .but I am swayed by the argument to the contrary. Despite the seeming outward display of patriotism, the imprint of politics is still glaring.

Politics and nothing else has certainly taken center stage when, in their show of support for the vice president, the ministers – including the secretary to the government of the federation fail to see the glaring violation of the constitution by the Presidency. Section 145 of the 1999 constitution states that: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is unable to discharge the function of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such function shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President”. What this section means in clear and unambiguous terms is that for Goodluck Jonathan to constitutionally take full command of the affairs of state, a letter must be written to the leadership of the National Assembly. Because Nigerians have not been told this has been done, we will correctly assume it has not. The only correspondence that perhaps Nigerians were officially informed of was that in relation to the botched 2010 Budget presentation before the president’s hurried departure to Saudi Arabia. The group of 55 eminent Nigerians who earlier last week took the courageous move of asking the president to resign have asked the federal executive council to prevail on the president to send that letter to the National Assembly, whether the council will put politics aside and take this advice to uphold the tenet of the constitution is left top be seen.

Politics is indeed at play when the Federal Executive Council, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and other apologists of the present administration equate calls for the president’s resignation with wishing him dead. After giving reasons why the party felt compelled to offer special prayers for the president during its National Working Committee meeting last week, Vincent Ogbulafor, the party’s chairman said: “We should form the habit of praying for our leaders and praying for their good health so that they can discharge their duties. So we feel very sad for the Nigerians who are calling for the resignation of the president. I advise them to refrain from it. When it was announced that Zik was dead, those who announced Zik’s death eventually died before him”. Chief Tony Anenih, also joined the chorus in a statement issued last week condemning what he called “insensitivity, derision and ungodly wishes” by those calling for the president to throw in the towel.

As I see it, those calling on the president to resign are actually demonstrating a patriotic stand on the matter. Their point being that by doing so he would have sufficient time to attend to his health without the distraction of presiding over a complex nation like Nigeria with its myriad problems. Indeed the nation’s problems are sufficient to even make a fully fit person begin to lose his well being let alone someone like our president who we all knew right from the days of the campaigns in 2007 that all was not well with him. President Yar’adua has certainly done his bit to move this country forward and he will without doubt be remembered for it. After all it is to the eternal credit of his administration that the militant crisis in the Niger Delta has been successfully brought to an end – for now - through the amnesty programme. This, he was able to do just two years into his tenure whereas his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo failed woefully in arresting the situation for the eight years he was in power.

While I see absolutely nothing wrong in praying for the president who truly needs the prayer of all his well wishers to overcome his affliction, I am worried by the way those calling for the prayers are making a show of it. As a rule, I am skeptical about any endeavor spearheaded by politicians because in most cases, their intentions are underpinned by political motivation. The media is awash with reports of all manner of associations, political groups and notable politicians calling for prayers for the president to get well. The question I ask myself is: do those who genuinely wish the president well need to announce to the world that they are praying for him? Religious scholars have admonished that prayers held in the privacy of one’s heart have the greater tendency of being answered by the Almighty. I expected the PDP to have held its prayer session for the president behind closed doors and away from the glare of cameras and microphones rather than use the opportunity to score a political point. That was exactly what they succeeded in doing as far as I am concerned.

The president’s condition is indeed critical and our hearts are with him and his family in these trying times. This however should not distract from the fact that the issue is not about the individual but about a nation of over 140 million that needs the strong presence of a leader who not only inspires but also provides the strategic direction that will move the country out of the doldrums. It will take a long while for President Yar’adua to achieve these goals even when he becomes fully fit again which we hope he does soonest.

 

 

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