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Illness could complicate Yar’Adua’s possible bid for second term

Thursday December 17 2009

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua.  

Ever since Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment, Nigeria had been a boiling pot of animated debates.

Matters have been pushed to a new crisis by lawyer Femi Falana who has filed a case asking a Nigerian court to order the President to hand executive power to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

Some media houses have portrayed this crisis as a simple matter of a sick president. But everyday brings with it new tales about the ebb and flow – mostly the ebb – of the lives of the most famous patients on the Arabian Peninsula, thanks to global media attention on the president’s health.

Unlike in the past, the president’s media handlers told Nigerians that he was down with pericanditis, an inflammation of tissue bordering the heart, and had travelled to Saudi Arabia, not for the pilgrimage, but for treatment.

Many have blamed the Presidential Media Office for exacerbating the crisis by failing to give a daily update of the President’s hospital routine and response to treatment. Yet such people may have forgotten that just a day after Yar’Adua’s departure, the rumour that swept across the nation, and even beyond, was that he was dead.

Like most rumours, it had no known source and was predicated on no known incident. The more government officials tried to stem the rumour, the more it spread on the wings of the internet and cell phone text messages.


Curious people were glued to the internet after keying in just two words “Yar’Adua’s death” – two ominous words that have become ordinary in Nigeria in the past three weeks. And out would pop details of past and present rumours of his death and ill-health from the BBC, CNN and VOA, whose reports on the president’s health condition were widely quoted in Nigerian papers.

Show politicians a molehill and they will swear it is a Kilimanjaro. As Nigerian politicians are no different from others, they have sounded the alarm that a constitutional crisis had enveloped the nation.

They claim that the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria as well as that of the Head of the Court of Appeal would become vacant at the end of December; that there will be a vacuum if the President is not back by then to make new appointments.


Now they say there are certain documents awaiting his signature; such as the Supplementary Appropriation Bill and the National Honours Award list. Left unsaid is the fact that these documents can be flown to the hospital for Yar’Adua’s signature if need be.

Also, left mainly unsaid is that the real reason for the debate is that Yar’Adua did not constitutionally hand over power through a written proclamation to the Nigerian Senate empowering the Vice President to act in his absence.

Many have interpreted this to mean that there is a feud between him and the Vice President. Once this was pointed out, other complications surfaced.

The vice president’s supporters (mainly from his Ijaw ethnic group who are found on the Atlantic coastline) have vowed to secede if their son is not allowed to step into Yar’Adua’s shoes in case the president dies.

Some of Yar’Adua’s fellow Northerners countered that another Northerner would have to step into Yar’Adua’s office to complete the presidential tenure for the North. (As if former President Olusegun Obasanjo held power on behalf of the South.)

Totally unsaid was how another Northerner would become President in the event of Mr Yar’Adua’s death – the constitutional provision is that a vice president automatically succeeds a dead President.

Mostly wild and unfounded different scenarios and rumours of plots have emerged. New power blocs are reportedly being formed and the press is awash with tales and analyses of power games.

Yet, last weekend, indications emerged that Yar’Adua could be home and in his office within a week, or two at the most. But would his return render the uproar of the past three weeks a storm in a tea cup?

No, the uproar, driven by the opposition, has seemingly damaged Yar’Adua’s much-debated second term bid. Although he had never declared that he would re-contest the presidency, the debate on whether he was healthy enough for another term or not has been on ever since he ascended to the presidency in May 2009.

If the uproar forces him not to re-contest, the opposition’s campaign over the past three weeks will not have been in vain.

Ended rebellion

The truth is that Yar’Adua’s latest illness struck at the wrong time. Last October was Yar’Adua’s as no month had been. His efforts at ending the rebellion in the Niger Delta succeeded when militants accepted his amnesty call and surrendered their arms. The ensuing peace is now into its second month. Then, owing to that peace, Nigeria’s oil exports rebounded by some 40 per cent above the level that Yar’Adua had found them, and that means extra revenue for the nation.

Not surprisingly, Yar’Adua began talking about fixing Nigeria’s erratic electricity supply and doubling the generating capacity from 3,000 to 6,000 megawatts by this December’s end – a goal that now appears impossible owing to an inadequate supply of gas to fire the available turbines and generate electricity.

Right after signing the amnesty, his anti-corruption fight seemed alive: The deputy national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Bode George, was jailed. Mr Yar’Adua’s star shone on the diplomatic front when Nigeria obtained a non-permanent seat at the UN – a feat he achieved by largely shunning the West.

Even as Nigeria’s leading lights in the world of diplomacy begrudged Mr Yar’Adua’s non-attendance of the UN General Session last September to visit Saudi Arabia, where he accompanied the King to a function at a university, he said not a word.

Later, the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) gave Nigeria its block support for the UN seat – making the votes from the West unnecessary.

The African vote was also enough to clinch the seat for Nigeria. It was a diplomatic coup for which Yar’Adua has not been adequately credited; not even at home.

Then, just when Yar’Adua, who had been nick-named “Papa Go Slow”, was being widely acknowledged as having moved into the fast lane, he had to travel to Saudi Arabia for yet another hospital visit.

Feelers from the Presidency show that he may return this week to astound the “Yar’Adua -is-dying” critics.

Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project.