Last week, we were all jolted by the news that President Yar'Adua was seriously ill - acute pericarditis we were told. Like other citizens, I am concerned and genuinely wish him restoration of his health, for health is life itself and without health everything else becomes meaningless and pales into insignificance.
Now that the President's acute ill health, previously downplayed or outright denied by the Presidency, is official perhaps it's time for the President to go a step further and begin to ponder his options. And quickly too.
Increasingly, the President's bouts of sudden relapse of grave ill health which have necessitated emergency travel abroad in recent times, in particular to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have given the entire citizenry cause for concern and great anxiety. Increasingly too, the President has begun to look extremely ill. Worse, he has chosen by accident or design to arrive or leave the country when these health emergencies arise, under the cover of darkness, at the most unlikely hours - leaving room for much speculation as to his actual condition at those points. Just last week, the Presidency was forced to offer an excuse which no one was buying - that the President had had to delay his departure till midnight or so because he didn't have a visa. One, of course, would have been entitled to assume that as President he, at worst, would have a multiple entry visa to a country he frequents so much, invariably at such short notice or, at best, as President of a sovereign friendly nation would have those border formalities waived for him at the point of entry. Diplomats, after all, have those courtesies extended to them, how much more a President. Of Nigeria. Giant of Africa and all that
All these combined have fuelled rumours on at least three occasions, the latest just last week, that he has passed on. Surely, that cannot be good for the stability of the nation. Nor can it be good for governance.
The uncertainty, the speculations, the permutations, even the fear. Yes, fear - as to what would happen should the unthinkable happen. Will the 'North' (this of course begs the question of a monolithic North) allow the 'South' (which has had its fair share at 'the trough', never mind that Goodluck Jonathan's zone, the South South, is a completely different zone. Again, begs the question of the concept of one 'South'. But, I digress.) to take over, without insisting on completing its 'turn' irrespective of what the Constitution stipulates? Notwithstanding the fact that turning the Constitution on its head or treating its provisions as optional is certainly not an option, not many think so. So, yes, it may be fear without any constitutional basis, it may be unsound 'logic' or argument, it could be raw, primitive, irrational fear, but still, instability is in the air.
The people of Nigeria whom the President obviously cares about deserve a better deal. They have a right not to be put through the turmoil that would be their lot in this event. The business of governing Nigeria is too important to be set aside as secondary to an individual's health. At the best of times, we require a hands-on leader who is 100% focused, alert, on top of his game and not distracted. President Yar'Adua's illness is a distraction, both for him and for us. And reading between the lines, barring a miracle, that situation is likely to continue well into the rest of his term in office.
Man born of woman is susceptible to illness at any stage of his life and good health is only by the grace of God, not by our doing or ability. It would therefore be uncharitable and ungodly to gloat or rejoice over the President's health challenges. It's Yar'Adua today, who might it be tomorrow?
And so, perhaps it's time for President Umaru Yar'Adua to think about tending his waning health first and concentrating on its restoration. And to plan his exit in an orderly manner so that we do not become a nation in turmoil.
It might also be a good time for him to set into motion whatever is required to achieve within the shortest possible time, a first class health delivery sector with superior medical facilities in the country. The type that avails him at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia. That way, he will have a shorter distance to cover in emergency health situations. That way, the people of Nigeria will finally get the qualitative health care delivery system they desire and deserve. That way, they too (those who can afford it) will have shorter distances to travel in dire health situations. That way, those who can't afford to travel do not have to face certain, but totally preventable and therefore unnecessary, death. This may well be one of his more remarkable legacies.
It's also an opportune time for his party, PDP, to begin to exhibit some semblance of deep thought, responsible utterances and planning in this difficult situation. This is certainly not the time to inflict on us or indeed, to entertain thoughts or declarations of support by the party or faceless proxies for a second term in office of a President who is at risk of becoming so gravely incapacitated during his yet unfinished first term that there is now open discussion and a lot of public enlightenment about when and how S.144 of the Constitution might kick in.
It's definitely not the time for the PDP to be beating us about the head with its insistence that 'there's no vacancy in Aso Rock' come 2011 (2011? Let's finish 2009 first!), Or insisting, in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary, that the President is 'hale and hearty'. Or that the President's 'enemies' are wishing him dead. This is not about the President dying or not dying, it's probably even not about the Constitution at this stage. It's about his diminished capacity to govern. It's about sound governance and managing the affairs of state properly. It's about the task of governing a country like Nigeria - difficult at the best of times, even for a person with no health distractions. Add to that, his frequent absences from Nigeria which most certainly cannot be conducive for effective governance. His party, as well as the National Assembly in which the PDP has majority seats should now sit down, put heads together and dwell more on how to shore up his capacity to govern in light of the reality of his ill health. Rather than throw brickbats around, they must proactively address issues of an eventual smooth succession and the question of who really is constitutionally in charge during the President's absences. They must actively discourage the whispering campaign that the 'North' will not 'agree' to succession by a 'Southerner'; that talk in any event is factually incorrect and based on false premises. They must insist, in case of any eventuality, that the provisions of the Constitution and therefore the rule of law are abided a hundred percent. They must calm a nervous citizenry.
I wish the President full restoration of his health.
I also wish him a lasting legacy. That legacy may not necessarily imply completion of (or clinging on to) his term in office but a bigger, and undoubtedly very difficult, one of leaving the stage because he put country above self.