1 March 2010

Nigeria: Yar'Adua - Why I Am Not Excited


This is, perhaps, the worst time to be a newspaper editor in Nigeria. The irony is that the reverse should have been the case. Why? Every journalist thrives on news. Every journalist knows the difficulties of sourcing earth shaking and credible stories to produce the next edition. But with stories breaking at the light of speed, even without lifting a finger, you have enough materials to produce three editions in one day.

In the past three months since President Umaru Yar'Adua travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, but more so since he returned on February 24, events have been unfolding at such break-neck speed that no matter how hard you try, you cannot keep pace with the stories.

The problem is that most of the stories, even those from otherwise reliable sources, are today nothing other than thick cobwebs of disinformation.

As a journalist, you are ethically bound to tell the people the truth. The people look up to you for information that will enable them navigate the bourgeoning labyrinthine creeks of deceit. Never mind that out there, we now have an audience that has been conditioned over the months to believe only the worst. The more salacious the story the better for them. And that is where the problem is. Some of the more sensational stories are simply incorrect. But that is what the people want to read. That is what titillates their morbid imagination.

As if all the elements are in a grand conspiracy against the journalist, we have a presidency which, despite all protestations to the contrary, is irretrievably broken into two irreconcilable camps, with each neck deep in self-serving political shenanigans that can consume the country.

On the one hand, we have the Yar'Adua camp that is trying every trick in the books to ensure that little or no information on the President's real state of health gets out so that they can maintain their grip on power by sheer subterfuge.

On the other, we have the camp of the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, with its well-oiled propaganda machine whose sole duty is to ensure that no information is hidden from the public domain, not out of altruism but also for personal political gains. In doing that, truth, most times, becomes a casualty of the debilitating power play.

Aware, like most other discerning Nigerians that the President is incapacitated, perhaps permanently, the Jonathan camp has come to the realisation that the quickest way to loosen whatever grip the cabal that has taken Yar'Adua hostage has on the system is to let Nigerians appreciate how hopeless the President's health situation is. So, Aso Rock has been turned into one huge spinning jungle with power mongers playing ludo with the fate of the country.

There is no doubting the fact that we are, once again, up a gum tree. As a people, we have boxed ourselves into a very difficult situation. And sadly, as it is always the case, this crisis is contrived, the pains, self-inflicted.

But the crisis raises very fundamental questions. Why is it that things that are taken as given in other countries are mired in intrigues here in Nigeria? When did the health of a President become a personal matter? Can it ever be?

On Sunday, just two days ago, Barack Obama went for his first medical checkup as the President of the United States of America. The 48-year-old Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful armed forces on the face of the earth was physically examined by Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman, head of the White House medical unit at the National Naval Medical Centre in Bethesda, Md.

The significant thing is not that the test was carried out or that the President would undergo the same test again when he turns 50 years but that the result was released to the public the same day by the White House. Openness is the oil that lubricates the wheel of democracy.

But this fact is obviously lost on the Yar'Adua camp. If not, how on earth did they think that they could have pulled off the stunt of bringing back a severely incapacitated President and expect that nobody would challenge a situation where he continues to rule by proxy in total breach of the Constitution? How come it didn't occur to them that for the President's immediate political survival and future (assuming he has any political future) it was critical that the people saw him on arrival from Saudi Arabia? That for him to exercise any form of authority again, he must be able to address the nation one way or the other?

Why is nobody being allowed to see the President even when he has come back to Nigeria? Those who ought to know have given two reasons. The first one which is certain is that Yar'Adua has been so wasted by disease that to preserve his dignity and that of the country, it is better he is not seen in that physical condition, at least for now.

The second reason which is a probability is that in the course of his over three-month medical sojourn in Saudi Arabia, the President may have had an organ transplant. If this is true, a medical doctor explained on Sunday that at 58, the President's immune system would be suppressed almost to a zero level so as to enable the body accept the new organ without adverse reaction. And if this is true, then that explains why he must be kept in a secured environment with very restricted access because with almost zero immunity level, he is vulnerable to all manners of infection.

Whatever is the case, one fact remains incontrovertible - Yar'Adua is in no position to govern Nigeria in his present state. Therefore, those who brought him back in such sneaky circumstance neither did it in his interest nor interest of Nigeria. It is all about self-interest. In other words, Yar'Adua, a gravely sick man, who ought to be surrounded at this very trying period of his life by family and friends is being used by the same people as a pawn in their vicious power game. That is callous, to say the least.

If the motivation for public office in Nigeria is service, the Yar'Aduas would not have waited till this time when they are almost being chased out of Aso Rock. In fact, it would have been the other way round. They would have been the first to pack their bags while Nigerians would be persuading them to tarry awhile.

It would have been a different thing if there was one fantastic project that the Yar'Adua government was executing and the people felt that without him or an ally of his on the saddle, the project would be derailed. It would have been a different thing if Yar'Adua had a very beautiful vision of Nigeria which can only be actualised by someone close enough that shares the same dream.

No! It is all about insatiable lust for primitive accumulation of wealth. It is all about who makes authoritative allocation of Nigeria's oil wealth not for common good but for the good of a few fat cows that feed on our blood, literally.

However, what happens to Yar'Adua and his hobbled Presidency does not excite me because a Goodluck Jonathan presidency will neither be different nor better. The only thing is that the so-called Katsina Mafia will be replaced by a Yenagoa or Ijaw mafia. New oil blocks will be shared. New billionaires, whose only source of wealth is that they have been given licence and seed money to import fuel or lift crude oil, will emerge overnight. At the end of the day, the lot of the common man will remain the same.

I am not excited because given the levers of power, Patience Jonathan, wife of the Acting President, will be worse than the much vilified Turai Yar'Adua if her antecedents as First Lady of Bayelsa State are anything to go by.

Above all, I am not excited because both camps are involved in this dangerous spin, deliberately purveying falsehood with the sole aim of wheedling the unwary and making my life as a journalist much more difficult.

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