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Date Published: 05/05/10

The Ghost Of Yar’Adua By HRM Nengi Josef Ilagha 

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NTIL NOVEMBER 23, 2009 when he was flown into an exclusive ward at the King Faisal Hospital in Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua presented a fit and healthy profile as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He left no one in doubt that he was prepared to lead Africa’s most populous nation out of economic and political quagmire as best he could. He outlined a seven-point agenda to undertake this formidable assignment.  

From the very beginning, he registered his goodwill toward the Niger Delta, and gave every indication that he would succeed in resolving the crisis in the beleaguered region where his predecessors had failed. His ascendancy to the highest office in the land was complemented by the choice of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President, the first such overture to the oil-producing region which had sustained the rest of the nation for the better part of 50 years.  

The duo presented a perfect image of the political alignment which established a bond between the majority Hausa-Fulani and the minority Ijaw since the earliest days of the nation’s political independence, as exemplified in the alliance between the Northern Peoples’ Congress, NPC, and the Niger Delta Congress, NDC, in the First Republic.  

Indeed it was fortuitous that Yar’Adua picked Jonathan, a warm and friendly gentleman whose tenure as Deputy Governor at the state level in times past had proven him to be a truly loyal and faithful compatriot. As his former boss, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was to acknowledge on March 2, 2002, precisely eight years ago, Dr Jonathan served as an amiable, dynamic and able lieutenant in office.  

While stories about conflicts and crises of confidence between chief executives and their deputies made the rounds in other states of the federation, the report from Bayelsa was that the governor never lost sleep over his level-headed deputy. “In trying moments,” said Alamieyesegha, “Dr Jonathan remained calm and consistent, performing his official duties with unflagging dedication and commitment to the compound interest of the government and people of Bayelsa State.”  

As fate would have it, that testimony has proved to be abiding. Nigeria faced a truly trying moment in its recent political history when President Yar’Adua practically left the nation in suspense, having failed to formally hand over to his second in command as required by the Constitution. The drama of interim succession which unfolded in the intervening period revealed the hypocrisy at the heart of many a politician in the nation’s corridors of power, and exposed the faulty foundations upon which the country was amalgamated in 1914 by Lord Luggard.  

For one thing, the Senate could not take swift action to endorse the acting capacity of the Vice President, in compliance with Section 145 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, thereby giving ample room for restive sentiments to be played out amongst religious jingoists and precipitating riots that claimed the lives of nearly half a million people in Jos. The bogey of ethnic politics reared its ponderous head in clear outlines, and was truly monstrous to behold.  

Happily enough, civil society campaigners underscored their authentic power, and confirmed the evident change of heart that democracy has been able to secure in our national consciousness. From city to city, men and women of goodwill woke to the full meaning of their civil heritage and marched to new songs of righteousness on the streets of our nation. Battered by the blows of anarchists, betrayed by small-minded men in search of crumbs for their pockets only, Nigeria tottered under its giant limbs, but God held the country from crumbling with a little dose of good luck. 

In the end, when the news broke that our President was back, we had good reason to be glad and cheerful, even if we had our reservations about the way he returned, sneaking in under cover of night in much the same way that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha sneaked into Creek Haven on November 23, 2006, precisely three years before Yar’Adua’s fateful flight from Nigeria. But while Alamieyeseigha announced his return with ceremonial fanfare, a brazen show of his presence in the country, and a personal claim to his office, Yar’Adua is still lurking in the shadows of Aso Rock like a forlorn ghost, unable to come before the cameras of the world.  

We have entered the sixth month since our President was levelled by pericarditis, an affliction of the heart. Like the faithful followers that we have been, we conducted prayers all around the country, and fasted for him to recover quickly and return to steer the ship of state over stormy waters. We rallied under populist canopies and undertook an emergency examination of the soul of our nation, because we came face to face with the forces of darkness, the selfish monsters in our midst who have been holding us down with their bogus claims on our corporate fortunes.  

Since returning to the country under cover of darkness, President Yar’Adua has failed to perform his official duties to date because he is still recovering from the heart condition that has held him bound in bed for so long. He is yet to be seen in public, and is yet to address the nation as is expected of him under the circumstance. Even more ironically, the man who has been holding the forte is yet to set eyes on his boss, in spite of repeated attempts to do so. What is more, the visit by religious leaders only went so far as to confirm that our President is not healthy enough to rule.  

Yar’Adua is reported to have raised his hand in greeting, grunted to the prayers of the visiting clergy, and stared at them with unseeing eyes. His wife is equally reported to have propped him up for the visit, and spoken at length on his behalf. On two such occasions, the visits were summarily brief. Much earlier, when it was reported that he had been seen drinking tea, he wasn’t the one holding the cup. These spooky descriptions do not give any indication of a man who is likely to resume office soon, for the rigours of that office are truly energy-sapping.  

In short, Nigeria has been living with the ghost of Yar’Adua for too long. For three months, Acting President Jonathan could not stop looking over his shoulders, and therefore accomplished little. The fact that he has addressed the nation only once since Tuesday February 9, 2010 when parliament endorsed his acting status, and with so much water gone under the proverbial bridge since then, it is clear that he is still standing on one leg, like a chicken on the threshold of power. It is time for him speak to us about his hopes for Nigeria in the next few months. Let him share the inspiration he received from meeting with President Barrack Obama.   

As Acting President, Dr Jonathan has been able to exercise some discretionary powers to the satisfaction of Nigerians at home and abroad. So far, he has reshuffled his cabinet, removed the boss of the electoral commission ahead of credible elections next year, and is primed to enforce the rule of law. Even more gratifying was his select invitation to participate in the nuclear disarmament summit under the aegis of the American President. 

Our national sovereignty demands that we move on as a corporate entity, guided by leaders who are well and healthy enough in body and in mind to take critical decisions that can serve the overall interest of the nation. It is indeed unfortunate that President Yar’Adua fell so severely ill that he had to be away from his country for all of three months, and has remained like a ghost on the fringes of his office. Pictures of the man in the days prior to his disappearance from public view show him as gaunt and spare and worn-out, a shadow of his former self. 

For a country of over 150 million people and a backlog of 50 years in the doldrums of political crisis, it is time to exorcise the ghost of Yar’Adua and move on to higher imperatives. We cannot be bugged down on the eve of our golden jubilee anniversary. We must arise and claim our place in the proud history of our continent. 

It is only fair that Nigerians reckon with the fact that Dr Goodluck Jonathan comes from a region that has contributed immensely to the growth and sustenance of Nigeria in the last 50 years, and practically schooled in Oloibiri where the first oil well was discovered. It is only right and proper that this dedicated but long-suffering region should share in the real dividends accruable from our democratic experience.  

What is more, our Acting President has confessed nothing but good luck from childhood, as may be evinced from his first name. Like all saving graces from God, this large-hearted leader who hails from a minority region that has been denied the baton of leadership in Nigeria since independence, can be depended upon to articulate majority opinion that will be of benefit to one and all, given his satisfactory display of maturity and discernment so far.  

The symbolism cannot be missed. Nigeria has been suffering from an acute heart condition for the better part of half a century, and nowhere is this more evident than in the nation’s case history of corruption and graft. The terminal stage of the illness became truly manifest in the severity with which it attacked the nation’s prime citizen in office, as epitomized by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. Ultimately, the lesson that we must take to heart in the entire drama is that no one man, not even the President as a person, is above the land and people of Nigeria. 

It is bad enough that Nigeria entered 2010 with the ghost of Yar’Adua in tow. It is time to banish that ghost from our national psyche, time to make progress. It is time indeed to fulfil the full potentials of our land and people in this cardinal year of transition marking the nation’s golden jubilee anniversary.

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