‘Umoru, are you dead?’
This was the question Olusegun Obasanjo asked then candidate Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in that famous interview on NTA in March 2007. In the heat of campaign, Yar’Adua had to go abroad for treatment. Little did we know how grave his health condition would become. It took less than 3 years for the strain of Presidential duties to break him. In between time, his health became the subject of constant rumour and conjecture, and worse still as a bargaining chip, with his wife and closest aides, later to be known as ‘the cabal’, completely manipulating the information regarding the true state of his health for political gain. In so doing, they cut off the citizens from their President. The constant stream of lies from government officials turned genuine concern of the citizens into exasperation, anger, indifference and last night, relief.
Since he became President, his medical trips abroad were always masked as ‘lesser hajj’ or some other clever excuse. Crucial national and international engagements were left to cabinet members to handle, with the Vice President completely sidelined. However, the announcement that he had gone to Saudi Arabia for treatment on November 23, 2009 struck me as odd. I remember telling my mum that I felt it was really serious, or else they wouldn’t have told us. It was the last time he was seen in public. He left the nation essentially in a vacuum. With no formal handover letter sent to the National Assembly empowering his Vice President to act on his behalf, several crucial matters of state went untended. There was a complete lack of coordinated government response to any issue. The amnesty programme for which the administration takes credit, went backward in the President’s absence. Also, Nigeria was put on a list as a ‘country of interest’ in the aftermath of Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab’s failed suicide attempt on a US plane on Christmas Day. There was also a fuel scarcity of several months and an ASUU strike to end all strikes. In all this, Nigeria was leaderless.
This did not worry those who kept him away from all contact. In fact, it was reported that no more than 7 people had set eyes on him in the time he was away. 234Next reported on January 10 that he was brain-damaged, only for a famous interview with the BBC on phone to surface three days later. As far as I was concerned, it was not his voice on that phone and nothing since then has changed my opinion. An angry nation began to take to the streets, demanding answers about his health. Only then did the cracks appear in the cabinet. Apparently tired of all the lies she had to tell Nigerians for several weeks, the Minister of Information Dora Akunyili was the one to bell the cat. We were also introduced to a novel idea called a ‘doctrine of necessity’ by lawmakers eager to be seen as taking action while protecting themselves in the event of Yar’Adua’s return. Those around the ailing leader proved to be specialists at blackmailing Nigerians with his ghost, preventing us from addressing urgent national challenges with a substantive person in charge. The former Attorney General was employed to good effect in this regard, interpreting the constitution in the way he saw fit in a bid to defend the indefensible. Needless to say, when Goodluck Jonathan was eventually ‘allowed’ power to steer the ship of state, he was the first to go. In a frantic bid to sustain their narrow ambitions, Yar’Adua was rushed back under the cover of darkness. A number of clandestine meetings were arranged with Christian and Muslim clerics in order to remind us that he was still relevant. Once again, I seriously doubt if these meetings ever took place.
Now that he has passed on, all designs to prevent Jonathan becoming President as our constitution stipulates are naught. There must be forces at work around Goodluck that we can’t possibly fathom. He is obviously a man of destiny. Now that the cloud hanging over Nigeria has been dispelled, I’m sure he’s all the more emboldened to take the kind of action that’s necessary to save this nation. All accounts of the man Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was say he was a good man, a gentleman. However, it was never going to be enough for this country. The constant policy reversals give evidence that he was probably not in total control of his government. The ease with which he was sealed off from his Vice President and those he was meant to rule is further evidence of a lack of strong character, made a lot worse by constant illness. I would remember him as a President who never succeeded in implementing his vision for Nigeria, if he had one. As a person, I feel no sense of sorrow or mourning. I have no image of him after November 23, 2009. I, like millions of Nigerians have their own problems made worse by the standstill his administration brought Nigeria to. Out of sight, out of mind.
If we needed another reason to come out en-masse and vote next year, we have one. Never again should we allow the occupier of our highest office be so cut off from us. Never again should we allow leaders to be imposed on us. Never again should we as citizens permit an Invisible Presidency. We must not postpone this urgent task for another 4 years. It is up to us to make our rulers take us seriously. We haven’t done a good job of this so far. It’s my hope that as our kidnapped President is returned to dust, a new Nigerian consciousness rises up in time to vote for change. The past is gone, and the future awaits. In October, Nigeria will be 50 and we must give our nation the best gift possible: our votes. Caesar said: ‘there is a time in the tides of men which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune’. There is no time like the present.