On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari extended his vacation in the United Kingdom “in order to complete and receive the results of a series of tests recommended by his doctors”; and despite the fact that I do not work for him, I have received many interview requests from international media organizations. While I keep declining all of them; that they would ask in the first place is a sad reminder not only of perhaps the most traumatic period in my life but also of the famous Yoruba adage that comes as a rebuke: “Amunibuni ewure Ibiye…”
I confess to my inability to properly translate into English the Yoruba word “amunibuni” but the short story behind it is that a man named Ibiye, who happened to be blind on the left eye, kept a goat that was blinded on the right eye. The implication being that any discussion that centres around the one-eyed goat would quite naturally dovetail into that of its owner by virtue of their common affliction. That perhaps explains why the name of my late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has been trending in the past one week as Nigeria returns to the uncertain days of 2009. That has also put the nation under a needless international spotlight.
It is of course noteworthy that all the “information experts” of yesterday who were prescribing how Nigerians should be briefed every second (both during the day and at night time) about what ailed President Yar’Adua have suddenly gone dumb. Being in opposition and making noise just to score a political point is a different proposition from holding positions of responsibility where you must take decisions on the basis of information available (or not available) to you without betraying the trust of your distressed principal.
While I concede that the health of the president should be a public issue, and the citizens have a right to know (provided the information is available), we must be able to exhibit some compassion and decency even if we don’t like the person involved. That is also why I will enjoin those who are gloating about President Buhari’s health problem to stop playing God by putting themselves in his position. Since we are all mortals, anybody can fall ill anytime.
Besides, I think it is unfair to attack the President for what he said about my late boss during his own health crisis not only because Buhari has walked his own talk but also because he was right in the position he took at the time. It is recalled that on 9th March 2010, Buhari had called on the Federal Executive Council to declare Yar’Adua incapacitated because, as he argued, the “doctrine of necessity” which vested in Dr Goodluck Jonathan the powers of acting president, did not address the problem. “As you can see, adopting extra-constitutional measures have not addressed the problem. If it had, we would not have been subjected to the raging debates and controversy going on. So we must go back to the constitution. The exco must do the right thing because once we start moving away from the constitution, then we are inviting anarchy” Buhari said.
In the light of what was happening at the time, President Buhari was correct whereas in the present circumstance, he has demonstrated his faith in the law by formally informing the National Assembly of his absence and duly transmitting the responsibilities of his office to the Vice President. It is because my late boss was manipulated away from taking this simple step that made his hospital sojourn in Saudi Arabia to become a national calamity in 2009/2010. President Buhari has saved us a repeat of that agony by subscribing to the tenets of the law. That is why the vacancy in the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) that has generated furore in recent weeks could be easily resolved with the acting president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo finally sending the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation during the week.
However, we may also need to put the current challenge in its proper context because while the president has fulfilled the Constitutional mandate, which requires handing over power to his deputy, the point must also be made that in terms of governance, not much may change in the polity. Therefore, even when I have become very cynical of the hypocritical prayers that we often offer in the Nigerian public space, I sincerely believe that those who love our country should, in their quiet moments, pray for the full and quick recovery of President Buhari. It is in our collective interest as a nation.
The point we must never gloss over is that all over the world, a presidential system of government revolves around the Number One man and for as long as he/she is alive, the only other persons who can direct the course of events are those to whom he/she bestows powers by virtue of access and trust. That is why in the United States today, after President Donald Trump, the other names being frequently mentioned are Mr. Steve Bannon and Ms Kellyanne Conway, neither of who is the vice president. The mitigating factor is that the American institutions work such that even an overbearing and Twitter-obsessed president can be upended by some “so-called judges” but can we say the same of our system?
The import of the foregoing is not to belittle the office of the acting president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo or to suggest that he is not currently in charge of the affairs in Nigeria but rather to state why we need President Buhari around, even for him (Osinbajo) to function effectively in the area of the economy to which he was put in charge. At a period we need fresh ideas and a surefooted government, for as long as President Buhari is away, making real progress will be difficult under our peculiar national circumstance.
Already, there is an all pervasive gloom across the land and on Monday there were protests in Lagos and Abuja about the growing hunger and deprivations for majority of our people. The situation has been compounded by the fact that almost two years in office, no one can boldly point to the economic framework of the current administration which, out of desperation, has now resorted to setting up task forces as a solution to practical problems. On top of all these, the man given the mandate to turn around our fortunes is now marooned outside the country battling for his health.
The combination of an ailing president abroad and an acting president holding the forth for him at home may be constitutionally permissible but it is a treacherous route that offers no real comfort in terms of good governance, rule of law and national cohesion. But since Nigerians are very good at making humour of our tragedies, we will survive this season though we must also learn useful lessons from such experiences. According to one of the latest jokes making the rounds on WhatsApp, Nigeria “is officially a movie full of actors. Acting president, acting CJN, acting EFCC chairman, acting citizens; I can’t wait for the complete movie.”
While we wish President Buhari a speedy recovery, Nigerians ought to be reassured that constitutionally speaking, there is no vacuum at the apex of political power in our country. The only sense of vacuum will be created by the decisions that the Acting President fails to take out of political reticence. As things stand, he has been vested with the powers to hold the forth until President Buhari returns, hopefully very soon. The normal expectation therefore is that the three arms of government will continue to work seamlessly in the coming days or weeks, as the case may be. Any other extraneous computations outside this fairly straightforward and strict compliance with constitutionalism must remain in the realm of speculation founded on our history of silly compromises and unproductive geo-political arithmetic.
All factors considered, the easiest way to ensure that the business of Nigeria continues to be done in an orderly manner even at this trying moment is to insist that those whom the political process have entrusted with authority must play by no other rule book than the constitution. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo must place this principle above other considerations while applying political common sense in the discharge of his responsibilities as Acting President even if for a few days. It is only when our politicians, whether from the north or the south, learn to obey the constitution they swore to protect that the people can remain law abiding while the nation survives and endures for our common good.
Meanwhile, beyond the intrigues, divided-loyalties and realignment of forces that may likely begin to dominate the political space in the coming weeks, it will be a shame if we can also not take important lessons that will serve our nation well for the future. Even as we pray for the health and safe return of President Buhari, the message is also very clear: We can no longer afford to leave the presidency of Nigeria to the whims of some political wheeler-dealers or mere elite conspiracy. Our leadership recruitment process must change to reflect, among other considerations, a need for soundness of mind and body on the part of those who seek to be President of Nigeria, beginning from 2019!
Against The Run of Play
In a tweet on Monday, Mr. Ryan Cummings, a Director at the Africa-focused political risk management consultancy, Signal Risk, posted that Nigeria is currently “polarised between support of past and present governments instead of being united by how both have failed them as a people.” Nothing can be more apt!
Following the mention last week of my coming book, “Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria”, which is due for release in April, considerable interest has been shown by readers who have sent in mails. But for the interested bookshops and sales outlets, I will recommend that they direct all their inquiries by email to email@example.com or call 08077364217. Meanwhile, I have also uploaded on my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com, materials from the 2004 series of The Verdict for the pleasure of my readers.