Thursday, March 8, 2007

I spent most of yesterday and last night thinking about the fracas that was Yar'Adua's health condition and 'death.' That made me think of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The law suggests that the actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated. Most economists are familiar with this concept and some political scientists study it when dissecting the intersection/interaction between economics and politics and other social factors.

Let us first consider what happened over the last 24 hours in Nigeria regarding PDP presidential candidate Yar'Adua. Many heard from text messages, blogs and other sources that Yar'Adua would not be attending a scheduled event in Lagos because he was short of breath. The story then became that he was taken to hospital in Abuja and soon after flown to a specialist in Germany for immediate treatment. Now although we have never quite been informed of the specifics, it is clear that Yar'Adua suffers from a 'kidney condition' - one that requires dialysis and constant medical oversight. This 'kidney condition' has been the source of numerous speculations - primary of which is that his 'condition' will make it close to impossible for him to lead Nigeria.

With the background information out of the way, I can now arrive at the issue I originally began with - unintended consequences. The recent rumors about Yar'Adua's health and the lack of adequate and reliable information from a knowledgeable source resulted in an unintended consequence - Yar'Adua's health is now under more scrutiny than ever. Some have questioned (and will continue to question) how it is possible that someone who intends to be the Head of State cannot keep up with the grueling campaign schedule? Others will assert that his inability to perform under stress makes him unfit for Aso Rock. The fact is that irregardless of public opinion, there is an even greater shroud of concern around Yar'Adua, and for good reason.

All this could have been avoided by simply providing information in the immediate hours after it became clear that he needed emergency care. However, as is typical, our 'leaders' do not feel accountable to the populace and therefore do not see the need to honestly communicate with them so as to assuage them of their fears and concerns. We, in turn, do not hold them accountable, nor demand that they answer to us. Consequently, the unintended consequence is that even if Yar'Adua's 'condition' was originally blown out of proportion by all of us political junkies, the failure to remedy the situation has simply escalated his health to the forefront of concerns, making it likely to be subject to more rumors.

Despite all this, I am glad that he is alive and well. His family and all those who cared about his safety are probably relieved that he is well enough to give interviews and that he will continue as PDP presidential nominee. That is the bright spot in this situation. Hopefully, PDP and others can use this situation as means to achieving unity and downplaying fears and concerns that can lead to insecurity as was evidenced in the last 24 hours.

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