Wednesday, January 13, 2010

For 7 weeks, Nigerians had no idea where their president was. They did not even know whether he was alive or dead. After being rushed to Saudi Arabia for emergency care, Nigerian officials could only give flimsy reassurances as to the well being of President Yar'Adua, leading to calls for his resignation and many rumors. Amidst the resulting confusion, a NEXT article asserted that the President was "brain damaged" thus raising the Constitutional matter of whether the President should be deemed permanently unfit to lead and be replaced by the Vice President. Two days after that report, however, President Yar'Adua gave a 3-minute telephone interview to the BBC Hausa service to clarify that he is not dead and plans to resume his duties. Reacting to the interview, the NEXT news organization chose to stand by its original article about the President's brain damage. This is a decision that puts the journalists in the crosshairs of Yar'Adua and his sometimes violent handlers. In the past, Yar'Adua has reacted harshly to discussions of his health, begging the question of whether this current situation could lead to a repeat of the 2008 arrests and unlawful detentions carried out by the administration. But above all else, the main issue remains - Is the President brain damaged or not?

In the BBC interview, a weak sounding Yar'Adua thanked citizens for their prayers, wished the national football team luck at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations and hoped that his treatments will produce "tremendous progress, which will allow me to get back home..." Editors at NEXT directly challenged the interview with an article entitled "A man claiming to be Yar'Adua speaks to the BBC". In it, they stated,

"we stand by our story, to wit: we have it on good authority that the president has suffered brain damage and other impairments, and is no longer able to effectively discharge the office of president. Anyone who claims we are wrong should please produce our president, so that he can speak to us directly as Nigerians, and not via an audio clip through a foreign news organization."
NEXT went on to assert that it is willing to send its correspondents to verify that the President is indeed well enough to speak and would immediately do so if given the green light by the Executive office.
The significance of this challenge cannot be lost on observers of the current political debacle in Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution provides for the removal of the President if the Federal Executive Council (FEC) determines that the President is permanently incapable of satisfying his duties. Hence, the report that Yar'Adua was brain damaged, and the growing reception it received from the Nigerian public, likely forced the hand of Yar'Adua and his handlers to try and convince citizens that he is still capable of being President. It is disappointing that this is the news that forced the President out of 'hiding' because the ensuing international problem of Nigeria being placed on a list of "Terror Prone" countries should have been the more appropriate impetus needed to force Yar'Adua to speak.

Additionally, the decision to reveal himself solely to the BBC Hausa service was not just poor but indelicate. This is not the first time that Yar'Adua has made this mistake as the first time was declared dead during the 2007 presidential campaign, he opted to give an interview to the BBC Hausa service as well. However, doing so only fuels tribal anger, concerns and distrust. It is of no consequence that the BBC Hausa radio service primarily caters to Nigeria's Hausa speakers, as Hausa is not the official language of Nigeria. Yar'Adua should at least have given an interview on film to the Nigerian Television Authority or any of the other news organizations in the country. The choice to give a foreign outlet this key interview also shows a complete disrespect for Nigerian news outlets and Nigerians themselves who deserve to have their President speak to them directly and not via foreign outlets.

In 2008, the Yar'Adua administration, which had lauded itself as being focused on the 'rule of law', opted for draconian measures in addressing concerns over the President's health and leadership ability. Although he had publicly committed himself to selflessly serving the people, Yar'Adua's personal intelligence unit, the SSS, now rebranded as the DSS, arrested and unlawfully detained 2 political bloggers. In reaction to an inaccurate news report that he would step down on account of health problems, Yar'Adua's SSS shut down Channels TV and temporarily withdrew its broadcast license. The administration also had journalists from Leadership Newspaper arrested over another health related report. These are just some of the more glaring acts of suppression carried out by the current administration.

Given these overreactions to a frank discourse on the President, one can only wonder what the result of NEXT's challenge will be. It will be interesting to see if Yar'Adua and the SSS will once again resort  to draconian measures in trying to stem NEXT and its stories on Yar'Adua's capacity to be President. What is certain is the fact that it is time for the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information bill that Nigerians have been waiting for as it would give more access to basic information that should be the right of every citizen especially in regard to the President and other officials.

Whatever the fallout may be as a result of NEXT's challenge, President Yar'Adua and his handlers would do well to remember something important. Nigerians are a passionate people, and that passion should be tapped into, not repressed, if Nigeria is to truly accomplish the feats its leaders have declared that it will. Clamping down on free speech and expression is not the way lead Nigeria. Consequently, this administration should not bother to 'deal' with anyone as a result of its failures to take appropriate steps at the appropriate time during the Presidents absence. Instead, the President should simply produce concrete evidence (i.e. not audio evidence) that he is capable of fulfilling his duties and he should return to Nigeria immediately to recover fully from whatever ailments he was treated for. His presence in Nigeria might lower the rhetoric calling for his resignation, no matter how fragile he might be. In fact, him revealing himself in a fragile state would be a perfect opportunity to turn the discussion to his side if done properly and with considerable humility. Nigerians would love nothing more than a concrete reason to pray even harder for their frail president if he gave them a chance. Such a move would require a savviness that this President is yet to show. Hopefully it is not too late to rectify mistakes and dampen the confusion created by Yar'Adua's absence and the NEXT article.

* The 'Missing' Poster was borrowed from N.I.M.M.O.'s site.

From The Archives:
- Nigeria's President Absent During Crisis
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Suppression In A Democratic Regime
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
- Nigerian Blogger Arrested!!!
- Channels TV Shut Down By Yar'Adua
- Nigeria, Be Careful What You Wish For 

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13 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Azazel said...

I love this solomon..
But something tells me that NEXT might be right in their assertion.

Anonymous said...

What in the hell? I am just fed up with all of this nonsense really. I'll come back with my diplomatic response later. lol.

Dee said...

Bravo Solo! You hit the mark once again.
But honestly it's so hard to say anything when there is hardly any information out there.

This morning I was combing the news wires to see if the ‘real or vocally fake Yar’Adua’ had emerged from hiding; and all I could think of was if the badddddddest man in the world Fidel Castro could out on camera after surgery...why can't baba go slow? Fidel didn't even speak and Cuba successfully used his appearance as propaganda spreading his so called improving health (even though we all knew that the guy had some form of cancer). And still in the end, he handed power to his brother the vice president because he knew his health had deteriorated to the point that he wouldn’t be able to do his job. This is in a so called non-democratic country fa!

We are a democratic country with a standing constitution that answers the question of “What to do when the President is incapable of carrying out his elected function”. When would we stop playing jungle politics? Why do our leaders play us like a bunch of misguided sheep?

Nkan beni Naija! Naaa waaa!

Beauty said...

"Yar'Adua vs the rest of Nigeria, who is brain dead?" is one I will not be writing. Should we continue to care about the Nigerian Stupid title of Mr President in the face of Haiti? Our country continues to miss opportunities until the big one strikes. Just see the Haiti presidential palace timeline and weep some more. Nigeria´s government including executive, legislative and judiciary and its public and private enterprises all suck hence the rot. That is the real issue as the health of another dead man walking continues to hug the headlines.

The last post here about the cost of exported education is perhaps a good case in point as we pay our leaders to educate theirs abroad while there is nothing left at home but hope and prayer. Those chasing Yar'Adua did not organise a march to protest an ineffective country under OBJ, even though almost all his utterances sounded barking mad. My point is simply to go after those using this smoke screen to bury bad news. Ps. Another $1Bn has gone missing since writing this comment.

Tariere said...

Poor Yar'Adua (or a very impressive voice Actor) sounded reaaallly bad on the phone!! I do wonder what his family's (specifically Turai)take is on this!!

N.I.M.M.O said...

I think the NEXT guys took an extreme wager to wit: 'I say he is brain dead but if you say no, then show him to me and let's examine him. I salute their courage.

We are where we are right now because we Nigerians are too passionate and understanding. Most Nigerians will not want to hurt another person, even when this other person is a scheming woman.

She has refused to accept the reality of her situation as it is: that her life-long meal ticket has expired, so to speak.

All these shenanigans are just to manage a toe hold on power (and relevance). She has been the unofficial, unelected Prime Minister of Nigeria since 27 April, 2007 and yet she is not negotiating a safe exit, she is negotiating to be Vice President, at the very least.

To me the way she has held the entire nation to ransom for 50 days now actually speak to her courage and resilience. I think she has more balls than all those jokers in Abuja put together including Goodie Jo, who seems to be waiting for the manna to fall.

I say, let's make her President.

Anonymous said...

SSD, I have been following the saga between NEXT and UMYA. It is now a case of 'who will blink first'.
For me, the onus is heavily on the cabal (sorry govt!) to prove that UMYA is not barin damaged. Giving a 3-minute 'behind the screen' interview is just not enough. As a friend said, if Osama Bin Laden can post videos online from cave of Tora ... See MoreBora what stops UMYA.
Also i'm not sure if you have read NEXT latest Editorial. The editorial piece was quite damning. I intend to post it on my blog later today.

Overall, I think it is importnt that we do not lose focus of the main issue. Whether UMYA is dead, brain-damaged' has somewhat become immaterial. After 50 days, it is only right for hm to do the right thing and handover to the Vice-President, so that he can concentrate on dealing with his health issues.

- HEAL Nigeria from Facebook

Anonymous said...

...even if Mr. President comes back with his brain undamaged, he will definitely have lost the respect (& sympathy) of many a Nigerian).

What behooves one is why we should our country as a monarchical state rather than a democratic one. In essence, treating the office of the president as if 'tis the preserve of the Yara'dua family.

The state in which we have found ourselves cannot be very far from political juxtaposition et al. Yet still, their ought to be political strategists who should have been able to proffer a thotful solution to having Mr. President hand over to Mr. Vice President in an acting capacity without the North losing out on their 'turn' of rotational presidency.

An aside, Who will bell Mr. Attorney General of the Federation....Aondoakka?

Kunta said...

It is very unfortunate that these things are happening. I hope we don't run out of hope.
I pray things get better for us.
Its really hard to believe that things will change for the better with these Cabal who'd rather die on the seat of power...but then God help our unbelief.

It is a sorry case for the State of Nigeria.

joicee said...

In my humble opinion not only is the President brain damaged, all the people in this present administration are as well..the whole lot of them.

I have totally washed my hands off this regime until 2011, when it will be time for another "general election"...Who knows maybe there will be a dramatic shift...Best case scenario Pat Utomi (President) and Fashola(Vice President) wins clean and fair violence...Niger Delta conflict disappears.. so on and so forth

Wake up Joicee!!! Chei but wishful thinking good o!!

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F said...

Honestly, this whole Yaradua palaver is becoming a joke... Even if it truly was Yaradua in that phone interview, the man sounded too sick to function properly as president in this delicate time. Whether the conspiracy theorists claiming the man is dead are right or not, power should have been handed over to Goodluck (hilarious name... enter the ThankGods and Goddeys of the world...) by now. It is sad that the stability of the country is being toyed with just to keep power with the Northern elite.

With all that being said, I commend Next for standing their ground, especially in the face of past reactions of this administration to similar challenges. I guess we have to go with the K in MKO and just wait and see...

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