Analysis on why Yar'Adua and his handlers chose to return to Nigeria in the darkness of February 24th is now available in Why Nigeria's Yar'Adua Returned. Please read that after this post.
On the day Goodluck Jonathan sent his first letter as acting President to the National Assembly, it seems Nigeria's Yar'Adua returned from Saudi Arabia. Apparently, he returned on a Saudi air ambulance which was accompanied by the Presidential jet and landed in a secluded part of the runway at the Presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Already, residents of his home state Katsina, have taken to the streets in jubilation. Unfortunately, the return occurred late at night, lighting was dimmed on the tarmac and with no public sighting of Yar'Adua spurring many questions as to his current condition and what impact his return will have on Nigerian politics.
ABSENT FOR 3 MONTHS
Yar'Adua has been gone from Nigerian for 3 months and during that time, his absence created a political vacuum. There was confusion over whether the Vice President could employ executive power without a letter from the President handing over said power, an interpretation of Section 145 of the constitution. After various court cases, rumors that the President was either dead or brain damaged and much hand wringing, a remedy was found. The Senate and House of Representatives, with the support of state governors and a diverse group of Nigerians, issued separate motions declaring Vice President Jonathan the acting President. The move was well received by many but its legality was soon questioned when the Senate President stated that an interview given by Yar'Adua to the BBC Hausa service was interpreted to satisfy Section 145.
In the motions making Jonathan the acting President, legislators specified that Yar'Adua must prove his competence in order to return to his role of President. Now that he is allegedly back in the country, it is only reasonable to wonder whether he will honor that legislative requirement by proving his capacity. To do so, an audio interview, such as that which he gave to the BBC Hausa Service, will be insufficient. Yar'Adua must not be seen in a staged television program but he must appear in public at least before the National Assembly and this sighting must be broadcast to the nation and the world.. Hopefully, he and his supporters will not instead demand the immediate return of executive powers or simply declare that he has executive power. Yar'Adua has frequently called himself a "servant leader"committed to the 'Rule of Law', so maybe he will choose to act accordingly.
Considering his refusal to inform the country about his condition and absence, plus the fact that a 'promise' to send a formal letter was never honored, it is possible that he will face a battle to regain the Presidency. Legislators can simply accuse him of dishonoring the spirit of the Constitution. That would buttress the push by various civic organizations and even some legislators to have Yar'Adua impeached.
But, then again, Yar'Adua could simply resign from office in a very dignified manner and take the time to recover and spend with his family. This possibility would definitely be a surprise for Nigerians who are used to leaders holding onto power. Also, the general attitude, right or not, is that between the First Lady and northern elites, Yar'Adua will not have the option of resignation. Only time will tell.
The above possibilities rest on the notion that Yar'Adua has returned in a position to regain Presidential power. But, the secrecy with which he allegedly returned encourages the rumors of his death or physical/mental incapacity. Being that he was not seen during this return, nor was he seen by various delegations sent to Saudi Arabia, it will not take long for many to suggest that he has returned to either die in Nigeria (and not a foreign land)or that he is already dead. If it is the case that he is dead or even dying, then Section 146(1) will kick in and Jonathan will be sworn in as President. He will then have to nominate a Vice Presidential candidate that must be selected by both bodies of Parliament (Section 146 (3)(c)). As no one yet knows his condition of plans, the entire nation will be on edge until more information is revealed.
WILL THERE BE RETRIBUTION?
While serving as acting President, Goodluck Jonathan shuffled Ministers, met with foreign dignitaries from the European Investment Bank and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. Jonathan was even made chair of ECOWAS, a position formerly held by Yar'Adua. Being that the United States congratulated Jonathan and praised Nigeria for its "democratic handover, it will be interesting to learn that nation's reaction to Yar'Adua's return.
Of import is whether a return of Yar'Adua to the Presidency will lead to retribution on those who wanted him to handover power or wanted him impeached. Many public figures weighed in on the debate, such as poet Wole Soyinka, Dora Akunyili the Minister of Information and Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former President who handpicked Yar'Adua as his successor. The days ahead will likely only lead to more questions. Particularly intriguing is whether or not Yar'Adua will return the deposed former Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, to his previous position. The cabinet of Ministers is set to meet later and Yar'Adua's alleged return is bound to make an already acrimonious atmosphere worse during the meeting. Ministers like Akunyili who supported a transfer of power might be forced to backpedal depending on Yar'Adua's next move. Also a proposal to amend Section 145 will likely be delayed what with this new development and the proponents might begin to wonder about the future of their proposal and their future.*
A NORTHERN CONSPIRACY?
Already some assert that Yar'Adua's return was to ensure that power remains in the hand of a northerner. The concerns of Nigeria's elite over a possible return of Presidential power to the South is well documented. The Northern Union warned that the "stability of [the] country [which] is hinged [on] power rotation between the North and the South."
The reality is that northerners and southerner have been very vocal in advocating a handover to the Vice president. Thus, even if Yar'Adua's return is simply in the interest of holding onto power, qualifying the return as a Northern power plot would be premature. Besides, at this point very little is officially known about why Yar'Adua returned and whether or not he is capable of being President. Consequently, it is better to not jump to conclusions that only stoke tensions, but rather see what unfolds.
Whatever the case may be, one can only hope that the relative political quiet created with the declaration of an acting President, will not be lost. To achieve this, it is imperative that more information be revealed about Yar'Adua's return. Failure to do so could force a return to the confusion and crisis Nigerians experienced for exactly 79 days. So, while this is another "siddon look" (wait and see) situation, Yar'Adua would be well advised to remember that the Nigerian people rejected that option while he was away. Collectively, they compelled action. To ignore that reality would be foolhardy, something Yar'Adua, assuming he is well, cannot afford to do.
* The proposal to amend Section 145 went ahead in the Senate. Please see Why Nigeria's Yar'Adua Returned for a detailed analysis of this matter.
As this situation is in flux and likely to change, updates will follow. Please watch this space.
UPDATED (7:00 AM): BBC Latest - "Ailing Nigerian leader will not take part in cabinet meeting, top official say"
UPDATED (8:58 AM): Yar'Adua wants Vice President to remain acting President while he recovers http://bit.ly/bPgJlWYar'Adua wants Vice President to remain acting President while he recovers http://bit.ly/bPgJlW
From the Archives:
- Why Nigeria's Yar'Adua Returned
- Constitutionality Of The Acting President
- Goodluck Jonathan Is Nigeria's Acting President
- Is Yar'Adua Brain Damaged Or Not?
- Nigeria's President Absent During Crisis
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health