The Nigerian Curiosity of 2009 is someone or something, who for better or for worse, has had an extensive impact on Nigeria and Nigerians over the course of the last year. Given that Nigeria is a large country with constantly revolving issues and matters, deciding who should be recognized as the Nigerian Curiosity of any year is a difficult task.
2009 was a momentous year chock full of headlines. The country witnessed electoral violence in Ekiti State, a Nigerian writer's book being selected by the Oprah Book Club, a Grammy nomination for a Nigerian artist and similar international recognition for other Nigerians. Even a young Nigerian new media entrepreneur made it onto the Oprah show, and through fuel shortages and electricity outages, the economy grew by 6.9%. But, not much could top the shock and dismay caused by the Christmas day suicide bomb attempt by a Nigerian on a plane.
YAR'ADUA'S HEALTH HISTORY
Despite these occurrences, one factor lingers above all others in its impact on Nigeria. That factor is the health of President Yar'Adua. Since before becoming President, Yar'Adua's health has been a matter of serious national concern. In 2007, while campaigning to become President, Yar'Adua was rushed to Germany for emergency care. That was the first time rumors swirled about his death. Since then, such rumors have become a mainstay of the public rhetoric particularly because of his frequent trips abroad for medical treatment.
In 2008, Yar'Adua once again 'disappeared'. The Nigerian public was informed that he went to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to participate in the Lesser Hajj, but it was soon revealed that he was there for medical treatment. During that time, the President missed a previously planned trip to Brazil and there was much discussion about his health and its consequences for the country.
HOW YAR'ADUA'S ABSENCE AFFECTS NIGERIANS
Even before this recent disappearance of President Yar'Adua, some would argue that he was in Nigeria, but not quite 'present'. This is because the President is seen to have had little positive influence on Nigerians before he became too sick to function as President. That being the case, Yar'Adua's absence has had seroius consequences for citizens.
The President's absence contributed to a diplomatic rift between Nigeria and the United States. Nigeria was included on a list of "Terror Prone" countries shortly after a Nigerian citizen based in England tried to blow up a plane. According to US officials, the absence of a President for US President Obama to communicate with led to confusion and played a role in Nigeria's placement on the list. The new classification affects Nigerians living in the United States, Nigerian students, business people and travelers trying to enter the US.
While in Saudi Arabia, Yar'Adua's absence fostered tribal tensions when discussions began on whether the he would be replaced by the Vice President, a Southerner. Northern elites were nervous that replacement of a northern President by a non-Northerner would mean an end of their access to political and economic power. Statements by Northern groups insisting that national peace depended on a transfer of power between the northern and southern parts of the country. The Northern Union warned that the "stability of [the] country ... hinged [on] power rotation between the North and the South." Some Southerners expressed their frustrations by asserting that the North was not contributing to national progress. These tensions were only inflamed by fighting in Jos where Christians were murdered.
Yar'Adua's absence prevented the formal adoption of Nigeria's 2010 budget. Though sent to the National Assembly with the President's signature on it, accusations of forgery quickly arose leading to questions about the validity of the document. Since then, the budget continues to be adjusted and the result is that the 2010 budget is yet to be considered by the National Assembly. If no change happens by the end of March when the 2009 budget period ends, the federal government, which is the largest spender, could come to a standstill with federal employees not receiving their salaries, schools and hospitals lacking much needed funding, and infrastructural projects could shut down.
The President's absence has also led to some positives. For instance, the political vacuum created by Yar'Adua's disappearance led to Constitutional review and the adoption of electoral reform suggestions that have now pushed up the Presidential election. This move has also fostered the creation of a better electoral schedule which will stagger regional elections instead of having local elections across the country around the same time. Furthermore, Yar'Adua's absence also forced a re-write of certain Constitutional provisions so as to prevent a repeat of the confusion caused by the President's 3 month stay in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the political vacuum forced Nigerians of varying education and economic levels to collectively voice forceful opinions on the state of the country, forcing the legislative body to formally grant the Vice President executive powers and stave off further confusion.
Moreover, the disappearance of the President has led to concerns of a stalling in the Niger Delta amnesty process, such as the transfer of monies allocated to varying projects. Already, MEND called off a 5 month ceasefire, and Nigeria's Senators complained that there needs to be more progress after a bomb blast went off during post-amnesty talks.
These examples illustrate how Yar'Adua's most recent absence impacted Nigerians in such diverse ways to qualify it as the most significant factor affecting the country in 2009. Considering that he remains yet to be seen and there are questions about his capacity to lead, Yar'Adua's health and resulting absence continue to be a significant factor in Nigeria. For that reason, Yar'Adua's absence is the Nigerian Curiosity of 2009.
From The Archives:
- The Nigerian Curiosity of 2007 (Michael Aondoakaa)
- The Nigerian Curiosity of 2008 (Babatunde Fashola)