I am no prophet; neither do I claim any gifts of clairvoyance. However, history repeats itself and those who are not ready to learn from history would become one of the tragic object lessons of history. This essay, lengthy though it may be, seeks to examine different facets of the Nigerian ruling class and why it might be headed for self-destruction.
It is over about 20 days since the President of Nigeria, President Umar Yar’Adua (PUYA) pulled a vanishing act on the country he is supposed to be ruling. In the intervening period since then, we have seen the Nigerian political class at its worst, and the sad part of this unfolding tale is that it does not bear the semblance of a tale that has a fairy-tale denouement.
PUYA: A patriot or a coward?
The Nigerian constitution, despite its various imperfections, provides quite clearly the means for the incumbent president to hand over the reins of office, albeit temporarily, to his vice president (Dr. Goodluck Jonathan – DGJ) on occasions when he (the president) is not in a position to exercise his executive functions, due to physical absence in Nigeria or for other reason.
PUYA has never (to the best of my knowledge) made use of the provisions of the constitution to inform, formally, the Nigerian National Assembly of his various absences in the country and to confer on DGJ, the executive powers that may be necessary to run the country in his absence. This is particularly curious given that both of them were candidates on the same presidential ticket from the same political party.
In his visits for medical attention (which were ostensibly cloaked in other guises), the absence of PUYA and the non-delegation to DGJ were overlooked, largely due to the brevity of such visits and I dare say for political convenience. However, a 3-week visit, during which PUYA has been incommunicado, raises grave questions that need answers.
The issues that beg for a resolution here are multifaceted.
- Why did PUYA not hand over to DGJ?
- Does PUYA have misgiving about DGJ?
- If he has misgiving, are these misgivings predicated on:
- DGJ’s integrity or
- DGJ’s competence?
- If there are no grounds to doubt DGJ’s competence or integrity, is PUYA an innately insecure individual, who is incapable of delegating?
- If he is insecure (based on whatever answers are provided in 4 above), is he (or someone of his ilk) the appropriate individual to direct the affairs of a complex corporation like Nigeria?
- Is PUYA the consummate patriot, so blinded by his love for this country, that he is unable to realise others love the country just as much and are willing to make the same “sacrifices” he is making for the country?
- Are there any powers to delegate in reality, i.e. is the country running on auto-pilot?
- If the country is capable of running without a president, then perhaps the biggest question, which may challenge the moral legitimacy of this government (and maybe its successor), is if there is a need for a president in the first instance.
- What national security issues does the treatment of a ruling president in a foreign country (for such extended periods) portend for Nigeria?
- What economic implications does this vacant presidency (and the absence of his executive powers) hold for the country? What deals are being withdrawn? What transaction terms are being violated?
The continued absence of PUYA and his non-delegation of executive powers go beyond the bickering that may exist (if they exist) between PUYA and DGJ. It strikes at the heart of the presidency as an institution. For whether it is said as explicitly as this or not; the presidency of Nigeria is currently resident in an intensive care unit in a Jeddah hospital. If ever an institution had suicidal tendencies, this institution – the Nigerian Presidency – has demonstrated it over the past 3 weeks in toxic dosage.
The PDP: An Obese Cannibal or a Political Genius?
In the land of cannibals, the one mistake any cannibal can make is to become obese; it is a fatal mistake. The anecdote is told of a cannibal who fed fat on the entrails of his fellow clans-men, till he became obese. I leave my imaginative readers to fill in the gap.
Politics, particularly in Nigeria, is a cannibalistic affair. Oh, not in the physical sense of it, but every other person is looking for a weakness in the next and an opportunity to pounce – and pounce ruthlessly. Over the past decade, the PDP has indeed fed fat on the common resources of the federation, with “selections” being declared in its favour in most states and the anti-corruption courts littered with cases brought against their executives.
If in the era of former President Obasanjo – with its pronounced, if skewed, anti-corruption stance – there was still looting of a scale that benumbs the senses; I am frightened to imagine the extent of looting that may have taken place over the past 3 weeks in the absence of any form of visible leadership in the Nigerian government. The PDP, might indeed be feeding, and feeding fat. If this is the case, it is little wonder that there has been such concerted effort to maintain the status quo, even amongst rival factions in the governance structure.
I am compelled to assess the actions of PDP, being the party, on whose platform both candidates – PUYA and DGJ – were elected. With the exception of the judiciary, whose actions are not deemed to be partisan, the top 4 citizens of the nation all were elected on the platform of the PDP. The majority of the state governors in Nigeria were elected on the platform of the PDP, likewise the majority of the legislators in both the Upper and Lower houses of assembly were elected on the platform of this party.
Yet over the past 3 weeks, we have seen actions from members of the party, and by extension the party itself, make utterances and embark on activities which raise grave questions about the structure of the party, its ability to govern itself effectively, its ability to sense when to change strategies and maybe most importantly its ability to devise new strategies other than the strong-arm methodologies (re: 2007 is a do-or-die affair).
The inability of the party to compel its members (in their capacity as members of the FEC and the legislature) to define a clear succession plan in line with the constitution might be the undoing of this obese cannibal.
The failings of the party, in addition to the errant behaviour of its president include the following:
- The petty bare-faced falsehoods that the FEC held on to in its penultimate meeting that PUYA was getting better and would be back soon.
- The petty squabbles, which have resulted in quite irresponsible utterances about presidential zoning to the northern part of the country.
- The continued reluctance to put in place a delegated presidency to fill the 3-week old vacuum created by the AWOL PUYA.
If one adds to the issues raised directly by the actions of PUYA himself, these 3 points pose a further problem that strike at the heart of our existing political class.
- If the prevailing political class as embodied by the PDP (and other parties) are able to thrive parasitically to present extents in the absence of an effective presidency, what prevents the rise of parallel governments, which have as their objective, the right to be “feudal parasites” in their respective domains? We have seen this on a minor scale in the Niger Delta, but is there anything preventing this from recurring, in the obvious absence of a ruler in the country?
- More alarmingly, is there anything that prevents an armed insurrection at the moment, given that this is only a more advanced and less subtle variant of the existing electoral practice in Nigeria?
- With the passage of time, each of the disparate factions within the PDP (and other interested parties at this moment) would gain more pre-eminence (albeit fractious) and the means to compromise any meaningful succession plan, if the need ultimately is forced on them by an undeniable incapacitation of PUYA. Would the party, and the nation, be able to withstand the conflict that may arise amongst such divided interests? For instance there is a man (who vacillates and changes his name from Olusola to Abubakar at political expedience) who has insisted that in the eventuality of a succession, power must be zoned to the north of Nigeria. Within this “northern camp”, there are already rival candidates. On the other hand, there are those who are insisting on following the letter of the constitution (implying a man from the Niger Delta would be at the helm of affairs), and threatening brimstone if this is circumvented.
- Does the political class as we know it, indeed have the capacity within itself to appreciate that the problems of the nation are greater than the self-serving objectives that are being promoted by the various interests that have reared their heads in the past 3 weeks?
- Can the moral right to rule ever be restored to the presidency under PDP?
- Can the moral right to govern using this existing structure be perpetuated?
- If no, what prevents an upheaval – ballot or bullet – to restore this moral right or to change this structure?
It seems as this cannibal that is the Nigerian ruling class grows obese, it is getting less inclined to ask these questions that may be the difference between its demise and its continued existence.
I do not know, for I am not clairvoyant, if PUYA would return alive or if he would not. My gut feeling is that the truth is worse than what we suspect. Regardless of my feelings or the outcome of PUYA’s visit to Jeddah, I am inclined to wager that this 3-week old bizarre tale would mark the beginning of the end for a structure of that has held a nation hostage for more than 40 years.
When the change would crystallise, I do not know. Whether the change would herald something better or something worse, is left for us to decide. It is early days yet, so I will sit down and wait.