Please stop this drift: Calling on the Dora Akunyilis of Nigeria, By Osmund Agbo

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•President Muhammadu

Few years ago, precisely on the 23rd of November, 2009, the then President of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took ill and had to be emergently flown to a Saudi Arabian hospital for treatment. From subsequent reports, we learnt that our President got diagnosed with acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the covering of the heart that normally wouldn’t require any specialised care. Prior to that however, and even before coming to power, Mr. Yar’Adua was already known to suffer from a litany of medical problems including chronic kidney disease and an undisclosed heart condition, all of which were treated as a closely guarded secret, completely shielded from the public. But then the President got sicker and and sicker by the day, requiring him to spend more than 90 days outside of the country. He had left for Saudi without handing over to his Vice President. As would be expected throughout the entire time, the most important business of government stalled. Nigeria drifted.

Instead of doing what was constitutionally required which was to pave the way to hand over to the Vice President, the power shenanigans in Aso Rock went on an overdrive to block any of such move. They were ready to torpedo the ship of state to protect their own parochial interest. Those that knew Yar’Adua and could attest to the man’s personal integrity and respect for the rule of law were disgusted. They were quite convinced that the President would cringe at such a treasonable effort but the cabals could care less. Of course, their actions had nothing to do with helping the President or preserving his legacy. It had everything to do with a desperate effort to protect the power and privilege of a few in his inner circle who were busy hawking political merchandise. 

The President was finally smuggled back to Abuja on the 24th of February 2010, under the cover of darkness. Even then, his state of health remained shrouded in mystery, though there were speculations that he was on life support. Most Nigerians got to know about it only because Al-Jazeera reported that he left the Saudi hospital and not because there was any official pronouncement through the proper channel. His Vice President was kept in the dark throughout the entire time and even the information minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili, who should answer questions from the press corps and inform Nigerians on the fate of their president, was misled. 

Nigerians were rattled and the international community led by the United States and United Kingdom expressed deep concerns. The political temperature rose to a boiling point with intense power play happening in both the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council. When finally, the Senate of the Federal Republic invoked what was called the “doctrine of necessity” to transfer presidential powers to the then Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on 10 February 2010, there was a huge sigh of relief across the land. For starters, it marked the end of a power vacuum in Africa’s most populous nation.

Looking back, those would be considered the good old days that we are now forced to remember with nostalgia. But let it be remembered that the series of actions that led to the resolution of that near constitutional crisis was not led by inept and lily-levered sleazeballs dressed in overflowing Agbada. Rather, it was spear-headed by a woman of steel who wrote her now famous memo to the Federal Executive council.

Today, history is about to repeat itself albeit as a tragi-comedy of calamitous proportion. Times are very different and so are the players. Dora Akunyili has since been replaced by Lai Mohammed and Senator David Mark by Senator Ahmed Lawan. 

When in April 2014, a group of teenage girls numbering 276 were snatched at gun point from the hallowed ground of their school dormitory, the world rose in swift condemnation. Up until that time, such move would be unprecedented both in the feasibility of its scope and the unmatched temerity of Boko Haram. But those were the days of innocence. Today, in Nigeria, such a tragedy hardly lasts a full news cycle before being eclipsed by another far worse horrendous one. From Chibok to Jangebe, from Kankara to Greenfield, Nigeria has become such a vast crime empire whose local currency is denominated in terrorism, dare-devil banditry and kidnap for ransom. 

If your family name is Daura and you have a nephew in Aso Rock, the ocean of blood gobbling up this geographical space will probably not cost you some sleep. In the grand scheme of things, such is only but a small price to pay in the match towards a more perfect union. It’s a known fact that the Goebbels of Nigeria are ever ready to swear by their grand father’s grave that this conflagration would soon fizzle out and we would all be better for it, all thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari. But who in this Golgotha gives a hoot about dishonest rendering and revisionist history when the opportunity presents to play the defacto king of Nigeria and cash out big!

You may describe President Buhari as incompetent, apathetic and an ethnic bigot, but I am hard pressed to believe that any president with a decent mental capacity could be so detached from the suffering of the people he swore the Oath of Allegiance to preserve, protect and defend under the constitution. Many have previously alluded to the fact that he suffers from a debilitating dementia. It may be that we need to cut the man some slack and empathise with his condition. No one could be so evil as to allow a country under his watch, crumble like a pack of cards. As a medical doctor, l am quite familiar with a certain affliction of the central nervous system that hinders the brain cell functions, resulting in a severe impairment of communication, thinking, feeling and behavior. 

It’s been reported in the past that President Buhari would sign off on just about anything brought before him. In his piece titled “COAS Appointment as Missed Opportunity for Unity” and published in Nigerian Tribune/ Peoples Gazette, my erudite friend and public intellectual, Prof. Farooq Kperogi, revealed how a little known thirty-something year-old Buhari’s cousin that goes by the name Sabiu “Tunde” Yusuf has become one of the most powerful men in Nigeria. Even the current Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari we were told, has no direct access to the President and has to pass through that same Yusuf, whose official title is personal assistant, to get anything reasonable done.

When was the last time you watched President Buhari mount the soapbox to address a national audience or show up for a press briefing to answer questions about the daily calamities befalling this nation? It’s either that Garba Shehu puts out a statement or we take whatever we can get from Lai Balogun. But where is the man that Nigerians elected to be their president in 2015 and re-elected in 2019?

The principal is sick and we all know that. Of course, one has no access to his medical records from the very many health tourisms abroad. In the absence of such, the evidence being put forward here would at best be deemed circumstantial. But what are the odds that the President’s health challenge is at the front and centre of our country’s slide into a bottomless pit and the ignominy of joining the league of failed states.

As was the case with President Yar’ Adua, whenever a situation arises that the incapacity of the President creates a vacuum in the legitimate exercise of constitutional authority in Nigeria, it’s the duty of the National Assembly who are vested with the power to pass a resolution under Sections 1(2) and 145 of the Constitution to enable the Vice-President to act as President. 

Even the deeply flawed 1999 constitution in its very opening section, makes the continuity of constitutional government the basis of our system of government. In the current scenario however, one has to concede that it’s a lot harder to make the case for removal of this President on the ground of ill-health since unlike his predecessor he is not critically ill and confined to his sick bed. Even then, there may still be a valid ground for the Federal Executive Council to pass the resolution declaring the president incapable as provided by section 144 of the constitution. The problem is that such would be a prerogative of the same cabal that are profiting handsomely from the unwholesome situation; the unlikely case of a king willingly relinquishing his crown. 

Our nation is precipitously falling apart and the options are fast running out. Today, we are sending an SOS to those patriots with the power and authority to act. The National Assembly remains the only institution constitutionally positioned to arrest the slide, but that’s only if the honourable members are willing to muster the courage to do what they signed up for under Oath. Let our heroes in the mold of Dora Akunyili stand up to be counted, halt this drift and rescue our country from the jaws of ungodly men. Without such emergent intervention, we could as well sing nunc dimittis to this republic.

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]