Monday, January 18, 2010

A weak state‘s response to Yar‘Adua‘s AWOL

Written by The Punch/Adebolu Arowolo.

For those who often contest the ranking of Nigeria among weak, poorly governed and distressed nations of the world, the response of the various institutions of government to President Umaru Yar‘Adua‘s protracted absence without official leave (AWOL) should serve as an eye opener. They should now begin to see Nigeria as a nation that requires to be salvaged from the stranglehold of a few people who have effectively hijacked the apparatus and resources of the state to serve parochial interests. Look at the way a clique has deployed state powers to further private and sectional political interests since Yar‘Adua left the country for Saudi Arabia about eight weeks ago.

Using religion effectively as the opium of the people, the cabal started by telling the people not to worry about the yawning power vacuum created by Yar‘Adua‘s absence, but that they should instead go into prayer sessions and vigil for His Excellency‘s good health. Nobody knows how much of public fund was frittered in this evil attempt to buy time and divert attention from official paralysis imposed by Yar‘Adua‘s absence. They were deceitfully using the prayer sessions as a way of escaping from doing the right thing.

As various groups of prayer warriors were being mobilised to Abuja, the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice moved immediately to handle the legal aspects of the logjam, making statements that conflict with commonsense and the people‘s interest. For Mr. Aondoakaa, the President could stay outside the country and rule indefinitely from any part of the world. He could set up a new desk in his clinic and relocate the nation‘s headquarters from Abuja to Jeddah or anywhere on the face of the earth. Those who expressed views contrary to Aondoakaa‘s curious stand were dismissed as unpatriotic elements. And as if to prove his point, the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation Bill was taken to Jeddah for the President‘s signature. That only hinted Nigerians that the Presidency had gone offshore and that it might take sometime for Yar’Adua to return home.

Now, more and more crucial state institutions are being sucked into the plot and compromised. We have all heard the case of an Abuja High Court where hearing and judgment were concluded within a record time of three days in favour of a clique that does not want Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to fully exercise the power of the President. Just like the satanic judgment procured one midnight in 1993 from Bassey Ikpeme‘s court to scuttle a free and pro-people election, the Dan Abutu judgment, which says Jonathan can perform the duties of the President without formally assuming power as Acting President, seems to me like a judicial endorsement of Aondoakaa‘s controversial position on the matter. It is aimed at scuttling the widespread demand for an Acting President.

I laugh whenever I hear people say that, with Abutu‘s judgment, Jonathan can take all decisions on behalf of Yar‘Adua. Are we saying a man whose orders were openly flouted by some ministers only a few weeks ago has changed and become more powerful by that judgment? By these new powers, can he remove ministers and appoint new ones? In case of external aggression or internal upheaval such as the Boko Haram uprising or Jos mayhem, can Jonathan act as the Commander-In-Chief and call out the military to quell sectarian violence or external attack? The plain truth is that Jonathan cannot perform duties not directly assigned to him by Yar‘Adua.

Section 5 (1) of the 1999 Constitution says the President can exercise his powers directly or through the Vice-President and ministers. Section 148(1) also says the President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any minister responsibility for any business of the government.

I see no room in these sections where the Vice-President can take independent actions or responsibilities except those assigned to him by the President. Even with Abutu‘s judgment, Jonathan‘s situation has not changed. He still has to take orders from the President. From his BBC interview, Yar‘Adua is still a long way to recovery. With his frail voice and fragile health situation, it is obvious that orders cannot always be proceeding directly from the President. I am not sure his doctors have allowed him to receive calls. Jonathan will therefore have to depend on sources close to the President for directives, as he has done in the past 55 days.

Naturally, the closest person to Yar‘Adua under this dire situation is his wife. It seems to me that the Abutu judgment was arranged to rubber-stamp the presidential-directives-by-proxy system. Abutu himself did not mince words when he said Jonathan would only continue to serve as Vice-President and not as Acting President. But the question remains: why is this cabal running away from giving us an Acting President?

What has revealed the weakness and vulnerability of the Nigerian State is the poor response of the legislators, who are supposed to be the people‘s representatives, to the logjam. Instead of fighting on the side of the people, those in the legislative arm have largely become tools in the hand of those manipulating the polity for selfish reasons. For a long time, the legislators went to join the prayer warriors. When the National Assembly finally found its voice, its decisions failed to defuse tension. The House of Reps. took a laughable decision to take a get-well card to the President in Saudi Arabia. Let them not waste taxpayers‘ money on a frivolous trip abroad

Without giving a time frame, the Senate decided to invite the Secretary to the Federal Government, Yayale Ahmed, to brief it on matters relating to Yar‘Adua‘s health. All we need is a resolution by both chambers, asking the Federal Executive Council to determine Yar‘Adua‘s fitness for the job. I doubt whether they will ever do the right thing. They are rarely found on the side of social justice.
Thus, we have seen a complete paralysis of all the arms and institutions of government. From the Federal Executive Council to the National Assembly and the Judiciary, the response to the power void has been weak and disappointing. All the state institutions have failed to tame tension and arrest the drift. The reason for this, I‘m told, is about who becomes President in 2011. If Yar‘Adua decides not to run owing to ill-health, his camp wants to remain firmly in control in order to pick a successor. If Jonathan becomes Acting President, he may use government machinery to tilt political fortunes on the side of his own anointed candidate. It is the evil cabal behind this crude and predatory political calculation that has been holding the nation to ransom. But this is not altogether unexpected in a country where the public office is largely used as a pathway to wealth.
As owners of the political powers being abused, it is the responsibility of all patriotic citizens to join hands to rebuild the nation‘s institutions. A strong civil society has always been behind every nation that has made progress. That is why it is said that a nation deserves the kind of leadership it has. The easiest way to lose the struggle for a better society is for the people to fold their arms and do nothing. Those who are benefiting from the decay in the land will never voluntarily surrender power. Freedom, as they say, is not something given; it is taken.

Unfortunately, the nation‘s civil society has become especially weak and fragile in the past 10 years. More than ever before, Nigerians are now fragmented along regional, ethnic and religious lines. The “Enough is Enough” rally held in Abuja was spearheaded by aging patriots such as Wole Soyinka. Those committed to the struggle for a better society are well above the age of 50. Where are the youths who are at the receiving end of bad policies? Where are the students of tertiary institutions who will graduate into a huge and congested unemployment market? Where are the workers‘ unions? Where are the farmers? Where are the Okada riders and other victims of bad governance?

The fragmentation of the civil society has made it possible for a few unpatriotic people to corner the state and its resources for their own selfish use. The civil rights movement made America the great nation that it now is. When are we going to come together to build a great future for ourselves and generations yet unborn?