In addition to sheer amazement, many of us following the argument that a comatose Umaru Yar’Adua is fit to run Nigeria must have a sense of déjà vu. Nigeria is not the only country that falls into the hands of inept, clueless leadership. But it may well be one of the rare countries where seemingly sane people argue that inept leaders are indispensable.
Cast a backward glance at Nigeria’s woeful past and you’ll see examples galore of shameless apologists who told the world that Nigeria’s fate was bound up with that of some certified mediocrity in power.
Yakubu Gowon trumpeted his own indispensability when he sought to persuade Nigerians that it wasn’t feasible for him to exit the political stage in 1976. Yet, Nigeria survived Gowon’s removal in a coup led by the late General Murtala Muhammed.
In 1983, the National Party of Nigeria deployed a variant of the argument to justify its rigging regatta to ensure that a confounded Shehu Shagari continued to preside over the affairs of Nigeria.
How about General Ibrahim Babangida? Even as the nation tottered under his watch, he and his coterie tried to package him as a genius of statecraft. Convinced by his own propaganda, Mr. Babangida set and then sabotaged successive timetables for his withdrawal. It took his June 12 misadventure to finally expose the insincerity of his transition program, and to precipitate his forced exit.
Then came Sani Abacha, one of the most puzzling and dangerous of Nigeria’s cast of visionless, greedy, and tragically mischievous rulers. A failure at everything else it takes to be a transformative leader, Abacha achieved mastery in the art and science of sustaining himself in power. Using a Machiavellian mix of carrots and sticks, he intimidated or bought off much of the political class.
Week after week, a retinue of traditional rulers (with little or no tradition) and politicians flocked to Abuja to venerate Abacha. In stunning assaults on language and logic, they proclaimed Abacha a “dynamic leader.” They told him that the nation would be hopeless without him to lead it. Speaking from rehearsed lines, they pleaded with Abacha to ignore his “disgruntled” critics and to go ahead and succeed himself.
In the midst of this absurd theatre of worship, Abacha slumped and died. The style and circumstances of his death were fitting: surrounded by prostitutes, some of them imported from abroad. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, the death of a head of state provoked spontaneous and widespread ululation, dancing and bingeing – a fiesta of celebration.
Olusegun Obasanjo, a victim of Abacha’s repression, was brought out of prison and – without psychiatric evaluation – installed as president. He spent his first term, of four years, on an endless junket to foreign countries. Then he spent the second term – which he achieved by dint of rigging – to display his vindictive and grasping tendencies. Nearing the end of his ruinous run as president, he and his cohorts concocted a depraved plan: to change the Nigerian constitution to enable him to run (and rig) a third term.
Those who championed that awful scheme told us that Nigeria could not afford to be Obasanjoless. They claimed that he had founded modern Nigeria – never mind that he built few roads, despite hundreds of billions voted each year, or that his guarantee, on his “honor,” of regular, uninterrupted power supply had turned into a $10 billion bad joke, or that he openly disdained the judiciary, meddled with the legislature, imposed candidates both on his party as well as voters, and enthroned a culture of primitive pocketing of public funds and brazen disregard for decency and ethics.
In an insult to a nation of 140 million, his stalwarts asked, “If not Obasanjo, who?” They contended that Obasanjo, and Obasanjo alone, was capable of husbanding the reforms they alleged that he’d initiated. That argument, stupid on the face of it, nevertheless found traction even with people who ought to know better. In exasperation, I asked one of them: “What if we allowed Obasanjo to steal a third term, is he going to guarantee us, on his honor, that he would never die? Otherwise, if he died, would Nigerians then send a strongly-worded petition to God to raise him from the dead to avert the very extinction of Nigeria?”
Once it dawned on Mr. Obasanjo that Nigerians were in no mood to gratify his illicit third term aspiration, he manufactured a vengeful, do-or-die response. First, he imposed a feeble Yar’Adua as the presidential candidate of the PDP, and then – in an act of supreme malice – foisted his anointed on the nation.
Obasanjo’s recent effort to rewrite the history of his imposition of Yar’Adua was seen by many Nigerians for what it is: a bald fabrication.
Meanwhile, with Yar’Adua, Nigerians are back in familiar territory. Since leaving on November 23 – not on his feet, but on a stretcher – Yar’Adua seems to have fallen into a black hole. Abjectly incompetent even in his healthiest of days, the man cannot now maintain any semblance of being in charge.
That fact has not fazed his acolytes who are using his name to gorge fat on Nigeria’s treasury. Michael Aondoakaa, the inner circle’s most visible spokesman, has told us that Yar’Adua is governing Nigeria from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia.
For the Aondoakaas of our world, it is okay to reduce Nigeria to Yar’Adua’s size. If Yar’Adua ends up spending six or more months in a foreign hospital, there’s nothing wrong – in Aondoakaa’s book – with letting Nigeria flounder, as long as Yar’Adua’s (and his proxies’) narrow interests are served. If Nigeria must die, so be it, but Turai Yar’Adua’s desire to reign on as “First Lady” must not be tampered with.
Where’s proof that Yar’Adua even recognizes that there’s an entity called Nigeria much less that he is governing? Ask Aondoakaa and he’s likely to tell you that the sick man signed a budget (a scam) or that he spoke with the British Broadcasting Corporation for – wait for this – fifty-one seconds!
Parts of Nigeria are still experiencing acute fuel shortages. What’s Yar’Adua’s antidote for that? The US recently added Nigeria on the list of nations to watch on matters of terrorism. Pray, how many times has Yar’Adua spoken to President Barack Obama to register his objection? Hundreds of Nigerians have perished in sectarian violence in Bauchi and Jos. What leadership has Yar’Adua provided to calm nerves, to commiserate with the bereaved, or to settle thousands of displaced citizens? Nigerians continue to lose jobs as a fall-out of the nation’s bleak economic climate. What answers has our bed-ridden Yar’Adua offered to arrest or ameliorate the situation?
Turai and Aondoakaa are by no means the exclusive villains in this sordid drama. Last week, I asked a Nigerian senator why they had not moved to impeach Yar’Adua. His confessional response disarmed and shocked in equal measure: a lot of money was being disbursed, he confided. He said that, when legislators raised their voices against Yar’Adua, it was often a ploy to jerk up their fees.
Sooner or later – sooner than later, my hunch tells me – this contemptible game at the expense of Nigerians will run its course.