Of Nigeria, Yar’Adua And Buhari: A Country That Just Does Not Learn

So it’s finally trending on Twitter. #whereisBuhari has trended for three days straight. Our president has progressively been less visible to the public since his return from England and, at this point, he’s not even been sighted in public at all either to chair the FEC meetings or to give the traditional presidential May Day speech. Does this story sound eerily familiar?

When president Buhari was running for office, I had several misgivings about his candidature. Sure, as a military administrator, it appears he had a great track record but then at his age, it wasn’t very likely he was going to be getting any stronger. I did share some of my misgivings online with whoever bothered to listen. I knew I wasn’t going to vote for president Jonathan because he seems to have had about as much control over his government as Buhari has right now. But given the Yar’Adua antecedent, I was worried about Nigeria having a president that just wasn’t fit enough health-wise to run such a complex country as Nigeria. It had nothing to do with prescience or prophecy because we have already seen it all before, more-so in the recent past.  It’s not been up to a decade since Nigerians were left wondering where their president was and how he was doing and if he was even still alive. Funny story, we’ve gone full circle and we’re right back there again.

While I am convinced that the president is still very much alive, that is not the problem at all. The problem is that Nigeria failed to learn from the entire Yar’adua saga that left Nigerians unsure of who was actually running the country. Was it the president’s wife, Turai? Was it the so-called faceless “cabal”? It was certainly not his Vice-President who (eventually) succeeded him. I could join millions of Nigerians in asking where the president is but that’s a question for another day. The question for now though is: why does Nigeria never learn and specifically – why did Nigeria not learn from what happened at the tail-end of President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua’s life/tenure?

One would have thought that with the confusion that shook the entire country in those times of uncertainty, certain elements involved in the law-making process would have thought it expedient to craft a law detailing what happens in a case where the president is clearly not physically fit enough to discharge his official duties. Much of our laws concerning that either requires the president to actually die for those laws to kick in or the president to resign or write to the National Assembly asking that his Vice be made stand-in President pending when the president is fit again. But those laws really don’t take into consideration a situation where the president is still alive but is either physically unable to resign due to the nature of the illness or unwilling to resign because, well, “he just doesn’t want to”. It’s not as if we don’t know what happens when either scenario comes into play, after-all, we have seen it before. Remember when President Yar’Adua was “missing” yet documents in his signature kept turning up somehow? What is to say that isn’t the situation of things on ground now? We have already gotten to the point of asking where the President is. Up next, God forbid, might be asking who is actually running the country. Yet we have people who make laws for us and have seen the exact same precedent some of which where even members of the National Assembly at the time President Yar’Adua passed on. It would appear that once President Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in, everyone just forgot about President Yar’Adua and everything that happened towards the end of his life and the conditions that necessitated hitherto Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan taking office as Acting President.

One might want to say we really should watch those we vote into office especially when they show signs of ill health or advance in age but then lots of people have gotten into office fully fit before succumbing to illnesses. Case in point, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who was president for four terms before succumbing to cancer in his fourth term. We can’t tell the future – we really don’t know how long any of us would be fit for. However, e can plan for what happens in the event that we are so struck by ill-health that we can’t carry out our responsibilities. Nigeria has consistently failed to make such plans for its presidents. Maybe it’s because we’ve not had enough people die from ill health while being president or become too sick to run the country leaving those around them to make decisions on their behalf, some of which they would personally never assent to. Well I say two people is too many. Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives need to start working on a bill that, when passed into law, outlines what happens in any situation where the president is proven unfit to carry out his presidential duties but does not notify them in writing or otherwise or when the president has been out of the public eye for an extended period especially due to ill health.

Though we might actually need a president to sign that bill into law.

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