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Nigeria: Time for Leadership in Constitutionalism and Good Governance in Africa

By: Franklin Otorofani, Esq.
 Published February, 24th, 2010

“I have done lots of work with the previous president of Nigeria while I was in the office and all of Africa and we know that without Nigeria fulfilling its potentials and exacting its leadership, it will be greatly difficult for the whole of Africa.”Fmr British Prime Minister, Tony Blair (AHE 022110)

The words in the above quote of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, spoken at a public event in Abuja, represent the general consensus in the world about Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa as well as the challenges facing her. However, if there is anyone out there in the wide world who disagrees with Blair’ assessment including but not limited to the clan of naysayers and detractors in Nigeria, let him raise his voice in protest. I have to be blunt and direct here: The prime minister used the words “all of Africa and we know that without Nigeria…exacting its leadership, it will be greatly difficult for the whole of Africa,” to drive home his point. I couldn’t agree more and so should you if you believe as I do in Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa.

Blair minced no words in pinning that responsibility on the broad shoulders of Nigeria. Now that is a huge responsibility to be placed on the shoulders of one nation in a continent of some 55 sovereign nations. It is interesting though that Blair did not mention South Africa, Egypt, Kenya or even Ghana, for that matter. He singled out Nigeria. And when he did, the patriot in me felt a surge of pride sweeping down my spine, reading those words. However, leadership is not for all comers. It is bestowed on those individuals and nations that deserve it and have proven their mettles among their peers in whatever areas they might have demonstrated their leadership qualities. Nigeria must have met that threshold to attain that continental status so enthusiastically bestowed on her by foreign leaders. But remember, Tony Blair also talked about Nigeria “fulfilling her potentials,” suggesting or even indicating that the nation has yet to fulfill her potentials. Here again, Blair’s assessment is right on the money.  And if there be one out there in the wide world who disagrees with his verdict, let him raise his voice in protest.

Tony Blair’s two-pronged assessment provides a fitting backdrop to this presentation on the current state of affairs in our nation. It was delivered at a time the nation is searching for leadership from our elected and appointed leaders to deal with political exigencies at home. It therefore couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. These exigencies have, however, called to serious question Nigeria’s leadership at home thus hinting at Blair’s concerns about the nation’s ability to fulfill her potentials. Blair may have meant well for Nigeria. However, from all available evidence, the fulfillment of Nigeria’s potentials was the farthest thing from the minds of Blair’s ancestors, who colonized the nation. Nigeria was set up not to lead or fulfill her potentials but to crash and disintegrate at the first storm that was programmed to hit her. But she miraculously survived that fateful encounter. Yet the seeds of political instability have grown into giant Iroko trees in the body politic. Recent events in the polity bear eloquent testimony to that. Nothing happens in a vacuum but in a continuum of colonial legacies. Therefore, far from being the intentions of her colonial masters, who, in techno-speak, had programmed her, much like other colonial fiefdoms, to crash soon after her independence, Nigeria was providentially born to lead and thus provide leadership to the continent of Africa in particular and maybe thenceforth to the world in general someday in the fullness of time.

However, Nigeria’s leadership role came by default. Not long after independence, the fledging nation, by virtue of the sheer size of her geographic and demographic configurations coupled with her massive natural endowments, emerged naturally as the leading nation in Africa that set the tone and tenor of Africa’s engagements with the international community in the decolonization process.  Led by one of Africa’s foremost nationalists and pan-Africanists, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, albeit ceremonially; a man who had become radicalized during his student days in the United States together with the likes of W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the young nation made Africa the cornerstone of her foreign policy thrust, which translated in practical terms into Africa’s total decolonization process. Nkrumah’s Ghana, which had occupied the front row seat in Africa’s decolonization struggles with Nigeria all the while tagging along, was forced to beat a quick retreat and yielded her leadership position to the emerging ‘African giant’ in the post independence era.

It is perhaps fair to say that Nkrumah’s untimely death in the hands of Ghanaian military adventurers coupled with her meagerly geographic and population size had conspired to deny her the ability to offer effective leadership to the continent in the face of Nigeria’s overwhelming superiority in all departments of national endowments. Ghana’s gold was no match for Nigeria’s black gold and her population was and still unremarkable by comparison.

Thus Nigeria assumed a leadership role in Africa after independence because she was destined to be courtesy of her size and natural resources as no other nation had the wherewithal to play that role or otherwise compete with her as Africa’s pre-eminent leading nation south of the Sahara. And the fact that the Republic of South Africa, which would have been the natural leader was still a pariah nation, helped in no small way in propelling Nigeria to the forefront of African leadership.  Incidentally, apartheid South Africa was to provide the litmus test for Nigeria’s leadership role on the continent. Barely had the ink dried on Nigeria Independence Declaration at Lancaster House, England, in 1960, than the racist enclave began to feel the heat of the anti-apartheid struggle spearheaded by Nigeria as the leader of the frontline states. This was intensified with continental ferocity until the atrocious regime of Pete Botha crumbled under the unrelenting bombardment of the apartheid fortress by the superior forces of history.

Though situated thousands of miles away, Nigeria considered herself a frontline state just like those bordering South Africa, placed by their geographic locations at the receiving end of the regime’s scorched earth policies designed to punish and/or intimidate the frontline states into submission.  As a frontline state, therefore, South Africa extended her tactics of intimidation to Nigeria in several ways most notably when it secured or attempted to secure a military base in Equatorial Guinea from which it planned to target Nigeria militarily and destabilize her. It was in recognition of that leadership role that Nigerian leaders worked their tails off to secure independence or majority rule for such states as Namibia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and of course, Angola, as well as her numerous internationally recognized peace-making and peace-keeping roles in troubled spots in Africa and beyond. The numerous international awards and letters of commendation received from the UN and other international organization bear eloquent testimonies to Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa, and by necessary implication, the world in general.

And what is more? As I had stated elsewhere in previous articles, the conceptualization and crafting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as the AU’s Peer Review mechanism, had the leadership imprimatur of Nigeria during her headship of the continental body for three consecutive terms in deference to her leadership position on the continent. Again, Nigeria’s leadership was, in the main, responsible for the transformation of the moribund Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the modern, agile African Union (AU)  in tandem with similar geo-political bodies such as the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Organization of American States, (OAS), just to name but a few.

Thus we have seen the progressive evolution of Nigeria’s leadership roles from her early pre-occupation with decolonization to peace making and enforcement and all the way to the development of a pan African mechanism for good governance through the peer review mechanism as a prerequisite for the socio-economic transformation of the continent.  The peer review mechanism itself was designed to put African governments on a sound, democratic footing and enables member states, under the auspices of the AU, to directly intervene in the domestic affairs of other member states whose actions fall short of the ideals of the organization. As the chief proponent and promoter of the peer review mechanism therefore, Nigeria had had to condemn and, indeed, intervene in certain African countries when the actions of their leaders fell short of the democratic ideals and principles enshrined in both the AU and ECOWAS Charters subscribed to respectively by member states. For example, the condemnation of the coup de tat and its bloody aftermath in the Republic of Guinea, and expulsion of the Niger Republic from ECOWAS under Nigeria’s leadership over the undemocratic power grab by its leader, President Mamadou Tandja, (just ousted in a military coup), are the clearest examples yet of the operation and implementation of the peer review mechanism spearheaded as always by Nigeria. And even as late as Tuesday, last week, Nigeria’s Ag President, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, at the ECOWAS Heads of States Summit in Abuja, talked tough about undemocratic actions of certain elements in some West African states warning that there would be no comfort zone in the region for such elements. Nigeria’s leadership in Africa is therefore real, universally acknowledged, and therefore unquestionable in general terms.


Not So Fast!

However, the foregoing represents only the positives. However good and exemplary these efforts might be at the regional and international levels, Nigeria has no discernible records of good governance at the home front. Her stellar record at the external front is completely vitiated by her abysmal and uninspiring performance at home. It’s like flipping the coin! Put bluntly, Nigeria has become an example of bad governance on the continent and therefore in no position to provide leadership in that area except in the negative. Though born and weaned on democratic menu at pre and post independence, her undemocratic actions led to one of the first military interventions on the continent of Africa in 1966 barely 6 years after independence. She holds the golden trophy for military coups in Africa that toppled civilian governments at the drop of a hat. 

Besides, the country has made corruption a way of life and her second nature to the extent that a man who refuses to dip his hands into the public treasury is now being looked upon as an abnormal individual requiring a psychiatric evaluation, while kleptomaniacs have become our nation’s role models who run around the country delivering ‘lectures’ to us on good governance and democracy. Our leaders have perverted every institution of government and bent the same to their will. They have appropriated all governmental apparatuses and placed them at their service. They have torn into shreds the moral and ethical fabrics of our nation and made ours into a nation where ‘anything goes’ with little chances of redemption.  In fact, the very name ‘Nigeria’ mentioned outside the shores out the country immediately conjures up the image of corruption and fraud; no thanks to our leaders. Yes the name ‘Nigeria has become the byword for corruption in the international arena. And if we, as a people, cannot look at ourselves in the mirror to see our unflattering reflections, the world is looking at us and what it sees is not a pretty picture but ugly imagery of a bountifully endowed nation inhabited by a seemingly accursed people who hate themselves and one another and governed by totally bankrupt leadership. 

How could it be otherwise when the very basic function of government in securing lives and properties from criminal elements has proved an insurmountable task for the Nigerian state, with diehard criminals on free-for-all rampage under the very nose of law enforcement and security agencies? How could it not be when elected officials abandoned their duties of catering to the welfare of their constituents and use their offices to cater to their personal interests leaving their people in the lurch to steam in poverty, diseases, and squalor in the midst of plenty? How could it not be when anti-graft agencies have been reduced to mere window dressing calculated to fool the world?  And how could it not be when the appointment of their heads is sponsored or, at the very least influenced by corrupt elements in our society to secure their freedom from prosecution? And how could it not be when justice is sold to the highest bidder?

Of what use is government if it cannot perform its basic function of securing lives and properties and abandon its citizens at the mercy of hoodlums? Do we really know and appreciate the functions of the state and government? Of what use is democracy if it cannot address the needs and aspirations of a people because it has been hijacked by corruption in both high and low places? Domestically, Nigeria does not even come close to good governance, and the world knows it. That’s why foreigners come to our shores to lecture us on rule of law and good governance, ala US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton! In fact, it has yet to begin the process of good governance beyond the usual platitudes, and has a long, long way to go. Aren’t we ashamed that we are so notoriously deficient in good governance that the world is literarily yelling at us to change our corrupt ways and get our acts together? Who wants to be lectured in his/her own country by foreigners? Only our corrupt government officials who have no shame at all, not the hardworking farmer and teacher in the village, or the laborer and messenger in the city. 

Our people have done their part to elect their leaders who would represent them and their interest but their leaders seem to have other plans that are completely at variance with their electoral mandates—the single minded pursuits of personal interests at the expense of their peoples. In other words, they’re representing themselves not the people who labored in the sun and rain to put them in power. It is the ultimate betrayal of trust known to mankind that we’re witnesses to.


Internal Colonialists!

It is clear therefore that while the focus has shifted from fighting colonialism, which has been roundly defeated, Africa is confronted with the after effects of colonialism. From Zimbabwe to Somalia, Sudan to Niger, Guinea to Kenya, Liberia to Nigeria, and all other states in between, the perilous legacies of colonialism have reared their ugly heads to undermine national stability and development. The absence of good governance is a direct product of our colonial heritage. The continent of Africa has a different kind of enemy altogether whose color is black---the enemy at home! She drove away the colonialists from her shores only to discover that she has only replaced them with home grown colonialists of her own color.  Africa is still under internal colonial bondage and that is the war Africa must now wage and win. She must defeat the internal colonialists as she did the external. The leaders holding down their nations and their peoples are not whites but Africans. The leaders looting the resources of their countries and stashing them abroad back to the colonialists are not whites but Africans. The leaders who refused to develop their nations are not whites but Africans. The leaders who allow diseases and malnutrition to decimate their population while they live in obscene opulence are not whites but Africans. The leaders who oppress their peoples and impose a reign of terror are not whites but Africans. Yes, the Mobutu Seseko, Sani Abacha, Jean Bokassa, Ibrahim Babangida, Omar Bongo, Arap Moi, and all those tin gods who have reduced African states to fiefdoms and mere satellites of Western nations that once colonized the continent and plundered her resources, are not whites but Africans. 

Yes the hated white colonialists are gone for good but they made sure while departing that their black replacements would be worse than them and difficult, indeed, almost impossible to remove for obvious reasons. Firstly, they are Africans not foreigners embedded in the fabrics of our respective tribal societies and therefore able to play the tribal cards to hide their atrocities and hold on to power by playing one tribe against another.  Secondly, the citizens themselves had never experienced good governance during colonialism and are therefore slow to confront the antics of bad leaders who replaced the colonial masters. They were already used to abuses and deprivations under colonial rule and saw no difference their former and later masters. Thirdly, Africans were used to monarchical systems of governance that demand absolute loyalties to the kings, which is a huge drag and a damper on political action. And fourthly, neocolonialists have been very active on the African continent after independence wreaking havoc on the political leadership of the continent by sponsoring military coups and assassination of progressive leaders. The assassinations of Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and Murtala Muhammed, for instance, have been linked to external forces seeking to promote their ideologies in the continent.

These are the forces that have conspired to undermine good governance on the continent. And Nigeria exemplifies a rendezvous or convergence of these negative forces in their starkest manifestations on the continent. This is a country that has managed to turn her blessings into curses; oil wealth into poverty; her population into destitution; her roads into death traps; her buildings into time bombs; her youths into kidnappers, armed robbers and prostitutes; her students into cultists and bandits; her university lecturers into extortionists and handouts salesmen; her bankers into spare parts and stockfish importers and round trippers; her generals and lawmakers into emergency contractors; her degrees and certificates into cash and carry business; her justice into commodity; her policemen into highway robbers; and her leaders into pen robbers. The list goes on and on ad infinitum.


The New Dawn!

How much worse can it get? The nation has hit the very bottom of negativity in leadership and governance, and has nowhere else to go but up. But the good news is that the citizens have become sensitized to issues of good governance and they’re demanding same from their leaders even as I pen these lines. The bad leaders are beginning to discover that it’s no longer business as usual, and they can no longer hide under the cloak of ethnicity to perpetrate and perpetuate bad governance in the nation. Yorubas, Ibos, Hausas, Fulanis, Ibibios, Ijaws, Urhobos, Edos, Tivs, Isokos, Itsekiris, Anangs, Biroms, and all the ethnic groups in the nation have, in one accord, risen up to demand good governance from their leaders and the pressure is on. Yes the people are fighting back and demanding justice for those who have mortgaged their future and the future of their children and grandchildren. This is a qualitative change from the past and therefore a reason for hope not only for Nigeria but for Africa as a whole. The masses have come to grips with the historical fact that change comes not from the top down but from the ground up. An incipient revolution of the Nigerian people is afoot even if not violent. And it need not be violent to be effective as eloquently demonstrated by India’s Mahatma Ghandi and America’s Dr. Martin Luther King, jnr. And who says it cannot happen in Nigeria? It is happening already even with a military government. Go ask IBB how he left power in 1993. Ask OBJ what happened to third term proposal in the constitutional amendment exercise during his reign seen by the people as a ploy to extend his rule beyond two terms? And ask Yar’Adua, if you can find him, how he lost power to his deputy after stalling for months on end in defiance of the people’s demands?  And go ask former AGF, Kaase Aondoakaa, what happened to him that he’s no longer wearing trademark his swagger and twisting the laws of our land to suit his master’s interests and protect corrupt politicians? All of these leaders and more incurred the wrath of the masses in varying degrees and many are paying a price for it. It was the intense political pressure mounted by Nigerians on the National Assembly that compelled it to act in passing the historic motion transferring power to Jonathan after resisting for months. Nigerians are demanding governmental accountability and good governance like never before and the results are trickling in. And someday these trickles will turn to gales of mass discontent that will sweep bad leaders out of power at the polls. Inch by inch that is the direction Nigeria is headed.  And just as Tony Blair indicated, as Nigeria goes so goes Africa.  

The question then is how is it that a nation with such unenviable records could purport to promote democracy and good governance in other member states of African regional bodies like ECOWAS and AU, which it doesn’t practice at home? On what moral high ground does Nigeria stand to scold other deviant states on the continent on good governance and democracy? On the face of it the answer is not apparent. But it can be found in the fact that she has had a fairly long run on democracy since 1999 when the military quit the stage, grossing thus far, no less than 11 unbroken years in the democratic experiment or the first time in her history.  And that is some good news. And even with all its imperfections manifested in sundry electoral malpractices that had tainted her democratic credentials, the fact that she has had such staying power in the theater of democracy seems to have entitled her to throw her weight around as the new kid on the block to add to her already impressive leadership resume on the continent. And it would appear that other member states of both ECOWAS and the AU have accepted her self-appointed role as the regional and continental policeman of democracy which is not altogether unexpected given her pedigree.  Moreover she appears to have acknowledged her democratic deficits and she is working to fix them even if she is yet to show a lot of progress on the score. She appears to have recognized the fact that merely conducting elections is not all there is to democracy and good governance. Democracy means a whole lot more than conducting elections.

Properly defined, democracy is the expression of the political will of the people through their elected representatives at all levels of government, including, in some jurisdictions, even the judiciary, at some levels in accordance with pre-determined rules of engagement as prescribed in the constitution and relevant laws. True leadership entails the strict observance of democratic principles and the rule of law both in words and in deeds. The strict enforcement of the rules of engagement in the political theater is the enormous challenge facing the nation.

 

Failure of Leadership!

As in all cases, however, leadership imposes certain obligations on the leader and it comes with the added responsibility to act responsibly as a role model for other member states of the regional bodies of AU and ECOWAS that look up to Nigeria for leadership. The actions of a leader must not be seen to contradict or be at variance with the advertized principles which an organization holds dear to itself and to which its membership voluntarily subscribes.  A leader must lead by concrete examples in appropriate cases and not by mere precepts and properly held accountable to the same standards he had set for himself and others whenever he falls short.

Therefore, it is utterly hypocritical on the part of the Federal Government to condemn undemocratic actions in other member countries abroad while at the same time indulging in or otherwise condoning the same or similar undemocratic acts domestically. The Federal Government’s handling of President Yar’Adua’s blunt refusal to abide by the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution to transmit notice of his hospitalization in a foreign country for three odd months and counting, and the National Assembly’s dithering over the issue for that much time until it eventually found its voice, smacks of a betrayal of democratic principles and a wanton disregard and violation of the peer review mechanism.  More importantly, it is betrayal of national trust.

And how then could Ag President Jonathan talk tough about undemocratic actions in other countries when he himself presided over a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting which declared President Yar’Adua fit to govern contrary to all available evidence and contrary to the man’s own admission in the BBC interview that he was not yet fit to return home to resume duties until his own doctors advised otherwise? Was the FEC declaring another Musa Yar’Adua fit to govern, or the one who is lying comatose at the King Fadh Royal Hospital in Saudi Arabia? On what medical evidence did the FEC base its conclusions that President Yar’Adua was ‘fit’ to govern when the man had declared otherwise? And if the man, Yar’Adua had indicated that he would only return to office upon the advice of his doctors, shouldn’t the fact that he has yet to return to office signify that he has yet to be cleared by his doctors and therefore unfit to govern?  What more evidence does anyone need to declare him incapacitated? Were the FEC members laboring under a spell or collective amnesia to make that declaration in response to Justice Abutu’s order?  And more to the point: What were the reasons for refusing to declare the President medically incapacitated when the man had told the world about his medical incapacity? The reasons could be found in personal loyalties by members of the FEC and, of course, extra-legal and extra-constitutional ethnic considerations, which wholly detract from the letters and spirit of the constitution and good governance. 

Yes, President Yar’Adua may have failed the nation but the National Assembly and the FEC didn’t have to. The dithering and indecision exhibited by both national institutions represents a failure of leadership and good governance. It could be argued that the PDP’s power sharing arrangement which zoned the presidency to the North may have clouded the vision of the members of both bodies. But if push comes to shove the Nigerian constitution takes precedence over any party arrangement and it shouldn’t have been so difficult for the members to come to grips with that reality because they swore to defend and protect the constitution not PDP’s or any party power sharing arrangement for that matter. As such, our leaders should have been cognizant of the fact that good governance demands that the constitution prevails in the event of any conflict between its provisions and some backyard party arrangement that is not recognized and therefore non-enforceable in any court in the land.  Sure enough our leaders are aware of the supremacy of the constitution over other existing laws and PDP zoning arrangement is not even a law to begin with! This is not to condemn the PDP arrangement, which frankly speaking, has brought some measure of political stability into the polity, but to point out that whatever its merits, it cannot supersede the provisions of the constitution in any event. This should be elementary enough for our lawmakers and members of the Federal Executive Council who were too blinded by personal loyalties to act legally, reasonably, and responsibly. 

Nigeria cannot project good governance to the outside world without practicing it at home because no one gives what he does not have.  All the tough talk about undemocratic actions in some West African states are hollow and insincere if the Federal Government itself could not match words with actions at home. It is elementary that foreign policy is an externalization or projection of domestic policy beyond a nation’s borders. And if we’re only too willing to circumvent and subvert our own constitution to protect individual and ethnic interests, then we’re only exposing ourselves as an unserious nation to the outside world who says one thing and does the opposite. Make no mistake about it: the outside is watching us to see if we in fact, practice what we preach or we’re just blowing hot and cold to suit the times. The United States promotes democracy in the world because she practices it at home real time, not theoretical postulation or moral platitudes. That does not mean it is perfect in practice.

Nigeria’s conduct is a terrible betrayal of good governance founded on democracy and the rule of law. Elevating personal and tribal loyalties over and above national interests and thereby endangering national unity and security is treasonable. Period! It is quite unfortunate and totally unacceptable that our elected and appointed officials paid by the state, not by their ethnic groups, and sworn to defend and protect the constitution and the nation would turn around to place personal and ethnic loyalties over and above the constitution and the nation. It becomes all the more appalling and unsettling coming as it did from a leader who had declared himself a ‘servant leader’ and an exponent of the rule of law. It is the very height of betrayal and exposes President Musa Yar’Adua as someone who had neither the belief nor conviction in what he preached; luxuriating as he was in lip service. And as it was with Yar’Adua so was it with his now demoted AGF, Aondoakaa, who prefaced every sentence with rule of law jingo while using his office to actively subvert the constitution and the rule of law including, of course, his notorious shielding of corrupt ex-governors. Rule of law was blatantly turned into a weapon of mass deception designed to hoodwink unwary Nigerians who had placed their trust on their elected government to tow the path of constitutionality and good governance in accordance with the AU and ECOWAS charters.

It is entirely predictable that if the unfortunate scenario playing out in Nigeria were to happen in another member state of ECOWAS or AU, the Federal Government would have wasted no time condemning the actions of its leader for refusing to hand over to his deputy while hospitalized abroad for a quarter of a year and still counting, or at very least prodded him to do so behind the scene to avoid a power vacuum that could be exploited by undemocratic elements within and outside the polity. Yet the same Federal Government was caught pants down doing the very same thing. 

Was Yar’Adua’s action intended to invite the military to seize power rather than hand over to his deputy? Since he knew he is not in any shape to return to his seat anytime soon, and yet he refused to hand over still, it is entirely possible that Yar’Adua might have entertained such sinister motive to truncate the present democratic dispensation by engineering a fouled political climate conducive to military interventions possibly from his Northern elements to retain power in the North in perpetuity. Yar’Adua’s ethnic disposition in governance would appear to lend some credence to this hypothesis.  Yar’Adua the ‘servant leader’ and ‘rule of law’ exponent has turned out an ethnic champion. If history offers any guide at all, such conclusion becomes quite irresistible given that all coup plots in Nigeria except the very first by Major Nzeogwu, were masterminded, headed, and executed by Northern elements who proceeded to impose military dictatorship for the better part of four decades in the country. Like the Yar’Adua’s failed administration, President Shehu Shagari’s lack luster government was shoved aside in a ‘palace coup’ by Northern military elements without firing a shot and was among others, designed to preserve political power in the North. Yar’Adua’s action might have been deliberately calculated, among others, to achieve a similar outcome in the absence of his medical recovery to enable him resume duties. Or else how would anyone interpret his blunt refusal to hand over when he knew he is not in a position to lead while lying comatose in the hospital or hospice, whichever is applicable since nobody but his wife truly knows where he is presently?

The action by the National Assembly in calling Yar’Adua’s bluff, while encouraging, was too little too late. President Nixon of the United States was impeached for bugging and wire-tapping the communication of his political opponent in the Watergate scandal. His conduct, while reprehensible by American standards, doesn’t even come close to President Yar’Adua’s gross misconduct in thumbing his nose at both the National Assembly and the entire nation. Till date Yar’Adua has been treating visiting officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with utter disdain by refusing them access to him. Please don’t tell me he is not aware of what’s going on. The man has sinned against the nation and should never be rewarded with power pick up as though it were some personal property to be kept in storage and retrieved at will. Power belongs to the people and they have demanded that it should be withdrawn forthwith from the man who has let them down. While Nixon’s conduct was directed at mere political opponents and rightly impeached for breaking the law, Yar’Adua exposed our nation to mortal danger not only by leaving her without a head but by sowing the seeds of political instability and possible military coups and counter coups and thereby putting her in yet another tailspin so soon after June 12th 1993 saga that almost tore the nation asunder. Therefore if President Nixon deserved to be impeached for merely eavesdropping on his political opponents, which after all, means little in Nigeria to begin with, Yar’Adua deserves to be impeached three times over without looking back!

 

New Beginning!

This is therefore calling on the leadership of the National Assembly as well as the Federal Executive Council to live up to the principles of good governance as enshrined in both the AU and ECOWAS charters and enforceable through the Peer Review mechanism which Nigeria had sought to promote in member states. This is the time to demonstrate leadership for the member states in the West African sub region and for the continent as a whole because other countries, and indeed, the entire world are watching our actions to see whether we’re living up to our commitments or merely paying them lip service.  As befitting her leadership roles in the colonial and post colonial struggles, the pre-eminent position of Nigeria dictates that the nation must show the light and lead the way for others to follow.

With anti-colonial struggles off the radar, good governance is the new frontier of our struggles and Nigeria must lead the way both in words and in deeds. The country must not be allowed to be short-changed by shortsighted individuals who are bent on pursuing their personal or regional interests at the expense of the greater good and fulfillment of the nation’s commitment to good governance. Issues of leadership and rule of law must be addressed dispassionately within the ambit of the law and the constitution without recourse to extraneous and extra-constitutional considerations bordering on ethnic or regional interests.  In other words, issues of national importance must not be resolved on the basis of who stands to win or lose but must be resolved on the basis of the law and the constitution and let the chips fall where they may.  The constitution is the supreme law of the land and was designed to protect and preserve national interests over and above individual, group or regional interests and our elected officials swore to protect and defend the constitution. And that’s why the actions of both President Yar’Adua and our elected officials including members of the FEC, are in breach of the constitution for refusing to uphold and defend the constitution. 

How does an elected or appointed government official swear by the Holy Bible or the Holy Koran to uphold and defend the constitution and proceed to circumvent and subvert it without batting an eye and get away with it? And how does such official run around preaching democracy and rule of law to others abroad when he cannot practice the same at home? Shouldn’t such an official be made to remove the log from his own eyes in order for him to see clearly to remove the specs from the eyes of others? Nigeria must remove the log from her own eyes before shouting her voice hoarse about “undemocratic actions” by leaders in parts of Africa. It makes no sense for the pot calling the kettle black. Good governance at home must be the basis for projecting the same to the outside world as an important element of our foreign policy initiatives. And good governance begins and ends with constitutionalism and respect for the rule of law in practice, not in theory.  And rule of law does not begin and end with ‘obeying’ court orders, but in actively implementing the provisions of our laws and the constitution in a timely and robust fashion without let or hindrance or any extraneous considerations whatsoever.

Admittedly, Nigeria is a complex nation and therefore dictating that certain situations and decisions be handled not wholly legalistically and mechanistically, but politically as well in order not to rock the boat, and the situation in Niger Delta provides the best example of that delicate balancing act. But a straightforward issue like mere handover of power to a deputy when the President or Governor is on vacation or on medical admission shouldn’t require any balancing act or anything of the sort, and should be handled within the confines of the law and the constitution. And good enough there are ample provisions in the constitution to deal with the situation that ought to have been followed as a matter of course without overheating the polity unnecessarily or turning it into a political fodder for mischief makers and tribal bigots to exploit and undermine our fragile national unity and cohesion.

For all its trumpeted complexity that has been used to promote tribal bigotry at the expense of national interests, Nigeria is no more complex than other multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies that follow due process and rule of law in their domestic and international affairs.  Constitutionalism and rule of law is the bedrock of national unity because it prescribes the parameters and guide posts for the conduct of public affairs afore hand which the constituent units of the union had duly subscribed to and understand as the guiding or governing principles of public affair that the government of the day ought to implement without extraneous considerations.  Thus when President Musa Yar’Adua left the country for medical treatment abroad it was expected and rightly so that the provisions of section 145 of the 1999 constitution would be applicable as a matter of course without much ado. But where it is shown that the President, in utter disregard for the said provision had refused or neglected to act in accordance with the said provision, it was the duty of the relevant organs of the government, in particular, the National Assembly to demand the notice of his hospitalization just in case he was in a hurry or otherwise not in a position to get one across before he left due to his medical condition. And when it become obvious that the president had become medically incapacitated, it was expected and rightly so too that he would be formally declared as such and his deputy duly sworn in to carry on the business of governance in accordance with section 144 of the constitution. These things have been carefully laid down in our constitution to properly guide the actions and reactions of our leaders to unforeseen developments threatening the unity, stability and good governance in the polity. The framers of the constitution have not disappointed us. It’s the law!

In fairness to the National Assembly, in particular, the senate, that demand was made when it asked the president in a unanimous motion to furnish it with notice of his medical treatment abroad. But the House of Representatives did absolutely nothing and instead opted for delay tactics by purporting to send a get-well delegation to Saudi Arabia to see the president when it knew no one had been allowed to see the president by his handlers. Only the senate took some tentative steps by demanding the notice from the president with the Bankole House playing hide and seek game with Nigerians. However, that demand by the Senate took too long to come and it came only after the nation had risen up to demand action.

Must the National Assembly wait for a delegation of former Heads of state and Chief Justices of the Federation to come to it to demand action before acting on its own in a matter like this? Or was it waiting for political cover from the former leaders before showing its hands? Whatever the reason was, it only goes to show that these people either do not understand their duties and waiting for someone to spell it out for them before acting, or they were indifferent to the grave situation brought about by the president’s refusal to transfer power temporarily to his deputy while hospitalized abroad. Had the military exploited the situation to oust the civilians from power as the Military High Command cried out about undemocratic elements infiltrating their ranks with a view to intervening in the contrived political logjam, the National Assembly would have had itself to blame for dithering while our ship of state was headed towards the rocks. When the military came out openly to warn about coup plots, that was a signal that the present democratic dispensation would have been aborted had the National Assembly not acted to transform Vice President Jonathan into an Acting President. As the Senate President, Ekweremadu confessed as reported by This Day in its February 19th edition when he said:

“…empowering Jonathan as Acting President saved Nigeria from military coup...”

“If we hadn’t done what we did here, no one can tell what would have happened here. May be our action saved us a similar fate. We surely know how to solve our problems at the right time."

The question is why did the Senate have to wait for that long to do what it knew was the right thing to do to save the nation from possible military coup from the beginning? If the FEC was encumbered by Yar’Adua loyalists who held sway at the Council, was the National Assembly also similarly encumbered? That is an independent and co-equal arm of government that has the responsibility of calling the executive branch to order in appropriate cases and that’s why it is constitutionally empowered to do oversight on the executive branch. And this one heck of a case crying for legislative oversight as the nation waited endlessly on it with bathed breath to act.

 Similar knocks equally go to the FEC which shamelessly declared the President fit to govern after refusing to hand over when it did not know whether the man was dead or alive or whether he could even spell his own name on his sick bed. At this very moment no one including the highest authorities in land knows where President Yar’Adua is holding out except for his wife, Turai, and perhaps the Saudi authorities. Government official delegations to Saudi Arabia to confer with the ailing Yar’Adua have routinely been denied access to him just as information regarding his present health status has become a trade secret. The nation is in total darkness as to the whereabouts and the health status of their leader. Therefore to have declared to the whole world that a man who had confessed feebly in a BBC interview that he was not in a position to resume duties until his own doctors declared him fit to go, is ‘fit’ to govern a nation of 150 million Nigerians with all the heavy burdens that it entails, is the height of hypocrisy and disservice to the nation. More than that, it was a frontal assault on the constitution in that the fictional declaration was calculated to subvert the constitution and leave the Nigerian nation without a head, indefinitely.  A headless nation is a dead nation. Why then would our elected and appointed representatives wish our dear nation such a cruel fate?

To become a credible leader in Africa in good governance Nigeria must first turn inward and purge itself of all anti-democratic proclivities that undermine her own constitution and the rule of law. The nation must show the light and lead the way in good governance in Africa because that is the only way to promote political stability and unleash the latent potentials buried below the surface that are required for the socio-economic transformation of the continent. This is the new frontier of Africa’s struggle to free the continent from the scourges of civil strife, poverty and diseases and infrastructural decay and all the inadequacies that have made her a laughing stock and beggar continent in the world. If Nigeria truly wants to lead this is the irreducible minimum. It is no use throwing our weight around when we cannot obey our own constitution in handling simple domestic affairs as presidential handover of power during vacation or medical admission.

 

Fixing the Yar’Adua Conundrum!

What it all boils down to in the present circumstances facing the nation, is to call a spade a spade by immediately commencing the impeachment of the president or in the alternative declaring him medically incapacitated to discharge the functions of his office. The man has said that much in his BBC interview.  All that is left is to formalize his own declaration with a view to making Ag President Goodluck Jonathan, the substantive President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria in accordance with sections 143 and 144 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We do not need an Ag President. Our constitution provides for the making of the Vice President the substantive President when the substantive president is medically incapacitated as it’s presently the case.

There is therefore no room for half measures seemingly calculated to frustrate and defeat the provisions of our constitution. Nigeria deserves and must be given a substantive president who will stand shoulder to shoulder with his peers around the world to lead Africa in international forums and make the nation proud. This is not a question of half a bread being better than none. Why give us half bread when we can have the full loaf?  It makes no sense whatsoever for Nigeria to be represented by Ag President with Yar’Adua’s ominous sickly shadows cast all over him with all the concomitant uncertainties and confusion while other nations are represented by their presidents without looking over their shoulders. It’s therefore fundamentally unfair to Ag President Jonathan to be made to operate under the long shadows of Yar’Adua and the nation is not well served by the prevailing status quo. It’s either we have a president or we don’t. The Nigerian constitution only provides for an Ag President or Ag Governor in the interim and not as a permanent feature of a subsisting administration.

The Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly must therefore hasten to normalize the abnormal situation as completely and as fully as possible as envisaged and provided for under the constitution.  While the elevation of the Vice President to the status of Ag President is a most welcome development and therefore commendable, it must be stressed that the issue of the president’s abdication of power and his medical incapacity is still hanging in the air and has yet to be addressed as dictated by the constitution. Both institutions of government constitutionally empowered to provide the required leadership for the nation must quickly move to lift the Yar’Adua albatross from the neck of our dear nation and consign that sad chapter of our national history to the past.  That is the task starring both the FEC and the National Assembly unblinkingly in their faces. And they must not shy away from it.

Good governance demands that they rise up to meet that challenge and do what is right, legal and constitutional, once again, in the overall interest of our nation. Empowering Jonathan as Ag President therefore was a token measure amounting to only a down payment seemingly calculated to save the necks of the lawmakers from probable military coup, going by the confessions of the Deputy Senate President alluded to above. It is critically important therefore that the National Assembly lifts the ominous Yar’Adua clouds overhanging the nation finally and completely, and put to swift end the climate of uncertainties and conjectures about the prospects of our national political leadership.  Delay may be dangerous and this warning should not be taken lightly.

Our leaders have the notorious tendency of waiting until disaster is upon them before doing a fire brigade response. And that’s why, for example, they refuse to do medical checkups until death or disability is upon them; wait until our roads turn to craters and canyons before they’re fixed, if fixed at all; wait until our buildings collapse and crush innocent people to death before inspecting them; and the list goes on and on. The same character trait is on display yet again with respect to the political situation in the nation today.

Suppose we stop to think for a moment that Yar’Adua pops out from the woodworks like a phoenix packaged in an air ambulance and dropped in from the airplane to reclaim his ‘mandate’ by claiming to be hale and hearty, what would the nation do? Call his bluff and insist on his full recovery and deny him his request or indulge his vanity and kick Ag President Jonathan out of power? Either way, have we thought of what that would mean for the unity and stability of the nation? And if by any chance Yar’Adua regains power, is not clear and foreseeable even to the most naïve that he would be on a mission of vendetta rather than implementing any development programs for the nation? Why do we choose to expose our nation to this clear, present, and immediate danger by clinging on to the Yar’Adua’s doomed presidency? Must the nation be allowed to go down with Yar’Adua?  It’s absolute insanity!

As another former United States Secretary of State of state, Dr. Condeleeza Rice, has come to tell us, the presidency is bigger than the president. There is no question that the Nigerian government has heard that line before over and over again. How many times must it be repeated to our ears before we understand it?  And what part of it our leaders don’t understand? The simple meaning of that often repeated, tired line is that the nation must cut Yar’Adua loose now and move on to the next chapter by swearing in Ag President Jonathan as President. It’s that simple. No one needs to take a class to understand that except somebody out there is retarded and I know our leaders are a smart people. Their historic motion has set them apart as true leaders when they want to truly lead. But they must complete the mission by taking the next step to swear in Jonathan as president without further delay because time is of the essence. And when that is done it will be leadership on good governance in Africa and that precedent will become a reference point and guide-post for our nation and Africa as a whole in similar situations in the future. 

May the Almighty God grant our leaders the wisdom and foresight to do what’s right in the interest of the nation to the glory of Africa and the black race.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Long live President Goodluck Jonathan!

 

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. 
Contact:
mudiagaone@yahoo.com

PS: As this article was being sent in for publication the report came in that President Yar’Adua has dramatically arrived the country!



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