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Friday, May 5, 2017

Coming to terms with President’s illness

…also published in Daily Trust

Admittedly, until doubts were raised over the story about the meetings that the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru, and Attorney General Abubakar Malami claimed to have had with President Buhari respectively last Tuesday, I never doubted the story. In fact, like many other Nigerians, I gladly concluded that the President had got well enough to resume work expecting him also to preside over the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting the next day.

Besides, it was perhaps out of excitement that I never bothered to wonder why there were no pictures of him before, during or after the purported meetings. It was only when those doubts were raised against the backdrop of the reports indicating that the President couldn’t attend the meeting, that I tooked at them (i.e. doubts) seriously.

 President Muhammadu Buhari

In any case, it’s obvious that President Buhari’s intermittently fluctuating health condition is increasingly assuming an interesting political dimension and generating (so far) largely discreet inter- and intra-party political manoeuvrings among some powerful vested interests and top politicians, in anticipation of any dramatic turn of events.

This isn’t surprising because even though, in case of permanent absence of the President for whatever reason e.g. death or permanent disability, the Nigerian constitution already enables the Vice President to immediately take over, yet due to the country’s peculiar political power sharing arrangement, which is driven by some geopolitical, ethno-religious and other underlying dynamics, the transition might not be that smooth, after all, as it will inevitably affect the whole power sharing arrangement in the next general election, and will indeed determine who gets what, of course, according to his regional and ethno-religious backgrounds.

Though this is quite unfortunate, yet it’s the reality that we have to live with for now and indeed the foreseeable future. Also, though basically politicization of things like illness and death is, morally speaking, a display of sheer insensitivity, yet, politically speaking, it is unfortunately not. After all, as far as politicians, all over the world, are concerned, nothing is too sensitive to be politically manipulated.

Anyway, under the current circumstances, President Buhari’s health condition obviously raises worries over the possible fate of the ongoing promising, albeit admittedly rather slow and indeed far from perfect, reform process. This is because, despite his shortcomings, he remains practically the only custodian of this process, and once he is gone, at least for now, one wonders who among his potential successors within his party and the opposition parties possesses equally proven moral qualities adequate enough to sustain the process.

By the way, this is yet another instance of the country’s many characteristic contradictions, because obviously inasmuch as it’s supposedly democratic, it’s supposed to be driven by enduring and strong institutions rather than strong individuals. However, while this is unfortunately the current reality in the country, and also while the ongoing reforms have not yet been institutionalized and structured enough to fully thrive and withstand the influence of vested interests, many Nigerians are understandably worried that President Buhari’s permanent absence at this juncture would not only jeopardize the little but promising achievements that have been achieved so far, but may also pave the way for the notoriously corrupt vested interests in the country to  drag it back to the quagmire of despair. Besides, these worries are already quite justifiable even under normal circumstances, because even if President Buhari survives and gets reelected at the end of his current tenure, he will have to leave at the end of his second tenure.

These worries, therefore, underscore the need for the relatively few non-corrupt and incorruptible politicians in the country to identify elements with equally proven track records in honesty and competence regardless of their respective political parties, then embark on sustained and concerted efforts to promote them politically to grow influential enough to influence things in their respective political parties.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian electorate should also wise up to see beyond candidates’ political party affiliations, and elect the honest and competent among them regardless of their parties. In doing so, they would circumvent the parties’ largely counterproductive region-based power sharing formulas that persist at the expense of integrity and competence. After all, now that Nigerians are paying the price for electing many opportunists simply because they belong to the APC and were endorsed by the then Presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, it is hoped that they have learnt the hard way.