May 25, 2013
One Nation, Two Presidents
Posted on Mar 30, 2010
Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua returned to the capital of Abuja on Feb. 24 after spending 92 days in Saudi Arabia, where he sought medical treatment for pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart. Since then, there have been no public reports of anyone seeing him or speaking to him, not even the acting president, who was vice president before Yar’Adua took ill.
The critically ill president had left Nigeria last Nov. 23 for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia without transferring power to his deputy or notifying the National Assembly—a constitutional faux pas and an impeachable offense.
The presidency was thus virtually vacant until Feb. 9, when the Senate and House of Representatives empowered the vice president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, with all executive powers to function in the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as acting president, until President Yar’Adua recovered from his illness.
Curiously, the president went back home in an air ambulance less than two weeks into Jonathan’s interim presidency; in fact, he arrived on the very day that the acting president sent his first set of executive correspondence to the National Assembly. The Senate acknowledged Jonathan’s move as evidence that he had “started exercising his powers.” A few hours later, his predecessor was back. For a man who had stated clearly in a BBC interview that he would return only when his doctors certified him fit, going home in an air ambulance was not a listed option. So what caused Yar’Adua’s change of heart?
The manner of his homecoming was no less dramatic. Yar’Adua left the Saudi city of Jeddah just as a delegation of Nigerian ministers arrived in Saudi Arabia to ascertain the state of his health and report to the Federal Executive Council. Four such high-powered groups had earlier visited Saudi Arabia and returned to Nigeria without seeing the president or hearing from him.
However, they also expressed the concern of the Nigerian government and people over their inability to reach their president in the three months that he had been in Saudi Arabia. Thus, the letter asked the Saudi government to provide access to Yar’Adua.
Now, what was the interest of the Saudi authorities in keeping Yar’Adua, the president of a sovereign nation, incommunicado and out of his people’s reach for three months? And if the Saudi authorities had nothing to do with the president being out of reach, who kept him away from his officials and his people?
The delegation then proceeded to Jeddah to see the presidential patient, hoping to succeed, where others had failed, in bringing back news about the president’s health to the Nigerian public. But the patient was gone! He was already airborne by the time the group arrived in Jeddah, reportedly on a plane provided by the Saudi monarch.
There is definitely a missing link somewhere. The delegation was in touch with the government of Saudi Arabia before it left Nigeria. Its mission was well known. Its aircraft was cleared for landing after initially being refused landing rights. Strange that it was refused landing rights in the first place. No one hinted that Yar’Adua was indeed about to be discharged from the hospital and taken home—and not in just any plane, but in one provided by the Saudi king.
His return was the mother of all surprises. Neither government officials nor the public had caught any wind of it. The first sign that something significant was happening was the increase in security surveillance at the Abuja airport. Airport staff members were ordered out of the presidential wing while soldiers took strategic positions all over the airport. The arrival and departure halls were cordoned off. Two companies of fully armed soldiers were deployed along the route from the airport to Aso Rock, the presidential villa.
Yar’Adua’s air ambulance taxied at about 1:45 a.m. Immediately, a Ford E-250 intensive care ambulance drove in and parked right beside the aircraft, apparently in a bid to shield the important passenger from the prying eyes of journalists and whoever else may have been watching. Indeed, about 30 minutes prior to his arrival, the airport authorities switched off the airport lights.
The aircraft was parked virtually in the bush, instead of the parking area, even as everywhere was covered in darkness. The ambulance then conveyed the returnee to Aso Rock. Soldiers blocked off the presidential route as the ambulance made its way through the city to the villa.
No one outside a small circle has seen the president since he came in like a thief in the night, and no outsider has heard directly from him. Many Nigerians had hoped he would make a nationwide broadcast, even if he had to do it from bed or on a stretcher, to explain his whereabouts in the last three months and apologize for leaving the nation in limbo. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a visit to Nigeria in February: “… the presidency is more important than the person who occupies it. In a democracy, there is the office of the president and the person who occupies that office is the servant of the people and he is accountable to the people.” That kind of accountability has been patently absent in the matter of Yar’Adua’s illness and its implications for his position as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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