Mr. President, where are you?

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Monday, 8 Sep 2008

President Umaru Yar‘Adua has something in common with Bello Abubakar, the man with 86 wives. In the past two weeks or so, both of them have been subjects of discussion in Nigeria. But while Abubakar‘s predicament paints a picture of strangeness and hypocrisy, the issues surrounding Yar‘Adua‘s health throw up some deceit and secrecy in our face. Altogether, the issues around these men have, once again, showcased the strange and deceitful nature of our existence as a nation.

It was as if Ola Rotimi had the current situation in mind when he wrote Our husband has gone mad again. In that play, Rotimi ridicules political opportunists who find themselves in the corridors of power in Africa. In it, a former Major goes into politics not to serve but to achieve some vain motives. He attempts to adapt to a situation he hardly understands. But this produces comic results. To compound his problems, his American wife arrives unannounced only to discover that his husband has two other wives and is enveloped in political problems.

To an extent, Nigerians have become this American wife. They placed their trust in some individuals. Unfortunately, these individuals called leaders have continued to betray this trust. Or how do we explain that for 17 days that our president stayed in Saudi Arabia for either a lesser hajj or medical check-up or both, his spin doctors played pranks on Nigerians.

Hear the Information Minister, John Odey, ”The official position is that he went for lesser hajj. That is true. Of course, I must tell you that he is free to take that opportunity to undertake medical check-up…We inquired from the vice-president, who has been in touch with him, they also spoke yesterday (Tuesday) and by the close of work today (Wednesday), we will also confirm his schedule when he will come back…One thing I will like to solicit from the general public and the gentlemen of the press generally is to exercise patience. I would confirm to you whenever he will be coming back but he is hale and hearty.”

I pity Odey. Looking at his body language on television when he was making this statement, I saw a man who was not comfortable with the information he was dishing out. But he had no choice but to parrot what would please the powers that be. We were still waiting for Odey to tell us when Yar‘Adua would be coming back when reports filtered in that he arrived the country early yesterday under the cover of darkness.

While he was away, there were speculations and permutations as to what would happen if, for any reason, he ceases to be our president. Some reports claimed there were pressures on the members of the National Assembly to look into his health conditions with a view to removing him from office. Some feared that there might be a constitutional crisis as the so-called northern oligarchy would not allow vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, to take over in the event of the president‘s removal or demise.

Last Sunday, rumours were also rife that the President had passed on. There is no need rehashing what has transpired ever since. But the truth of the matter is that Nigeria has been reduced to a nation of rumours and half-truths.

That is why some of us will openly condemn the man with 86 wives, but secretly maintain girlfriends and concubines outside marriage. That is why some government functionaries took up adverts spaces in newspapers to send birthday messages to Yar‘Adua in July when his actual birthday was August 16. And that is why a minister announced earlier in the year that an aircraft that went missing in Cross River State had been found only to recant his statement later. There were rumours too that the plane was diverted to Cameroon. About six months after that episode, we now hear that local hunters found the wreckage of the plane in a certain bush in Cross River State.

Government officials at all levels should emulate the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola‘s openness. Sometime this year, the man published his email address, telephone number and those of his commissioners. It did not cost him anything. Rather, it has brought him closer to the people. Lagosians can now call or text their governor and tell him their problems.

This is how governance should be. The world has embraced openness as a way of life. The seat of power of the United States, the White House, has a website. The No. 10 Downing Street in London also has.

Yar‘Adua started well by declaring his assets. Most of us hailed him for that. We thought we now have a president who cherishes the ideals of an open society. How wrong we are! He is too secretive, too taciturn that even some of his ministers know very little about him or his plans for the country. That he is sick is not a sin. Every human being can fall sick any time.

Perhaps, he is afraid that there may be calls for his removal if he is found to be terminally ill. And I ask, for what will it profit him if he gains the Presidency and loses his life? Is it not better for him to retire quietly and attend to his health than stay put at Aso Rock to the detriment of his life?

Some concerned individuals and groups called on Nigerians to pray for his quick recovery. But how can we pray for someone who is ”hale and hearty”? Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, was his comical self when he told Nigerians a few days ago that the President‘s scheduled visit to Brazil was only adjusted or is it readjusted. What a deceit!

When the former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, was hospitalised, the whole world heard about it. When former President Ronald Reagan of the US fell ill while in office, the world also knew about it. Former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, was constantly ill while in office. There was nothing secret about it. There are many other examples.

Yesterday, our own President was in a German hospital. We spoke about it in hushed tones. Today, he is in a Saudi Arabian hospital. We also shrouded it in secrecy. Even his reported arrival in the country, as at press time, is still a guarded secret. No statement. No broadcast. Tomorrow, he may end up in a Ghanaian or Angolan hospital. We will also likely hide our mouth while talking about it. What does that tell the world about us as a nation?

We are only confirming the perception people have of us around the world. Enter any foreign country as a Nigerian and see how suspicious people will treat you. They see us as a bunch of fraudsters and liars. Since 1999, the National Assembly has refused to pass the Freedom of Information Bill. I don‘t blame them because that will mean exposing some secrets which some of them are involved in.

It‘s all a matter of deceit. Deceitful leaders beget deceitful followers, who in turn beget a deceitful nation. And a nation that thrives on deceit ends up a failed state.

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