Enough of this Yar’Adua distraction

 Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, April 11, 2010

Last month, Aberdeen Sheriff Court in Scotland imposed a £600 fine on a 28-year-old Lithuanian man, Marium Varinauskas, for assault. The man’s girlfriend had complained about his being drunk and had invited the police. But when the security officers got to his house, Varinauskas attempted to strike a female officer on the head with his penis. Though the woman was able to duck, the incident became some form of a side attraction and distraction from the real mission of the police.

 This is what President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness has turned out to be – a huge side attraction and distraction. Since the President left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009, for medical treatment, the bags of his pretentious acolytes have never been short of tricks and lies. Even after smuggling him into the country last February, they are not relenting in producing different episodes of their circus.

 A few days ago, for instance, four Muslim clerics reportedly visited the President. The Chief Imam of the Abuja National Mosque, Ustaz Mohammed; leader of Izala sect, Sheik Yakubu Musa; the President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed; and Sheik Isa Pantami purportedly prayed for him. Not only that, they shook hands with him and also marvelled that he could sit on a dining chair without any support. Ahmed then lectured us to be considerate in the way we handle the situation and to avoid any attempt to remove the President. Any move to the contrary, he reportedly warned, would not only be a needless diversion but would also lead us to where we did not foresee.

 In the spirit of federal character, Christian clerics also visited the President to pray for him. The Christian leaders have not said much because they consider the visit a private one. One of them only said Yar’Adua grunted something that sounded like amen after their prayers. They subsequently went to Aso Rock to brief the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan.

 I do not begrudge these clergymen who have been found worthy to sight a sick man. Part of their calling anyway is to pray for the sick. And like doctors, they are not bound to reveal the state of physical or spiritual health of their patients.

 However, there are more to these visits than meets the eye. The aim of the organisers, I suspect, is to cause confusion and distract the acting president from performing his duties. The ultimate objective is to achieve some selfish interests.

 This has become part of our national character. At different levels of government, secrecy and misinformation are the cornerstone of governance.

 Let’s take an example. On March 6, 2010, there were reports that the governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, had an accident on his way to Obudu Mountain Resort. There were speculations that the governor had injuries and had been flown abroad for medical treatment. The state government’s version was that it was a minor mishap and that no casualties were recorded.

On March 24, 2010, a section of the media reported that Imoke had actually been flown abroad for medical treatment following injuries sustained after the accident. The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Patrick Ugbe, stated categorically that there was no iota of truth in the story. “The governor has travelled to the United States on a routine visit to attend to some earlier scheduled meetings and not for any medical emergency as the report may insinuate,” Ugbe noted. He stressed that the governor was hale and hearty and that no casualties were recorded in the accident. He considered reports to the contrary as distasteful and a move to embarrass the governor, the government and the people of Cross River State.

 The same hale-and-hearty governor came back a week ago with a bandaged hand. Some media reports indicated that he was yet to resume work because he was not fully fit. But Imoke told journalists in Calabar that they could see him standing, walking, smiling and doing everything. Perhaps, what remains is for some select clergymen to pay homage, drink tea and shake hands with him.

What could it have caused the Cross River State Government to inform its people that their governor had an accident and was responding to treatment in the US? Or are they afraid that some witches and other monitoring mirrors will capitalise on the true picture of the man’s state of health to undermine his administration? What do we stand to gain by not telling our people the true position of things in government? Perhaps, there are things people in government see that we ordinary folks do not see. But the perplexing thing is that elsewhere outside black Africa, government is not run this way.

 Last month, just before the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, embarked on a medical trip to Germany, his countrymen were duly informed. The man even ceded temporary presidential powers to his prime minister. Just like in Nigeria, there were speculations in Cairo that Mubarak was seriously ill. Some said he was dead. There were similar rumours in 2004 when he went to Munich, Germany, to treat a slipped disk. To dispel such rumours, Mubarak appeared on Egyptian television from his hospital room. He thanked his citizens who cared for his health and promised to be back home to assume his responsibilities after finishing his treatment. And this is a regime perceived to be authoritarian.

 For us in Nigeria, dispelling the rumour of our president’s incapacity meant dragging a few clergymen to go and view him. It would have been better if the Yar’Adua handlers had nursed the man quietly and left Jonathan to continue his job. But since they are not relenting in churning out tricks, the only option left for Nigerians is to ease the president out of the way. The new ministers should initiate that move.

Otherwise, a bigger distraction or side attraction awaits us soon.

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