PLACEHOLDER is a word that has now found favour and gained currency in Nigeria’s political lexicon. It came in the wake of the recent primaries of political parties and their nominations of candidates for elective offices in the 2023 elections. Trust Nigeria’s political class to find a sexy name or to coin a fancy phrase to meet an emergent selfish interest masked as national interest.
Twelves years ago, precisely in 2010, the country found itself in the grip of a grave, though contrived, Constitutional crisis. President Umar Yar’Adua was very sick. Indeed, he was known to be terminally ill even while he was the governor of Katsina state. Nonetheless, he was drafted by the then outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo to contest for the presidency under the banner of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP].
He won. But his state of health failed to improve. President Yar’Adua was in and out of hospitals, often abroad in Saudi Arabia. And each time he travelled, it happened that the Presidency was never able to transmit presidential power to the then vice-president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. And to notify the National Assembly as appropriate. It got so ridiculous that government memoranda and even a particular year’s national budget were alleged to have been taken to his hospital bed abroad for his signature.
Naturally, governance began to suffer. Diverse and divergent power centres started to emerge in the Presidency. Aso Rock Villa was rocked by power tussle. So many things were being done by opportunists in the name of an absentee President who was incapacitated. Even medical update, a routine in some other climes, became a state secret in our country. Only a few people who were close to the president and who shuttled between Nigeria and hospitals in London or Saudi Arabia knew whether the president had died or not.
So Nigeria was in a state of flux for about three years between 2007 and 2010. Uncertainty, fear and confusion ruled the land. But Yar’Adua was a good, meek and gentleman and he was loved across the land. He reportedly did not covet the presidency and wanted to return to his modest job as a university teacher after his tour of duty as governor. Probably because he was much loved, it was difficult to move against him. In fact, Christians and Muslims were united in petitioning God to be merciful to the president. The filtering out of rumour that the president was in a vegetative state or even clinically dead did not change Nigerians’ love for Yar’Adua.
However, the situation changed suddenly when the power centres or cabal in the presidency became menacing. They started wielding power and giving directives in the name of a lifeless Yar’Adua to the exclusion of Vice President Jonathan. It was then that the National Assembly, working with some other political elite, stepped in and coined the Doctrine of Necessity to plug the Constitutional loopholes that the cabal in the presidency had exploited to the disadvantage of the elected vice president.
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In March 2010 Yar’Adua was confirmed dead in a Saudi hospital. His remains were flown home in the dead of the night with all the lights in Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, Abuja except the runway lights, shut down. The body was buried and Jonathan was sworn-in as president but not without a last ditch effort by the cabal to stage a coup and abort the Constitutional process. In effect, President Yar’Adua may actually have been the first placeholder in the Villa more than a decade before that word gained currency.
Unfortunately, we have in the last seven years had another placeholder in Aso Rock. And it would be eight years in 2023 since there is yet nothing to indicate that the President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s approach of hands-free governance would change. This means invariably that by next year, Nigeria would have experienced a cumulative 11 years of placeholder presidency. But there is a difference between Yar’Adua and Buhari in many respects. Yar’Adua became a placeholder president by default while Buhari’s Placeholder presidency was by choice. It was planned and deliberate and orchestrated for an unsavoury end.
Yar’Adua did not want to become president ostensibly on account of his failing health even as a governor. Buhari desperately wanted to be president in spite of his suspect health status. Yar’Adua’s health deteriorated badly and he did not recover. Buhari’s also deteriorated to the extent of spending 103 consecutive days in a London hospital but he recovered and still clung on to power in spite of being feeble and not fit for purpose. He opted to be a placeholder president. Shintoro Abe was the longest serving prime minister of Japan. In 2018, at 63 years, he resigned from office citing ill-health. He said then that the state of his health would not allow him to be effectively as he wished in serving the Japanese people. That was a patriotic option available to Buhari which he refused to take. And what a price Nigeria is paying. Sadly, Abeh was shot and killed last Friday while campaigning for his Liberal Party’s candidate in their national assembly election held two days ago. Abeh’s was the stuff of putting country above self.
Officially Buhari is in his 70s. And a combination of old age and badly failing health is not something anyone would covet. And that was Buhari’s situation at the time he was in and out of hospitals while still pretending to run the affairs of 200 million Nigerians. We do not denigrate old age. It’s something everybody covets. Or should covet. But when you are so old and so sick [even Buhari said then that he had never been sicker], the right thing to do if you loved your country would have been to relinquish the presidency. And to think that Nigeria had a younger, healthier, smarter and digitally savvy vice president Yemi Osinbajo. It is instructive that whenever the president had the grace to transfer presidential powers to Osinbajo while he, Buhari, travelled abroad to attend to his health, the country usually came alive and we experienced the semblance of governance.
I am by no means suggesting that old age should be a barrier to any elective office including the presidency. But I am persuaded that if you are old and you are sick, you should never aspire to be the president of a country hungry for development. But if you are already president or governor or even council chairman, and you are old and then debilitating sickness afflicts you, the right thing to do would be to resign from that office. Furthermore, if you are already old and you are sick, you should not seek to govern your people at any level. If you do, it means you do not love your people and you are not interested in the growth and development of the country. The only thing that motivates you is yourself and your personal ambition, you will not be different from Buhari who regarded the presidency not as a call to a sacred duty, but a prize to be won, an end in itself. Once you win the prize you then sit back, hands off statecraft, let shadowy and unelected figures run the show as it pleases them while you relax and use state resources for your personal indulgencies and pick your teeth to display hedonism.
Given the grim state of our country, can Nigeria and Nigerians afford another regime of a placeholder who will be resident in the Aso Rock Villa as our president? The answer should be obvious even to those Nigerians who are hell-bent on leading us down that route again. This country can ill-afford another infirm and absentee president in the face of crippling nationwide insecurity, galloping inflation, frightening unemployment and underemployment, failed public utilities especially public power supply, deliberately mismanaged diversity, deepening corruption, destroyed educational system, very high national debt, unsustainable debt to revenue ratio, widespread citizen despondency, desperation and hopelessness driven by grinding poverty while a few live in absurd affluence.
You do not need to be a prophet or have the gift of clairvoyance to predict that 2023 elections will make or mar Nigeria. We are already afflicted by numerous, almost uncountable internal problems and contradiction. And now the external environment is becoming increasingly unfriendly and suffocating. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February has not made the world any safer or stable. And Nigeria is in for a rough ride given that our country is still heavily import-dependent in spite of the claims of the extant regime of diversifying our economy. Soaring prices of crude oil from which we would have benefited has turned out to be a curse. Nigeria cannot meet its OPEC production quota and about 70 percent of whatever crude we produce is stolen by unknown and unknowable thieves. To compound the situation, fresh investments are drying up in our oil sector.
If many countries are already struggling in the wake of the unstable and uncertain global environment, you can only imagine what would be the fate of Nigeria down the line. We have no reserves in any area of our national life that is worthy of mention. Nigeria’s external reserves are poor; we do not have food security; we are not anywhere near sufficiency in electricity generation and distribution, so we cannot talk about strategic reserve of megawatts; our sovereign wealth is the equivalent of the worth of a medium size bank in Europe or North America; and our excess crude account has been perpetually and perennially in the red. We are a haunted country. We are vulnerable. We should not contemplate by commission or omission to elect another placeholder to the presidency of a beleaguered and benighted country. It is in our hand now to put Nigeria above party and personal and ethnic and religious and sundry primordial interests. It is possible. Happy reflections to our Muslim faithful.
AUTHOR: Ugo Onuoha…
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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