Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Political power in Nigeria – Part 8

By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
22 February 2023   |   3:55 am
Health as a political variable assumed a concrete category in the power dynamics of Nigeria in 2007 with the transfer of power from one incumbent to another through the ballot box.

Health as a political variable assumed a concrete category in the power dynamics of Nigeria in 2007 with the transfer of power from one incumbent to another through the ballot box. However, the incumbent chose an ailing successor in what was interpreted as a deft move to ensure power remain in the South on account of the incapacitation of the successor. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the protagonist in this game, denied that such was his intention. Despite refutation, the outcome which resulted in a Goodluck Jonathan presidency was somewhat a confirmation of the allegation.

The power play was the reason for a cabinet minister, Michael Aondoakaa, to maintain that the ailing President Yar’Adua who was bed-ridden, and on life support, could rule from anywhere, and equally accounted for the unwillingness to transfer power to his deputy. It created a political log-jam that was only resolved through the doctrine of necessity, a disingenuous and extra-legal resolution of the crisis (for detailed analysis of Yar’Adua presidency, health and power politics, see Akhaine, S. O, Churg Strauss Syndrome, Death and the Politics of Succession in Nigeria, Unilag Journal of Politics, Vol. 1 and 2, No, March and November 2018; see also Adeniyi, O. (2011). Power, Politics and Death). Health is a point at issue in the ongoing process to elect a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari on February 25, 2023.

Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, notes a duality in his conception of hegemony. One is that the consent that the masses accord the regime of social life imposed by the “dominant fundamental group” arises from the prestige and confidence therefrom in the world of production. Two, that coercive force, with a cloak of legality, is applied to force compliance when spontaneous consent fails. This is how dominant forces, in other words, the ruling class maintains its domination of society (see Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 12). Domination by an unproductive hegemonic class, as found in our clime is maintained through crude mechanics of power—all is fair. It is the very element of the ‘inheritance elite’ minding the Lugardian Architecture. If the January 15, 1966 coup was read as a sin against the ‘inheritance elite’, July 29, 1966, bloody business was a fair recompense.

So, if the May 5, 2010 transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan was an accident or contrived by President Obasanjo, it would be fair game if Bola Tinubu, seen as troubled health-wise, is succeeded by Alhaji Kashim Shettima should the call of nature happen, assuming the pair wins the presidential election. This is why the health of Bola Tinubu is an issue.

Way back in September 2021, The Sahara Reporters, reported on “The health condition Tinubu went through several surgeries. And the report notes that “Tinubu’s condition is presently so critical such that the two hands shake violently and he has to lean on his guests to pose for photographs”( The matter made Anthony Kila, a Pronaco partisan, to note that “A country that has lived the history of Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari should however by now be teaching the world how to choose healthy presidents ( Tinubu’s trembling hands and slur speeches have spawned sundry interpretations about the nature of his ill-health. It has become the subject of a song, titled “Baba wey no well” by the Pyrate Confraternity that has gone viral.

The Economist of London in a partisan anchoring has this to say: “Mr Obi stands apart from the two main-party candidates in other ways, too. He is an energetic 61-year-old, who comes across as intellectually open. His campaign events, for instance, include town-hall meetings where he encourages voters to ask tough questions.

By contrast Mr Tinubu, a frail 70-year-old who has skipped several big campaign events, recently caused ructions at Chatham House, a think-tank in London, when he declined to answer any questions at all, deflecting them to people on his campaign“(

The BAT team has essayed at proving that the APC flag-bearer is hale and hearty. Tinubu would re-affirm his healthiness to his party partisan. He enthused “As you can see, they call me weak but I am canvassing back and forth and, in every corner and space of the nation…My opponents are not” (

Despite the above, it is only Professor Emmanuel Remi Aiyede of the University of Ibadan who first took a look at the realpolitik of the elite settlement and the rotation of power between the North and the South (see his Emi lokan: Between elite political settlement and the realpolitik of individual ambition).

Whereas Tinubu’s emergence in APC appears to have caused disequilibrium in the rotational arrangement by denying the South-east the opportunity to produce the presidency, should he wins, and the complication of his health sets in, power goes to the north.

As he puts it, “If BAT wins and nature happens, and the power goes to the north, will the vice president not assume office and be entitled to another four years after completing BAT’s tenure? If the power returns to the south afterwards, will it still be the turn of the south-west? Will the south-east not be ready then? Is BAT’s success at the APC primaries not likely to end up as pyrrhic?”

It is to be said in retrospect that the constitutional review process that General Sani Abacha engineered in 1994-95, though consigned to the trash-bin of history, had dealt with the issue of balance of power and the exigency of death in fundamental ways through the provision of multiple vice-presidents complementary to the rotational presidency.

The rationale was for power-sharing, and the committee deemed it fit to have three vice presidents one of which must come from the same zone as the president, and constitutionalised as the successor in case the office of the president becomes vacant for reason of incapacitation or death, the zone producing the president will serve its rotational tenure unimpeded. These were accordingly recommended for engrossment in Sections 142, 143, and 147 of the Draft Constitution.

Next week I shall discuss contemporary arguments for the domiciliation of power in the north and the outcome of the presidential election.

Akhaine, Ph.D. (London), former general secretary of the Campaign for Democracy in Nigeria Science and visiting member of the Guardian Editorial Board.