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Earnestly asking for Buhari

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President Muhammadu Buhari

Is anybody else feeling a sense of deja-vu?
In 2010, Aso Rock seemed at odds with itself, and then-Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, could not get a look in with regards fully taking over presidential duties. We didn’t get a photo of the president getting greeting cards then, but we did get an audio recording of then-President Yar’Adua, which was supposed to assure people that he was very much on the mend, and not dying. When people took to the streets in protest wanting then-Vice President Jonathan to become Acting President, we got counter protests and rebuke from the opposing side much like the ones we are getting now that are oddly reminiscent of the ‘Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha’ ones we got in the 1990s. As the protesters of today rightly point out, President Buhari had called for President Yar’Adua to step down at the time. Now, fast-forward seven years later, here we are.

Why does this keep happening?
Now is probably a good time to say that I do not particularly care for the use of these instances in some quarters to prove that age is the issue; competence and youth do not necessarily meet on the Venn diagram. I am more concerned that we have seen similar issues play out also at state-level; Former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, had to face down rumours of his death followed prolonged illness; the former Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime, was away for five months to treat cancer; and there was of course the saga of the former Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Suntai. The one thing that characterizes these various instances to varying degrees is secrecy. We are yet to see an elected official to do what former U.S. presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator, John McCain, recently did, which was to tell his constituents what he was ill with, let them know when he was receiving treatment, and even how he is getting on. People who pay or rig for the votes often do not feel as accountable to their constituents than those who had to win the hard way, but I would venture that an even larger reason for the recurrence of this secrecy is, fear. Across parties and even across states, we see that our politicians have as much distrust in the political systems they have helped build as we do – which is to say, a lot.

In a system where loyalties rule over any semblance of order, there is always a sense that anything can happen, and that gravity can bend, depending on who is favoured, without any repercussions. Court orders can get ignored, rule of law can be scoffed at, and whether you are right or wrong depends entirely on how far you are from my home state. In a place where local politics and alliances can be fluid and dictate how much you can get away with, it makes sense to keep as united a front as possible, and chief among the ways you do that is by not rocking the boat. From the outside, the dysfunction is obvious (Buhari himself wanted then-President Yar’Adua to leave power when he was ill, remember?), but somehow that does not translate to better behaviour when the tables turn. Here again, the age-old Nigerian problem of lack of structure rears its head and we see the many ways in which it affects us, including imbuing our political system – such as it were – with needless uncertainty.

If the secrecy in which the welfare of an elected government official is shrouded is more a testament to fear on the part of our political leadership, then any conversation rightly berating the president for not stepping down when he is ill should return to the question of improving our systems and how equipped (or not) we are to arrive at the country we say we want. Perhaps one day we could convince our politicians that creating better systems could actually help them breathe easier as well. As with everything else in Nigeria, of course, earnestly asking is one thing, and getting answers is quite another.



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