The Games that the Yar'Adua Cabal are Playing.....with Nigeria!
By Nasir El-Rufai
The return of Nigeria's long-absent and partly-unseated President Umaru Yar'Adua to Abuja on February 24th has thrown the country into a dangerous existential crisis, threatening the constitutional process which had placed provisional powers into the hands of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
This threat to our national integrity is due to the willingness of Yar'Adua's inner circle to misinform and mislead Nigerians into mass violence, if necessary, in order to complete their capture of the presidency. Through deliberate disinformation and whipping up primordial sentiments, this cabal will seek to persuade Nigerians and the international community that the succession process is underscored by an invented North-South chasm, and conceal their selfish agenda under the aegis of Muslim vs. Christian religious divide. This is an age-old yet often effective strategy of playing off North-South tensions.
A recent example of this irresponsible strategy by the cabal are the latest stories of access to Yar'Adua granted to selected "Muslim Leaders". How can an invisible and elusive Yar'Adua, not seen by the Acting President, the Senate President or the Chief Justice of Nigeria then be revealed to be sighted, not by a combined team of Christian and Muslim leaders, but another carefully handpicked clique?
The recent ethnic violence that has repeatedly seized the villages surrounding Jos, claiming hundreds of lives, as Fulani herdsmen clashed with Berom villagers, just a little more than a month since the last outbreak is another example. Perpetrators of the recent violence in Jos – some of whom are believed to been organized and armed from Bauchi State, where President Yar'Adua's son-in-law is Governor - are acting upon the opportunity presented by the perpetuation of the power struggle by the Yar'Adua cabal.
They know that the president is clearly permanently incapacitated - having sneaked into Abuja, without parades and welcoming party, but accompanied by an unauthorized deployment of the military, and ferried away to the presidential villa in an ambulance under close guard like a criminal into the night. Their sponsors also know that tough the constitutional politics of Abuja may appear far removed from Jos, by creating rising tensions and inaccurate perceptions of religious and ethnic tensions between the "North" and "South", the resultant effect of creating a serious threat to the integrity and governability of the country is achieved.
From early February when, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was given provisional powers and became Acting President – he has faced constant disinformation, obstruction, and undermining by the Yar'Adua cabal seeking to cling to the rents of office. Until their firing last week, these individuals have correctly grasped that the law and the constitution are not on their side – that in following due process the president must be formally and permanently removed from office through the constitutional process. Unfortunately, their only recourse is to interrupt the process through the age-old yet often effective strategy of rumor mongering and mischief to deepen and broaden the invented North-South chasm and Muslim-Christian division.
These misperceptions of broad religious strife - the central disruptive narrative that the Yar'Adua cabal is pushing to derail the constitutional succession process - have extremely high human costs, tragic human costs as proven in Jos. Instead of complying lawfully with the provisions pertaining to fitness for leadership, the Yar'Adua the cabal in its struggle to cling to power, is bringing us potentially closer than ever to a repeat of 1967 violence and the return of military intervention.
Nigeria's understandably complex politics cannot be reduced to divisive clichés and sound bites, shamefully rehashed by a controversial African Head of State, diplomats and gullible media, thereby perpetuating such myth. Not only is this portrayal profoundly untrue, I fear that if allowed unchecked, will push the country close to the violent catastrophe that preceded Nigerian Civil War, which claimed more than 1 million lives and led to successive military interventions. For Africa's most populous nation of over 150 million people, and its role as a crucial supplier of oil to world markets, a constitutional resolution to this crisis should be of urgent concern not only to Nigerians but to world leaders.
At this point, we must commend the Nigerian military for respecting democracy and insisting on subordination to civil authority. The people of Nigeria guided by opposition groups like Save Nigeria Group, civil society and media have exercised great restraint, maturity and understanding of Yar'Adua cabal's game plan to deliberately invent a crisis that could break up the country. We have all seen through them this time but the high human and economic costs remain indelible in our history.
A return to bloodshed and military dictatorship is not, however, a foregone conclusion. It is clear that the Yar'Adua cabal has put that as its ultimate goal. By recruiting ethnic and religious irredentists on both sides, falsehoods like excessive spending, discretionary grant of oil blocs, diversion of funds from one project to another and mass sackings of the top echelons of the Army have been sponsored and published in the media in the recent past to create Jonathan-phobia in the North. False reports of searches of Jonathan's office, plots to poison him and such like were designed to anger the militants of the Niger Delta and other "Southerners" to feel aggrieved and increase hostility to all "Northerners". We must all continue to resist the temptation to fall for their tricks and keep our eyes on the ball of orderly, constitutional succession.
The mischief of the remnants of the Yar'Adua cabal within the government will not end overnight. Unless they are cleared out of sensitive positions and their principal removed, they will never stop trying to put Nigeria at risk. There are certain steps that must now be taken and laws that must be observed. These steps, as outlined, will require the perseverance, fortitude, and determination of the Nigerian people , institutions and the allies of civil democratic process in the international community.
The facts must first be established that since November, President Yar'Adua has not been heard from, but for a short, deeply suspicious radio interview, while no images, video, or statements to the people have been provided. Following the attempted terrorist attack over U.S. soil by a radicalized, aberrant young Nigerian, there were no words from the president, which did not help with the resulting indignity of having all Nigerians placed on the U.S. terror watch list at airports. In January and March ethnic violence erupted in Jos, claiming the lives of more than hundreds of people – a much larger death toll than the recent massive earthquake in Chile, yet we did not hear a word from the leadership. In other words, Nigerians not only saw and felt the vacuum of leadership, it was also causing enormous damage to our national interest.
Nevertheless, while in silent convalescence in a Saudi hospital, President Yar'Adua did find the energy and wherewithal to sign a supplementary budget bill, releasing millions of dollars in discretionary funds to his cabal to loot, and leading many to speculate that key individuals close to the president, including his wife Turai Yar'Adua, had seized de facto power. It is gratifying that the attempted power grab was resisted by the Nigerian people, but this is yet to fully resolve the political uncertainty.
More than just uncertainty in the democratic process, there is an increasing possibility that the country's integrity is at risk or return to military rule. By continuously instigating the ethnic divisions between the North and South in order to obstruct the constitutional process, the Yar'Adua cabal is attempting to force a dangerously narrow outcome. When their callous gamble goes out of control and the violence begins, they expected either segments of the South-East or the Niger Delta region to declare secession in response to their misconduct, which will eventually lead to a military intervention and suspension of civilian rule. Thankfully, either scenario materialized, to the disappointment of the cabal.
The first matter to address is the immediate and comprehensive revelation of President Yar'Adua's health and independent ability to carry out the duties of office. This is an area where the international community must come to Nigeria's assistance with any intelligence gathered from Yar'Adua's three-month hospice stay in Saudi Arabia. US Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson has given an early indication in his statement: "We hope that President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process." Similar statements from the British, Canadian and European Union officials have been helpful in strengthening Acting President to stabilize the nation and reduce the leadership vacuum.
What must be done now is the strict observance of the constitutional succession process to lawfully the replace of the president by the acting president, as established under Section 144 of the Nigerian Constitution. This requires the cabinet being formed to have the courage to pass resolution with a two-thirds majority on the president's ill-health, confirmation by medical board appointed by the Senate President, and the swearing in of the Acting President as substantive President of Nigeria. If this process is manipulated or obstructed by the Yar'Adua cabal without his public appearance (which is expected), the two houses of the National Assembly must proceed to seven-step process under Section 146 to remove the president through impeachment for gross misconduct, incompetence, abuse and corruption in the discharge of his office. The evidence is available in Nigeria and abroad for these charges to be proved easily.
However the country needs political support, international partnership, and encouragement to undergo this existential challenge – and understandably perhaps we have exhausted the patience of many of our people and allies. But we all need to use a fresh lens when looking at Nigeria. Back room deals where political elites negotiate the fate of Nigeria's 150 million people are a relic of the past. The North/South power rotation or "zoning" arrangement that pretends to offer stability to Nigeria's diverse ethnic population has morphed into a convenient justification for self-centered politicians and power elite to rob the country of its resources. It must be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Nigeria has too much going for it to be allowed to fail. Despite the current political crisis, the green shoots of democracy are appearing across the country. Some State Governors like Raji Fashola of Lagos and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers are striking out their own path and delivering services to the people. Civil society has become empowered through new technologies like text and instant messaging . The international community must respond to what Nigeria could be and not constrained by those who have a vested interest in the old way of doing business. If we can regain the confidence of our people and win the support of the free world, Nigeria could grow into one of the greatest and proudest nations and a leading example for the Gulf of Guinea region. The world will benefit greatly from such a country.
I call on all Nigerians and the international community to maintain their demands for the transition of full Presidential powers to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, through an orderly constitutional process; and to resist all attempts by the Yar'Adua cabal to plunge Nigeria into tragic and irreparable ethnic violence and untold hardship.