Either for good or bad, the prolonged constitutional crisis achieved one feat: it exposed the fragility of Nigeria’s decade-old democracy. As the nation bickered over the long absence of President Umaru Yar’ Adua, who left Nigeria on a medical trip to Saudi Arabia for several months, the tension his health status generated, equally provided the President’s Kitchen cabinet the opportunity to play the ostrich game.
Like a bad excerpt from the infamous era of Sani Abacha, late maximum ruler, when some of his aides unscrupulously held the country to ransom over his failing health, a coterie of Yar’ Adua’s privileged loyalist cashed in on the situation to dish out outright lies to the public- all in their desperate bid to hold on to power and maintain their plum seats.
This, perhaps, explained why there was jubilation across the nation by the time it was made public that Michael Aondoakaa, then minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, had been redeployed to Special Duties Ministry.
Critics believed then, that the utterances of the former AGF throughout the crisis smacked of utter ignorance, arrogance and contempt for public opinion. In a manner reminiscent of Wada Nas, Abachas’s loquacious special duties minister’s style of deliberately misinforming the public, Aondoakaa was described by professor Wole Soyinka as busy “speaking from all four compass points of his mouth.” At a time the nation was unnecessarily heated up by protests and calls from the civil society movement and respected statesmen over the vacuum in Aso Rock, Nigeria‘s seat of power, Aondoakaa gleefully told the world that government was running smoothly, even in the president’s absence.
The new minister for special duties was to make matters worse when he added that Yar’ Adua could rule Nigeria from any part of the world, insisting that his boss had breached no provision of the 1999 constitution by travelling abroad on medical trip for almost three months without notifying the National Assembly as stipulated by the constitution. In the estimation of the former Justice Minister, Yar’Adua’s absence from office for over two months did not amount to permanent incapacitation, which would have necessitated Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to act in the President’s absence.
‘’There is no evidence that (Mr. Yar’ Adua) is not exercising his powers as President . He has his vice president and his ministers whom he delegates powers and functions . He does not have to be in the Country before he can exercise his powers’’ Aondoakaa had said. He even went on to add that ‘’the powers of the president are not exercised territorially. He can do that anywhere in the world, on the plane, at the meeting of the united nations or even on his sick bed as long as he is not incapacitated by the sickness
For instance at the end of the January 27 meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation, Aondoakaa announced that ‘’the President is not incapable of discharging the functions of his office and( that the]medical treatment outside the country does not constitute incapacity to warrant or commence the process of the removal of the president from office, under sections 144 and 146 of the 1999 constitution’’ This was in reaction to a ruling by justice Dan Abutu of an Abuja Fedral High Court who gave the council two weeks to ‘’consider, pass and publicise a resolution in accordance with the provisions of section 144 of the 1999 constitution declaring whether, having regard to the absence of the President from Nigeria on medical ground for several months, the President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.’’
Although Aondoakaa had been redeployed, he was, however, not the only one who oiled the machinery of deceit perhaps not wanting to be outdone, Ojo Madueke, foreign affairs minister, also joined the bandwagon, gleefully lying to the world and contributing to the confusion on the true state of things as the president’s absence lingered. Though he started with eloquence and lucidity, Madueke ended up stumbling and stammering as he answered questions on hard talk, a British broadcasting corporation, BBC, program. Without minding the implication for public mood, Nigeria foreign affairs minister said the president was not obliged to send a letter to the National Assembly because the constitution says ‘’when ever the president sends a letter to the National Assembly.’’
‘’With the phrase, ’whenever’ writing such a letter is optional,’’ Madueke, told Jonathan Charles, host of the BBC programme. While arguing stridently, albeit unconvincingly, that it was not strange for the foreign affairs minister of a nation not to have spoken with his President for upward of two months, he made a blunder by saying Nigeria has surpassed the American record in the handling of President John Kennedy’s health, particularly in the area of transparency and the right of the people to know the actual health status of their President and the day- to- day turn of event surrounding the management of the first citizen.
Like Aondoakaa, Mohammed Abba Aji, senior special assistant to Yar’Adua on National Assembly matters, also worked hard to fuel the crisis. One, he was said to have withheld a letter which the President reportedly wrote to intimate the law makers of his medical trip and request eventual transfer of presidential powers to Jonathan, though in acting capacity as stipulated by the constitution. Though he denied ever blocking the transmission of such a letter previously, many still believed he was economical with the truth. Critics said hawks in Yar’Adua cabinet feared that empowering the vice president in acting capacity would spell doom to their selfish interests. And when the Senate passed a resolution on Thursday February 4 that Yar’Adua should forward a letter informing the upper legislative chamber of his trip abroad, Ali promised that his principal would transmit the letter before the end of the week. He added that the controversial letter Yayale Ahmed, secretary to the government of the federation, SGF, referred to when he appeared before the lawmakers in January 2009 when the ailing president went for a two week medical check up vacation in Saudi Arabia.
Also oiling the machinery of deceit, manipulation and cover up was Tanimu Yakubu, chief economic adviser to Yar’Adua he was said to be the brain behind the controversial BBC interview with the president, which elicited more scathing remarks and doubt from the discerning public than the handlers of the president must have probably anticipated. After 50 days of disappearance of Nigeria number one citizen, a one minute clip purporting to be Yar’Adua’s voice was played on the BBC saying ‘’at the moment I am under going treatment and I am getting better from treatment. I hope that very soon, there will be tremendous progress, which will allow me to get back home.’’
Contrary to the truth, the chief economic adviser also claimed that Yar’ Adua spoke with some top government officials such as Jonathan, David Mark, senate president, Dimeji Bankole, speaker of House of Representative. As it latter turned out, it was also another desperate policy to cover up the negative consequences of the mismanagement of the president’s health problem. At different times, Yakubu gave the wrong impression that Yar’ Adua was fast recuperating and that ministers and other aides have access to the ailing president. Yet, it was on record that no member of the carbinet was able to reach Yar’ Adua since he left Nigeria the previous year.
When the rumour mill had it that the president was dead, he spoke on Housa Service of the BBC to douse tension, saying in his native Housa that the ‘’President is alive. He is conscious and being looked after by doctors.’’ When prodded further that his principal had been away for too long and should step down, the chief economic adviser said there was no big deal if the president travelled out for medical trip, citing instances of Fidel Castro, former Cuban Leader, whose treatment lasted a year and Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, former military president of Nigeria, who was once away for more than two months on medical trip.
Sayyidi Aba Ruma
Accusing the public of playing politics with the president’s health, Sayyidi Aba Ruma, minister of agriculture, said critics continue to do so in order to gain political advantage in the then fort coming 2011 election. Speaking with news men in Abuja in December 2009, Ruma, who was believed to be a vocal member of Yar’ Adua’s kitchen cabinet, said there was evidence to the effect that those saying that the nation was at a standstill because of the long absence of president were doing so for selfish reasons. He added, “it is important to try to remove the emotion of the human mind especially as we are getting close to 2011 and there are indices that Nigerian politics is involved. There are developments that have taken place in Nigerian public to ransom; let us not continue to deceive them.”
Although on strength of performance, many say no minister can be said to have done very well to earn the applause of Nigerians. For over two month, the nation had groaned under acute fuel scarcity, while epileptic power supply had become worrisome. That puts a question mark on the performance quotient of Rilwan Babalola, minister of power; Rilwan Lukman and Odein Ajumogobia, both ministers of petroleum