A menacing new normal
Writing on the popular Nigerian website SaharaReporters.com, journalist Emmanuel Egwu bemoaned the refusal by the country’s ruling cabal to accept that President Muhammadu Buhari is, in effect, a vegetable. Egwu wrote as the president’s inner circle tried to shut down all speculation as to whether Buhari would run for a second term in 2019, given that he can hardly speak and is said to be permanently in a wheelchair. Buhari’s supporters insist that he must run, despite the fact that he has been in a terrible state of health for the past year and is in high care in London.
Egwu wrote that, as inhumane as it was to talk about someone’s parlous health, the dishonesty of Nigeria’s current leaders warranted it.
“In an ideal world, this is a non-question. The proposition carries the unmistakable undertones of callousness and mischief. For the obvious reason that President Buhari has been in a protracted state of incapacitation, it is inhuman to speculate in his electability as if he were some blue chip stock,” wrote Egwu.
He went on to state that “the unnamed ailment he suffers from has overwhelmed him to the point of being his preoccupation. The survivalist quest for recovery has rendered him unavailable to lead. Therefore, it goes without saying that he cannot be re-elected to carry on as a foreign-based, absentee president.”
He was right. Buhari has been missing in action since May 7. Few outside the family have had access to him. Even Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has hardly spoken to him and it has been reported that in the few times they have had contact, Buhari has been barely audible.
Buhari’s absence and his refusal to let go of power has had very real consequences. It took a whole month after the 7.44 trillion naira (R305.5 billion) annual budget was passed by the National Assembly for him to allow Osinbajo to sign it into law. There are several other major decisions that have been similarly affected.
This lowly newspaperman is aware that most South Africans would not mind if their own president vanished for 50 days. They would be pleased to be given a break from his illogical and incoherent ramblings. And they would also be relieved to hear that he was unable to carry out the late night instructions from Atul, Rajesh and the other Saxonwold brothers.
But this is the real world. Countries have to be run and the people who run them are governments that are led by heads of state.
A serious nation such as Nigeria – which is one of the three most powerful on the continent, along with South Africa and Egypt – cannot afford to be rudderless for an indefinite period. While we South Africans would be happy for our head of state to disappear, the fact is that he is the one who is constitutionally empowered to sign the big documents and make the major decisions. As difficult as this is to spit out, we need him.
Nigeria has learnt to withstand periods like these because the post-independence era has been characterised by instability and a degree of organised chaos. Over those five and a half decades, Nigerians have developed an admirable toughness that enables them to defy the inadequacies of their governments.
As proud as they are as a people, Nigerians will tell how ashamed they are of the betrayal of the independence dream.
The resource-rich and densely populated country should be in the upper quintiles of development indices – and certainly above its rival, South Africa.
Nigerians’ entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness should have made the nation a winning one. Yet this is not the case. On some indices they rank below countries that are considered banana republics. In recent years, Nigeria has experienced false dawns politically and economically. Each time it has been dragged back into darkness by bad leaders.
The betrayers of Nigeria’s dream were mainly the political, military and business elites. The intellectuals also allowed it to happen by giving up and heading off to safer and more cerebrally rewarding locales abroad. The masses also threw their hands up in surrender and allowed these elites free rein.
The acceptance of abnormality is what makes it possible for Buhari and his acolytes to disrespect the republic and its people so much that they keep an invalid in the highest seat, and then lie repeatedly to the population about his condition.
There is a determined effort to ram this acceptance of abnormality down the throats of South Africans. Just listen to the cacophonous mob of anti-constitutionalists that has coalesced around the president and his preferred successor.
One of them – ANC Women’s League secretarygeneral Meokgo Matuba – this week told News24 that the Constitution needs to be changed to put more power in the hands of Parliament, tame the judiciary and chapter 9 institutions, and curb the SA Reserve Bank’s independence.
Her hair-raising comments included questioning why the Constitutional Court should be the nation’s final arbiter whose decisions could not be overturned. And there was this beauty, which just took the breath away: “If I am the state president, there are powers and functions that I have in terms of the Constitution. When I exercise those powers, I am taken to court. Then I must explain why I can’t use my powers,” she said.