By Fortune Archibong
People, politics and power are three terms known for incomprehensibility, utopianism and enigmatic; but all are geared toward the seizure of the reins of governance, management of men, resources and the society. People are the levers which governance revolves at, politics is the process involved in turning the levers of governance, akin to the engineering manipulations of bolts, nuts, spanners, wheels and gear box regulating the wheels of governance. The notion of power is ephemeral, yet powerful, just like air which is felt, not seen, but in the case of power, it could be seen through the brute force exerted via protocol arrangements to herald the personality of power. Apart from directives, orders, fiats which move human beings, systems into action, the elements of power are mostly unpredictable and somehow celestial.
This piece is particularly concerned with the intricacies and scenarios surrounding ailing leaders in and with power, which could further be described as power play. The simple poser is,why must sick people holding or aspiring for political offices hide the true nature of their frailties, incapabilities and cling to power by all means to the satisfaction of their cabal of promoters and sycophants? One could readily recall the happenstances which surrounded the emergence of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in the last days of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime which threw up the question – Umaru, are you alive? The uncertainties which surrounded Yar’Adua’s health suffocated the Nigerian political space between December 2006 and March 2007 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) conducted her convention in Abuja and the electioneering of that period. The near absence of Yar’Adua made President Obasanjo the campaigner-general, dancing at campaign grounds to fill the vacuum of the ailing presidential candidate’s lateness and sometimes total absence at campaign grounds. The politics and cost of managing ailing political /candidates appears to be costlier than the entire political budgets of political parties. Flying “padded”, ailed candidates around with oxygen-cum-life support buses happens at huge costs never disclosed to the common man who would query the cost of the biblical Mary Magdalene’s box of alabaster ointment; yet in most political climes such as Nigeria, whatever cost incurred in the course of power acquisition are bad debts drenched into other innocent sub-heads to hoodwink the eagle eyes of auditors.
The cover-up of ailing and most times departed leaders but assumed to be alive or on medical life support system is another version of African nay Nigerian corruption genre practised almost in all realms or tiers of government. At the village level, deceased village heads are assumed to be alive for several years by relations to enjoy their stipends. With supposedly active chairmen of village councils, dead village heads could be hidden in morgues, buried most times without fanfare in the name of tradition and are only pronounced dead when crisis may have erupted with the managers of their stipend who at the slightest provocation arising from cheating and skewed sharing formula could spill the beans to the privy of government to halt the corrupt inclusion of ghost “eteidung” in the payroll. The same goes for some higher rulers until recent governors who may not brood financial improprieties in consort with smart commissioners, accountant-general and auditors to detect payroll fraud, in addition to regular audits and screening to weed out ghost personalities from payrolls.
In the larger polity, the brandishing of ill presidential candidates packaged as healthy persons appears to be staring Nigeria in the face. Recent reports have pointed to the fact that some of the presidential candidates for the 2023 presidential elections are not fit enough for the poll office of the Nigerian State. Whereas the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had shielded and managed the late President UmaruMusa Yar’Adua and almost succeeded owing to the performance of the ailing leader; Yar’Adua’s achievements in office as a former governor and president may not be compared to some living aspirants of the ongoing transition programme while they served in their climes. It remains a legacy in governance that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was the only Nigerian leader who reduced the price of petrol and practically introduced the Amnesty Programmeto reduce militancy in the Niger Delta region. Yet, in spite of all his feats in governance, should the cost of managing his health be reeled out and its toll on the Nigerian treasury, no sensible Nigerian would contemplate an ailing leader into any political office in Nigeria. The National Assembly may have created a law on the medical and even social fitness of Nigerians aspiring to lead to spare the nation from the pillage of national resources. With the attendant apprehension, rumours and dislocations it could create, Nigeria has grown beyond running a presidency-at-large where a powerful cabal hijacks power and exploits it with reckless abandon owing to an ailing leader. An ailing leader could give rise to unfaithful surbodinates who would not mind to pray for their death to succeed them, attempt funny things with the constitution and bend rules to govern by all means!
The political engineering of fielding or having an ailing leader in power is too grievous for trial. The ailing leader may turn into despots ruling by proxy, emergence of power grabbers and mongers personified by obtrusive persons. Ailing leaders’ wives could turn into de facto leaders, distributing the booties of power to trusted “friends” or supporters of the husband to ensure her hold on power. Also,some appointees of the government from the extraction, tribe, religion and other clandestine relationship with the ailing but cocooned leader could become deviants using the name or forge the signature of the leader to fleece state resources. The political calculation of fielding ailing candidates has been confirmed a deliberate and strategic political move to push for a political point in favour of some vested political interests. For instance, the pair of an ailing leader with a stronger, healthier and maverick running mate is an obvious political succession arrangement to suit the whims of some political patrons. Where the running mate is a docile personality, then the expected outcome may be very fatal. Another good case of political engineering in Nigeria was the pair of the late Chief Ernest Shonekan with the powerful General Sani Abacha and the result was obvious. Also, where a youngster president, governor is paired with an old and weak second in command; the wife of the powerful leader is the unofficial deputy, pushing the official deputy into political oblivion.
A peep into the political lexicon has never favoured the fielding nor hosting of ailing leaders by political cabals on a country. If the unexpected does not happen to put paid to all the hide and seek, the power mongers would fight naked for the booties of power to the hearing of the innocent public. If former President Goodluck Jonathan finally succeeded his ailing boss despite all the antics of the “power engineers” of the presidency of that era and the “Katsina factor”; and those who packaged the ailing former governor of Taraba State, the late Danbaba Suntai, to the presidency to confuse Nigerians on his “sound” health kissed the dust when their principal almost jumped out of his wheel chair on account of mental instability and the drama ended in a fiasco, greater revelations may await the authors of ailing political personalities packaged for the Nigerian polity ahead of 2023 general elections.
Archibong is of the Nigerian Guild of Editors