Buhari’s unwillingness to disclose the nature or extent of his illness fuels rumors that he is terminally ill or, periodically, that he has already died. Last month, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the president, was forced to issue a series of tweets denying that anything unpleasant happened to the president. He added that reports of Buhari’s ill health are “plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic.” Buhari’s wife recently tweeted that his health is “not as bad as it’s being perceived.”
Regardless of the severity of his illness, Buhari’s extended absence risks igniting an ugly power struggle that would threaten not just the political fortunes of his ruling party but also a long observed gentleman’s agreement that has been critical to maintaining the stability of the country.
The unwritten power-sharing agreement obliges the country’s major parties to alternate the presidency between northern and southern officeholders every eight years. It was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north. For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages. But it was never intended to be permanent, and as Buhari’s illness demonstrates, it has increasingly become a source of tension rather than consensus.
If Buhari, a northerner, doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s “turn” in the presidency has been cut short. In late 2009, then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, who like Buhari was a Muslim from the north, traveled abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. When Yar’Adua died in office the following year, his southern Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded him, setting the stage for an acrimonious split within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over whether Jonathan should merely finish out Yar’Adua’s term or run to retain the office in the 2011 election.
In the end, Jonathan ran and won in 2011. But not before 800 people were killed in riots in the north after the PDP allowed Jonathan to contest the election. The anti-Jonathan faction later resigned in protest and defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Buhari led the APC to victory over the PDP in 2015.
An eerily similar scenario is now playing out in Buhari’s APC party. If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.
There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.
Yet if the north’s “turn” in power is interrupted again, it will further alienate the region — already home to the bloody Boko Haram insurgency, which has thrived in part because of government neglect — and make north-south cooperation on security, development, and a host of other critical issues more difficult. It could easily lead to another round of deadly riots, as it did in 2011. But there is a way out.
Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation now that it has outlived its purpose. At the same time, it should deepen power sharing in state and local governments, which have steadily gained influence relative to the national government since 1999. Many of the country’s 36 states and 774 local governments already practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups. The key will be to frame the abolition of power rotation at the presidential level as an opportunity to strengthen these norms at the state and local levels — not a chance to terminate them everywhere at once.
The reality is that most Nigerians experience government at the local level anyway. Regardless of whether Buhari or Osinbajo is in the presidential palace, state and local officials have the most purchase on the lives of ordinary citizens. Letting go of a dangerous convention at the national level while devolving more power to inclusive governance structures at the local level offers a way out of the current impasse.
From The Economist:
FROM THE BBC:
Recollections from from the son (and colleagues) of Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh who managed to contain the spread of Ebola in Nigeria after Liberian national Patrick Sawyer brought the virus into Nigeria. Sawyer may have spread the Ebola virus to Dr Adadevoh and other medical staff after he resisted Dr Adadevoh’s instruction for him to be kept in hospital under observation. He apparently pulled out intravenous tubes and splashed his blood on medical staff at the hospital.
“She was fine all along and then suddenly it became apparent. We were seeing little signs and so of course there was panic and confusion,” says the 26-year-old.
These were the early days of the Ebola outbreak and Nigeria was not ready. Dr Adadevoh had already gone to inspect Lagos’s rudimentary Ebola treatment centre, and had described it as “uninhabitable”, Mr Cardoso says.
“So, when she had to go in she was, of course, very worried,” recalls Mr Cardoso who followed behind the ambulance in his car.
Dr Adadevoh had earlier already won a different battle – to isolate Mr Sawyer. He had not taken kindly to being told he could not leave.
“Immediately, he was very aggressive. He was more intent on leaving the hospital than anything else,” says Dr Benjamin Ohiaeri, the director of First Consultant Hospital.
“He was screaming. He pulled his intravenous [tubes] and spilled the blood everywhere.”
It has been suggested that Mr Sawyer, who had already lost a sister to Ebola, was not interested in medical assistance as he had set his mind on visiting one of Nigeria’s popular Pentecostal churches in search of a cure from one of the so-called miracle pastors.
During those early days caring for Mr Sawyer whilst awaiting the result of the blood test, Dr Adadevo came under intense pressure to let him leave – a move that could have had catastrophic consequences.
“The Liberian ambassador started calling Dr Adadevo, putting pressure on her and the institution. He felt we were kidnapping the gentleman and said it was a denial of his fundamental rights and we could face further actions,” says Dr Ohiaeri, adding that the hospital trusted Dr Adadevo’s judgment.
“The only way we could be sure and live up to our responsibility to our people, the state and nation – this is all about patriotism at the end of the day – was to keep him here.”
Mr Sawyer died in the hospital from Ebola. Dr Adadevoh and eleven of her colleagues caught the virus.
Apparently, the rate of AIDS infections is falling. Good news.
When the President is Sick – What is Supposed to Happen?
There have been rumours, counter-rumours, allegations of ill-health, death and brain damage. One American newspaper even went so far as to claim that Yar’Adua died on December 10. If this story is true it would would place Yar’Adua in very illustrious company as one of a select band of few human beings to resurrect from the dead (Yar’Adua was interviewed by the BBC this week).
For those that actually care about what is supposed to happen in crises/presidential absences such as these, here is a little primer on Nigeria’s constitution (yes, Nigeria does have one, even though it is not always followed):
Is Yar’Adua Supposed to Formally Hand Over to his Vice-President During His Absence?
To all those people haranguing Yar’Adua for not “formally handing over” to his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, no such formal “hand over” is required. Once Yar’Adua informs the President of the Senate (David Mark) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Dimeji Bankole) that he is leaving the country on vacation or is unable to perform the functions of his office, from that moment on, his job functions automatically divest to his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan under section 145 of the Constitution:
“145. Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
The trouble is that section 145 does not say what will happen if the President does NOT give the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration of his absence from the country or incapacitation. Did Yar’Adua give such a notice to Mark and Bankole? If so, Goodluck Jonathan has de facto been exercising Yar’Adua’s powers since Yar’Adua left the country last November. If he did not give the written declaration…..the situation is murky. That is why we are in the current limbo.
So Why Doesn’t Yar’Adua Just Formally Designate that the Vice-President is in Charge Till He Returns?
The President and his supporters are far too politically savvy for that. Nigeria’s ruling PDP political party operates something called “zoning”. It “zones” (i.e. allocates and rotates) its presidential candidate between different parts of the country. The PDP’s previous presidential candidate was former President Obasanjo (a Yoruba Christian from the south) who stood as PDP candidate and President for two terms of office (1999-2003 and 2003-2007). When Obasanjo’s term of office expired in 2007, the PDP zoned the presidency to the north and its candidate Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (the current President and a Fulani Muslim from the north). The expectation is that Yar’Adua will serve 2 terms of office (i.e. until 2015) before the PDP “zones” the presidency back to the south.
Northerners fear that allowing Vice-President Jonathan to stand in for Yar’Adua will eat into or truncate its “turn” in the presidency.
Can Yar’Adua Be Removed From Office Due to His Absence?
Yes – but it is VERY difficult.
Two overlapping actions are required. Firstly, two-thirds of the Federal Executive Council (Nigeria’s cabinet) must pass a resolution declaring that Yar’Adua is unfit to discharge his functions; AND
The declaration then has to be verified by a medical panel of 5 doctors (including Yar’Adua’s own doctor), confrming that the President has been PERMANENTLY incapable of discharging his functions.