Nigeria: After two leaderless months, a new Acting President

Yar'Adua. Attributed to flickr user World Economic ForumOn November 23rd, 2009, Nigeria's President, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua left the country without publicly stating when he would return. In the following weeks, the news was released that  he was receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, yet speculation continued, culminating in rumors that the Pesident had suffered brain damage or had even died. On January 12th, Yar'Adua gave an interview confirming that he was alive and receiving treatment, though he gave no indication when he would return to Nigeria.

Yar'Adua's absence created a leadership vacuum which  frustrated many Nigerians,  particularly in the wake of crises such as  Umar Abdulmutallab's attempted terror attract and the religious conflict in the central Nigerian city of Jos. Many Nigerians called for Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to step into Yar'Adua's shoes, but the situation was complex: As a southerner, Jonathan's assumption of the Presidency would threaten to destabilize the delicate power-sharing arrangement between Northern and Southern Nigeria. Further, without written instructions from the President himself, the legal extent of Jonathan's position were unclear.

For more than two months Nigerian bloggers lamented the leadership void. Chinedu Vincent Akuta at Briefs from Akuta wrote:

Enough of power vacuum, near constitutional crisis, and over heating of the polity all due to the fact that the ruling party (PDP) does not trust the Vice President (Jonathan Goodluck) to formally act as President until President Yar’Adua recovers from his illness. There is no choice other than to respect the wishes of the Nigerian people, power belongs to the people.

And indeed, many Nigerians shared his sentiments. During the month of January frustrated  Nigerians marched in  Lagos, Abuja, and London. Adeolu Akinyemi wrote on why he marched:

We are not happy with a Plane load of 300 people dying in the streets of Jos in Religious wars because of inaction from a missing leader.

Enough is Enough!

We will not accept the label of terrorism bestowed on us by the 58 days inactivity of our president’s mobile phone.

Enough is Enough!

Leadership Vacuum is dangerous and is responsible for killings in the north, kidnapping in the east, Militants gang raping in the South South and intellectual indifference in the west.

Enough is Enough!

Yusef, a commenter on Akinyemi's blog, was more skeptical (edited from the original English version):

How many times will I read this celebrated line “Enough is Enough”?????

It's very strange how we display so much hypocrisy when faced with some adversity and yet are able to make very sharp u-turns once the weather is stormed. If I call on anyone to do what will be absolutely necessary to get our system working, how will I be 100% sure that [me] being a northerner, he will not change his mind once he gets some sense spoken to him by his kinsman… Or [that me] being a Muslim and he being of another faith, [he] wont see me in the deep recesses of his heart, as being an enemy.

There is no such thing as “Enough is Enough” Deolu. We do not know what a nation is yet, not to even talk of kinsmanship. It's not enough to brandish posters of Ernesto Che on our walls to pretend to imagine or understand what it takes to lay down ABSOLUTELY everything for a better day.  We do not know this adversity . . . or we are too selfish hoping that “one day e go better for our side”! ! ! !

Our so-called leaders did not drop from Hell, but are actually just a reflection of our society. Replace [any of them] with even yourself and you will be surprised at what you will do or become.

Popular broadcast journalist Funmi Ayanda also wrote about her frustration with the prevalence passive hand-wringing:

I have sat in the company of bank MDs who stole billions of money, ruling party leaders who manipulate the electoral process and steal billions on naira, pastors of un taxed mega churches where all the above pay staggering sums in tithes and contribution and listened in disbelief as they all moan about bad leadership and the Nigerian situation. I have often mentally checked my teeth for visible spinach; perhaps the joke is on me?

So make l for no crase finish l ask simple questions like, “so what do you think we should do” what is within our own control immediately and how do we build on that? “What will my role be in that”? Usually, the conversation goes no further because l sometimes think both Nigerians and foreigners have a morbid fascination with Nigeria’s undeniable failures.

On February 9th, after weeks of political wrangling, the Senate  confirmed Jonathan as acting President. Many in the blogosphere saw the event as cause for celebration. Solomonsydelle of Nigerian Curiosity provided an excellent analysis of the situation as it unfolded (See here for her coverage). She wrote:

February 9th could possibly go down in history as a day when democratic political measures where used to take Nigeria one step further down the path to becoming a true democratic nation.

Akin, too, was guardedly hopeful:

Maybe and just maybe, we might just have a good President and the good luck in his name brings good fortune to Nigeria, maybe, we can hope, maybe, we can dream, maybe, we can expect, maybe, we can realise – A New Nigeria.

But others saw reason for concern, pointing out that although Jonathan's assumption of power might be a political necessity, it was not explicitly permitted by the Nigerian Constitution.  Max Siollun summed up the predicament as follows:

Jonathan’s confirmation as VP will hopefully put an end to the controversy (at least temporarily), and will give the leadership some semblance of order and due process. While we have arrived at a PRACTICAL solution, I am not sure that the manner and circumstances in which Jonathan was appointed acting VP was LEGAL.

Jide Salu acknowledged the constitutional ambiguity, but was primarily thankful that the country finally has a leader.

I just want some peace and direction. If you were residing in the country, you would understand better. Nigeria was not only headless, it was directionless with all the looting that has gone on and still going. Which for now is under wraps.

Ana Nimmos was optimistic, but also saw cause for concern:

[The political resolution] may not be the actual end of this logjam as it presents its own challenges. For instance, by this resolution – if we accept it for arguments sake – Nigeria now has two Presidents -though one is acting. Yar'adua never left power and Goodluck should be very careful what actions he takes.

Loomnie also highlighted unanswered questions for the future:

One also has to think about the machine that was ruling the country all the while Yar’Adua was not available. Is the new President Goodluck Jonathan going to be able to take charge of the machine? Is he going to be deferring to it/them? Those are going to be crucial questions in the next few months.


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