Just when many Nigerians were sighing in relief that perhaps the drama of the past three months had come to an end, a new plot twist enfolded: only two weeks after Vice President Goodluck Jonathan's long-anticipated confirmation as Acting President, President Yar'Adua was flown back to Abuja under cover of darkness.
Initially, many commentators assumed that Yar'Adua's arrival in Abuja signaled his imminent return to his presidential duties. But as the days slipped by without any communication from the President, many began to fear that his condition was even more serious than suspected.
Reactions from the blogosphere varied, with many expressing sympathy for the ailing leader; however, the prevailing feeling was frustration at the continued secrecy regarding Yar'Adua's condition and future intentions.
Chinedu Vincent Akuta wrote about the abnormality of such excessive secrecy:
President Yar’Adua is, and will not be the only sick president. When Fidel Castro (Cuban President) became seriously ill, he was televised live on his sick bed when Venezuela’s President (Hugo Chavez) visited him. When late Yasser Arafat (The Leader of Palestine Liberation Organization) was taken to a French hospital before his death, the entire world was kept informed of his situation. Also when former Israeli Prime Minster (Ariel Sharon) was taken to hospital, the world was kept informed. I find it too difficult to understand the secrecy surrounding our president’s sickness.
Imnakoya at Grandiose Parlor also expressed frustration:
The man is clearly incapacitated and not able to perform his duties required under the law. In fact, it now appears the man is not even in the right state — physically and mentally, to make his situation known to the people who gave him his mandate! This is what the recent events strongly suggest since his return from Saudi Arabia about a week ago.
So why has it remained a Herculean task to the representatives of the Nigerian people to do the right thing and relieve the man of his burden?
Why is the conscience of our elected officials so dead to the expectations of the people whom they represent?
In February, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan's confirmation as Acting President ended months of political uncertainty; but Yar'Adua's return has confused the situation, and, for many Nigerians, only raised more questions.
SolomonSydelle at Nigerian Curiosity wrote:
The main question on every Nigerian's mind is why did Yar'Adua choose now to return to the country after spending 3 months abroad? There are likely various reasons for this choice but some key factors spelling the significantly diminished political capital of Yar'Adua and his supporters could be a main reason.
Max Siollun saw a similar agenda in Yar'Adua's return:
The timing is very telling. The political mood in Nigeria has been moving toward having Yar’Adua PERMANENTLY declared incapacitated, and the “acting” President Good luck Jonathan has been treated with some hope and optimism with many assuming that Yar’Adua was not coming back, and urging Jonathan to carry out reforms.
Yar’Adua’s return must be viewed in this context. He and his allies are feeling the heat, and are trying to pre-empt any moves that could permanently sideline Yar’Adua from power.
Many commentators saw the President's return as political brinkmanship designed to disrupt Jonathan's rule and strengthen Yar'Adua's supporters. Some pointed to the President's wife, Hajia Turai Yar'Adua, as being a key figure in these suspected intrigues.
On February 25th, the Nigerian news outlet 234Next published an article chronicling the First Lady's alleged behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. The article generated more than 600 comments and was widely cited in the Nigerian blogosphere.
Rayo commented on the First Lady's seeming omnipotence:
Turai is back and the whole world knows it. Who else can demote Goodluck Jonathan from Acting President to Vice President then return him to Acting President, all within 24hours without National Assembly or Federal Executive Council’s input, if not Almighty Turai?
Opeyemi Agbaje echoed her complaint:
The constitution does not recognise a first lady, any minister or other appointee of a president and certainly not his personal security aides and childhood friends as legitimate inheritors of political power in the event of the absence, indisposition, medical leave or incapacitation of a president.
But many commenters saw the 234Next article as sensationalized. Gaskiya, a commentator on the site wrote:
Stop printing lies. The first lady cannot sign any document as she is not recognized constitutionally. She only flew in yesterday with her ailing husband and now someone is saying she had taken over the affairs of government of this country?
Many saw the First Lady's alleged manipulations as symptomatic of larger systemic flaws.
If she can command the power she is claimed to [be] commanding then the so-called ruling elite are to blame for rolling over and letting her take control.
And that might well be the case. In many situations in Nigeria, if you want to curry favour with the boss you do not go to the vice, you go to the wife. Power is often seen as being embodied in the person who holds it. In order to have access to that power one needs someone who has unrestricted access to the Power.
Doofan, another commenter on the 234Next article had a similar view:
Turai is a product of this society of ours. Why do you blame her alone? This battle is for the control of resources, party machinery, oil and funds. Do you guys think it’s for the good of this country? Next and the other media houses are more interested in sensation of the story than in reporting the actual facts. Our political class is as guilty as the first lady they made her that powerful by bribing her to get favours now they want Nigeria to think that she is the only devil and they are saints.
Others felt Mrs. Yar'Adua was pursuing power at the cost of her husband's health and reputation. Kayode Ogundamisi wrote:
It is painfully embarrassing to see that we have been denied the privilege to empathise with the Yar'adua family over the predicament of their son and Turai must take the bulk of the responsibility for that because of the obvious choices she has made. She must be held accountable for the fact that rather than cushion her husband's pains, she is fueling the outrage that compounds his situation by insisting that he hangs unto power at the expense of Nigeria and his life.
Another theme of the discussions was acting President Goodluck Jonathan's perceived inaction. Chxta expressed the feelings shared by many commentators:
I was, and still am angry about the lack of spine shown by Goodluck Jonathan in this whole event. I mean, as C-in-C, even in an acting capacity, someone filed a flight plan of such magnitude and you did not know about it until the planes (not plane) were about to land?
Some observers argued that neither the First Lady nor the Acting President actually hold the reigns in Abuja. Sahara Reporters published an article which pointed to a complex interplay of interests, where Mrs. Yar'Adua and Jonathan are only two actors in a constantly shifting constellation of powerful elites. The article pointed to Nigeria's state governors (The Governors Forum) as being the primary power brokers in the capital; Chike Orjiako, writing in the same outlet had a similar take:
Jonathan is a product of a consensus contraption called doctrine of necessity. He is standing on a straw erected by his traducers for their own political expediency. There is a limit to what he can do without upsetting the apples carte. What is on offer presently is politics at its naked form. Could you imagine the decision of the illicit Governors forum to keep Yar’Adua in power dead or alive? The moment they suspected Jonathan was trying to exercise independent power by his appointment of Presidential Advisory council; they struck. We all have a role to play in the effort to rescue us from the gang of Governors, their ministers and National Assembly members that they manipulate at will. Much of the work to force them into submission is ours and not Jonathans. We have to keep protesting without let or loose. By my estimation, Jonathan is doing all right.