FEATURE ARTICLE

Michael NnebeFriday, January 18, 2013
mnfargo@gmail.com


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NIGERIAN POLITICIANS AND THE CULTURE OF IMPUNITY

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emocracy does not begin and end with the right to cast votes, it is not even sufficient to say that the votes were properly counted. With Democracy comes the expectation of rule of law, due process, openness, and the rights of the citizens to know. While we debate the extent to which our leaders have allowed the rule of law and due process to flourish, it is abundantly clear to me that our politicians of this present era have consistently neglected or rather taken for granted one of the essential elements of Democracy?the rights of the citizens to be informed in everything including the health and wellbeing of their elected officials and in the case of the presidency, including that of their spouse.

Ever since Stella Obasanjo (Late Nigeria's first lady) died suddenly under the knife of what turned out to be a quack plastic surgeon in Spain, things have simply spiralled from bad to worse. Her trip to Spain was not the problem but as it turned out, Nigerians were not informed that she was travelling to Spain, let alone for the reasons of tummy tuck. The story at the time was that even her husband was not informed of that clandestine trip to Spain but I sincerely hold my reservations on that.

Then came Yar'adua in 2007 when he was running for president: It was already common knowledge that Governor Yar'adua was suffering from kidney ailment, and had been on dialysis for some years, perhaps between 5 and 8 years as at 2007. It was also common knowledge that the average life expectancy for one on dialysis is roughly 10 years. Yet when Yar'adua crumbled under the stress of heavy presidential campaign schedule and had to be flown out to a German hospital, Obasanjo boldly told all Nigerians that his hand-picked presidential candidate was only suffering from catarrh. Such fallacy only fuelled rumours that Yar'adua had died especially after nothing was heard from him for some time. Surely, Obasanjo followed up with a repulsive charade in calling Yar'adua and putting him on speaker on live television just to prove to Nigerians that the man was still alive. The sad part of this story was that Yar'adua would die of the same ailment 3 years later without Nigerians ever being told what he suffered from, even as a sitting president.

Yar'adua's family and the entire presidency did not fare any better than Obasanjo. When Yar'adua's health took a nose dive and he was flown to Saudi Arabia his family and their small cabal in the presidency shut Nigerians out completely. For many months nobody in Nigeria outside his immediate family knew his condition. Those who ventured out to visit him in the Saudi hospital were all shut out, including cabinet members and legislatures until his comatose body was finally smuggled back into Abuja in the middle of the night. I thought that the secrecy surrounding Yar'adua's illness, hospitalization, and eventual death would have thought us a lesson in this country. Sadly, recurring events since Yar'adua's death suggest otherwise.

Our current first lady (Patience Jonathan) was flown out to a German hospital last year where she spent about 7 weeks. To the best of my recollection there was never an official statement from the presidency to inform Nigerians about the health of the first lady and why she was spending these many weeks in a foreign hospital. What we got were series of spins and counter spins from Aso Rock with stories of food poisoning, mild fever, etc. Even when the first lady finally returned to Nigeria and made statements to the media at the airport, she only denied staying at a particular hospital where the local media had placed her, and that she did not do any tummy tuck because her husband loved her as she is. Well, good for her, but up till today Nigerians have not been told what our first lady went to do in a German hospital for 7 weeks. And what's more troubling is that she had just been flown back presumably to the same hospital in Germany a few days ago without any word to the Nigerian citizens.

Since the presidency has been doing this repeatedly with impunity, all the other politicians now see it as their right to keep their electorate in the dark regarding their health no matter how serious the situation. Several governors have in recent months gone off to Germany, UK, and even India on prolonged medical trip without uttering a single word to the people of their state. There was one case, however, that has prompted me to write this article. Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu state has been away in London or India depending on whom you talk to since the 20th of September. The commissioner for information in the state has repeatedly gone to the media to say that there is nothing wrong with the governor. That Chime is only enjoying his accumulated leave and would soon be back. What is pitiful about such official pronouncements is that every Dick and Harry in town already knew that the man was sick in hospital somewhere overseas. Such lack of official information about Sullivan has led people into speculation about the ailment he is suffering from. I've heard Kidney, Liver, Heart, and Leukaemia just to mention a few and even a respectable newspaper like Punch erroneously ran news of his obituary several weeks ago.

The truth is that nobody knows for sure what is wrong with Governor Chime except his immediate family. Nobody even knows for sure whether he is in London or India or who knows Timbuktu. As a resident of Enugu, I have not paid any attention to his few political battles or personal scandals. And I must admit that I really like his style although I have never met him and have no desire to meet him. I cannot deny that this man has cleaned up the streets and created a network of well-constructed roads and street lights that is gradually transforming Enugu into a modern metropolis that it deserves. All these he is doing in spite of the meagre allocation Enugu receives from the federal government. I used the word meagre only in comparison to states like Rivers, Bayelsa, Kano, Lagos, etc. In my humble opinion, he is one of the best performing governors in this country when you match his development projects with the money available to him.

I seriously believe that this man still enjoys the goodwill of majority of Enugu state citizens and residents. But this impunity on the part of his office and now his family to keep everybody in the dark permanently threatens to undermine that goodwill. It is sad indeed that even the spiritual leaders in the state (Bishop Chukwuma, Bishop Onaga, Father Mbaka) who have attempted to visit and pray for him were all denied any information by his office and his family. I suspect that Governor Chime would not have handled things this way if he was consciously involved in all these affairs. Whatever the case, I still offer my prayers for we are all human beings vulnerable to ill health sometimes in our lives. But nothing, absolutely nothing, warrants this level of secrecy in the health status of an elected governor of a state in a democracy?especially one who has been absent from office for 4 months.

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