UNABLE to sleep, I turned to the Internet for some form of distraction. That is how I clicked my way to â€˜Stop the pressâ€˜ news at about 3 am on Thursday. President Umaru Musa Yarâ€˜Adua, the
headlines screamed, was dead. I immediately checked the dateline to be sure it was not a recycled death announcement that made the rounds last December. A quick trawl through websites of several reputable news organisations validated the news. The President was, indeed, officially dead.
Although I did not know him personally, I was awash with grief. Many hours later, I am still welling-up for a man many people often described as decent and well meaning. Even those who did not have direct contact with him acknowledge that he was a man of â€profound personal decency and integrity,â€ who had a â€passionate belief in the vast potential and bright future of Nigeriaâ€˜s 150 million people.â€
Sadly, he was denied an exit that matched his reputation. For months we did not even know whether he was dead or alive. And now that he is gone, what will linger in our memory is the charade and absurdity that surrounded the last months of his life.
President Yarâ€˜Adua did not deserve the indignity that marked his last days. He did not deserve the soap opera that his wife, Turai, and her clique of faceless manipulators created out of his health problems. For reasons best known to them, they turned his sickness into a huge political issue.
They forgot that he was not just Citizen Umaru but the President of Nigeria. They behaved as if their access to power and resources through his position was more important than his life and the stability of the country. So, now that it is over, I hope they are proud of their performance.
For months the late Presidentâ€˜s wife pushed the countryâ€˜s political stability to the brinks. Instead of being open and honest with us, she and her clique chose to use the Presidentâ€˜s medical condition as a means of conferring status and prestige on a select few.
â€Reliable sourcesâ€ kept informing one newspaper of how much progress he was making and of his plans to return to work very soon. The chosen returned from visits to the Presidential Villa to tell us that he was showing dramatic improvement and that he could raise his hands in prayer.
If they had been transparent in their dealings with Nigerians, the Presidentâ€˜s health problems could not have evoked so much controversy. We did not hold his medical condition against him. True we were baffled that he accepted to take on the huge responsibility of the presidency when he was aware of the fragility of his health. But even though his election was flawed, we had come to terms with it and saw the peaceful transfer of power from one civilian head of state to another as a better option to a return to military dictatorship.
Despite his laid back attitude and approach to governance, we were hopeful that he would make an impact on the country. It is hard to tell whether he made a lasting imprint on our politics. But one lesson he has taught us is that bad news is like rotten fish, it only gets worse with time.
The farce surrounding the presidentâ€˜s medical condition was bound to come to an end. The curtain has fallen, now we can move on. Adieu Mr. President.
Two become three
MANY people assumed the British general election would be a two-horse race between David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and Gordon Brown, the prime minister and leader of the Labour Party. Although Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was invited to the race, he was not expected to make a run for it.
That was before the three politicians faced one another in a live televised debate. Brown, who should have been born before the media became important political tools, was not expected to shine in the image department. His forte was to be in the substance of his policies. He was bound to lose points for looks because he is one of those people blessed with faces that donâ€˜t get along with a smile.
Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, a sleek media performer, stood a better chance of exploiting his physical and youthful looks for the popularity vote. But when the three politicians put their skills on show, it was Clegg who hugged the limelight. He was declared a clear winner of the first ever party leadersâ€˜ debate.
Suddenly, people who the night before could have mistaken Clegg for a member of a boysâ€˜ band were able to name him as leader of his party and could recognise him in photographs. From the shadows of the big two, he emerged to lead the pack on polls ratings the day after the first debate. Clegg is a proof that TV can make and unmake a politician.
I am writing this on the eve of an election that has been described as the most important in recent history. The leaders have been criss-crossing the country to woo voters. Even Tony Blair, former prime minister, joined the fray to encourage Labour Party supporters and to persuade the undecided to make their cross count on Thursday. But whatever the outcome of the election, one thing is clear; a mastery of the media is a useful political skill.
As usual, I am struggling to stay focused on this election instead of thinking about Nigeria and 2011 when we will go to the polls to choose a new set of looters. So far, only one aspirant has declared his intention to contest the election. He is a tainted candidate who should not even have dared to voice his ambition but since we live in a free world, we cannot stop him from dreaming. And that is how far it should go.
When will the presidential candidates emerge for the race? A reliable source told me recently that the race to many state houses have been closed and stamped with â€˜no vacancies.â€˜ Mass endorsement of incumbents will defeat the whole purpose of the democratic process of election campaign. We should not tolerate it. Every office must be open for competition.
A campaign has many purposes. To start with, it creates the setting for a horse trade, an opportunity to distribute accumulated loot to thugs and hangers-on. Thatâ€˜s an innovative allocation formula for sharing our national resources.
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