THE brief interview President Umaru Yar‘Adua granted the British Broadcasting Corporation is metaphoric. Just as the President struggled to speak during the interview, his listeners struggled to understand what he was saying. The voice was weak and petered out like droplets of water running into a tiny hole.
The nation Yar‘Adua claims to be ruling is also struggling to find its voice and bearing. Outside the country, there is disdain; there is contempt for the name Nigeria. Within the country, there is confusion.
Somehow, this confusion appears to be permeating the newsrooms across the country. Rumour and lies have taken over as the cardinal principle of state policies. Nobody is sure what to believe and who to trust. Even the now famous ”reliable sources” may not be too reliable anymore.
For some information gatekeepers, the situation is dicey. They receive all manner of information. The dilemma is how to strike a balance between falsehood and facts and present the readers with the accurate information they need to live their lives.
Some two decades ago, some of the nation‘s media reported that the late Owelle of Onitsha and former Nigerian President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was dead. Even Zik‘s closest allies came on national TV to confirm the death. Zik was to later debunk the death story himself and said those who announced his obituary would die before him.
For some time now, the rumour mill has been agog with the tale of Yar‘Adua‘s death. The rumour was strong during his campaign for the presidential election of 2007 when he was on admission to a German hospital. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo put a call to him asking his now famous question, ”Umoru, are you dead?”
Last week, the American Chronicle again reported the death of Yar‘Adua. According to the report, Yar‘Adua died on Dec. 10, 2009. Some anxious friends and readers called me to verify the information. How do I tell those who believe I must have the correct information that I‘m as confused as they are?
My simple answer was that in Nigeria, anything could happen. But that it might not be true because as a Muslim, his death would not be kept secret for long. Besides, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, claimed to have spoken with him on the phone. Could these principal officers of the state be lying?
In Nigeria, anything is possible. For 55 days now that Yar‘Adua has been in a Saudi hospital, my eardrum has been saturated with fantastic tales. In November last year, the month Yar‘Adua travelled, some governors claimed to have seen him in his hospital bed. Very reliable sources told me then that those governors were lying; that apart from the man‘s wife, Turai, and his aide-de-camp, nobody had been allowed to see him.
Rumour thrives in a society where truth is a scarce commodity. We have heard that Yar‘Adua would return very soon; that Nigeria‘s President is missing; that he is dead; that he is brain-damaged; that he is an expert telephone conversationalist, and so on. Where lies the truth in all this?
The truth is that we don‘t have an open society. Our government operates like a secret cult. We have an executive that speaks from both sides of the mouth. We have a legislature whose activities are defined by selfish interest. We have a judiciary that dispenses, in some cases, fraud than justice.
If not, how can a chief law officer of the federation, Michael Aondoakaa, gloat over the recent confusing ruling of the Abuja Federal High Court? The judgement says Jonathan can perform the functions of the President, but not as an acting president. And how can the House of Representatives consider it wise to send a delegation of seven persons to Saudi Arabia to see Yar‘Adua when it is obvious that the exercise will not yield any positive result?
Is it not ironical that the same House that has refused to pass the Freedom of Information Bill now wants to fly to Saudi Arabia to get first-hand information on the President‘s ailment? Last Thursday, the Reps again stepped down the FOI Bill as against their promise to discuss it. Since 1999 when civilians took over power from the military, our lawmakers have been playing hide-and-seek with that bill.
The way out is for Nigerians to take control of their destiny. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and some other notable Nigerians have taken the lead. Last Tuesday, they marched on the streets of Abuja to protest the vacuum created by the long absence of Yar‘Adua from his duty post without properly handing over to his deputy.
We need to sustain the tempo of this mass protest. We need to tell whoever brought Zakari Biu back to the police force that the ignoble role he played during the reign of Sani Abacha is still fresh in our memories. We need to let Chief Olusegun Obasanjo know that he partly created the problems we are passing through now by foisting an unwilling and sick man on us in May 2007.
We have to continue to demand that the FOI Bill be passed as a first step towards enthroning openness in Nigeria. We demand that the Federal Executive Council gives us authentic information on the current state of health of Yar‘Adua. As a private individual, Yar‘Adua could stay one year in any hospital he likes anywhere in the world. Nigerians will not bother. But as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what happens to him is of public interest.
As for Aondoakaa and Co., the day of reckoning will soon come. History has taught us that whoever presents selfish interest above public interest ends up crashing into the pit of irrelevance. In Yar‘Adua‘s 2008 medical journey, the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, played some roles which did not go down well with Mr. President. He came back from that trip and sacked him.
Those hiding the President and pretending to love him more than he loves himself may soon discover that though fawning loyalty may go undetected for some time, it does not last forever. Soon, the real truth will manifest.
SOURCE: The Punch Newspaper