Nigeria’s rumor mill has traditionally outpaced all forms of legitimate media in that country. With radio, television, newspapers and magazines often restricted under once-frequent instances of military rule, rumors often were the only means of communication about what was going on in the country. Twenty years ago, Nigerians awoke to word that one-time President Nnamdi Azikiwe was dead. They soon learned that report was untrue when Azikiwe read his own obituary. Last week, there were rumors that President Umaru Yar’adua was dead. Those rumors also proved to be untrue.
Since the election of President Yar’adua in 2007, the Nigerian rumor mill has run overtime concerning the state of his health. Early on, there was speculation that the new President was seriously ill. Photos were examined for signs of what was ailing him. It is known, though, that he has suffered from a chronic kidney condition for the last 10 years, and he has made several trips to Germany and Saudi Arabia for medical care.
Referred to derisively as “Baba-go-slow,” Yar’adua was said to take a long time to make a decision because he was not well. More likely, he is just an extremely deliberative person, but it suited the rumor-mongers to believe he was mentally and physically impaired. He became President on the strength of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s political manipulations. Consequently, Yar’adua has numerous former rivals and others adversely affected by his presidency who want to believe the worst about him and spread rumors about his incapacity for the office.
Now President Yar’adua’s true condition has been revealed: he has acute pericarditis. This is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart. There are several causes of this condition, and it is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medication, but in serious cases, it could require an operation to remove the inflamed tissue, known as a pericardotomy. Reports that his condition often is connected with cancer are now picking up steam.
After 10 days in a hospital in a Saudi Arabian hospital, Yar’adua has been released and is said to be recovering. However, rather than relief that the President is on the mend, a campaign has begun to force him to step down. A statement was released this week, signed by 50 prominent Nigerians, including former Senate President Ken Nnamani and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Bello Masari, called on President Yar’adua to resign due to his ill health that has impaired his judgment. Dr. Samuel Adejare, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly that also called for the President to step down, questioned Yar’adua’s ability to remain in office.
“How can he direct this country when able-bodied men are finding it very difficult to direct the affairs of the country? He should just resign and allow whoever that can do it to take over. He is going through pains, and pain cannot allow him to concentrate on anything,” Adejare said.
There was a motion in the Nigerian Senate to debate the president’s health on the Senate floor, but it was voted down.
Information Minister Dora Akunyili has issued assurances that the cabinet was fully behind the President continuing and said Yar’adua “has not been found incapable of discharging his functions.”
The political obstacle for efforts to have the President removed is that the current political dispensation under the ruling party’s rules is that the President must be a northerner. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is from the country’s southern Niger Delta region.
Whether President Yar’adua will be working with diminished health remains to be seen since his treatment for pericarditis, but it is clear that his political health has been diminished.