Saturday 20 June 2009

Nigeria: On transparency about Yar'Adua's health

Between the personal and the presidential

Last Thursday, the High Court in the Federal Capital Territory at Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria barred [1] President Umaru Yar’Adua from suing until he leaves office.

It would appear the purposes of justice could not be served if Mr. Yar’Adua sues on a matter of personal issues but is able to cloak access to matters of interest to both the defence and the court under the wide-ranging presidential immunity that he enjoys.

The President was suing the Leadership Newspapers Group and all its chief personnel for defamation, in fact, the five-count charge read as follows – that they had “allegedly conspired to indulge in illegal act, defamation of character, injurious falsehood, painting or engraving matter known to be defamatory and sales of painted or engraved materials containing defamatory matters.”

Interestingly, the President had engaged the services of the State through the Director of Public Prosecution such that what could have been a civil case attuned to libel had been escalated into a criminal case punishable under the Penal Code Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

This judgement however infers that the President cannot use the machine of State to advance the defence of a personal issue. Defamation applies to a person, however in the capacity of President, sedition might be adequate but too much of a nuclear option to stand objective scrutiny, it would have prosecutors laughed out of court.

We don’t know how well he is

At issue was the report the newspaper published on November 8th 2008 that the President was ill. The truth or falsehood of this report is beside the point. It is common global knowledge in the public domain that the President of Nigeria suffers an ailment that could be considered incapacitating at certain times.

This common knowledge might well be false but it is not helped by the President not having levelled with Nigerians the truth about his health and the rumours that we have heard about him having a possibly serious kidney or renal ailment.

We have in many ways gleaned information for all sorts of sources and the seemingly sudden travels abroad by the President veiled in secrecy have not put paid to the possibility that something more sinister might be afoot.

A medical report can help

In an decently organised setting, it would incumbent on the President to present a medical report of health and capacity to hold office and really it is only within reason that anyone buffeted with claims of incapacity whilst another truth is self-evident should present incontrovertible proof contrary to the reports and at once close all debate on a topic that gathers undue interest because of the lack of transparency.

It is no fault of reporters, journalists, newspapers or bloggers that rumours abound about the President’s health, it is squarely the fault of the President and his handlers that these rumours have thrived and nothing has been done to quash them by reason of useful evidence, rather they have resorted to legal menace and harassment to maintain this unacceptable situation.

This situation has allowed some apparatchik to institute a case for defamation for allegedly filing a false report on the President’s health and the prosecution thought it could push the case through court without having to produce evidence of the state of the President’s real health along with the possibility of being evaluated by experts retained by the defence.

I would suggest this dismissal spared the President his blushes about what could have been an unedifying revelation of every biopsy, treatment, drug and assessment made by doctors over at least 2 decades.

Who holds the levers of State?

The concern is, if indeed there is cause to believe that the President can be incapacitated by an ailment such that he cannot perform the calling of the office of the President of the Federation of Nigeria and we do not see the effective transfer of articles of power and responsibility to the vice-President as required by the constitution, the whole ship of state falls into the hands of faceless mandarins, cohorts and handlers who are not accountable to the electorate and possibly cannot be called to order by other arms of government.

This would be untenable and really cannot be allowed to continue, but it is on this basis that the case the President bought must collapse, not necessarily on the possibility that the report made by the newspaper was false but on the system of events and mismanagement of information along with the dereliction of duty to the electorate to assure us that his health as President is good and that none of the presumed problems he might have with his health leave him incapacitated to fulfil the needs of the office of the President.

Transparency trumps privacy on health

Holders of public office must realise that they should not be impervious to scrutiny but where that scrutiny impinges on the person’s privacy there should be sanctions, however, when it comes to the health of that person with the corollary that the person may not be able to perform their duties, transparency trumps privacy and the onus is on the person to provide truthful verifiable information that puts paid to rumour and conjecture.

The only reason this was news was because it was the President and after he has left the Presidency, the case would be moot, meanwhile, the President has one simple duty to perform for Nigerians, provide the basic evidence that proves he is hale and hearty and we can go ahead and shoot down all the rumours that have been spread about our healthy and strong President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


[1] Court bars Yar’Adua from suing for defamation | Vanguard News

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