Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

A Cabalised Regime: Neopatrimonialism, President Yar'adua's Health Crisis and Nigeria's Democracy

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

A Cabalised Regime: Neopatrimonialism, President Yar'adua's Health Crisis and Nigeria's Democracy

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Despite the fact that the late Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua assumed power through a highly discredited election amidst deep-seated legitimacy crisis, Nigerians still welcomed the regime with open arms and high expectations. This was possible for a number of reasons. First, the effervescence and efflorescence of social action that attended the garrisoned electoral process assured Nigerians of new opportunities for real regime change. Second, the rising profile of the judiciary as probably the bastion of Nigeria's democracy (1) aided rising expectations. The judiciary made positive interventions in the face of transitional threatening executive recklessness, for instance, one that disqualified Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, then Vice-President (VP) of Nigeria, from contesting the Presidency in 2007. In a widely celebrated landmark judgment, the Supreme Court overruled the illegal disqualification and restored Atiku"s rights to the presidency. The judiciary was, therefore, trust-worthy for being able to restore stolen mandates to their rightful owners. Third, Yar'Adua's responses to the electoral and legitimacy deficit were somewhat positive. In his inaugural speech, Yar'Adua admitted that the election that brought him to power was deeply flawed and promised to reform the electoral process. He also declared rule of law as one of the cardinal elements of his administration. In a reassuring move, Yar'Adua quickly set up the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), consisting of people of proven integrity across all walks of life, including Muhammed Uwais, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, as its chairman. Apart from promising to govern as a "servant leader", he also declared transparency and accountability part of the cornerstones of his administration. In June 2007, after barely a month in office, Yar'Adua publicly declared his assets, becoming the first Nigerian President to do so.

Between May 2007 and October 2009, these and related steps impacted the political landscape positively. Some of the attendant gains included stable legislative-executive relations, respect for the judiciary, the slow electoral reform process, and most importantly, the Niger Delta amnesty programme, which sought to find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta question. Underneath these achievements and despite Yar'Adua's reputation as a gentle man and a democrat were underground/clandestine networks of individuals occupying formal and informal positions from which they influenced government activities. In Nigerian political lexicon, such networks are called "the cabal", those who enjoyed not only the confidence of the President on crucial policy issues, but also his patronage to help build an extended network of loyalists.

The stronghold of the cabal on Yar'Adua's presidency soon began to manifest itself. For example, the trial of some ex-Governors and top government functionaries for alleged corruption was said to have been frustrated because they belonged to the cabal. A second prominent example was that of James Ibori, a former Governor of Delta state, 1999-2007, who enjoyed a sort of "presidential immunity" that shielded him from prosecution. This was despite overwhelming evidence against him at home and abroad (2). However, the Yar'Adua health crisis, including its medical and political dimensions, exposed, more than anything else, the activities of the cabal. This article, therefore, deals with a situation whereby the President, the chief patron, was seriously ill and hospitalised. In his absence, the cabal was able to hold the country to ransom, holding tenaciously onto power and frustrating all attempts to invoke relevant constitutional provisions to deal with the matter for more than three months.

This article argues that the handling of Yar'Adua's health by the cabal suggests the weak institutionalisation of political power, which poses serious challenges to the consolidation of Nigerian democracy. …

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