I WAS ON THE VERGE OF WRITING THIS column when we received the news that President Umaru Yar'Adua had suddenly died. Not that it came as a surprise. There had been uncertainty about his state of health ever since he returned from his latest treatment in Saudi Arabia in late February and was kept in isolation in the presidential wing of Aso Rock, the seat of power.
Not even the country's number two at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, was permitted access to him while the National Assembly dithered over what to do, finally appointing Jonathan to the hitherto unknown post of "acting president" as an uneasy compromise.
Why the legislators didn't simply impeach Yar'Adua as permitted in the constitution, wasn't a question they cared to address. This is to say nothing of the propriety of having a president who was hidden from the public gaze by his wife and an inner caucus who were not themselves answerable to the citizens over whom their "prisoner" (I can think of no more appropriate word) purported to rule.
Such is Nigeria. As I pointed out in a previous Letter from Lagos, we live in a magical realist country where chance events have a way of upsetting all political calculations.
Among the political calculations thrown up by the death of Yar'Adua is who should now occupy the vice-presidential slot. The problem here is that the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), in power since the military finally quit in 1999, has saddled itself with the requirement that the new vice president should come from the North so that he can contest next year's general election and thereby ensure that the North gets the two terms that was supposed to have been settled by the Yar'Adua presidency, meeting the terms of the principle of rotation.
So far so good, but for two caveats: the first is that the national constitution itself does not specify that the president should come from any particular region of the country; the second is that Jonathan, an Ijaw from the South, might himself decide that he doesn't want to step down after just one year in the saddle, especially since the PDP, which has become synonymous with election rigging and corruption, appears bent on tearing itself apart, which was perhaps not to be avoided, given the rewards attendant on public office in a country where politics is the only game in town.
Only recently, for instance, the party's national chairman was arraigned before a high court on charges of corrupt enrichment and fraud to the tune of...