What's needed now is a clean sweep of the administration to remove potential troublemakers, which Jonathan has begun with his cabinet shuffle. But the first matter to address is a comprehensive and public assessment of Yar'Adua's health and his ability to carry out the duties of his office. This is an area on which the international community must come to Nigeria's assistance with any intelligence gathered from Yar'Adua's three-month hospital stay in Saudi Arabia.
From there, what's needed is the strict observance of the constitutional succession process to lawfully replace the ailing president with the acting president, as established under Section 144 of the Nigerian Constitution. This requires the cabinet to pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority affirming the president's inability to govern, a confirmation by a medical board appointed by the Senate president, and the swearing-in of the acting president as substantive president of Nigeria. If this process is manipulated or obstructed by Yar'Adua's loyalists, the two houses of the National Assembly must remove the president through impeachment for gross misconduct, incompetence, abuse, and corruption in the discharge of his office. The grounds for doing so are clear: Yar'Adua's supporters have refused to allow an independent medical assessment of his condition, and the president, if he is conscious, has failed to transfer the powers of his office to Jonathan, in contravention of the law.
Nigeria needs political support, partnership, and encouragement to undergo this existential challenge -- and understandably perhaps, we have exhausted the patience of many of our people and allies. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson already gave an early indication of American support for a constitutional transition in a Feb. 24 statement: "We hope that President Yar'Adua's return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria's stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process." Similar statements from British, Canadian, and EU officials have been helpful in strengthening the acting president. More of this support from the international community is needed.
But we all need to use a fresh lens when looking at Nigeria. Backroom deals in which political elites negotiate the fate of Nigeria's 150 million people are a relic of the past -- or they should be. The North-South power rotation, or "zoning" arrangement, that pretends to offer stability to Nigeria's ethnically diverse population has morphed into a convenient justification for self-centered politicians.
Nigeria is too big and has too much going for it to be allowed to fail. Despite the political crisis, the green shoots of real democracy are appearing across the country. Some state governors, such as Raji Fashola of Lagos and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers are beginning to deliver services to the people. Civil society is stronger than ever, empowered through new technologies, including text-messaging and social-media organizing. The international community must respond to what Nigeria could be -- and not remain captive to memories of its recent past. Nigerians must not be constrained by those who have a vested interest in the old way of doing business.