When do you decide that a leader is not fit to govern?

After weeks of speculation over his health, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has broken his silence saying he’s ‘hopeful of a return soon’.

The President’s been missing, dead, brain-damaged and thriving – all in a matter of weeks.

With Nigeria’s image taking a battering in recent weeks, some are asking if this was the right time to go awol. That’s why Nigerians have been taking to the streets.

He’s says he’s recovering, the people aren’t as confident. So when do you decide when a leader’s time is up?

Heba’s post from last month is below:

When an ailing, old(ish) head of state goes abroad to seek treatment for a health condition, people start to question who is in charge.

That’s what’s happening right now in Nigeria as President Umaru Yar’Adua is being treated in a Saudi hospital for an acute heart condition. It’s prompted some in the country to call for his resignation in order to make way for a healthier, and perhaps more effective, leader.

Nigeria isn’t the only country to be making calls for a change of leadership on this basis. It’s also a problem all over the world.

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak has been dogged by rumours of ill health for years. In 2007, Cairo’s streets and cafes were abuzz with rumours that he had died. An obituary was even published in a major national paper, wiping millions of dollars off a jittery Egyptian stock exchange.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s heart condition, Gordon Brown’s eyesight, Kim Jong Ill’s pancreatic cancer..the list goes on. 

Should leaders have a clean bill of health in order to do their job? If they don’t, should they step aside? Should politicians even disclose they have a health problem?

41 Responses to “When do you decide that a leader is not fit to govern?”

  1. 1 Roberto
    December 3, 2009 at 12:11

    RE “” Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak “”

    ———- The death of Mubarak will be a disaster for this area. There will be some immediate bloodletting coupled with minor upheaval in surrounding states as disturbances radiate out as groups vie to fill the vacuum.

    Ideally he should appoint his interim successor, but it’s doubtful that person will command the same respect of the ironfisted Mubarak without a major purge. Immediate elections should be held with the understanding that the logistics of conducting an election in the midst of a gathering state of anarchy will be problematic and take some time to vet and resolve.

    All concerned states should be planning for his death because we already know other private groups from nefarious to patriotic are planning for the day at this very moment.

    Minor health problems are just that, minor. Even if the US president has a heart attack, nobody expects he would resign, or even relinquish many if any duties.

    December 3, 2009 at 12:43

    Currently I doubt whether there exists any head of state can be said to be officially in charge east or west. Whoever we elect ends up being a property of other invisible individuals who force them to enter into some kind of a DEAL. Sometimes the first ladies are part of those invisible forces and the poor leaders have nothing to do but spend their best time in office doing damage repair for mistakes done by others. Any head of state is therefore either a Mr. Deal or a Mrs. Deal yet we mistakenly still hold them accountable for wars or other state shenanigans that they know nothing about. That is why we should be careful when we apportion blame. Iran should take credit for being the only state transparent enough to let us know that Guy Jad is only a Mr. Deal– a ceremonial role.
    Don’t think this is funny because my country has always had its own Mr. Deal. So is England, Russia, North Korea and the indomitable USA etc — all have their own version of Mr./Mrs. Deal.
    Leadership name is akin to a billboard to a casino. The owner knows nothing of what happens there and yet the figures still continue to balance and minor blunders will continue to be covered unless he is called for to make a public statement; sometimes for more coverup, . But, all deals must come to an end whether you are healthy or not. All the guys listed above are all Mister Deal and their being healthy is not a requirement to fulfill the deal. The deal is still working.

    • December 3, 2009 at 13:26

      @ Arthur
      Are you saying that it is these deals that usually make these leaders sick yet unable/ unwilling to resign?
      If the deal could work with a Preisdent who is too sick to discharge his duties, they why would the ‘Deal-owners’ bother to put a President in the first place? they could as well have left the place vacant?

  3. 4 Ibrahim in UK
    December 3, 2009 at 13:04

    In developed countries, there are processes in place to address scenarios where leaders are not able to fulfil their duties, there are checks and controls in place to ensure the replacement or stand-in do not exceed their bounds.
    In countries like Egypt which are led by dictators who rule their population through fear and torture, leadership is dependent on the destruction of all processes and people that could lead to an alternative government. In the event of illness and death, leadership is “inherited” by another family member (e.g. in Cuba). The people seem unable to bring about change against the threat of brutality by the very military that is meant to be protecting them.

  4. 5 Ray in Nairobi
    December 3, 2009 at 13:04

    It’s a bigger problem in the developing countries where adherence to succession protocols isn’t always guaranteed. I’m absolutely convinced my country would be in a crisis if anything happen to our president today since the Prime Minister’s supporters think he’s second in command so to speak, despite the constitution’s stipulation that the vice president should take over in the event of such an incident. Until we get rid of raw hunger for power and the zero-sum nature of politics, the health of the head of state will always be potential powder keg.

  5. December 3, 2009 at 13:15

    (I think it is not just Presidents we should be concerned about … I went to an office and I could swear that the person in charge there had a mental problem, we need to check up on our bosses, colleagues, etc, too!)
    What this brings up generally, is how people want power and positions as ends in themselves not as opportunities to get the job done that is why they keep their health records sealed and well protected from any probing and ‘unpatriotic’ noses and have people swear that the leaders are hale and hearty.
    If only leaders see their positions as a chance to help solve a community’s problem, they would willingly resign rather than hold on to power while the job suffers. You need to peep in on some Presidential forums to see how tired these chaps look; their faces seem to say “wish I was somewhere else right now!”
    I guess we need leaders who will be kind enough to tell us they are too sick to lead us. Until then, God, heal our President!

  6. 7 Crispo, Uganda
    December 3, 2009 at 14:04

    That’s the habit of African leaders. All they ever do is to misappropriate funds in the name of seeking treatment abroad. Is that a bold statement that African doctors and practitioners are incompetent? Can’t they modernize medical facilities back home to the standards in developed countries? What’s annoying is that these trips are taken even for ailments that can be treated home. May be African leaders are itching to go and waste tax payers money abroad. Well, how else would you interprete those meaningless trips in the name of seeking medication? May be we elected them to travel but not to serve the nation.

  7. 8 patti in cape coral
    December 3, 2009 at 14:09

    Well, it would be good if they tried to keep themselves in good health (world leaders), but that isn’t always under their control, so successors should be named at the time of their appointment. Obviously this doesn’t work everywhere in the world.

  8. 9 gary
    December 3, 2009 at 14:11

    Acquisition of high public office uncovers only a talent for self-service. Those leaders, who are able to submerge this tendency and effectively lead for the good of their whole country and the world, should do so until they fall dead upon the floors of power. Their perfect final efforts would be institutional systems that select for the abilities to see, desire, and strive for the common good, rather than to foster humanity’s sorry practice of allowing those who “want the job most” to easily acquire it. Because unfortunately, even a cursory history study discloses that the ability to become leader does not correlate with the ability to lead for the good of humanity. Haven’t you folks been paying attention?

    December 3, 2009 at 14:51

    Its a very sad news hearing that our President Umaru Musa Y’ardua is so sick to the extent of flying abroad for treatment.I am of the opinion that he should leave the seat of office in order to take proper care of himself, so that he will live longer and be able to be the father of his children for a longer time. GOOD PEOPLE, GREAT NATION.

  10. 11 Maccus Germanis
    December 3, 2009 at 14:56

    In a constitutional government, with clear line of sucession, it shouldn’t matter. This is another weakness of authoritarian government. Authoritarian personallities do eventually die.

    December 3, 2009 at 15:06

    If you are a nigerian, let not your heart be troubled because MR PRESIDENT will not DIE but live if only he can harken to my precious advice. I believe that his problem is greediness because for somebody to have such a problem and to carry the problem of about 150 million Nigerians, we see that he is writing letter to death. So my precious advice for him is that he leave the seat of office and carter for his endless problem of ill-health. And my answer in response to the question is that Y’ardua cannot lead us as expected. Nigeria; GOOD PEOPLE, GREAT NATION, SICK PRESIDENT

  12. 13 Patrick Agbobu
    December 3, 2009 at 16:22

    In Nigeria we have Presidential elections as in the USA. The President carries the vice President in the ticket. The Vice President becomes constitutionally relevant only when the President dies while in office or the President resigns from his office. President Yar’Adua is not dead or has resigned. People should stop creating a problem when there is none. They should stop causing unnecessary division in the Presidency. This is just a storm in the tea cup.

  13. December 3, 2009 at 16:52

    Storm in a tea cup just about sums it up.Who looks after a country when the president is away to international confereces?

  14. 15 T
    December 3, 2009 at 17:10

    If they have a problem then yes they should disclose it. When you campaign for the top job, you give up your right to privacy. You can complain all you want about that. But that’s the ulgy reality of it.

    And if you don’t like that, then don’t bother running for it.

  15. December 3, 2009 at 17:15

    This man is so sick, that he has missed out of major functions in recent times. He is always looking pale and tired. We are tired of having him as our leader. Shame on the PDP ploiticians who have decided to keep supporting an absentee president. He has been out of this country visiting hospitals in Saudi-Arabia than he has been in Nigeria.
    Yar-Adua, please heed the calls for resignation, go back to home, we do not need a president who is as good as dead.

  16. December 3, 2009 at 18:18

    GOOD PEOPLE, GREAT NATION, SICK PRESIDENT.This is about the best way to put the condition of this country. We like to deceive ourselves until we can deceive ourselves no more.

  17. 18 Tom K in Mpls
    December 3, 2009 at 19:02

    Politicians will always make any noise they can if they think it might get them more power. If the idea of power transition comes up due to an event like this, there are only two possibilities. Either the system was not properly structured to protect itself from the certainty of unanticipated power changing events, or it is a lame grab for power.

    If it is a policy problem, why didn’t the now vocal people speak up before?

  18. 19 Patrick Agbobu
    December 3, 2009 at 19:36

    Rumour and gossips have no place in vibrant, fearless and upright journalism. Good journalism is based on impecable, empirical, verifiable and fully cross checked evidence. No reasonable person will expect Mr Adeniyi to make comments on wild rumours, that have no foundation. We all know the The President is not very well and we all saw him boarding the aircraft that took him to Saudi Arabia, unaided and without any signs of someone who is at the verge of dieing. We should all wish him speedy and good recorvery and not wish him death. I expect him to come back hale and hearty and fully invigourated as he has a lot of jobs in his hands. The AGF Michael Aoaoankaa the very tainted person and a huge embarrasment to himself and Nigeria must be sacked. The President must distance himself from the very corrupt and indicted ex governors at once.

  19. 20 Patrick Agbobu
    December 3, 2009 at 23:29

    WE do not have a constitutional crises in Nigeria. For goodness sake and crying out loud, the President is only sick and receiving treatment in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. In the USA the President, ones in their history, has been sick for over 140 days and there was no constitutional crises. I think we should just watch events, go after our daily business and pray for the speedy recorvery of the President. He is the President of all Nigerians, regardless of our political leanings or who he was hoisted on us. The courts have spoken on that end of story.

  20. 21 claudine
    December 4, 2009 at 01:20

    Many old aged African leaders are not good for their people even when they are still healthy.
    People there just dont know when its time to go so strong is their craving for power and their fear to be judged as soon as they give up their power.
    Why that fear?
    Because they know they have done something wrong.

  21. December 4, 2009 at 01:33

    Like any other celebrity, President Yar’Adua’s life is public business, therefore his health is public interest.

    Public office holders ought to take medical tests to prove that they are physically and thus mentally fit to make valid decisions.

    Obama and Mc Cain took tests, they were published to the public. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen pictures of Gordon Brown, Dave Cameron and Boris Johnson jogging inthe mornings.

    If the health problem does not affect your job, then we don’t want to hear about it, otherwise, it should be made a policy that every leader should be declared healthy before he is allowed to rule. It’s common sense.

  22. 23 Tan Boon Tee
    December 4, 2009 at 03:37

    There are a good number of elderly leaders in this world, some in their seventies, others eighties. Among them, some have been physically sick or impaired, others mentally ill or disoriented.

    Yet most of them pretend to be normal and healthy, clinging on to their dominance ever tighter.

    Such is the human frailty for insatiable power and status.

  23. 24 Patrick Agbobu
    December 4, 2009 at 20:51

    What I can not understand is, why did THe President discontinue his treatment from Germany, where they have been managing and treating him, when he was the governor of Kastina and in his early time as President of Nigeria? We all know that, if the Royals and leadership of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are sick, they all rush to Europe and the USA. We all know that the most advanced and well equiped hospitals and the makers of these equipment, are in the developed world. Is there anything told the President in Germany, about his condition that, he is not sharing with Nigerians? I am really baffled that, the President will abandon the best hospitals in Europe, the USA and the developed world and prefere one in Saudi Arabia, which is even fully staffed, by mainly people from the developed world. The very advanced and developed hospitals, in the developed world, call things as they see them. They have their proffessional integrity and the very good name of their hospitals and institutions to protect. I can not say the same thing of a very secret country. Mr. President please, for the very love of our great country Nigeria, be very up front with Nigerians and talk to us eye ball to eye ball. Nigerians love your father, your elder brother and by extention you very dearly and Nigerians will understand. Mr. President we are all human and it is only the wish of The Almighty God prevails

  24. 25 Tom K in Mpls
    December 4, 2009 at 23:21

    For about the last 2 years of the Reagan presidency, we had had a president with advanced Alzheimer disease. Because of the wife and staff he chose, and the systematic checks in place, nobody openly contested his ability to lead. IMO he was the best president we ever had.

  25. 26 Craig
    December 5, 2009 at 09:49

    He could always nominate a Vice President….

  26. December 5, 2009 at 12:18

    pls !president yar`adua resign now! and concentrate on your health

  27. 28 Dave
    December 7, 2009 at 13:55

    How many politicians are fit to lead?
    Brown is a prime example, obviously incapable of grasping the enormity of a situation where Britain has a deficit 3.5x that of Germany, 28% of the working age population doing nothing, another 40% parttime or working for the government, no industry, bankers being allowed to take billions of tax payers money home (as ‘bonuses’ for ruining the bank), the government exporting tax payers money, work, training, and our future to any country that wants it as long as its NOT Britain.
    Worse, the bumbling fool leads a party that got 28% of the vote and uses that to claim it has a democratic mandate (forgetting about the 72% of us that didn’t want them – and said so). We have a cheek telling others they need democracy when we don’t have it.

  28. 29 Patrick Agbobu
    December 22, 2009 at 08:33

    Stop playing the Russian roullette with Nigerians. The health and fitness of the President is a national and legitimate issues. Nigerians should not reley on hear say or the gossips, that are licked from Turia, the wife of the President and some nameless and faceless ‘close associates’. This power hungry cabal that has this vice grip on Nigeria, should stop patronising Nigerians. Nigerians want as a matter of urgency a proper verifiable up date of the health of the President, our President.We want very informed opinion for Nigerians to make up their minds on way forward.

  29. January 12, 2010 at 11:34

    Hi Ray in Nairobi
    Hopefully, there will be no guarantee for succession here neither.
    What’s so special about Umaru Musa Yar’Adua anyway? Africa or Asia don’t need strongmen because their rule degenerates into nepotism and tyranny. Guinea is no worse in the absence of President Camara.
    The system is important. It must work for everyone, regardless of class or rank. We felt sorry for Robinson yesterday but the system wanted him out, and out he went!

  30. 31 ryan
    January 12, 2010 at 11:45

    i think when he/she cant do his/her job, and requires to much taking care off, when he/she should be leading. most of the times state funds and tax payers pay for the bills. but i think the constitution in any country should dictate how that is handled, because it can be open to abuse. poisoning and the like, and who judges that a condition has reached far enough, because in politics parties debate and not necessarily sense and logic.

  31. January 12, 2010 at 14:51

    A President may be deemed unfit to govern in the events of the following instances:-
    (1) If he is impeached/removed by legislation (2) If he dies while in office. (3)On adverse medical condition by which he becomes indefinitely bedridden (4) If he is in the custody of his abductors or hostile agents. (5) If he fails to discharge his office within certain statutory days.(6) If he voluntarily quits/resigns from office. (7) If his tenure lapses without his re-election, and his successor has emerged by legitimate process. Point no:3 highlights the Nigerian case, which is being concealed by the present cabinet members who would rather continue in office under the status quo.

  32. 33 T
    January 12, 2010 at 16:15

    Here in the States, people will only change the leader when they’re forced to. The President can be alcoholic, have Alzheimer’s, mistresses and literally almost anything else. But people put up with it. Kind of an American tradition, I suppose.

  33. 34 T
    January 12, 2010 at 16:19

    When someone calls me and asks that I take over :)!

  34. 35 Chidi
    January 12, 2010 at 16:20

    I am writing from Abuja, Nigeria.
    President Yar`Adua is evidently very sick. The issue is not about him recovering soon but about his continued need to always visit the hospital since his sickness is not curable but manageble. With his age, I see his body becoming weaker and needing more medical care. With that, knowing that things would not easily improve in future for him healthwise, it is best he does the honouable thing of not only giving the Vice President the right to act on his behalf but also that he resigns.
    Right now in Nigeria everything is at a stand still just because of an individual who is sick. It ought not to be so.
    But as someone says : If Yar`adua doesn`t leave the Presidency, the Presidency will leave him (i.e via being incapacitated).

  35. January 12, 2010 at 17:41

    Disease is a misfortune, and even if one is your rival or enemy, civility dictates that you dont rejoice or celebrate this misfortune.In civilized societies with well-structured systems, provisions are made for peaceful and orderly transfer of leadership when a leader is incapacitated.

    But leadership is often not about one individual. Those who have the presence of mind and have access to instruments of state power must never allow a situation to degenerate to the extent where anarchy, suffering and pain ensues from the indisposition of a leader. They must take measures to safeguard the common good and the interest of the nation. If this is not done carefully without consideration of the forces at play and the prevailing dynamics, it can agravate the situation and ignite a conflict that might be retrogrssive and very damaging, especially to a nation emerging from conflicts and miltary dictatorship like Nigeria.

    The custodians of the nation’s interests must not be distracted by propaganda and pressure from opportunists, self-seekers, rouble rousers and those who thrive and profit in big ways from state of anarchy. This is only possible if common Good overrides selfish, parochial and partisan interests.

    Otherwise, I wish President Yar’ adua a quick recovery.

  36. 37 Gary Paudler
    January 12, 2010 at 18:00

    The question should be “What do you do when a leader is not fit to govern?”. Brown and Sarkozy are in societies with clear rules regarding succession and the other leaders cited were unfit long before their health became an issue. To indulge your topic, let’s say that everybody in Egypt, Nigeria or North Korea agreed that Mubarak, Yar’Adua or Kim was unfit due to health reasons; then what? All of a sudden they find themselves in an orderly society with clear laws and democratic mechanisms? In each case – and many others – the nominal leader is surrounded by powerful men with every intention to retain their power regardless of who leads.

  37. 38 Ike Onwukanjo
    January 13, 2010 at 01:16

    I feel very sorry for the president poor health but then, he’s been selfish by hanging onto power even when he knows that he is not capable of running Nigeria. The president has not demonstrated statemanship nor patriotism for his country. The man is dying possibly bed ridden yet he is hanging onto power. Since his presidency, he has been frequenting different countries for medical treatment. He was governor for eight years, but failed woefully in establishing functioning medical center in his state that could address his medical condition. He has been president for about three years now yet he has not done any concrete thing in our health sector. When ever he cough, he is rushed to another country for checkup and treatment. This man is stupendously wasting our scarce resources on himself. I am completely disappointed by the president. Constitutionally, he knows the right thing to do but he has selfishly refused to do it. What is wrong in handing power over to his Vice until he is fit to administer the affairs of Nigeria. His action or inaction borders on hatefulness or disdain for either his Vice or for Nigeria. This man may end up as the most infamous Nigerian president. What a way to end up. The country is virtually in choas, and nothing works, issues that requires his attention is being neglected or at best put aside. The man doesn’t care about Nigeria, yet he want Nigerians to reason with him. What a shame, what a leader.

  38. 39 Patrick Agbobu
    January 20, 2010 at 18:12

    Thoes who make genuine democratic changes and processes imposible and fraudulently hyjack the democratic processes, make violent changes innevitable, desierable and fashionable. All we should ask and pray for is that the changes, will be patriotic, focussed, conclusive and brief.

  39. 40 Patrick Agbobu
    February 9, 2010 at 19:40

    If you make democratic change and process impossible, you make a violent change innevitable and desireable. If through injustice and abuse of power, one human being tries to tyrinise it over another, it is a power usurped from God and resistance is a prime duty. Injustice is a wrong and a wrong must be righted. All these were said by Edmund Burke hundreds of years ago, in support of the American war of independence. These statements were true then and are more through today. We should all pray and hope that the intervention, will be patrioltic, through, selfless and brief to bring in sanity to the polity.

  40. 41 Patrick Agbobu
    February 24, 2010 at 18:04

    Just imagine head lines like, Yar’Adua sneaks into Nigeria after being absent for more than 90 days. Mr. Yar’Adua the President of Nigeria. Shame on the so called political class, shame on the press, shame on all Nigerians. This can only happen in Nigeria and it is a great shame and disgrace..
    Voodoo nation, voodoo polititians, voodoo leaders, voodoo policies. Even the legislators, the press, the judiciary, have contributed greatly to this shenanighan. What are all these? Must everything in Nigeria, revolve around 419? The situation and health of the President, the 93 days absence from office, even the sudden arrival, at the early hours of the morning, the progress and situation reports, are all cloaked around 419 tactics. Nigerians where do we go from here? This is the very big question. Being economical with the truth is not an option and it is very unacceptable

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