Thursday, February 25, 2010

Confusion Trails Nigerian President's Return

Confusion Trails Yar’Adua’s Return

•President Fails To Attend EXCOF Meeting
•Continue Performing State Duties, He Tells Jonathan
•We’re Not Aware Of His Return, Say Senators
•Yar’Adua’s Return May Fuel Uncertainty – U.S.

By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Chesa Chesa, Joe Nwankwo, Otei Oham, Rotimi Akinwumi (Abuja), Paul Arhewe, Rafiu Ajakaye and Wale Igbintade (Lagos)
Nigerian Daily Independent

TRUE to prediction, the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua from a three-month medical treatment in Saudi Arabia is creating ripples and confusion in Aso Rock, coupled with his refusal to recognise his Deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, as Acting President.

Yar’Adua is still indisposed and has admitted that he cannot perform the functions of his office.

Senators said they have not been officially informed of his return, and a chorus of opinion leaders – among them the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), and the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) – insisted on Wednesday that Jonathan remains Acting President.

America warned that Yar’Adua’s return while unable to carry out his duties as President could fuel uncertainty.

Jonathan declined to preside over Wednesday’s meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) and instead met in camera with Ministers in his office.

A statement issued by Yar’Adua’s Spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi, confirmed that Yar’Adua returned to the Villa from his hospital bed in Jeddah after being discharged by doctors.

The statement referred to Jonathan as Vice President, not Acting President.

However, it thanked him for “competently overseeing the affairs of state in (Yar’Adua’s) absence,” and asked him to continue to do so until Yar’Adua fully recovers.

“(Yar’Adua) wishes to express his profound gratitude to all Nigerians for their prayers for his recovery, their exceptional generosity of spirit and their appreciation of the fact that all mortals are subject to the vagaries of ill-health,” the statement added.

“(He) is grateful to the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, for competently overseeing the affairs of state in his absence.

“(He) also wishes to thank the President of the Senate, (David Mark), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the entire membership of the National Assembly (NASS), the Governors’ Forum, the judiciary, the Armed Forces, and other security agencies, former Heads of State and other eminent Nigerians for their roles in maintaining order and stability during his absence.

“(Yar’Adua) wishes to reassure all Nigerians that on account of their unceasing prayers, and by the special grace of God, his health has greatly improved.

“However, while the President completes his recuperation, Vice President Jonathan will continue to oversee the affairs of state.”

Nevertheless, after waiting anxiously for two hours, EXCOF members who gathered at about 10 a.m. for a meeting – staying glued to their seats instead of engaging in their usual back slapping greetings – were asked to return to their offices and show up later for a special meeting with Jonathan.

No reason was given for the cancellation, but it may be connected with the confusion in Aso Rock as Jonathan and most Ministers were not privy to the plan by Yar’Adua’s men to bring him back to the country without allowing the EXCOF delegation sent to Saudi Arabia to do so.

Besides, it is not clear if Jonathan will be allowed to continue to sit on the Presidential seat emblazoned with the Coat of Arms in front of the national and Armed Forces flags, to preside over the EXCOF meeting, as he did in the past two weeks.

Yar’Adua remains incommunicado as Jonathan made unsuccessful efforts to see him before the aborted EXCOF meeting.

The meeting usually starts at 10 a.m., but at 12:10 p.m., the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Yayale Ahmed, walked in and announced that attendance was mandatory at the special meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. with Ministers at the Vice President’s Conference Room.

Emerging from the meeting, which lasted about 10 minutes, Information and Communications Minister, Dora Akunyili, told reporters that Jonathan briefed the cabinet on the return of Yar’Adua and that he would later in the day go over to see his wife, Turai.

She said Jonathan acknowledged that he would continue to attend to state matters until Yar’Adua fully recovers, and that he has been briefed by the President’s aides on latest developments.

Her words: “He (Jonathan) told us that (Yar’Adua) has returned, he has been briefed by the President’s aides and that he hopes to see (Turai) this evening, and that we meet next week, we will be briefed on the outcome of the Saudi trip by the members of Council.

“And that when he is eventually briefed by (Yar’Adua) he will call us again.”

However, Senators declared that they are unaware of Yar’Adua’s return, and pressed that he must follow procedure and officially inform the National Assembly (NASS) that he is back to duty.

“I am not aware that the President is back because as a Senator I know that there are procedures and if he is back it should be announced on the floor of the Senate that he is back,” riposted Smart Adeyemi, the Chairman of the Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs Committee.

Works Committee Chairman, Festus Olabode Ola, said the Senate cannot be guided by newspaper reports, and insisted that Yar’Adua must comply with the Constitution by officially writing a letter to the NASS on his return.

Capital Market Committee Chairman, Mohammed Bello, maintained that the Senate stands by the NASS resolution of February 9 which mandated Yar’Adua to comply with Section 145 of the Constitution on his return.

Asked if he knew of Yar’Adua’s return, States and Local Government Committee Chairman, Sahabi Ya’u, replied: “We are not aware.”

George Sekibo, Solid Minerals Committee Chairman, insisted that, “We will not act on rumours because there have been so many rumours. Our resolution is clear.”

But the PDP noted in a statement that Yar’Adua’s return shows that the prayers by Nigerians for his recovery have been answered by God.

“We therefore rejoice with our fellow citizens for this unique favour done to us by the Almighty God. We wish to specially congratulate Acting President Goodluck Jonathan for successfully holding forth the ship of state while Yar’Adua was away,” the statement said.

In his reaction, however, NBA President, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, asked Yar’Adua to resign if he is not well enough to resume his duties as President.

“The Acting President remains Jonathan until the President transmits a letter to the (NASS) informing it that he is back and well enough to resume his duties as President,” Akeredolu argued in a telephone interview.

“If the President feels that he is not strong enough to continue as President, the right thing for him to do is to resign. If he is not strong enough, Nigerians should appeal to him to resign, and not to disrupt the present equilibrium.”

Akeredolu also maintained at a press conference in Abuja that Jonathan is still in charge of the government until Yar’adua physically presents himself to the nation and formally informs the NASS of his return.

“We have seen from reports in the press that (Yar’Adua) came back under the cover of darkness with all the lights at the airport turned off, and soldiers taking over the entire environment.

"We have not seen him, and I heard that not even journalists who were there were allowed to see him."

CNPP National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, also decried the way Yar’Adua was flown back to the country, saying the secrecy demonstrates that he is incapable of ruling.

Okechukwu reiterated that, “We are yet to see any photograph of Yar’Adua in any news media, whether local or foreign, since his return. How come that the media were cordoned off from the precincts of his arrival? We demand to see our President.

“The CNPP calls on (his) handlers to allow us to see our dear President, and join us in appealing to him to honourably resign and save the country from divided government and its attendant instability.”

The SNG asked the cabinet to declare Yar’Adua incapacitated, as stipulated in Section 144 of the Constitution, and dismissed as primitive the manner he was smuggled back into the country on Wednesday morning.

It said in a statement that it welcomes Yar’Adua back, but he should address a joint session of the NASS, broadcast live on television, to enable Nigerians determine whether he is fit enough to govern.

“As citizens of Nigeria, we deplore in the strongest terms the way Yar’Adua was smuggled into the country like a piece of contraband in the dead of the night and through mafia tactics by his kidnappers," the statement added.

“The reported parking of the aircraft that brought him in a bush path further showed that the cabal has no respect for Yar’Adua and would not give him the amount of care a sick dog deserves from the owner for as long as they use his sick body to feather their nests.

A statement issued by the United States Assistant Secretary of State,Johnnie Carson, expressed hope that Yar’Adua’s health “is sufficient to enable him to fully resume his official duties” because “Nigeria needs a strong, healthy, and effective leader to ensure the stability of the country and to manage Nigeria’s many political, economic, and security challenges."

Carson said reports continue to suggest that Yar’Adua’s health remains fragile and that he may still be unable to fulfill the demands of his office.

“We hope that (his) return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria’s stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process.

“Nigeria is an extraordinarily important country to its friends and partners, and all of those in positions of responsibility should put (Yar’Adua’s) health and the best interests of the country and people of Nigeria above personal ambition or gain.

“As a nation of 150 million people, Nigeria’s democracy and its continued adherence to constitutional rule should be the highest priority.”

In any case, the Senate on Wednesday concluded the amendment of Sections 145 and 190 of the Constitution, a legislative record and a first since 1999.

More than the required two thirds passed the changes, which make it mandatory for the President to inform the NASS in writing whenever he is going on vacation.

Should he fail to do so within two weeks of his vacation, the NASS would empower the Vice President to become Acting President by a simple majority.

Likewise, a Governor has to inform the state House of Assembly of his vacation, and failure to do so within 14 days, the Assembly would empower the Deputy Governor to act as Governor by a simple majority.

The amendments would be transmitted to the state Assemblies for approval after the concurrence from the House of Representatives.

Two-thirds or 24 of the 36 state Assemblies are required to pass the amendments.

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