Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nigeria News Bulletin: President Yar'Adua Returns From Saudi Arabia

Yar’Adua Arrives

From Paul Ibe and George Oji in Abuja, 02.24.2010
Nigeria ThisDay

Exactly three months after he left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, in a most dramatic twist, returned to the country in the early hours of today.

THISDAY learnt that the President, whose prolonged absence had generated considerable heat in the polity, left Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at 8.22pm Nigerian time last night and arrived at 1.46am today.

About 30 minutes to his arrival, the source of power supply to the airport was switched from public to generator.

After the first, small aircraft arrived, another one, a bigger aircraft, landed a few minutes later. Both were unusually parked on the runway - virtually in the bush - instead of the parking area, for a very long time. It was not clear which of the two aircraft carried the President as the entire area was covered in darkness.

An ambulance was seen moving towards the two aircraft shortly after the arrival of the second one. A bus also moved in a few minutes later.

At the airport to receive Yar'Adua were Governors Isa Yuguda (Bauchi), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina) and Namadi Sambo (Kaduna). They had earlier met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Dimeji Bankole, at his residence in Abuja.
Soldiers were deployed on the route from the airport to the Presidential Villa. They all took strategic positions, fully armed. The trucks that conveyed them bore the sign of Brigade of Guards.

THISDAY learnt that all the soldiers, who came in two companies, were asked to drop their phones, thereby rendering them incommunicado.

Airport staff were also ordered out of the presidential wing as soldiers took over the place. The only thing that could be gleaned from the aircraft was the flashing beacons.

At 2.56 am, the ambulance left while a convoy of about eight cars drove towards the aircraft. After 3am, the cars left the airport. They drove at moderate speed on the way to Aso Rock. There were about 16 cars in the convoy that headed for town.

The presidential jet eventually moved to park at its usual place at 3.20am while the unmarked smaller aircraft, presumed to be an air ambulance, also parked at 3.25am.

Yar'Adua returned to the country in company with his wife, Turai; his Chief Security Officer, Yusufu Tilde; and Aide-de-Camp, Col. Mustapha Onoedieva.

The President’s return came as a complete surprise as the public had no prior notice or indication to that effect. The six-man ministerial team set up by the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) to pay him a visit only left for Saudi Arabia Monday night.

A source said yesterday that the ministers flew directly to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, and met with a representative of the King, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, to “express deep appreciation for the excellent and generous attention the government and people of Saudi have given to the President”.

However, before the team could move to Jeddah – about one and a half hours by flight from Riyadh – the President had begun his journey back to Nigeria.

There were unconfirmed reports, however, that Yar’Adua flew in an air ambulance provided by the King of Saudi Arabia.

The presidential jet that flew him out of the country on November 23, 2009, was still at the Jeddah International Airport after he left, but it was believed to have taken off shortly after.

The air ambulance had been on standby for the past five days to bring the President back, THISDAY learnt, and airport authorities in Nigeria had been put on alert in the last two days to prepare for his return.

Members of the ministerial team, namely the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed; Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman; Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN); Agriculture Minister, Dr. Abba Ruma; and Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, are expected to return to Nigeria this morning straight from Riyadh.

Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Abdullah Garba Aminchi, had said on Monday that doctors were preventing visitors from having access to Yar’Adua.

Aminchi said he himself had visited Yar'Adua on Saturday and that the condition of the president was improving after treatment for a heart ailment.

"I saw him the day before yesterday... He's really feeling better now," Aminchi had told AFP

Yar’adua is back

Written by Theophilus Abbah & Nasir L. Abubakar
Nigerian Daily Trust
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 03:12

President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s long medical sojourn in Saudi Arabia ended early this morning when two planes landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. While the first plane, an air ambulance, landed at 1.47am, a second one, the presidential aircraft, landed at 1.54am. As soon as the first plane landed, the small convoy of cars already waiting at the Presidential Lounge drove to the tarmac and came to a stop near it. There were about five cars, one of which was a Ford ambulance recently acquired by the State House.

Soon after the two planes landed, Daily Trust learnt that a large group of security agents and Foreign Ministry protocol officials who moved towards them were chased away by presidential bodyguards. Only a handful of bodyguards and the planes’ crew members were allowed near the planes as the president alighted, so it was not clear whether he walked into the waiting cars or was helped into them. The scene was also dark, but the ambulance was seen moving towards the parked planes.

Yar’adua had been away from the country for 90 days. He had earlier departed Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at 9pm Nigerian time [11pm local Saudi time] last night in a convoy of three different aircraft.

Indications that Yar’adua was about to depart the Saudi Kingdom first became manifest yesterday when a long convoy of royal cars and police escort vehicles were seen at the Royal Guest House in Jeddah, where he had been recuperating for several weeks since he left the King Faisal Hospital in December. At around 7pm Nigerian time yesterday, the convoy drove out to the airport, and two hours later the president’s plane departed for Nigeria.

Signs of his return however became more visible as the night wore on, and our reporters saw columns of soldiers with armoured personnel carriers taking positions at Wuse, at the intersection between the Airport Road and Olusegun Obasanjo Way. Our reporters also saw a small convoy of cars sweeping into the airport’s presidential wing at about 11pm. It included a Ford ambulance.

Yar’adua’s return plans were a tightly-kept secret, as several government officials said last night that they were unaware of the president’s impending return. However, there were indications that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s office got wind of them, because some items on his itinerary for today were hastily cancelled. Jonathan’s office had earlier invited media chiefs from all over the country to dine with him in Abuja tonight, but late in the afternoon yesterday, officials called and cancelled the dinner without advancing any reasons. Earlier yesterday, Jonathan held a long meeting with Niger Delta community leaders and state governors, following which he suspended the on-going Niger River dredging project.

Daily Trust also learnt that the 6-man delegation of Federal Ministers that arrived in Jeddah early in the morning yesterday delivered the Nigerian government’s letter of thanks to the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. The letter, addressed to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, thanked him for his generous hospitality to Yar’adua while the treatment lasted.

However, the ministers’ plans to fly on to Jeddah to see Yar’adua were aborted when they heard that the ailing president was already on his way to the airport, on his way home. The ministers then quickly changed their plans and are expected to return to the country this morning, in time for today’s meeting of the Federal Executive Council, likely to be chaired by Yar’adua himself.

The ministerial delegation, led by Foreign Affairs Minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe, comprised Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, Health Minister Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, Petroleum Minister Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, Agriculture Minister Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma as well as Attorney General and Minister of Justice Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN. Their trip was at the behest of the FEC, which directed them on Wednesday last week to undertake the trip, officially billed to thank the Saudi King and to see Yar’adua. Many observers however saw it as the first step in invoking Section 144 of the Constitution to declare Yar’adua permanently incapacitated from holding his office.

Yar’adua had been out of the country since November 23, last year when he left for Jeddah to treat an ailment later described as pericarditis, or inflammation of the heart’s linings. The president also has a long history of kidney disease. Two weeks ago, when Yar’adua failed to transmit a letter of medical vacation, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution recognising Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President. He is expected to relinquish the role today with Yar’adua’s return.

Yar’Adua Returns Home

By Sunny Igboanugo and Rafiu Ajakaye, Lagos
Nigeria Daily Independent

President Umaru Yar’Adua flew out of Jeddah on Tuesday night to return to the saddle in Nigeria, against all expectations, and with mum still the word from his close associates in the saga of three months that has kept Nigeria on edge.

The plane conveying Yar’Adua, who left the country on November 23 last year for medical treatment, touched down at the the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja at about 3 a.m.

The jet left Jeddah International Airport with him and his entourage at about 11 p.m. (Saudi time), two hours ahead of Nigeria for the six-hour flight.

He shunned his own Presidential aircraft that took him out of the country for one provided by the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah bin Abdul Aziz, with his family members and security details.

He left ahead of the six members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) team which travelled out of Nigeria on Monday to visit him at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah.

The Ministerial team was said to have first gone to Riyadh to meet with Aziz, but was met instead by the Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister because protocol stipulates five days’ notice to meet him.

The team, according to sources, had no choice but to deliver a letter from Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to the Minister for onward transmission to Aziz before it went on to Jeddah to meet with Yar’Adua.

The letter thanked Aziz for his hospitality and generosity, and for taking good care of Yar’Adua, but also explained the concern of the Nigerian Government and the people over their inability to reach their President in the last three months, and therefore asked the Saudi Government to provide them access to him.

The Ministerial team was expected to also leave the country at midnight (Saudi time) back home to enable the members attend today’s EXCOF meeting in order to brief the cabinet and Jonathan on the true health situation of Yar'Adua.

Daily Independent reliably gathered that the team did not meet Yar'Adua, who was already airborne when it arrived Jeddah.

Events before and after the President's trip had been steeped in controversy and drama that left the country totally nonplussed, bruised and in clear danger following agitations from several quartres.

In the weeks before November 23, 2009, attention was completely turned to the National Assembly where a superiority contest was taking place – a debate on which Chamber should host the President to present the 2010 Appropriation Bill.

That left the President himself almost completely out of national gaze.

Yar’Adua then gave the lawmakers an ultimatum to resolve their rift or have the Bill sent to them, without the honour of having him laying it before them, as has been the convention for the few years of democracy since Independence in 1960.

Lawyers and laymen alike disagreed on the legality of the President not appearing in person to read the budget, but most legal minds quickly dismissed the debate as unnecessary and blamed the disruption (of the convention) on the bickering of lawmakers. The President’s Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Muhammed Abba-Aji, laid the bill before each arm of the parliament.

But the jetting out of Yar’Adua to Saudi Arabia on Monday, November 23, promptly brought out a theory that the superiority contest must have been provoked to achieve a purpose: shielding the consistently worsening health condition of Yar’Adua from public gaze. Budget presentation, a ritual that may last well over an hour, could have confirmed the long-held rumour that Yar’Adua was so weak and lean he could no longer stand for more than 30 minutes.

The Presidential Spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, merely issued a statement announcing Yar’Adua was going on a medical vacation, again provoking a debate and pressure on the government to say exactly the state of Mr. President’s health. This debate was followed by a rumour about 78 hours later that the President had died in a Saudi hospital.

This rumour prompted Adeniyi to, on November 25, issue a statement announcing that the President is suffering from Acute Pericarditis”, an inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart, but is fast recuperating. He lamented the death rumour. Adeniyi was reading to reporters a statement from Yar’Adua’s Personal Physician, Dr. Salisu Banye. And so Rock confirmed for the first time since the uproar that the President was at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

With doctors acknowledging how grave the President’s condition is, Nigerians called on him to write the National Assembly empowering his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, to be Acting President.

But if the secrecy with which the issue has been handled angered most Nigerians, quite a number of pressing issues worsened the anger.

The gradual collapse of the amnesty deal in the Niger Delta, the budget impasse, and the December 25 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft by a 23-year-old Nigerian and the subsequent listing of Nigeria among “countries of interest” by the United States brought to the fore the need for an active President, strong enough to steer the ship of Nigeria.

With the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) turning down calls to declare the President unfit and clear the way for Jonathan to take charge, Nigerians of varied background came under different umbrellas to ratchet up the pressure. This took various forms, including street protests and press conferences, all directed at getting Yar’Adua to hand over power. The country has since recorded a chain of events, including court declarations and National Assembly resolutions. They are as follows:

On January 5, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took the Federal Government to court, and prayed the latter to compel the EXCOF to act appropriately

On January 12, Yar’Adua broke his silence in a two-minute interview with the British Broadcatsing Corpoiration (BBC), during which he thanked Nigerians for their prayers, urged on the Super Eagles then at the Nations Cup, but sidestepped the issue of the listing of Nigeria among terrorist countries and its impacts on her citizens worldwide

On January 13, a Federal High Court in Abuja declared that Goodluck is empowered by the Constitution to exercise, in the absence of Yar’Adua, all the powers vested in him, including signing of sensitive documents, so far such powers are delegated to him. The presiding high court judge, Justice Dan Abutu, made the pronouncement while interpreting the meanings and intendments of sections 5(1) and 148 (1) of the 1999 constitution in a suit brought by a lawyer, Mr. Christopher Onwuekwe.

Also on January 13, the House of Representatives resolved to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to see the President. The team returned without seeing him

On January 28, the same court ruled that Jonathan can carry out presidential duties, as delegated by Yar’Adua, but can’t be Acting President until conditions precedent are satisfied, that is Yar’Adua must transmit letter.

On January 21, the same Justice Abutu ordered the EXCOF to investigate the state of health of President Umaru Yar’Adua and pass a resolution within 14 days. He gave the verdict in a suit filed by former House of Representatives Minority Leader, Farouk Aliyu, and Jigawa State Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chairman, Sani Gabbas. He, however, held that: “The Court certainly has no power to declare the president permanently incapacitated as the body vested with such powers in line with Section 144, is the Executive Council of the Federation. The Court cannot usurp the power of the Executive Council of the Federation.”

On January 22, former President Olusegun Obasanjo denied imposing Yar’Adua on the country and called on the ailing President to stand down – a call greeted by criticism from the PDP and opposition which accused the former President of deceit

On January 27, the Senate urged Yar’Adua to transmit letter announcing his medical vacation

January 29, former President Shehu Shagari and other elder statesmen urged Yar’Adua to transmit letter and asked the lawmakers to save the country

On February 3, Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, submitted a memo to EXCOF urging it to pass a resolution making Jonathan the Acting President – a step that drew nationwide applause and polarised the federal cabinet

On February 4, following claims and counter claims that Yar’Adua may have written a letter announcing his vacation and directing that Jonathan be made Acting President, Abba-Aji denied possession of such letter

On February 8, the ruling PDP sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia to ascertain the state of the President’s health. It returned without seeing Yar’Adua

On February 9, the National Assembly passed separate resolutions empowering Jonathan to be Acting President

On February 10, the EXCOF said it was in full support of the National Assembly resolution and pledged support for the Acting President

Also on February 10, Jonathan made a slight cabinet reshuffle removing Michael Aondoakaa as the AGF/Justice Minister and redeployed him to Special Duties Ministry.

On February 17, the EXCOF set up a six-man committee to visit Yar’Adua, probably setting the ground for the setting up of a medical panel to ascertain the true state of his health.

Reps raise alarm over economy

Nigeria Daily Champion

The House of Representatives yesterday rejected claims by the executive that the 2009 budget can not be fully implemented on account of inadequate funding arising from dwindling oil revenue due to militants attacks in the Niger Delta.

It raised alarm that the country’s economy would suffer if the country continues to depend solely on crude oil.

The lawmakers’ stand was contained in a report jointly signed by the chairmen of House committees on appropriation and that of finance, Ayo Adesanya and John Enoh respectively, which was made available to the Daily Champion at the weekend.

Eziuche Ubani who briefed newsmen on the activities of the committees said the country might be in trouble if we continue to depend on crude oil because America that imports 25 per cent of our crude oil is looking for other sources of energy generation. He said other countries of Western Europe may emulate the United States (US).

"Therefore, we should begin to look for other sources to make money apart from crude oil, it is high time we stop depending on oil money if we want to be serious," he said.

Ubani also implored President Umaru Yar’Adua to pay much attention to climate change saying, "we are the one that climate change will affect because of the problem of poverty we face in our continent. It is very necessary to pay much attention to it because other developed countries do it".

He urged the Speaker to write to the president on the need to pay much attention to it adding that we need comprehensive climate change bill in Nigeria.

"We want to drive this thing from the highest corridor of power," he stated.

In another development the Chairman House Committee on Constituency Outreach, Hon. Muhammed Bawa said the Federal Government has provided N30 million for the consistency project in 2009.

He said money will not be given to members even-though they will choose areas in which they want the project to be done in their various consistencies.

He however said they have not embarked on 2009 project as at present because the 2008 project was still on course, saying about N2.9billion has been released to about 1068 contractors to start working but some can do it due to logistic problem and we have decided to give the contract to capable contractors.

Ailing president returns

By Terfa Tilley-Gyado
Nigeria Next
February 24, 2010 05:30AM

Three months after leaving Nigeria to receive medical treatment for a heart condition, President Umaru Yar’Adua shocked the nation by returning home in the early hours of today. A patient at the King Faisal hospital in Jeddah for 92 days, Mr. Yar’Adua was finally removed from his bed on Tuesday and taken aboard an Abuja bound flight at about 2100 Saudi time.

Two planes, one of them an air ambulance, landed in the presidential wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja within ten minutes of each other and it is believed that the president was on board the first one which landed at 0145 hours.

A presidential convoy, including the Ford intensive care ambulance, was at the airport waiting to meet him. It is doubtful if the president has recovered from his illness and sources at the airport were unable to confirm what kind of condition he was in when he landed. Soldiers prevented journalists from going anywhere near the aircraft and the homecoming was without ceremony.

An airport employee who works as a ground staff said quite unusually, the planes disembarked at a secluded part of the runway.

“That is not where they normally land even when it is a presidential flight,“ he said. “The place they landed is as if they don’t want anybody to see them at all.”

The floodlights on the tarmac were also dimmed in the section the planes landed which made it difficult to make out the figures that alighted from the planes. It appeared though that Mr. Yar’Adua was moved directly into the ambulance.

There had been some signs that the president was returning to the country. Two of Mr. Yar’Adua’s daughters, Aisha Yar’Adua and Mariam Badamasi Kabir, both returned to Nigeria last weekend and this fuelled speculation that the president would soon be coming back. Both daughters had spent the most of the past three months in Jeddah with their ailing father.

Sources within the state house in Aso Rock also revealed that the past two days had seen some increased activity in the presidential quarters. On Tuesday, there was a high level of military presence at both the airport and within the federal capital territory.

Nigerian president 'returns home'

Ailing Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has returned home secretly after three months' medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, reports say.

A plane landed from Jeddah at the presidential wing of Abuja airport in the middle of the night, where an ambulance was waiting on the tarmac.

Earlier this month, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan became acting leader as fears mounted of a power vacuum.

Mr Yar'Adua had been suffering from a heart condition and kidney problems.

There has been no official confirmation of his return, although Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed government source as saying: "He just landed at Abuja airport on a Saudi plane escorted by the presidential plane. He is on his way to the [presidential] villa now."

His state of health is unclear, and it is not known whether he wants to return to his post.

Soldiers were reported to be lining the main road from the airport to the city.

A delegation of Nigerian ministers had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Monday for an update on Mr Yar'Adua's health.

They had been expected to report back to a weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and reports suggest they arrived back on another plane shortly after that thought to be carrying the ailing leader.

The BBC's Ahmed Idris in Abuja says the next three or four hours will be crucial, as Nigerians wait to see whether the president himself turns up to the cabinet meeting.

If he does not appear, questions will be asked as to whether Mr Yar'Adua is fit enough to resume his duties.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/02/24 04:14:57 GMT

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