George Oji| 4 March 2010| This Day (Lagos)|
Abuja — The much-anticipated voting by the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF), which would have declared President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua “incapacitated”, flopped yesterday.
Instead, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan warned ministers during the EXCOF meeting to work together in the national interest, threatening to dissolve the cabinet if he sees any sign of division along ethnic or sectional lines.
Reports had it yesterday and during the week that members of EXCOF were gearing to pass a vote against the ailing president by invoking Section 144 of the constitution.
Had the ministers gone ahead as expected, it would have set the ball in motion for the Senate President to empanel a medical team, including the president’s personal physician, to examine Yar’Adua and report back to the legislature for the next course of action.
Rather, the six-man team sent to Saudi Arabia submitted its report which was bereft of any information on the president’s medical situation, as this newspaper had already reported yesterday.
The decision to save Yar’Adua’s job was taken at several meetings held by the governors in Abuja on Tuesday, THISDAY has learnt.
At the meeting of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which was held at the Kwara State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja, the first person to speak was a governor from the South-south who set the tone for the discussion.
He reportedly said there was tension in the country and it was necessary for the governors to douse it “because it was wrong to think Yar’Adua had committed an offence by falling sick”, adding that the fact that he was sick should not be criminalised.
The governor said the move to remove Yar’Adua would backfire and was not in the interest of the nation.
Another South-south governor supported the position. He recounted how he had advised Jonathan not to be on the wrong side of history as someone who presided over an executive council meeting that initiated the removal of his principal on account of his ill-health.
He told the meeting: “I told Jonathan to weigh all the consequences, especially with regards to the peace and stability of Nigeria.”
To buttress their position, a governor from the North was said to have declared Jonathan as “politically naïve” for failing to understand the complexities and sensitivities in Nigeria.
“First, he picked a 26-man advisory board without input from any governor or the party. Then he went and appointed a Northern Christian (Gen. T.Y. Danjuma) as chairman and another Christian from the South (Prof. Ben Nwabueze) as deputy chairman.
“Is this how Jonathan wants to rule Nigeria?” the governor asked, noting that some of the members of the body were their political enemies.
Two ministers – Ojo Maduekwe and Dora Akunyili – were also said to have been condemned by the governors for not handling the situation with political maturity.
Most of the governors were of the opinion that the duo had overstepped their bounds and could not recall when a government official launched an attack on the same government she is serving and ridiculed the person and family of the president.
During the meeting, the international dimension was also brought to the fore. It was pointed out that the United States that had become involved had some sinister motives because in its own history, a president was sick for two years with the First Lady ruling the country, while she kept her husband away from the vice-president and other officials.
“This was what led to the 25th Amendment of the American Constitution,” explained one source.
Before the meeting wrapped up, another South-south governor said the position of the South-south on the issue had been made clear two weeks ago and he read it out, and it was unanimously adopted by all the governors.
The governors were mandated to ask the ministers from their states not to vote on the health of the President. Most of the ministers were nominated by their governors.
Rising from their meeting, the governors later met with Jonathan at his Aguda House residence Tuesday night and advised him to perish the thought of removing Yar’Adua on account of ill-health.
The governors also complained to him over some of the decisions he had taken without consultation and implored him to carry everyone along if he wanted to succeed as Acting President.
They told him Yar’Adua remains the president until he recovers fully and returns to office, and assured him of their support in his capacity as acting president.
One factor that counted in Yar’Adua’s favour is that he has a good relationship with the governors, especially those from the South-south. All the South-east governors are also said to be behind him as demonstrated by their communiqué when he was in Saudi Arabia. Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos is also said to be close to Yar’Adua. Jonathan, on the other hand, does not enjoy that kind of relationship with any of the governors.
Meanwhile, key figures in the North had become very uncomfortable with the sectional coloration being introduced to the political crisis, especially the pronouncement and moves being made by Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, and a retired general of Ijaw origin, in their support for Jonathan, another Ijaw man.
“They began to paint the picture that they were about to take over the country and ‘deal’ with the rest of us. It was frightening,” a source in the know told THISDAY.
Clark had been making statements against the army, in the light of the deployment of troops without Jonathan’s approval on the day Yar’Adua arrived from Saudi Arabia.
The source explained: “Clark said the Chief of Army Staff should be sacked. That is the only Northern Muslim who is a service chief. This sent the wrong message to other sections of the country.
“The Ijaw general, who is very close to Jonathan and is probably acting as his adviser, was also busy sending threatening text messages to some northern generals.
“To compound matters, the Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili, also said Nigerians should rise against the army. At a time internet andtext messages were being passed around that Jonathan was ready to retire top Northern generals, Akunyili’s statement was seen as the evidence.
“All these helped to galvanise prominent Northern leaders that this was beyond the health of the President; that it was an agenda to wrest power from Yar’Adua for some sinister end. Northerners, including legislators and governors, had no other option than to rally behind Yar’Adua to counter the attacks being launched by Clark.”
Also on the cabinet level, Akunyili was perceived as “outshining” the other ministers who were also in support of the removal of the President.
A minister said yesterday: “Dora inadvertently courted envy as she was being portrayed as the only principled minister, while some ministers believed her utterances were undignifying.”
As developments snowballed out of proportion, elderly members led by Chief Uffot Ekaete, Godwin Abbe, Sam Egwu, Mustapha Mungono and Rilwanu Lukman reportedly met on Tuesday.
It was decided among them that there was a need to meet the acting president to inform him to take charge, that the campaign launched by Akunyili was hurting the government and the nation, and would be counterproductive.
Among the ministers, there was the strong belief that while some ministers were reacting to public pressure to invoke Section 144, they suspected that they did not have the numbers (29 ministers are needed) to get the requisite vote through.
The lawyers among them also argued that “permanent incapacitation” would be difficult to prove. The constitutional provision has always been seen as defective and a journey that would reach a dead end.
THISDAY had last Tuesday reported the dilemma that the National Assembly may face in the event that the president’s personal physician and family fail to cooperate with any medical team set up to examine the health of the president.
Meanwhile, the six-member EXCOF team that travelled to Saudi Arabia to see Yar’Adua and King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last week ended up being received by the Saudi Arabian Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal.
Members of the team included the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Health Minister Professor Osotimehin, Foreign Affairs Minister Chief Maduekwe, Petroleum Minister Dr. Lukman, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Adekotunbo Kayode and Agriculture Minister, Dr. Abba Ruma.
Apart from visiting President Yar’Adua, the delegation was also delegated to convey the appreciation of the government and the people of Nigeria to the Saudi Monarch for the care and support given to the president.
Leader of the team, Ahmed, while presenting the report of the trip to EXCOF, stated that prior to their arrival, the Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminchi, had secured an appointment for them to be received by the Foreign Affairs Minister of that country.
According to Ahmed, “preparatory to this visit, the acting president had addressed a letter to the Royal Majesty, King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, introducing the delegation as a special envoy from the presidency.
“In the letter, the acting president conveyed the profound appreciation and deep gratitude of the government and the entire people of Nigeria to the king, for the kindness, hospitality, fraternal care and excellent facilities extended to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
“The delegation reported that they departed Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, in the early hours of Tuesday, 23rd February 2010, some minutes after midnight.
“On their arrival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, they were received by the Nigerian Ambassador, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminchi and the Royal Protocol Personnel and driven straight to the Conference Palace, where they were accommodated.”
Ahmed further explained that when it became apparent that there was no arrangement for the team to visit the King himself, they decided to deliver the letter for onward transmission to King Abdul-Aziz.
Thereafter, Ahmed said: “The Nigerian Ambassador, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminchi, informed the delegation that he had received information that President Yar’Adua had been discharged and was on his way back to Abuja.
“From all indications, the president must have departed Jeddah Airport at about 10pm, Saudi time on Tuesday 23rd February 2010.”
According to the SGF, “with news that the president had left Saudi Arabia for Nigeria, the delegation did not consider it necessary to proceed to Jeddah, where the president was hospitalized.
“Accordingly, they decided to return to Nigeria. The delegation departed Riyadh at about 5.30am on Wednesday 24th February 2010 and arrived Abuja at about 10.30am.”
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