By Emmanuel Aziken, Victor Ahiuma-Young & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Abujaâ€”President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua could well spend one year or more abroad recovering his health as there is no constitutional limitation on his absence from the country, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, declared yesterday.
Ekweremaduâ€™s declaration came against the background of enquiries by United States officials on the health status of the President and its implication on the Nigerian nation.
Senator Ekweremadu spoke with Senate correspondents after meetings between senior Senate officials and the United States Council of Foreign Relations in Washington D.C.
The meeting was originally devoted to on-going moves to review the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, but dovetailed towards discussions on the health of Yarâ€˜Adua.
Ekweremadu told correspondents that the American officials were assured of complete harmony in Nigeria despite the medical evacuation of the Nigerian leader to a Saudi hospital.
Meantime, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Micheal Aondoakaa (SAN), and the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), converted a valedictory session in honour of the retired president of the Appeal Court, Justice Umar Abdullahi, into a verbal battle ground over a speech accredited to the NBA President, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), which implored President Yarâ€™Adua to resign from office in view of his failing health.
Also, the former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has called for caution in comments on the President’s health, saying Nigerians should be mindful of the integrity of the country and the sovereignty of God concerning the health of men while Edo State Governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia and former Presidential aspirant, OwelleÂ Rochas Okorocha, at a forum, alleged that the hawks in the Presidency whose major aim was to create political instability in the country, were the brains behind the call for President Yarâ€™Adua to resign over his health condition
There were also knocks for the way the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and the National Assembly reacted to the call for the President to quit.
While the Action Congress (AC), described as unprincipled, self-serving and predictable the stand taken by FEC on the issue, former Presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said the reaction of the Federal Government, as conveyed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, and the National Assembly to the call by some eminent Nigerians for the Yar’Adua to resign as a result of his illness was unfortunate and uncalled for.
Ekweremadu on Presidentâ€™s stay abroad
Asked by correspondents on how long the President could stay abroad, Senator Ekweremadu said, yesterday: â€œThe Constitution did not make provision for how long a President can stay out of the country and then he will would lose his job. There is no such provision in our constitution. So, if he spends one year abroad, of course, you have a Vice-President, who will be acting in his place.
â€œThe Constitution did not say if he spends one month or one day or one week, then you lose your job, there is no such provision. But I donâ€™t think there is anything for any person to worry about and that is why it is good to always create a system.â€™â€™
â€œNow, nobody is bigger than a system. So, if we have a system that is running, even if the President is not there, hopefully I am sure that things will move normally. In most of the instances I mentioned, the President was away for nearly one year.
”In fact, in the case of Lenin in the USSR, the government took a decision that he would work only for 10 minutes in a day. And, when he insisted on working beyond that period, they called the attention of his wife to the decision and said that she has to do everything to ensure that the decision is complied with, that he works for only 10 minutes. In fact, they said that they were going to get another wife for him, if she fails to ensure that that happens.
â€œYou see, when you are talking about a mandate given to a President , you treat it with every caution. It is not a flimsy excuse to say that someone is ill, anybody can be ill, and then you say the President should resign or lose his office.
This is a collective mandate given to him by over 140 million people.Â So, for somebody to surrender it, something serious must have happened.â€
Noting the interest of the Americans during the interaction, Ekweremadu said:
â€Interestingly, the matter also came up during the discussion with the Council of Foreign Relations. They looked forward to a specific answer from me, but I took time to explain to them the issues concerning life and death in Africa. For us, life is sacrosanct and, we deal with life very respectfully.
â€œBeyond that, matters concerning presidential illness is something that is handled with utmost care not just in Nigeria but all over the world including America and I took time to explain to them; I gave them a brief history of Presidential ailments across the globe and how countries have been quite reluctant to ease out a sitting President on account of ill-health.
â€œSo, Nigeria is not the first country where we have a President that is ill while in office. It has happened severally across the world and I am not aware of any of such circumstances where the President was forced to resign or pushed out of office.
â€œAnd, I took time to explain to them even in their own country how America had handled such circumstances beginning from 1919 when Dr. Woodrow Wilson took ill after theÂ World War 1, he went to Germany and signed a treaty with Germans, when he returned he had stroke. And, for six months, he did not attend council. He was not removed. He was not replaced,â€ Ekweremadu said yesterday.
NBA,Â Aondoakaa disagree
The recent call from some quarters for the resignation of the President, yesterday, got an added piquancy, as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Micheal Aondoakaa (SAN), and the leadership of the NBA, converted a valedictory session in honour of the retired president of the Appeal Court, Justice Umar Abdullahi, into a verbal battle ground over a speech accredited to the NBA President, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), which implored President Yarâ€™Adua to resign from office in view of his failing health.
Akeredolu, who though indisposed to attend the event which took place at the Abuja division of the appeal court, drew the ire of the AGF, when, in his speech, delivered through the Public Relations Officer of NBA, Mr Ikeheazor Akaraiwe, expressly advised Yarâ€™Adua to throw in the towel, and voluntarily bow out of office, adding that it would not be difficult to find a successor for him in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
â€œ This country is nearer to a state of collapse and we cannot afford to be left in the whip of the rumour industry which is the most thriving sector at present.
â€œNigerians deserve to know the true state of things. If our President is not capable of performing his duties anymore, it will be better for him to resign as it will not be difficult to find a successor for him as provided by the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria,â€ the statement read.
In a swift reaction, however, the AGF, who had delivered his valedictory speech before the NBA did, wasted no time to organise an ad-hoc briefing at the same venue, where he dismissed the NBA president as a meddlesome interloper, whose words should be discountenanced.
He maintained that the views expressed in the speech accredited to the NBA was nothing but the value judgment of Akeredolu himself, stressing that the organisation never met to take such unanimous stand.
He added that the call for President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s resignation was unnecessary and premature as he was quickly recovering from his ill-health.
According to the AGF: â€œI am not bothered by the speech ascribed to the NBA, it is nothing but the personal views of Mr Akeredolu himself as the NEC of the organisation of which I am an executive member, never met to discuss such thing.
â€œHe is free to enjoy his freedom of expression granted to him by the constitution, but he should not also forget the constitution never made provision for a super-human president who do not fall ill at all.
â€œIs it not in this country also that the then President Ibrahim Babangida took ill and was flown abroad for two months, did anybody call for his removal?
â€œIt is only those bent on scuttling the democratic process and rule of law flourishing in Nigeria that are calling for the invocation of Section 144 of the constitution, which I think is not only premature but unnecessary, considering that the health of President Yarâ€™Adua is improving tremendously and he has never said he is incapable of carrying out his duties anymore.
â€œIf Akeredolu has a contrary fact, let him disclose it to Nigerians instead of making wild assertions,â€ he added.
Among notable personalities present at the event, were Justices of the Supreme, Appeal and High courts, the Edo State Governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole and some former governors.
Atiku calls for caution
Meantime, a former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has called for caution in comments being made on the health on President Yarâ€˜Adua, stressing that Nigerians should be mindful of the integrity of the country and the sovereignty of God concerning the health of men.
â€œI have spoken to the family of the President. As Nigerians, we are known for our compassion and empathy for one another. This occasion calls for all Nigerians to bury their differences and collectively pray for the good health of President Umar Yarâ€™Adua and his safe return to the country,â€ Atiku said in a statement issued by his media office in Abuja.
Urging commentators to be mindful of their utterances, Atiku said; â€œThis period calls for great caution on the part of politicians, public affairs commentators and opinion leaders. The Nigerian people expect leadership from the political elite and this should be provided with a sense of responsibility for the integrity of the Nigerian state, the wellbeing of the citizenry and the fear of Godâ€, the statement stated.
Atiku finally underscored the need for a strict adherence to the rule of law and the Constitution in dealing with all matters of the state, including this one.
FECâ€™s stand did not surprise us -Â AC
Relatedly, the Action Congress (AC) has described as unprincipled, self-serving and predictable the stand ofÂ the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on the issue of the Presidentâ€™s health.
In a statement issued in Lagos on Thursday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the feckless FEC has vindicated ACâ€™s call for constitutional reform to ensure a more effective way of handling an issue of national importance as the Presidentâ€™s health.
â€œAs we said before, there is nothing in the antecedent of the present FEC to indicate that it can put national interest above individual considerations in dealing with an issue that has jolted the polity more than any other issue in recent times.
â€œFECâ€™s contention that the government is running properly in the absence of the President and with no one in charge is the biggest joke of the year, and shows that the members do not have the interest of Nigerians at heart,â€™â€™ it said.
The party said Nigeria should borrow a leaf from Zambia, where the Minister of Information provided a regularly update on the health of then (now late) President Levy Nwanawasa while he was undergoing treatment in Paris, France.
It reminded the Nigerian authorities of the saying that â€˜rumour fills in the gaps in a vacuum of informationâ€™ to justify the call for providing regular updates on the health of President Yarâ€™Adua.
Work of political hawks in the Presidency
Also, Gov. Oshiomhol,e yesterday, in Abuja, alleged that the hawks in the Presidency whose major aim was to create political instability in the country were the brains behind the call for President Yarâ€™ Adua to resign over his health condition,
This coincided with the view of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), that the call was uncalled for and unnecessary.
Similarly, a former PresidentialÂ aspirant, OwelleÂ Rochas Okorocha, posited that the call for President Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s resignation, was un-African and against the Nigerian tradition of being onesâ€™ brotherâ€™s keeper.
The trio spoke at the ongoing 2nd National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Quadrennial delegates conference in Abuja, yesterday.
Oshiomhole recalled how the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and those who wanted the transition from civilian to civilian rule to fail created a bobby trap for President Yarâ€™ Adua by increasing Value AddedÂ Tax (VAT), privatizing the refineries to cronies without due process and increasing the petroleum products, so that Labour and Nigerians would revolt against the new government.
The Edo State governor, said, however, that President Yarâ€™Adua and other well- meaning Nigerians were able to manage the situation.
On his part, Okorocha, said: â€œIt is un-African, un-Nigerian to wishing a kind death. We have a tradition, a culture for being our brotherâ€™s keeper.
â€˜â€™For whatever reason, do you ask somebody on the sick bed to resign. What you should do is to pray for his recovery. That is the African tradition and that is the Nigerian tradition.â€
FG, NASSâ€™ reactions unfortunateâ€” Okupe
Also, Dr. Doyin Okupe (a former Presidential spokesman), in a statement yesterday said: â€œThe reaction of the Federal Government as conveyed by the Secretary to the Government, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, and the National Assembly to the call by some eminent Nigerians for the President to resign as a result of his illness is unfortunate and uncalled for.
â€œIt is about time that various arms of government imbibe the principles of transparency which is the hallmark of civilised and good governance.
â€˜â€™For the avoidance of doubt, no officer of government, or heads of institutions within our republic, has any greater stake in the country more than those of ordinarily Nigerians.
â€œAscension to any position of power in any democracy is a temporary privilege and should not be misconstrued as conferring any special power on the holders of such position to the extent that the will of the people or their quest for information, can be subverted with impunity.
â€˜â€™Every Nigerian reserves the right to query how he or she is being governed, or the competence or otherwise of those who govern him or her.
â€œDefinitely the Federal Executive Council is made up of largely Nigerians appointed by Mr. President to assist in running his government.
â€œThe Federal Executive Committee cannot talk down or attempt to cow any group of Nigerians no matter how distasteful they find the opinions being expressed.
â€œOn the contrary, the FEC is expected to use the avalanche of resource within its membership to explain situations in such a manner as to allay the fears of ordinary Nigerians and re-assure genuine critics of the administration.
â€œWhat one should have expected as an appropriate reaction to the call for resignation would have been an intelligent, honest and expert explanation on why the present state of health of Mr. President does not warrant his resignation.
â€œAs a medical practitioner, I am aware that acute Pericarditis on its own, though a serious illness, is not sufficient to incapacitate a president from performing his duties because, it is wholesomely amenable to treatment.
â€˜â€™My father-in-law, aged 72 years, had acute pericarditis about a year ago. He was treated in a Federal Government Medical Centre and discharged home in one week and has been hale and hearty ever since.
â€œHowever, I believe that what bothers Nigerians is the issue of the chronic illness of the President, which is unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy, and which has made him to seek medical help abroad three to four times in the last 12 months.