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Hand over now – Gowon, Shagari, others tell Yar’Adua

From right: Former President Shehu Shagari; Vice President Goodluck Jonathan; Former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Belgore and others after the elders met with the Vice President behind closed-doors at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

By Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA—  EMINENT Nigerian leaders including three former Heads of State and all living former Chief Justices of the Federation have called on President Umaru Yar‘Adua to transfer power to his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in accordance with provisions of the Constitution.

The former leaders, under the aegis of the Eminent Elders Group, EEG, articulated their position in a letter to Vice-President Jonathan, President of the Senate, David Mark, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.

Eminent Elders’ letter
Separate copies of the letters were presented to the Senate President and the Speaker by a delegation of the elders group led by President Shehu Shagari. The meeting of the elder-statesmen which took place at the ECOWAS secretariat, Wednesday, was at the instance of General Yakubu Gowon, a former Head of State.

Others who attended the meeting included Alhaji Shagari, Chief Ernest Shonekan and former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme. Also involved were all three former Chief Justices of the Federation, Hon. Justice Mohammed Uwais, Hon. Justice Alfa Belgore and Hon. Justice Idris Kutigi; former Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, former PDP Chairman, Chief Solomon Lar and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark.

The rest were, former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma; former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, former Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Ahmed Joda and Senator Jonathan Zwingina who was the facilitator.

In the letter signed by Gen. Gowon, the group said: “I have been mandated and have the honour to address this letter to your Excellency on issues of fundamental importance to the well being of our dear nation, Nigeria. For well over eight weeks now, our President has been ill and out of the country.

This illness and long absence from the country is causing serious concern not only to Nigerian citizens but all those who do business with Nigeria and have the well being of the country at heart.

“It is for this reason that I called the meeting of some of our former Presidents and Heads of State, former Chief Justices of Nigeria and elder statesmen today. Following a critical review of the general political situation of the country in the recent past, but more especially since the illness of the President and his prolonged absence, it was decided to address this letter to your Excellency, the Vice President, Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

From right: Former Information Minister, Prof. Jerry Gana; former Defence Minister, Lt. Gen. Yakubu Danjuma; former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme; Vice President Goodluck Jonathan; former President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari; former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Belgore; his successor, Justice Legbo Kutigi, and Senator Jonathan Zwingina ....at the State House, Abuja.Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

Resolution of the issue of Acting President pending the return of the President.
“It is important to resolve this issue by inviting the President to formally issue the necessary communication that will enable the Vice President to be Acting President in accordance with section 145 of the 1999 Constitution as soon as possible. We wish your Excellency well.”

Responding to the letter by the group, Senator Mark who expressed appreciation to the group, noted that the Senate would surely benefit from their wealth of experience.

He said: “The experience this group will bring on board will be immeasurable. We believe that we need to be notified that the President is on medical vacation. In doing this, we were conscious of the security, political and power balancing in this country.

The unity of this country is of utmost importance. We are humbled by your humility. We are anxious to put this impasse behind us so that we can make progress. Our decision was based on the need for stability, unity, cohesion and the conscious need for power balancing in the country.

Above all, the security of the nation. I want to assure you that whatever we do in the Senate is always guided by national interest, unity, peace, and progress of Nigeria.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, received the group in a close-door meeting.

VP assures of Yar’Adua’s return

Meantime, while welcoming four new foreign envoys to Nigeria, Jonathan assured them that “the President will soon be back in the country” but gave no time frame for his return.

Yar’Adua has not been seen in public since his departure in November to receive treatment for pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart, and no minister has publicly said they have spoken to him in recent weeks, heightening uncertainty about his health.

His failure to transfer power to Jonathan has raised debate over the legality of government decisions in the country. Investments have been put on ice and analysts say government business is stagnating.


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