*Senate and former rulers rise against them
*Spectre of gloom is magnified
*Can opposition trump PDP?
By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor & Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja
The seeming stasis of the Nigerian state, occasioned by the lingering vacuum in the presidency continues to magnify the spectre of gloom for an already troubled polity.Yet, there are those whose optimism presents aÂ comic reliefÂ to the whole drama of a president in absentia.
So, as the curtain drew on the Senate closed door deliberation on the absence of President Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua from his duty post last Wednesday only one man, the Senate Minority leader, Senator Maji Maina Lawan remainedÂ standing against the proposed resolution.
He had no supporterÂ as reality dawned on the more than 90 Senators present at the closed door session. Even the Katsina Senators who had in the past and understandably so, pooh-poohed moves to temporarily ease out the first Katsina born leader of the country, had caved in.
The most vocal of the Katsina Senators is Senator Kanti Bello who is also the Senate Majority whip. A trained engineer who has, however, won renown for a fervent adoption of the constitution in almost all his utterances in the Senate, Senator Bello it was learnt, had finally re-read section 145 of the constitution to understand the imperative of the President transmitting a letter to the National Assembly on his medical vacation.
The overwhelming adoption of the Senate resolution inspired by 80 Senators belonging to the Senator Bala Mohammed led Nigeria Interest Group (NIG) on Wednesday was like the turning point in the hitherto dive into constitutional anarchy.
But it was no easy achievement as the move was tenaciously resisted by a close knit group of power mongersÂ within and around the presidency who had tied themselves to the governance of the country using the condition of the ailing President.
Following the unanimous adoption of the Senate resolution calling on President Yarâ€˜Adua to transmit a letter to the National Assembly on his medical vacation, the cliqueÂ were at the weekend beating a fast retreat.
Arguably, the Senate resolution was the defining moment in the redefinition of the power equation that had existed since President Yarâ€˜Adua assumed power in May 29, 2007.
The Powers Behind
That equation had factored a close knit group consisting of the First Lady, Hajia Turai Yarâ€˜Adua; the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Abba Ruma; the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Tanimu Yakubu; and the erstwhile Governor of Delta State Chief JamesÂ Ibori.
Also in the group areÂ Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State who also doubles as the chairman of Nigeriaâ€™s Governorsâ€™ Forum, as well as Governors Dakingari of Kebbi State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, both sons-in-law of the president. Sunday Vanguard learnt that at the last parley between the state governors and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State allegedly lampooned Saraki, accusing him of sundry allegations including but not limited to compromising the position of the forum in favour of President Yarâ€™Adua.Â Goje was said to have solemnly urged all to pray for President Yarâ€™Adua but insisted that the issue at stake was about Nigeria and its peace.Â But while the agitation began to gain fervency at the meeting, it was Vice President Jonathan who thawed the ice tellingÂ to the governors that he spoke to President Yarâ€™Adua the day before.
Sunday Vanguard has also been informed that the reason why Jonathan made the revelation was more for pragmatism and not for substance. First was the fact that among the governors, it would be difficult to trust who would hold his quiet and not become a chatter box.
IndeedÂ the meeting were two in-laws of Mr. President. These personalities who stand to lose the most in the event of a change of guard have understandably used others in the loop of power to sustain the status quo. The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), prominent PDP leader, Chief Tony Anenih and Governor Timipire Sylva of Bayelsa State are among others who have been allegedly involved in the struggle to sustain the Yarâ€˜Adua legacy. The AGFâ€™s various interpretations of legal issues and court rulings arising from the absence of the President have drawn him out as the chief legal adviser of the power traders.
Instructive was his affirmation and quick endorsement of the Federal High Court ruling of January 13, 2010, that the Vice-President be mandated to execute the duties of the President. That judgment was largely interpreted as a move aimed at frustrating earlier court processes initiated by some in the civil rights community to declare the Vice-President as Acting President. Mr. Andooakaa who hasÂ tenaciously opposed the moves in the courts was, however, fingered by many as instigating the court process that ended in the judgment of January 13.
Remarkably, that judgment was the spark that provoked many Senators into the campaign that translated into the resolution of last Wednesday.
Once Senators heard of the judgment they rose up in armsÂ to frustrate the moves to empower the Vice-President as Acting President of the country. Besides the employment of the judiciary the power group has also used rallies, sponsored messages, innuendoes among others in their bid to sustain the status quo.
As the two chambers of the National Assembly resumed for their first sittings this year on January 12, outside the chambers there were demonstrators for and against the implementation of Section 145 of the constitution.
Civil rights groups led by Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, Farouk Adamu and Pastor Tunde Bakare advanced on that day to the National Assembly where they voiced their opposition to the Presidentâ€™s continued absence and failure to abide by the constitution.
Minutes after they left a counter demonstration of supporters of the President also came to voice their support for the ailing President. The Soyinka group was received by Speaker Dimeji Bankole but the protesters in a deliberate snub refused to listen to him after he had heard them!
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, however, did not bother to come out as he presided over the Senate deliberation on the same issue.
Other eminent personalities have since then visited the National Assembly on the same issue.
Among the first to call were General Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar who came under the aegis of the National Democratic Movement (NDM), the new political alliance revolving around them and their political associates.
The duo who were accompanied by some prominent political leaders like former Governor of Sokoto State Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa, Senator Ben Obi, Senator Lawali Shaibu, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, Chief (Mrs.) Titi Ajanaku, Chief Dapo Sarumi, Ms Funke Adedoyin, Alhaji Sule Hamman among others in a letter they jointly signed requested the Senate to constitute a panel to persuade President Yarâ€˜Adua to comply with section 145 of the constitution.
In the letter which they handed over to Senator Mark, the duo of Buhari and Atiku lamented the governmentâ€™s silence on the crisis that has engulfed government since President Yarâ€˜Aduaâ€™s medical evacuation last November.
â€œIn all these days the government has failed to authoritatively brief the nation about the Presidentâ€™s health in an organized and structured manner.â€
â€œInstead, government officials spoke on the issue in discordant and conflicting manner thereby creating anxiety and confusion in the country and in the processes making Nigerians wonder as to who exactly is the governmentâ€™s spokesman.â€
Affirming that Nigerians were tired of praying as requested by government officials, they thus requested the Senate President to constitute a fifteen man panel to travel to Saudi Arabia to verify the exact location of the President.
The team which they suggested should be led by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and should include a member of the Federal Executive Council, the Presidentâ€™s personal physician, majority and minority members of the National Assembly and representatives of the NBA, NLC, NUJ, NCWS and NANS.
Another group that called was that of prominent statesmen led by a former President of the Senate, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim comprising 40 other prominent statesmen.
The group also reiterated the call that President Yarâ€˜Adua should urgently transmit a letter of his incapacitation to the National Assembly in order to salvage the nationâ€™s democracy from the precipice.Â The members of the group included Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Maj-Gen. Mohammed Magoro (rtd.), erstwhile PDP Deputy national chairman, Chief Shuaib Oyedekun, former deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chibudom Nwuche, former Governor of Taraba Mr. Jolly Nyame, former labour leader Paschal Bafyau among others.Â Senator Anyim who presented the groupâ€™s presentation also touched on the recent enlistment of Nigeria on the U.S. terror watch list, electoral reform and the situation in the Niger Delta, issues they said needed the attention of the President.
Mind Bending Moves
With the pressure on the power cabal to release the President increasing, the cabal was itself playing on manners of cards to stave off the pressures. One such effort was the use of an interview by the NTA with former President Shehu Shagari. In the interview which was relayed repeatedly on the national network last week President Shagari was quoted albeit out of context saying that he spent three months while out of office on a medical.
Perhaps it was the last trick that ploughed President Shagari out of retirement or the call from General Yakubu Gowon, the erstwhile military head of state who ruled Nigeria from 1966 to 1975.
Enter The Eminent Eldersâ€™ Group
Gowon had invitedÂ Shagari, Chief Ernest Shonekan and some other eminent statesmen including all living former Chief Justices of the Federation (CJNs) and some other prominent statesmen including Alhaji Ahmed Joda to a meeting where a resolution was taken that President Yarâ€˜Adua should hand over.
The meeting remarkably took place the same dayÂ Senate resolution was articulated.
Besides Gowon and Shagari others who attended the meeting wereÂ Chief Ernest Shonekan and former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme. Also involved were all three living former Chief Justices of the Federation, Hon. Justice Mohammed Uwais,Â Justice Alfa Belgore andÂ Justice Idris Kutigi,Â former Army Chief Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, former PDP Chairman, Chief Solomon Lar and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark. Other participants at the meeting were a former Minister, Mallam Adamu Ciroma; former Minister of Information Prof. Jerry Gana, former Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Ahmed Joda and Senator Jonathan Zwingina who was the facilitator.
A letter of their resolution signed by Gen. Gowon was addressed to Vice-President Jonathan, the Senate President and Speaker Bankole.
President Shagari led a delegation of the elder-statesmen to present their resolution to the Senate President and the Speaker in the National Assembly last Thursday.
In their letter to the Senate President Gowon said:
â€œI 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.
â€œFor 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.
â€œIt is for the 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.
â€œFollowing 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, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. â€œResolution 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. Responding to the letter by the group, Senator Mark said: â€œI am sure your words of wisdom will benefit all Nigerians. 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 Nigeriaâ€
He said that the Senate was honoured and humbled by the wise counselling by the former leaders and urged them not to relent in their commitment to the Nationâ€™sÂ Unity.â€
The New Permutations
With the former Heads of State having given their word it is generally believed that there is little room left for the kitchen cabinet of President Yarâ€˜Adua to maneuver.
It has, however, been variously reported that the group is now desperately seeking a bargaining chip to sustain themselves ahead of the 2011 general elections.
While it is generally assumed that Yarâ€˜Adua is now ruled out of contention in 2011, his loyalists are believed to be seeking for ways to influence the choice of his successor.
That leverage which was once a near privilege is now gradually shifting away as all strata of the nation rise against the power block. The Senate in its closed door deliberation especially on Wednesday was alleged to have come to a consensus that the principle of power shift to the North should be sustained in 2011. Elements in the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) Sunday Vanguard learnt were mandated to reassure key stakeholders in the North that power would not be moved from the zone in 2011.
Also, allies of the Vice-President are expected to inform him that he should rule himself out of the 2011 presidential elections for the sake of national cohesion.
In Abuja and various northern cities permutations on who could be a one term President from the region is being weighed. Among names increasingly being cited are Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, a former military President who is nonÂ gifted with the well wishes of many Nigerians on account of his recent bereavement andÂ former security goon, Gen. Aliyu Gusau.
That may very well not be all
There is yet the challenge that is expected to be again posed by the insurgency in the Niger Delta region should the post amnesty arrangement fail. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President would also be in the reckoning for relevance as 2011 approaches.Â The reason for this is that there is expected to be a renewed struggle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by the time the party holds its convention this year â€“ whenever that would be.
The spectre of uncertainty even in the PDP is made more manifest by the lingering absence of President Yarâ€™Adua from the country. First is the fact that the party leadership is in disarray. Second is the fact that its Board of Trusteesâ€™ whichÂ is currently chaired by Obasanjo is divided along lines of loyalties.Â Having shoved Anenih aside to mount the chairmanship in a rather Machiavellian style, Obasanjo is having to contend with members of the BOT who hold their loyalty to something and someone else â€“ a demonstration of this his failed attempt to get the BOT to endorse his position that Yarâ€™Adua should hand over to his deputy, prompting him to go public penultimate Thursday. The elections of next year may likely be a straight fight between northern politicians but it is yet hazy who the front runners would be.
Can The Opposition Steal The Show
Meanwhile, the trio of Atiku, Buhari and Bafarawa who are yet to fine tune their vehicle for the opposition engagement may discover to their chagrin that time is no longer on their side.Â As the polity stands today, there is emerging a groundswell of ill feelings against the PDP and its leadership â€“ even from members.
There are those who are just waiting for a movement that would likely chart a new path to democratic glory.Â But even in the fold of the mega party movement there is yet argumentation on issues of modality for emergence of candidates for elections.Â Whereas the prime movers may have endorsed a written agreement that the race for the presidency would be open, free and fair, there is another leg in the opposition movement in Nigeria, led by Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is not sufficiently committed to the mega party ideals.
It may not be surprising if a confirmation of participation is immediately released after this publication but information available to Sunday Vanguard suggests that Tinubu is not convinced of the potential potency of the mega party movement in the light of contemporary political realities of the Nigerian nation.
For instance, apart from Atiku, there are those who do not see the political strength a Buhari or Bafarawa would bring to the table other than the effusion of emotional attachment to radical opposition politics.
Also, the issue of nomination of candidates for elective offices, which the trio of Atiku, Buhari and Bafarawa appears committed to may not hold sway in the South West where Tinubu continues to wax strong as the political lord. With the manifestly shambolicÂ PDP leadership, an ailing president and a seemingly impotent presidency, the vacuum continues to grow wider for the opposition to fill. But will the opposition be able to provide a viable alternative? Only time will tell.