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Jonathan Vs Yar’Adua’s First XI : Power show at Aso Rock

* President’s unscheduled departure from Jeddah
* Why EXCOF could not meet
* Yar’Adua remains inaccessible
* Jonathan’s many hurdles
* Four American medical experts to attend to president

By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor

The coincidence is striking, very striking indeed: The President departed Saudi Arabia, his abode for three months, unscheduled, arriving home in the dead of the night, on a day Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was about taking far-reaching decisions.

Now the return of Yar’Adua has only muddied the waters the more because since his arrival no top government official has been allowed access to the President who was away for 93 days.  This report examines the power play going on inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa, the botched meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, last Wednesday, the continuing subtle power show aimed at intimidating Jonathan, the response of Yar’Adua’s men and the implications for a polity on the brink. Meanwhile, Jonathan is bringing in medical experts from the US. This is an exclusive report.

Former Western leaders to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The drama started on Saturday night in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.

Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, and the immediate past President of the United States of America, USA, George Bush, were locked in discussion with some Nigerian leaders in Abuja and concluded that the only thing to do was to intervene.

Sunday Vanguard learnt that the unscheduled arrival of ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Nigeria in the early hours of Wednesday, February 24, was the immediate fall out of high level diplomatic communications between these two former leaders in the Western world and the authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  That was the magic.

A highly placed source told Sunday Vanguard that: “It was an event in Abuja on Saturday, just this last Saturday (penultimate Saturday) that did the magic. It was the meeting of Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, and immediate past President of the United States of America, USA, George Bush.  After they had observed what was going on in the country, and based on communication with some leaders of this country, they contacted the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and impressed it on them there that there was a constitutional crisis in Nigeria and the Kingdom ‘should not get itself involved’.  “That was what saved the day”, the source said.

What, perhaps made matters worse was the delay in the departure of a select team of six ministers nominated by the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, to the Kingdom.  One of the reasons given for the delay in departure was the refusal of the Kingdom to grant landing permit to the team.  And that was the straw. The Kingdom had to come out strongly denying any such thing.

The Kingdom also let it be known that contrary to the information being peddled by the handlers of Yar’Adua, that it was the authorities of the Kingdom that had been denying people access to the ailing Yar’Adua, the Kingdom had nothing to do with access to him. It said it was not barring people from seeing patients in the hospital or interfering in any way with access to Yar’Adua.

It said this was within the purview of Yar’Adua’s doctors and not the government.
Soon after the communication between the former Western leaders and the Kingdom, and other unofficial communication between their countries and the Kingdom on the need to make it crystal clear that the Kingdom could not continue to suffer the presence of Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh transmitted to Nigeria’s first family its resolution to allow President Yar’Adua return home. Turai Yar’Adua and the aides around the Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia were at first, flustered on being informed of the Kingdom authorities’ new position.
But once Turai discovered that there was no going back, she took it with equanimity.

Brought in under the cover of darkness
But the Saudi Authorities were still useful and instrumental in arranging “expedited departure plans” for the first family.

The initial shock reaction about the departure was to reverberate back home in Nigeria when news began to filter in that Turai was coming back with her husband late Tuesday night.  The initial reaction too, was that of indifference from some quarters.

Officially, there was no communication between Turai and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on the proposed arrival in the country. In fact, Jonathan’s aides kept denying the possibility of an arrival up till about 11:45 pm last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Jonathan had heard but also kept the information close to his chest.

Upon arrival, the planes landed and remained on the runway. Between the time of arrival at about 1:45 am Wednesday and 2:57 when the presidential ambulance left the international wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in a convoy of about eight cars, it took all of 55 minutes to transfer Yar’Adua from the air ambulance which brought him and the presidential ambulance which waited to convey him to Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He has not been seen by anyone else outside the immediate aides who arrived with him from Saudi Arabia and, of course, Turai, the wife.

The situation of Yar’Adua’s arrival was so bad that all the ministers did not have a peaceful night’s sleep as they were all phones-in-hands and also desperate for information on their boss.

Sorry, No FEC meeting today
But if the drama of Yar’Adua’s stealthy arrival was thought to be anything big, there were other bigger shocks awaiting Nigerians. By Wednesday morning, ministers started arriving at the council chambers as early as 8 o’clock. They were eager to extract information from one another only to discover that they were all blindsided.

At about 10 o’clock, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, walked into the council chambers to address the ministers.

He said the Acting President had instructed him to tell the ministers that there would be no EXCOF meeting for that day and that all ministers were to assemble in his conference room by 2 pm for a meeting.
Mutterings greeted this announcement and ministers briskly packed their files and moved out of the council chambers.

Signs of power show and the
President’s ChairBut just before Yayale walked in to make his address, some funny developments had happened.
Earlier in the day according to a source in the Villa, one of the aides to Yar’Adua had gone to the office of Acting President Jonathan to inform him that “President Yar’Adua is now around”. Moments later (before Yayale’s announcement) Jonathan was informed that Yar’Adua had directed that he should continue discharging his functions as Acting President – all these were to come to light when Jonathan briefed the ministers later that afternoon.

In fact, two security aides to Yar’Adua posted sentry behind the seat of the President and Commander-in-Chief.
For the two weeks Jonathan had served as Acting President, he sat on the seat designated President and Commander-in-Chief in presiding over the meetings of the EXCOF. (See details in Power of a Chair).

The two security aides who posted sentry behind the chair sent a clear signal: That the seat belonged to the President and Commander-in-Chief – it was a subtle way of informing Acting President Jonathan to back off. Just before 2p.m, ministers started arriving the conference room of the vice president where Jonathan was to brief the ministers. It was Jonathan himself who told the ministers that he had received a transmission from the President that he should continue acting until he gets better.

At about the same time, Olusegun Adeniyi, Yar’Adua’s Senior Special Assistant on Media Matters, issued a statement on behalf on Yar’Adua instructing Jonathan to continue acting.

Jonathan told the ministers that he would meet with the First Lady later in the day.
That meeting never held. At press time, Jonathan had not set his eyes on his boss.

But immediately after Wednesday’s meeting which lasted barely eight minutes, another sign of a paradigm shift set in. Unlike the two occasions when Jonathan presided over EXCOF as Acting President, ministers usually troop after him immediately after the meeting. Last Wednesday, some ministers quickly kept pace with Abba Ruma, Agriculture Minister and one of Yar’Adua’s henchmen. By Thursday, however, when Nigerians began to query the wisdom surrounding the mode of arrival of Yar’Adua, Jonathan again began to summon courage.
Will the Acting President  please act?
Yes!

Between Wednesday morning and the time of going to press, Acting President Jonathan was already beginning to find his voice. Whereas he received the delegation of the military top echelon of Niger in Aso Rock on Thursday, he has since shifted mode to one of over drive.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that four medical experts are arriving in Nigeria this weekend from the US to attend to President Yar’Adua. Their mission would be to, in collaboration with some Nigerians medical experts, carry out a review of Yar’Adua’s health status. Their findings would determine to a large extent what next steps to be carried out by Jonathan this week. The medical experts are coming in at the initiative of the Acting President.

Former President Obasanjo and some past leaders are said to be involved in or have ideas about the move to bring in the medical experts.

Unofficially, Acting President Jonathan is also working with the assistance of some Western countries with a view to laying the present matter of constitutional stasis to rest. In an interview with Second Republic Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, he said “What is happening in Nigeria now is theatrical which makes no sense.  It is a comedy show.  What is happening now is not in the national Interest.”

In fact, he said the EXCOF meeting of last Wednesday should have been held. (See Sunday Interview section). Yet, Jonathan, sources say, may have thrown the polity into further crisis were he to have fought back immediately Yar’Adua was brought into the country.

As Acting President, Jonathan could have issued orders that may have frustrated the heavy presence of the military at the airport.  Whereas he was said not to have bought the idea of the heavy military deployment in the nation’s capital last Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he did not act to stop it. But one of his aides told Sunday Vanguard that the situation remains very dicey and any misstep could be misread.

Implications
Consequent upon the continued growing public opprobrium against Yar’Adua, who, might it be added, has been mum since November 23, 2009, his immediate family (not Turai’s faction) have been meeting. Their concern is that their son is being presented to the Nigerian public and the world as an invalid in the face of his long absence from the scene.
Added to this is the fact that since the purported interview of Yar’Adua with the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, to dispel rumour of his death, there has been no word.

The options being considered by the family is either an outright resignation or request for an extended medical vacation.  The latter option is said to be supported by Turai who still believes that her husband will return to power and, therefore, continues to wield her own form of leadership by proxy.

The return of Yar’Adua – in any state of health – merely further muddied the waters last week and may have further sealed the fate of the ailing Yar’Adua.

Constitutionally, Yar’Adua, as of today, can not be referred to as President because his powers are presently being invested in Jonathan, albeit, in an acting capacity.

Just as senators insisted last week that there is yet to be a transmission to the leadership of the National Assembly that Yar’Adua has returned, the law does not in any way recognize his return to the country.


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