By DANIEL IDONOR, Asst. NewsÂ Editor
Ab initio, it was expected thatÂ President Umaru Yarâ€™adua would return to Nigeria this weekend from his hospitalÂ bed at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and ResearchÂ Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and assume fullÂ responsibility of the leadership of the country once again.
It would beÂ exactly 19 days today that the President left the country for medical treatment in the Middle East.Â It was on the afternoon of Friday NovemberÂ 23, 2009 that the Special Adviser to the President on MediaÂ and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, issued a statement thatÂ the President was leaving for Saudi Arabia for medical check-up .
According to the statement, â€œPresident Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua will leave Abuja today for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While in Saudi Arabia, the President will call on his personal physicians in Jeddah for follow-up medical checksâ€.
And before he left, the statement said, the President had forwarded copies of the 2010 National Appropriation Bill to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as against his earlier plan to physically read the budget to a joint session of theÂ National Assembly.
That medical trip was coming barely three monthsÂ after the President went on the same mission to Saudi Arabia. He had also been there for same purpose about a year ago.
So this was not the first time the number citizen would be away for such duration from the country.Â And each time he traveled out for medical check-up, there was always the fearÂ that the business of governance wouldÂ crumble orÂ that vacuum would be created in the day- to- day operation ofÂ government which he heads. This argument is further buttressed by the factÂ that when one compares the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, hisÂ hyper active nature and constant quarrels with his deputy, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar with the Yarâ€™Adua government, who to a large extent still enjoys a harmoniousÂ working relationship with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, one can say the absence ofÂ President Yarâ€™AduaÂ hasÂ not affected the socio-economic and political lives of the country in the last three weeks that he has been away.
However, this is not to say that all is well, as so many programmes, events and other sensitive issues thatÂ require the personal attention of the President were eitherÂ put on hold or outrightly canceled due to his absence.
Indeed, the absence of the president is noticeable in AsoÂ Rock, the Nigeria seat of power. Though officials report to work normally, they also take some time off to discuss the health of the President among themselves but that cannot be said of visitors who troop in daily either toÂ the Presidentâ€™s office or his residence within theÂ complex. Such visitors include diplomats, foreign and localÂ investors and businessmen, Nigerian politicians and organized groups on courtesy mission, as well as servingÂ Ministers who were either summoned or on â€œeye-serviceâ€. The WednesdayÂ November 25, 2009 rumour of the Presidentâ€™s death which rocked the nation also touched Aso Rock as Villa officials and other personnel who work in the complex devoted a substantial part of the working hours battling to pick callsÂ from family members, friends and other loves ones who wanted to know truth regarding the Presidentâ€™sÂ health.Â Relief however came the way of worried andÂ concerned Nigerians when on the following day, November 26,Â 2009, the Presidentâ€™s Personal Physician, Dr. Salisu Banye, FWACP, confirmed that the President was indeed aliveÂ but was suffering from â€œAcute Pericarditisâ€, (anÂ inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart).
For the over 80 journalists thatÂ cover the office of the President or the Presidency, theÂ briefing room where they usually stay while waiting for news makersÂ who would come to see Mr President has become a ghost town, as attention has shifted to the Vice Presidentâ€™s office.
Reporters have to cope byÂ squeezing themselves into any available space as there is noÂ briefing room in the Vice Presidentâ€™s wing of the Villa. It was also recently reported thatÂ the National Council of State which the ConstitutionÂ empowers the President to convene was put off following hisÂ absence while the list of National Merit Award (NMA)Â nominees which was taken to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan for approval was also turned down as the highly loyal numberÂ two citizen who was asked to act on it insisted that theÂ list can wait until his boss returns because there isÂ nothing urgent on it.
These are some of the prevailingÂ issues that are being influenced by the absence of the President. But Vice President Jonathan who on November 27, 2009 received the Muslim rituals of Sallah Homage onÂ behalf of the President assured Nigerians of the state ofÂ health of the President, saying that he was okay.
Another issue that also shook Aso Rock to itsÂ foundation was the controversial but monumental move by theÂ group of 54 prominent Nigerians across professions andÂ spanning the six geopolitical zones (G54) on November 30,Â 2009 asking the President to resign his office immediatelyÂ or unconditionally hand over to the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who keeps pledging his loyalty to Yarâ€™Adua.
In a statement entitled; â€œPresident Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s health condition and the state of theÂ nation,â€ the group which sympathized with the PresidentÂ enjoined him to hand over governmentÂ becauseÂ â€œthe needÂ to provide effective governance for this nation of over 150Â million people cannot be compromisedâ€.
The group urged himÂ to toe the path of honour by â€œresigning his office immediately, or if he is confident of his true physical condition, request the Federal Executive Council to pass aÂ resolution pursuant to Section 144 (1) of the ConstitutionÂ to the effect that the President appears incapable ofÂ discharging the functions of his officeâ€.Â But two daysÂ later, the Federal Government took a swipe at the group, declaring thatÂ it was a joke taken too far as the President can not resignÂ under the present circumstance.
Rising from a crucial session, which Saturday Vanguard learnt was dominated by theÂ resignation saga, the Federal Executive Council (FEC)Â resolved that the President remains fit enough and would notÂ therefore initiate the process of easing him out of officeÂ through the National Assembly; declaring that it would ignore the callsÂ since it has notÂ found Yarâ€™AduaÂ incapable of performing his duties.
The Secretary to theÂ Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed whoÂ led other cabinet members of the Federal Executive CouncilÂ (FEC), including Ministers to brief State House Correspondents, at the end of the weekly FEC meeting,Â dismissed the Â unfortunate call and urged Nigerians to disregard the call because it is baseless.
Also last Monday there was a report in one ofÂ the dailies which insiders said may have sent shock wavesÂ into the spines of the authorities of Aso Rock over alleged leakage of a letter purportedly written and signed by theÂ President, to the National Assembly seeking medical vacation, which his aide allegedly refused to deliver. A national daily (not Vanguard) had reported that before the President left the country for medical treatment in SaudiArabia, he indeed wrote, signed and sent a letter ofÂ vacation to the National Assembly through the SpecialÂ Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, but the Presidential aide did not deliver the letter for political reasons.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that â€œif the story isÂ trueâ€, Aso Rock views such development whereby sensitiveÂ matters that has security implications would be leaked toÂ the press indiscriminately as a serious crack on the wallÂ and an indication that some elements within its fold are nowÂ serving unknown purpose which must be nipped in the bud .
It was for this reason, Saturday Vanguard learnt,Â necessitated the immediate invitation of the troubledÂ Presidential Adviser to the National Assembly by the ViceÂ President, to explain all that he knows about the matter.
The Special Adviser to President on NationalÂ Assembly Matters, Senator Mohhamed Abba Aji however deniedÂ thatÂ President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua did not write or send any letter through him to the National Assembly seeking medical vacation which he refused to deliver as claimed by aÂ report in a national daily. According to him, he also saw the report â€œon the front page of the (paper) and was very surprised.
â€œ I was very angry, that is not true. So I called Simon, the Editor of the (paper), and he has promised to retract theÂ story. The story has no basis, it is a complete lie. But I am still surprised that it found its way into the front-page of a respected paper like (such paper)â€.
Since then, there has been divergenceÂ of viewsÂ both for and against with most commentators or comments tilting towards ethnic, tribal religion andÂ political considerations.
The latest of such pressure moves was the Tuesday call by the Action Congress (AC) caucus in the House of Representatives on the President to borrow a leaf from former Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro and recently, a special adviser to Lagos StateÂ governor who threw in the towel on account ofÂ ill-health.
Chairman of the caucus, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, at a briefing quoted Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution that â€œwhenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceedingÂ on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge theÂ functions of his office, until he transmits to them aÂ written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as ActingPresident.â€
And in reaction to the widespread pressure which continues to mount on the President to resign his office immediately or unconditionally hand over to the ViceÂ President Jonathan, the Federal Government last Wednesday reaffirmed that no matter the pressure, the President will not be advised to resign.
Responding to reporterâ€™s questions on theÂ update of the Presidentâ€™s health after the FEC meeting presided over by Jonathan, Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, maintained that â€œthere haveÂ been no changes in the positions of FECâ€.
Asked furtherÂ when Yarâ€™Adua is expected back home, she replied that â€œIÂ can confirm to you that Mr. President is still in a SaudiÂ hospital. He is responding to treatment and only hisÂ doctors can decide when he will come backâ€.
Akunyili said, â€œI can confirm to you thatÂ Mr. President is still in the Saudi Hospital. He is responding to treatment but it is only his doctors that can determine when he is coming back.
There have been no changes by Council on our earlier comment. Mr. President is still in the Saudi hospital, he is responding to treatment and onlyÂ the doctors can say when he will be back. Council last week came up with a statement and that statement remainsÂ validâ€.
Speaking on behalf of the Council, the SGF, Yayale, had assured Nigerians that this government is indeed working and is in good shape.
â€œWe are talking about nine days since the departure. Since then we have convened two council meetings,Â one last week and today. Apart from these, every other aspect of governmental activity is being conducted well andÂ the Vice-President, as usual, is in charge.
On issues thatÂ would require Mr. Presidentâ€™s express approval, contactsÂ are being made and such approvals do come. In a democratic setting such as ours, the President and indeed the whole of the council members are committed to the rule of law and constitutionality.
We expect that a few would like to be in a hurry to stampede this council into doing things which they know is not practicable.
â€œNobody can teach us the constitution andÂ its application, and when the time comes we will do it. YouÂ will cross the bridge when you reach the bridge, that is theÂ issue, and if there are more information that requires dissemination in order to cool down the anxiety and the curiosity, we would gladly say it a bit if it is notÂ necessary we cannot say it just because we want to play to the galleryâ€.
As it is now, the last may not have been heard on the ongoing disquiet in Aso Rock as the gameÂ continues.