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Aso Rock without Yar’Adua


By DANIEL IDONOR, Asst. News  Editor

Ab initio, it was expected that  President Umaru Yar’adua would return to Nigeria this weekend from his hospital  bed at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research  Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and assume full  responsibility of the leadership of the country once again.

It would be  exactly 19 days today that the President left the country for medical treatment in the Middle East.  It was on the afternoon of Friday November  23, 2009 that the Special Adviser to the President on Media  and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, issued a statement that  the President was leaving for Saudi Arabia for medical check-up .

According to the statement, “President Umaru Musa Yar’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 checks”.

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 the  National Assembly.

That medical trip was coming barely three months 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.  And each time he traveled out for medical check-up, there was always the fear  that the business of governance would  crumble or  that vacuum would be created in the day- to- day operation of  government which he heads. This argument is further buttressed by the fact  that when one compares the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, his  hyper active nature and constant quarrels with his deputy, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar with the Yar’Adua government, who to a large extent still enjoys a harmonious  working relationship with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, one can say the absence of  President Yar’Adua  has  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 that  require the personal attention of the President were either  put on hold or outrightly canceled due to his absence.

Indeed, the absence of the president is noticeable in Aso  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 to  the President’s office or his residence within the  complex. Such visitors include diplomats, foreign and local  investors and businessmen, Nigerian politicians and organized groups on courtesy mission, as well as serving  Ministers who were either summoned or on “eye-service”. The Wednesday  November 25, 2009 rumour of the President’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 calls  from family members, friends and other loves ones who wanted to know truth regarding the President’s  health.  Relief however came the way of worried and  concerned Nigerians when on the following day, November 26,  2009, the President’s Personal Physician, Dr. Salisu Banye, FWACP, confirmed that the President was indeed alive  but was suffering from “Acute Pericarditis”, (an  inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart).

For the over 80 journalists that  cover the office of the President or the Presidency, the  briefing room where they usually stay while waiting for news makers  who would come to see Mr President has become a ghost town, as attention has shifted to the Vice President’s office.

Reporters have to cope by  squeezing themselves into any available space as there is no  briefing room in the Vice President’s wing of the Villa. It was also recently reported that  the National Council of State which the Constitution  empowers the President to convene was put off following his  absence while the list of National Merit Award (NMA)  nominees which was taken to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan for approval was also turned down as the highly loyal number  two citizen who was asked to act on it insisted that the  list can wait until his boss returns because there is  nothing urgent on it.

These are some of the prevailing  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 on  behalf of the President assured Nigerians of the state of  health of the President, saying that he was okay.

Another issue that also shook Aso Rock to its  foundation was the controversial but monumental move by the  group of 54 prominent Nigerians across professions and  spanning the six geopolitical zones (G54) on November 30,  2009 asking the President to resign his office immediately  or unconditionally hand over to the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who keeps pledging his loyalty to Yar’Adua.

In a statement entitled; “President Yar’Adua’s health condition and the state of the  nation,” the group which sympathized with the President  enjoined him to hand over government  because  “the need  to provide effective governance for this nation of over 150  million people cannot be compromised”.

The group urged him  to toe the path of honour by “resigning his office immediately, or if he is confident of his true physical condition, request the Federal Executive Council to pass a  resolution pursuant to Section 144 (1) of the Constitution  to the effect that the President appears incapable of  discharging the functions of his office”.  But two days  later, the Federal Government took a swipe at the group, declaring that  it was a joke taken too far as the President can not resign  under the present circumstance.

Rising from a crucial session, which Saturday Vanguard learnt was dominated by the  resignation saga, the Federal Executive Council (FEC)  resolved that the President remains fit enough and would not  therefore initiate the process of easing him out of office  through the National Assembly; declaring that it would ignore the calls since it has not found Yar’Adua  incapable of performing his duties.

The Secretary to the  Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Yayale Ahmed who  led other cabinet members of the Federal Executive Council  (FEC), including Ministers to brief State House Correspondents, at the end of the weekly FEC meeting,  dismissed the  unfortunate call and urged Nigerians to disregard the call because it is baseless.

Also last Monday there was a report in one of  the dailies which insiders said may have sent shock waves  into the spines of the authorities of Aso Rock over alleged leakage of a letter purportedly written and signed by the  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 of  vacation to the National Assembly through the Special  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 “if the story is  true”, Aso Rock views such development whereby sensitive  matters that has security implications would be leaked to  the press indiscriminately as a serious crack on the wall  and an indication that some elements within its fold are now  serving unknown purpose which must be nipped in the bud .
It was for this reason, Saturday Vanguard learnt,  necessitated the immediate invitation of the troubled  Presidential Adviser to the National Assembly by the Vice  President, to explain all that he knows about the matter.

The Special Adviser to President on National  Assembly Matters, Senator Mohhamed Abba Aji however denied  that  President Umaru Yar’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 a  report in a national daily. According to him, he also saw the report “on the front page of the (paper) and was very surprised.

“ I was very angry, that is not true. So I called Simon, the Editor of the (paper), and he has promised to retract the  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)”.

Since then, there has been divergence  of views  both for and against with most commentators or comments tilting towards ethnic, tribal religion and  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 State  governor who threw in the towel on account of  ill-health.

Chairman of the caucus, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, at a briefing quoted Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution that “whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding  on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the  functions of his office, until he transmits to them a  written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as ActingPresident.”

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 Vice  President Jonathan, the Federal Government last Wednesday reaffirmed that no matter the pressure, the President will not be advised to resign.

Responding to reporter’s questions on the  update of the President’s health after the FEC meeting presided over by Jonathan, Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, maintained that “there have  been no changes in the positions of FEC”.

Asked further  when Yar’Adua is expected back home, she replied that “I  can confirm to you that Mr. President is still in a Saudi  hospital. He is responding to treatment and only his  doctors can decide when he will come back”.

Akunyili said, “I can confirm to you that  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 only  the doctors can say when he will be back. Council last week came up with a statement and that statement remains  valid”.

Speaking on behalf of the Council, the SGF, Yayale, had assured Nigerians that this government is indeed working and is in good shape.

“We are talking about nine days since the departure. Since then we have convened two council meetings,  one last week and today. Apart from these, every other aspect of governmental activity is being conducted well and  the Vice-President, as usual, is in charge.

On issues that  would require Mr. President’s express approval, contacts  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.

“Nobody can teach us the constitution and  its application, and when the time comes we will do it. You  will cross the bridge when you reach the bridge, that is the  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 not  necessary we cannot say it just because we want to play to the gallery”.

As it is now, the last may not have been heard on the ongoing disquiet in Aso Rock as the game  continues.


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