By Dapo Akinrefon

Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress party. In this interview with Vanguard, he kicks against the proposed plan by the National Assembly to send a delegation to investigate the state of President Yar’Adua’s health in Saudi Arabia. Excerpts:

Would you say that the breaking of President Yar’Adua’s silence is a great improvement?
Not really. You see breaking his silence only means that he’s still alive. There is probably no reason to disagree with that but it has not changed the issues, that his forced absence has generated. They are very much unresolved. It is clear that even those who heard him and the voice they heard was that of a sick man. His absence has created constitutional vacuum and crisis since he did not hand over to the Vice President.

So as of now, this country has no head. To a large extent, breaking his silence has not led to any improvement. And like we said, the choice of media, through which he chose to break his silence, we object to it. 150 million Nigerians have been praying for his recovery and Nigerians are the most hit and affected by his long absence. One would rather believe that he ought to have broken his silence through a Nigerian media.  We feel insulted that he does not care for us as much as we care for him.

But to the issue to whether his silence has put an end to any issue, we want to say no.

Will you also agree with the Attorney-General of the Federation who argued that Nigerians are not entitled to know about the President’s health status?
I think we should stop taking the Attorney-General seriously. He has become a very unserious person. How can you say that the state of the President’s health is not our business, it is our business. Hear what a Senator said on the floor of the House recently, he said ‘when my constituency asked me, what is the state of the health of our President, he said he looked foolish, when he said he does not know. We are not asking because we want to dissect him. We don’t know the nitty-gritty of his health, we only want to know how he is doing, his chances of recovery and how long it will take? In other parts of the world which are not developed as Nigeria, in Gambia for instance, when their president was in coma, their country was given a bulletin.

I think the Attorney-General should not be taken seriously. How can he say we don’t have right to know about the President’s state of health, somebody we claim to have voted for.

Is your party still at the forefront of the calls on the President   to handing over to his Vice?
It is not what we want, but what the constitution says. Section 145 of the constitution says that should the President intends to go on vacation, he should write a letter to the National Assembly telling them that he will be away for sometime and that the Vice President should act.

But when he returns, with another letter, he takes over as President.
The long absence of the President has actually led to a vacuum in government. For instance, 15 Permanent Secretaries have not be given letters by the President. The most important casualty of the President’s absence is that today, God forbid, Nigeria goes to war, we don’t have a Commander-In-Chief.

This is quite unfortunate and that’s why we are saying it’s not us, but it is what the constitution says.

Will you say that the move by the National Assembly to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to investigate the state of the president’s health, is a step in the right direction?
It’s rubbish because the constitution does not provide that. If they go to Saudi Arabia  today and they find the President in a very bad shape, it’s not for them to take any step but it’s left for the Federal Executive Council.  If they find that the man is gravely ill, can they  now put pressure on the Federal Executive Council to toe the path of the constitution. But if they go now and   turn in their reports and  the Federal Executive Council refuses to do the right thing, will it not be a  waste of  tax payer’s money?  And what’s the guarantee that they will return and report what they saw because they are part of the conspiracy.

I have doubt over Yar’Adua BBC  interview
— David West

FORMER Minister of Petroleum Prof. Tam David West spoke on the state of the nation to Vanguard in a telephone interview last Wednesday. He bared his mind on President Yar’Adua’s prolonged absence from office and its implications for the nation. Excerpts:

What is your view concerning the interview Presdent Yar’Adua granted to BBC?
If that interview he was said to have granted to BBC is genuine, I would be pleasantly happy.  But I take that interview with a pinch of salt. My reason is that number one; Yar’Adua is not a President of BBC. He does not owe BBC any explanation. Yar’Adua is the president of Nigeria and the Commander -in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.

That phone call is suspect. I know Yar’Adua as a responsible person. For instance, as a young man  he joined the late Mallam Aminu Kano to demonstrate against his father’s party. A newspaper published a story which alleged that Yar’Adua was clinically dead. I don’t believed he is dead because there is no way the President of Nigeria would die and it would not make news. Even if they keep the information secret it would leak. I believe what has happened is that the man is seriously incapacitated. Right now Nigeria has been hijacked metaphorically speaking. Nigeria is being held as a hostage.
It has been argued that President Yar’Adua has violated the constitution by not writing to the National Assembly before embarking on his trip. Is that not a violation of the constitution?
I agree that he violated the constitution by not writing to the National Assembly. But they cannot impeach him because the members of the legislature are chicken-hearted. The President has committed an impeach able offence, but none of them in the National Assembly can do it; they have no courage. What the protesters ought to have done was to have made the National Assembly unworkable by blocking it; it shouldn’t have been a one day fanfare. The truth of the matter is that despite the offence he has committed they cannot impeach him. But we are a funny country.

When former president Olusegun Obasanjo was in office, he defied the Supreme Court concerning the judgement involving Lagos State. But he refused to obey. And when former Chief Justice of the Federation was retiring he lamented that one of his regrets was that despite the fact that Obasanjo defied the Supreme Court I could not arrest him.
What is your reaction to some allegations that have been raised regarding the safety of Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan against the background of President Yar’Adua’s absence?
What is wrong about the safety of Jonathan? Such fears are absolute rubbish. The present situation concerning President Umar Yar’Adua has reduced Nigeria to an object or ridicule. This is because we speculate wildly.  But we are a country of intelligent people,  made up of great people with great brains. I am not a fan of Jonathan.  Sometime ago I read in the papers that Jonathan does not even eat at Aso Rock again but this is not true. Why do we expose ourselves to ridicule as if we are a bunch of lilliputians. But Nigeria is a great country. As far as I am concerned there is no threat to Jonathan’s life.

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