Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
AT the moment, the Northwest geopolitical zone is the ruling power bloc in the country with bedridden President Umaru Yar’Adua, his wife Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua and members of his kitchen cabinet, principally from Katsina state as the power brokers.

Yar’Adua is the Nigeria ’s fifth president from the zone, comprising Jigawa, Kaduna , Kano , Kastina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states, which has ruled Nigeria since independence in 1960,  . The first was the late General Murtala Mohammed (July 1975-1976), Alhaji Shehu Shagari (1979-1983), General Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985), late General Sani Abacha (1993-1999) and presently President Umaru Yar’Adua (2007 till date).

Besides the Southeast, which produced the head of the country in the person of the late General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi for only six months (January- July, 1966), the South-South is the only geopolitical zone out of the six in the country that has not produced the head of the country’s government for five decades.

By the unwritten power shift arrangement of the PDP between the North and South and considering the boastful postulation of its national chairman, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor that the party would rule for 60 years, the permutation of political pundits is that the South-South could savour power in 2015 but politics is not played like that, anything can happen at any time and the country is not the fiefdom of the few powerful leaders in PDP, who so decreed in 2003 or thereabout.

Last year, a prominent South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, speaking metaphorically on his birthday, said he was at the departure lounge of the airport waiting for his boarding pass to eternity and the greatest news he would want to witness and take to his ancestors is that an indigene of the South-South became the president of Nigeria in his lifetime.

If the   health of President Yar’Adua who has been away from the country on grounds of ill health for 61 days today is anything to go by, his prayers are about to be answered less than a year after he made it and five years away from when the South-South under the PDP platform thinks it would be in strong contention for the office. All that is needed is the activation of Section 145 of the constitution by which the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan would be made an Acting President if he (Yar’Adua) who Clark regards as his first son writes to the National Assembly that he was out of the country, either on leave or “sick leave” or he can call it anything.

Mike Akhigbe
Mike Akhigbe

However, presidency looks so near from the South-South with the greater than ever understanding that President Yar’Adua is seriously indisposed and is not in the position to perform his duties as president at the moment, but, in reality, it is very far.

In a normal society, what President Yar’Adua would have simply done in respect of his temporal absence was to “transmit a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that  he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office” to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Once that is done, the Vice President takes over as Acting President and “until he (Yar’Adua) transmits to the Senate President and Speaker a written declaration to the contrary, such functions of President shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

But this was not done on November 23 when President Yar’Adua travelled out of the country and turned out absent in the Presidential Villa since then. However, it is understandable from what has  happened since his temporal absence that members of his kitchen cabinet do not want Dr. Jonathan and by extension, the South-South zone to taste power yet.

Is Yar’Adua victim of a cabal?

A knowledgeable insider told Saturday Vanguard that before Yar’Adua left the country for Saudi Arabia , he knew from preliminary medical reports that he would stay longer than imagined that he actually wrote a letter to the National Assembly delegating powers to his deputy but the hawks around him stopped the letter.  A National Newspaper  published that Yar’Adua wrote such a letter but his National Assembly aide, Mohammed Abba-Aji who was reported to have stopped it denied the claim.

Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai, minister of agriculture, and natural resources, Abba Ruma, chief economic adviser to the President, Tanimu Yakubu and the chief security officer, Yusuf Tilde were understood to have a very strong influence on him.

His minister of national planning, Shamsudeen Usman and special adviser on National Assembly, Senator Aba Aji are also potent in the team.

But those who refused to buy the yarn said Yar’Adua should have signed another letter to make Jonathan acting president the way he supposedly signed the 2009 Supplementary Budget if he really did so earlier and it was destroyed by his aide. “In fact, the aide would have been reprimanded if it’s true that he tore a letter by the president, so I don’t believe it’s true”, he source added.

Former Secretary to the Federal Government and chairman of the defunct SDP, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, known to harbour a presidential ambition and a vice president-elect in the late Chief Moshood Abiola aborted June 12, 1993 presidential mandate was fired for purportedly strategizing to position himself in the event of Yar’Adua not being able to continue in office when he embarked on a similar health trip, sometime ago.

For those who forgot, our source said, “This is not the first time the president is travelling out of the country for medical treatment, he never wrote the National Assembly about his absence so that Jonathan would become acting president, so there is nothing strange in this one, it’s a determined game plan that is playing out the way they want it”.
Surrogates make inroad in S-South

Meanwhile, surrogates of Yar’Adua in the South-South who do not want Jonathan to tower above them politically are busy plotting against his emergence as acting president in any manner. They calculate that if Jonathan becomes acting president, he would eclipse them and they have the backing of influential members of the president’s kitchen cabinet.

Saturday Vanguard was told that politicians were meeting secretly and forging alliances to further their political interests but it was reliably learnt that the surrogates would fall in line with Jonathan if by any reason; the constitution is activated for him to take charge.

Yar’Adua holds the ace except…

What is baffling to many is why the Yar’Adua team does not want Jonathan to be declared acting president even when all of them are members of the PDP. “Jonathan is not going to be there permanently, it’s only going to last as long as the president wants. Even if he writes the National Assembly leadership about his absence today and he comes back tomorrow, his assumption of power is automatic.

It’s only if he is completely incapacitated and can no longer perform his functions that Jonathan would be  there till next year and it’s also left to his party to nominate him or otherwise”, a political analyst, Mr John Kifodu  said. The chairman of the Governors Forum, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State had in a recent interview declared that the North must be in power till 2015.

Did Obasanjo foresee the impasse?

Some people who knew how former President Olusegun Obasanjo drafted Yar’Adua against all odds to become president are practically swearing that he knew President Yar’Adua would not serve out his four-year tenure because of his illness and he brought in Jonathan, who is very loyal to as his deputy so that when the time comes, he would still play the godfather, having brought both of them to the presidency in the first instance.

As chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees (BOT), Chief Obasanjo was alleged to have tried to persuade some of the members to support the handover of power to Jonathan, but, the majority refused.

Sources said the opposition was based on the conviction that it would be dangerous for Yar’Adua’s men if Jonathan gets a hold on power as that may mean giving Obasanjo the power to call the shot once again since he made him governor of Bayelsa state and Vice president. The Yar’Adua group also suspect that the Senate President would dance to the tune of Obasanjo and that would be real trouble for them.

Jonathan fights hard

Vice President Jonathan is, nonetheless, not in any doubt that a very strong opportunity for him and his zone to taste the presidency constitutionally, even in an acting capacity, is staring him in  the face and that things were going wrong because some persons, for one reason or the other, consider him weak because of his loyalty to Yar’Adua  .

Shortly after he warned key officers of government exploiting the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua from the country to “cause acrimony and disunity”,  last week, he met on Tuesday with the  leadership of the National Assembly and that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Presidential Villa. The meeting, which was held behind closed doors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, was said to have lasted for one hour.  At the meeting were Senate President David Mark, House Speaker Dimeji Bankole, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Deputy Speaker Usman Nafada.

Also in attendance were Kwara State Governor Bukola Saraki, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Yayale Ahmed, Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa and Chairman of PDP Vincent Ogbulafor, party secretary Abubakar Baraje and PDP Legal Adviser Olusola Oke. The sources close to  Aondoakaa gave strong indications that the issue discussed might not be far from the ongoing public debate over the handing over of power to Jonathan.

Though, there was no authorized announcement at the end of the meeting, it was gathered that it was on the health of the president and how the vice president would step into acting president pending the return of the president. This move, it was further learnt, was to enable the vice president sign   the 2010 Appropriation Bill whenever it is passed by the National Assembly to avoid the kind of backlash that greeted the delayed signing of the supplementary budget.

Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan also on Tuesday cancelled a meeting on deregulation of the downstream oil sector following the lateness of some ministers and members of the Economic Management Team. All efforts to persuade the Vice-President to return to the venue failed.

It was said that Jonathan summoned the meeting for about 4.30pm, but when it was time, only the Minister of State for Finance, Remi Babalola, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, and Minister of Finance Dr. Mansur Muhtar had arrived. Others were said to have been about 25 to 30 minutes late.

According to a source in the Presidency, the late comers included the Minister of Power, Dr. Rilwanu Babalola, and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, the Director-General (Budget), Dr. Bright Okogu; other members of the Economic Management Team, Director-General, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr. Frank Nweke Jr. and a member of the NESG, Mr. Atedo Peterside.  Even though all the officers who came late claimed they rushed down from other official assignments.

The source said the Vice-President returned to his office and simply directed the officers to look at the possibility of holding the meeting next week. The informant added: “All those who came late to the meeting were shocked that Jonathan could bare his fangs”.

Disturbed by the development, they decided to seek audience to explain that they were not out to undermine him. Some said they went to attend to duties he gave them but it was palpable that the number two citizen has started asserting himself and will not take nonsense as Acting President.

Emerging reality

Even as they barefacedly want to subvert the constitution, it’s glaring to the Yar’Adua group that the constitution must be obeyed at last in the event of Yar’Adua staying longer than necessary. Already, the rally by eminent Nigerians, led by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka,   Pastor Tunde Bakare, the strident call of the former civilian governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Babalarbe Musa , former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu and the group of 56 eminent Nigerians that sounded the alarm have been deafening.

A group of northerners also placed an advertorial, recently, insisting that the spirit and letter of the constitution must be followed.

The group, which included Mohammed Haruna, Lai Mohammed, Dauda Birma, Audu Ogbe Col Hamid Ali Abba Kyai Clement Baiye General John Temlong(Rtd), Solomon Ewuga and Mohammed Bomoi among others said, “We wish to  state categorically that (God forbid, and we wish him well), in the event the President is unable to continue in office ,Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should immediately be sworn in as president as provided for by Section 144 of the 1999 constitution.. Any other ploy to bypass the constitution will have grave consequences for the evolution, unity and integrity of Nigeria

Already, the Yar’Adua loyalists are beginning to lose grip, as the pretension that the entire North was in support of President Yar’Adua not handing over to Jonathan is falling like a pack of cards.

It was reported that the group met recently in Abuja with some governors to parley on who should be picked to serve as the vice president, should the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan becomes acting president.

Five PDP Governors; Alhaji Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Dr. Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and Sule Lamido (Jigawa) as well as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu Aliero, according to a source were tabled as likely nominees.

The source revealed that Goje was highly favoured to get the nod of majority of his colleagues, while Shema came second on the rate card because of the sentiment that he is from the same state as Yar’Adua.

Our informant, however, disclosed that Governors Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi state enjoy the support of President Yar’Adua. Yuguda is the president’s son in law.

Already, the group of senators collecting signatures to force the Senate to revisit the issue of the President’s health to enable them call on Yar’Adua to send a letter to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives have swollen and by next week, the movers of the group would likely raise up the matter on the floor of the Senate.
Obahiagbon breaks the calabash

Also, despite the cockiness of some South-South politicians on  the matter, Patrick Obahiagbon, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Oredo/Ikpoba-Okha federal constituency became the first notable PDP politician from the zone to boldly call for “immediate and formal” handover by President Umaru Yar’Adua to the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Mr. Obahiagbon, who represents Oredo in Edo State, said the capriciousness of ill health might have stopped the president from transferring power to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan before he left for Saudi Arabia, but, pointed out that if the president was healthy enough to sign the budget and conduct an interview with the BBC, he should also abide by section 145 of the constitution and allow his deputy assume full acting powers.

South-South leaders break the spell

Many swore that it was spell and asked, if not, why are the leaders of the South-South zone keeping quiet in the face of obvious abuse of the constitution by President Yar’Adua and his loyalists against the interest of the country and the zone.

Chief Clark who   initially kept a sealed lip on the issue of handover to Jonathan in company of the former Chief of General Staff, Admiral Mike Akhigbe (rtd), Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, Professor Lawrence Ekpebu, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd), Chief Ambrose Akpanika, Chief Peter Biakpara, Rev Grace Ekaneme, Dr. Esther Uduehi, Olorogun Felix Ibru, Chief Francis Doukpola, Dr. Mike Oberabor, Chief Anyakeme Whiskey, Dr. Brown Adasen, Senator Fred Brume, Chief Jackson Sunny Udoh on Wednesday at Abuja broke their silence.

“The sudden departure from the norm whereby a Vice President acts in the stead of President who is indisposed, a contravention of the provisions of the supreme law of the land, the 1999 Constitution, would certainly further catalyze the quest for self-determination by the people of the South-South region. Does anybody or group of people own Nigeria more than others, if we may ask, the leaders said.

JRC warns

The Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC) an amalgamation of militant groups in the Niger-Delta through its spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte had in its response to the schemes and manipulations of the Yar’Adua kitchen cabinet against Dr. Jonathan stated, “We believe that people should get very used to the fact that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the Vice President of the Nigerian state and not President.

Therefore, he cannot arrogate to himself the position of President without recourse to due process. He has a strong pedigree of humility, loyalty and commitment. Any attempt by dubious cabals to taint that pedigree will fail”.
‘’The critical concern at this moment is to wish Yar’ Adua well while condemning the overzealous members of his kitchen cabinet who would do anything to cling to power and privilege. These people are the real problem of this contraption called Nigeria .

‘’The last time the President returned from Saudi Arabia after treatments, Babagana Kingibe got fired. Hopefully when he returns this time, we would like to see someone like Michael Aondokaa. The man is a disgrace to the people of the Nigerian state.

’It is unfortunate that the Niger Delta still belongs to this contraption called Nigeria . Recently, our people have had to suffer the embarrassments created by Umar Farouk Mutallab, the young man from Northern Nigeria who tried to bomb a plane in the United States . He ignored the problems in Northern Nigeria to bomb a plane in America . Why didn’t he attempt to bomb the quarters of corrupt Northern leaders?

‘’There is no smoke without fire. Goodluck Jonathan enjoys the mandate and support of all people of the Ijaw and Niger Delta territory. It would be a terrible and grievous mistake for anyone whatsoever to undermine him. The end result may threaten the very foundation of the Nigerian state.’’


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.