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Like a thief in the night

By Owei Lakemfa
PRESIDENT Umaru Yar’Adua  after a 93-day absence was brought commando style into the country last Wednesday under the cover of darkness. The Commander-in-Chief tactically evaded the six-man Federal Government delegation sent to his erstwhile Saudi Arabia base; as the delegation arrived, he took off for Nigeria. The hapless delegation was forced to return home in pursuit of their sick leader.

In Nigeria, Yar’Adua’s aircraft parked in the dark, near the bushes where he was evacuated. Meanwhile, supposedly loyal soldiers had taken over the airport, hanging from the Presidential wing to the Aso Rock presidential fortress where he was delivered safely and shielded from the rest of government. It prompted many patriots to ask if the President had truly returned or the country was being sold a dummy.

Ordinarily, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan who has been holding fort should have been at the airport to welcome him, but the C-in-C was either in no mood for such civilities or was not in a good enough health condition to be so received. There is the issue of the troops; who let them out, on whose authority and why? Was there some fear that Yar’Adua may be prevented from coming into the country and there was therefore the need for a forced entry?

After this obvious show of power, there was the need to flex more muscles; Yar’Adua’s aides in an obviously disdainful manner issued a public statement to say their boss is back and in the few words of that announcement twice referred to the Acting President as the “Vice President”.

They thought it was necessary to let the National Assembly, the Governors Forum, former Heads of State and the rest of us know that the elevation of Jonathan to the position of Acting President was an exercise in futility and that the return of Yar’Adua in one piece meant that they are back in the saddle, and that Jonathan must know his place.  In fact, they carried their glee so far as to get Presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi to direct that although their life-line is back but “while the President completes his recuperation, Vice President Jonathan will continue to oversee the affairs of state”.

Adeniyi did not tell the nation whether he saw President Yar’Adua, who gave him these directives or if they were reported to him as Yar’Adua’s alleged directives. This is more so when  the Acting President was prevented from seeing Yar’Adua.

Or was it possible for an unelected Adeniyi to see Yar’Adua while the man with a mandate was prevented? Poor Jonathan, with no information or access to Yar’Adua, told the cabinet that he would try to see Mrs Turai Yar’Adua and whatever information he is able to gleen would be passed on to them. Is anybody still in doubt that during Yar’Adua’s three-month stay in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria was run by proxy?

The appointment of Jonathan as Acting President had pulled the country back from the precipice; the manner of the President’s return, the thoughtless statements by his aides and their childish muscle flexing had the effect of another relentless push of the country towards the precipice. In all these, they take the Acting President and the rest of us for granted.

We hope that they will take heed of the little veiled warnings of  the United States which said: “We hope that President Yar’Adua’s return to Nigeria is not an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria’s stability and create renewed uncertainty in the democratic process”.

But why the hurried way Yar’Adua was returned? On the 50th day of his absence, concerned Nigerians decided to kick off a series of protest marches calling for the appointment of an Acting President. That January 12 date, a sick Yar’Adua was put on phone  by minders for a gruelling one minute ‘interview’ with a British Broadcasting Service correspondent.

It turned out to be a disastrous strategy as the shaky, almost inaudible voice rather than take the sail out of the protests, provided more winds. That interview also became the legal and constitutional basis for the National Assembly making Jonathan the Acting President.

Now, with the official government delegation to Saudi Arabia -which might have been the beginning of declaring Yar’Adua medically unfit – a desperate decision was taken to fly him to Nigeria. It was obvious that it would be difficult to deny the delegation assess to Yar’Adua as was done to governors, the House of Representatives and PDP delegations.

So the better option was to send him back. Again, the Saudi Arabian authorities would have been desperate to avoid a diplomatic row as they could not possibly prevent the delegation seeing Yar’Adua. So the options were either to allow the delegation see the sick Nigerian president or ask him to be evacuated from their territory.

It seems that Yar’Adua and his minders do not realise that, as the local saying goes,  levels don change. Although Yar’Adua did not obey the Constitution by refusing to write the Assembly that he was out of the country, now he has to write that he is not only back, but would want to resume the presidency. While in the past, he mouthed ‘rule of law’ as a slogan, in this case, he has to practise it.

That unlike some weeks ago when everybody clamoured to know what was going on in Saudi Arabia, with the appointment of the Acting President, there was no longer such enthusiasm, he was free to stay in that country for as long as he wished.

Also, there were two crucial elections when he was away; the volatile Edo State Assembly bye election and the Anambra State elections; the body language of Jonathan ensured that federal agencies did not intervene to impose winners.

For over three months, governance has taken a back seat; the Seven-Point Agenda had disappeared in the mist of a contrived constitutional cloud, now this charade must stop!


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