* His men in race against time

* Their plot against invocation of Section 144

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor and Ben Agande

Thursday’s unexpected visit by four Islamic clerics to ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, has sparked fresh anxiety in the polity with questions now being asked about the propriety of allowing the clerics access to the President while same is denied Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

The nation woke up on Friday to hear that the Chief Imam of Abuja, Ustaz Musa Mohammed, leader of the Izala Islamic Sect in Katsina State, Sheik Yakubu Musa; Islamic scholar from Bauchi State, Sheik Isa Pantami, and the President, Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) Dr. Datti Ahmed, visited the President the previous night, well over four months since he was flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

He returned to Nigeria on February 24 and is yet to make a public appearance.

Ustaz Mohammed told Reuters he and the others shook hands and prayed with Yar’Adua during the 15-minute meeting.

“We set up the meeting because we wanted to know the truth to see whether he is alive”, he said, adding, “we have now seen him and we are satisfied that he is recovering”.

He said Yar’Adua had some difficulty speaking, saying only one or two words to them.  The President remained seated during the meeting with his wife Turai at his side.  No doctor was present.

In a separate interview with Associated Press (AP), Ustaz Mohammed said he and the other visitors were led into a room in Aso Rock Villa just after 6.30 p.m.

“He was in his senses”, Mohammed said.  “He had no trouble at all.”

But political sources in Abuja reacting to the development yesterday said it was the latest ploy by Yar’Adua’s loyalists to divert attention from the issue of whether the President has the physical / mental strength to continue in office.

According to sources, Yar’Adua’s men are reaching for their last joker in the bid to salvage his Presidency and are thus determined to pull all the necessary strings over the next 48 hours with a view to frustrating or, at the least, discrediting the planned inauguration of the newly assembled Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, by Acting President Jonathan.

Their calculation is that the EXCOF expected to be inaugurated on Tuesday, may invoke Section 144 against Yar’Adua.

The section provides that:“. (1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
“(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
“(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.

“(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.

“(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
“(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
“(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.

“(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.”

Sources say the fear generated in the Yar’Adua camp by the constitution of EXCOF was largely responsible for the arrangement of the clerics’ visit which came exactly a week after a rumour that the President would join other faithful for the Jumat at the National Mosque, Abuja, that day. He never did.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that last Friday’s visit was designed to let Nigerians know that Yar’Adua is alive and more importantly that he is not strapped to life-support machine.

This, sources said, is expected to put a moral question on any move by the new EXCOF not to invoke Section 144.

“There was the need to let Nigerians know that the man is not incapacitated as is being rumoured”, one source said, adding, “there were talks that the reason he (Yar’Adua) did not appear for that Jumat service was because he was incapacitated.  But that is not true”.

A member of the recently dissolved EXCOF, said it was necessary to let people know that “whereas the man has not been seen in public, it does not in any way tantamount to incapacitation.

“There are some medical conditions which limit human contacts with a victim for a period of time.  Does that then mean that the man would not come out of that situation?” the source asked.

“Those planning to pronounce the man incapacitated should just be careful”, Sunday Vanguard was told.

Among the posers raised by political sources in Abuja are:
* Does protocol allow the President to sit down, waiting for his guests?
* Why is Acting President Jonathan not allowed to see the President despite repeated efforts?
* Who has been dropping hints of Yar’Adua’s reappearance.
* How come that the same President who was said to be talking, walking and exercising and even granted a radio interview two months ago is suddenly not audible now.

Reacting, an AC member of the House of Representatives from Lagos State, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila said: “If it is true it is good news and we are all happy. It however does not change anything constitutionally neither doe it shift power because one, Section 144 talks about incapacity and inability to discharge responsibilities of his office.  Sighting him or shaking his hand does not pass the constitutional test of capacity. Two, Section 145 which was invoked using the doctrine of necessity requires Mr. President to notify the NASS that he has returned to office and able to discharge his duties and I do not think you can return to office and be invisible at the same time.

In other words, the onus of proving capacity has been shifted by virtue of law to Mr. President.  Beyond that, we are delighted that he is still here with us”.

On his part, Senator Ganiyu Solomon, said,
“I think there is nothing on the ground to show that we made a wrong decision in making that resolution which empowered Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President.  Everything points to the fact that we did the right thing.

“What is quite worrisome, however, is the attitude of some of our leaders who have fed us with lies and continue to feed us with lies about the state of health of Yar’Adua.

“What Nigerians should do now is to support the Acting President.

“Then we should continue to pray Yar’Adua’s recovery and whenever he becomes very fit as stated by our resolution, he can then come back to office”.

Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, said,
“Regarding the decision of the National Assembly empowering Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, the National Assembly is very right.

“On the matter of Yar’Adua’s health, the western intelligence have incontrovertible facts about Yar’Adua’s health status.  The western countries, particularly countries of Europe and the United States of America, USA, have up to 80% investment in Nigeria.  Our trade with them is about 90% and it is largely crude oil.  These countries can not be fooled on Yar’Adua’s health condition and the incontrovertible evidence before them suggests that Yar’Adua is not fit to govern this country.

“Now, what we must all understand is that it is not Yar’Adua’s fault, it is not the fault of members of the National Assembly, it is not the fault of Nigerians and it is not the fault of anybody.  Only God Almighty is immortal.  It is high time we stop deceiving people”.

Senator Manzo Anthony, Taraba:
“The letters and spirit of the resolution of the Senate is very clear.
“Whatever people are saying can not change the letters and the spirit of the resolution”

Former National Secretary of the All Nigeria Peoples Party and now a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in Anambra State, Chief George Moghalu said: ‘I think that we should not sensationalize or politicize the issue of the health of the president’

“It would be interesting if he is recovering as all Nigerians have been praying for his recovery since he went to Saudi Arabia. But one thing is that the Acting President who is carrying out the mandate of the president pending when the president would be back should not be distracted. It is good that the president is said to be recovering but the issue of his health should not be politicized at all” he emphasized.

Chief Moghalu said the decision by Yar’Adua’s family to allow religious leaders as one of the first people to see him was in tandem with the religious nature of the average Nigerian.

“There is nothing wrong with choosing religious leaders as people who he should see first. As a Christian, if I was in his shoe, I would also like to see my pastor first when the need arises” Chief Moghalu pointed out.

In his reaction, the National secretary of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, Chief Emmanuel Unuekwu, the secrecy surrounding the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria more than five months after he left public view is uncalled for and smacks of some hidden agenda.

‘I wonder why everything about our president is shrouded in secrecy. If reputable leaders like the Chief Imam of the Abuja Mosque will lead other leaders to see the president, why can’t they air it? At least it should be aired. He is not a private property, he is a public property. He should do Nigerians a favour by coming to the public through our medium. For as long as we do not see him and we hear this same story about people seeing the president, I believe it is one of those propaganda” he said

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