From Yusuf Alli:
PRESIDENT Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency got a breather yesterday.
Ministers avoided the invocation of Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution to determine the President’s health – thanks to a desperate intervention by governors.
But some members of the cabinet urged the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to caution the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, against what they called persistent inflammatory remarks.
Investigation by The Nation revealed that the opposition of the Nigeria Governors Forum on Tuesday night to the invocation of Section 144 changed the game plan of cabinet members pushing for Jonathan to be President after Yar’Adua must have been declared unfit to rule.
A highly-placed source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The governors conveyed their displeasure to Jonathan on plans to invoke Section 144 by FEC.
“They also warned the acting president and ministers of the consequences of the invocation leading to a political turmoil.
“The governors mobilised ministers, most of who were their nominees, to reject any motion to declare Yar’Adua incapacitated.
“The caution from the governors created an upset in the Presidency, with the Acting President becoming wary of the accumulating tension in the country.”
The source claimed that the governors’ decision forced pro-Section 144 ministers to hold an emergency meeting at about 4am yesterday.
“At the meeting, the warning of the governors was conveyed to these ministers. The reality also dawned on them that they might not be able to garner the two-thirds majority required for the motion to sail through.
“The ministers then opted to jettison the motion to allow peace reign.”
Another source claimed that a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, met with the Acting President at about 8.30am to 9am. He advised against the invocation of Section 144.
Anenih, a loyalist of Yar’Adua, was said to have asked Jonathan to focus on programmes instead of allowing any distraction by politics.
It was, however, learnt that the governors’ decision laid the foundation for the drama at the FEC yesterday.
A Presidency source said: “At the FEC meeting, the Acting President seized the opportunity to sue for peace and the unity of the cabinet and the country as a whole.
“But after listening to Jonathan’s plea, ministers took turns to offer frank advice, with most of them warning Mrs Akunyili against continuous inflammatory remarks.
“In fact, the Minister of Defence, Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd) (an ally of Anenih), stood up for the first time to implore the Acting President to prevail on Mrs Akunyili to stop utterances that could ignite hatred and cause crises.
“Other ministers joined Abbe in X-raying the implications of Mrs Akunyili’s comments in the past few days.”
But that was not all at the Council meeting, which for the first time since the row over the fate of the Yar’Adua presidency broke out, could be described as peaceful.
The report of the visit by the six-man cabinet delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was tabled at the meeting where contracts in the sum of N23.71billion were approved.
The meeting, which started at exactly 10.30a.m., lasted for two hours. It ended 12.30p.m.
The report talked only about the steps taken in the course of the trip.
The report gave reason for the team’s inability to see President Yar’Adua as planned during the trip.
It said that while it was planning to move to Jeddah from Riyadh, Nigeria’s Ambassador, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminchi, told the team about the President’s departure for Nigeria.
“From all indications, the President must have departed Jeddah Airport at about 10 pm, Saudi time on Tuesday 23rd February 2010. With news that the President had left Saudi Arabia for Nigeria, the delegation did not consider it necessary to proceed to Jeddah, where the President was hospitalised. Accordingly, they decided to return to Nigeria,” the report stated.
This was, however, after the team had been received by the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, who re-affirmed the commitment of the Saudi Government to promoting good relationship with Nigeria.
The report also stated that the Saudi foreign affairs minister assured the delegation that the Health of President Yar’Adua was improving.
The report was signed by the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, Ahmed Yayale, who was the leader of the delegation.
Other members of the delegation are Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin and Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma. The delegation returned to Nigeria last Wednesday.
The mood at the Villa was relatively calm yesterday after the uneasiness of the last three weeks, following the attempt by the Minister of Information to make the council rescind its position on the President’s health, which has been shrouded in secrecy.
Ministers touted to be very close to the ailing president were looking relieved before and after the meeting. This turn of event could not be said to be far from the stand of the governors that the political resolution, which has empowered the vice president to become acting president, remains.
The governors had noted that the president remains the president and the acting president remains acting president.
This stand has, therefore, put paid to the purported plan to push for either resignation or impeachment of the president on health ground.
According to sources, Mrs Akunyili was cautioned by the acting president and her colleagues.
The acting president, The Nation gathered, told the minister to be careful of what she says about the situation, reminding her of her “sensitive” position.
This explained why she kept mum when asked if the acting president and members of the cabinet had seen the president.
Mrs Akunyili also said she had no comment when asked of her reaction to the call from governors, who seemed to have berated her over her interviews concerning the political crisis surrounding the President’s health.
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