By Madu Onuorah:

AMIDST widespread doubts, fears and misgivings over the purported return yesterday of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Nigeria, in the dead night, indications are that, at best, the country may have only graduated from absentee Presidency to a phantom alternative.

Over 16 hours after the President’s alleged return, not even the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, had set eyes on him. As at press time yesterday, Jonathan was reported to be making efforts to see Yar’Adua’s wife Turai, as part of the process of seeing his boss.

In fact, the weekly Federal Executive (FEC) meeting was cancelled yesterday, purportedly at the instance of the Acting President, obviously because of the non-appearance of President Yar’Adua to chair the meeting.

Another meeting was then fixed for 2.00 p.m. with Acting President Jonathan. After a wait of about two hours by minister and others, some of whom had arrived by 9.40 am, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Alhaji Yayale Ahmed arrived the council chamber at 12.10 to announce the cancellation.

After the 2.00 p.m. meeting which lasted a few minutes, Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, told journalists: “He (Dr Jonathan) invited us for a meeting in his meeting room at 2pm. And when we came, he told us that the President has returned, that he has been briefed by the aides of Mr President (Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) and that he hopes to see the wife of the President this evening (Wednesday), and that when we meet next week, we will be briefed on the outcome of the Saudi trip by the members of council. And that when he is eventually briefed by our President he will call us again.”

But Acting President yesterday assured Nigerians that “the ship of state is on course.”

The Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President (Media and Publicity), Mr. Ima Niboro, quoted Jonathan as saying at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that he appreciates the prayers of Nigerians both for President Yar’Adua and the nation.

According to Niboro: “He (Jonathan) thanked Nigerians for their prayers both for the President and for the nation. He said that the President’s return is a pointer to the fact that the prayers of Nigerians are working.

“The Acting President called on Nigerians to continue to earnestly strive for the well-being of the nation, noting that “it is at times like this that all patriots must rise to the occasion, and place the interest of the country above every other consideration.”

“According to him, Nigeria is still battling with the pains of development and progress; therefore all hands must be on deck to ensure that the integrity of the nation is maintained at all times.

“Jonathan urged Nigerians to continue to work for peace, security and stability, stating that “we have only one country that we can call our own; we must therefore single-mindedly pursue our national interest at all times.”

However, the situation in the Villa was confusing as some officials of the Presidency were already fanning out messages to journalists that since President Yar’Adua was back in the country, Jonathan immediately reverted back to his former position of Vice President. In fact, the statement released by the Presidency on the President’s return addressed Jonathan as “Vice President.”

Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Olusegun Adeniyi, had said in a statement in Abuja that President Yar’Adua would continue his recuperation in Nigeria.

But he stated that “while the President completes his recuperation,” President Goodluck Jonathan, whom the statement addressed as “Vice President Jonathan, “will continue to oversee the affairs of state.”

The statement thanked “Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for competently overseeing the affairs of state in his absence.”

The full text of the statement reads: “After being discharged by the team of medical experts overseeing his treatment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua returned to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, early this morning.

“President Yar’Adua wishes to express his profound gratitude to all Nigerians for their prayers for his recovery, their exceptional generosity of spirit and their appreciation of the fact that all mortals are subject to the vagaries of ill-health.

“President Yar’Adua is grateful to the Vice President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, for competently overseeing the affairs of state in his absence.

“The President also wishes to thank the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the entire membership of the National Assembly, the Governors’ Forum, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces and other security agencies, former heads of state and other eminent Nigerians for their roles in maintaining order and stability during his absence.

“President Yar’Adua wishes to re-assure all Nigerians that on account of their unceasing prayers and by the special grace of God, his health has greatly improved.

“However, while the President completes his recuperation, Vice President Jonathan will continue to oversee the affairs of state.”

The Guardian had on Thursday, January 28, 2010 reported a plot to bring the President into the country to continue his tenure under an arrangement that will allow him to rule by proxy.

This arrangement, sources said, will allow only a few people to see the President and claim to be delivering his orders. The officials expected to play this role are the Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Col. Mustapha Onodieva, the Chief Security Officer (CSO), Yusuf Tilde, Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai, and maybe, one or two members of the President’s so-called kitchen cabinet.

All ministers had been seated at yesterday’s aborted FEC meeting when the SGF took his official Council seat, stood up and announced: “Honourable ministers, ladies and gentlemen; the Acting President has directed me to announce that this meeting (Council session) is postponed. Accordingly, we are to go back to our offices. But a special meeting of the Acting President by all ministers in attendance is being convened by 2.00 p.m. in the Acting President’s office conference room. Of course, attendance is mandatory. Thank you and God bless.”

The ministers all dispersed.

By 9.30 a.m., hordes of journalists covering the Villa had converged on the corridor by the entrance to the Council Chambers., even though no member of the Council was around yet. By 9.40 a.m., Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, arrived with another colleague, smiling and acknowledging greetings as she passed the temporary media stand. Other ministers followed in quickly.

By 9.48 a.m., Minister of Defence, Maj.-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd) was dropped off at the Council Chambers foyer. He is, by virtue of his office, one of the privileged officials that parked in the Chambers/President’s parking area. Exchanging greetings with some Villa staff, Abbe was joined by Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsaye. Soon after, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties, Alhaji Inuwa Baba, joined Oronsaye.

By 9.55 a.m., the duo of the Aide-De-Camp (ADC) to the President, Col. Mustapha Onodieva and the President’s Chief Security Officer (CSO), Mr. Yusuf Tilde, who had also been exclusively reported by The Guardian as the only persons, apart from his wife, Turai who were regularly seeing Yar’Adua, came in through the President’s office foyer. Coming close to where television camera men and photographers were gathered in front of the Council Chambers, Col. Onodieva jokingly asked them not to take his photograph as he walked away with Tilde, with both of them laughing. Quickly, Senior Special Assistant Alhaji Inuwa Baba joined them. They moved towards the President’s office before veering into the area leading to the Council Chamber’s.

By 10.15am, Chief Economic Adviser, Tanimu Yakubu, walked in and took his seat. He left after a few minutes. By then, most ministers and members were already seated. The seats conspicuously empty were those of the President, Vice President, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Head of Service of the Federation (HOSF), National Security Adviser (NSA) and the President’s Principal Secretary.

Others were those of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Ministers of Agriculture and Water Resources, Foreign Affairs, Health and Petroleum Resources. These, including the SGF, were not expected immediately as they were part of the delegation to Saudi Arabia.

By 11.15 a.m., while some ministers, after the long wait, started moving inside the Chambers and the tea room area discussing in groups, most others sat glued to their seats. At intervals, ministers, secretariat staff and journalists would dash to their seat, expecting the entry of either the President or the Acting President. It did not happen.

However, by 12.10 p.m., the SFG entered, exchanged greetings with some ministers and quickly went to his seat. Standing, Yayale Ahmed made his announcement. After that, everyone got up to go.

Asked by journalists whether Jonathan was still the Acting President, as the ministers filed out of the Council Chambers, Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, said Nigerians should “pray for the full and quick recovery of the President and not bother about who is acting or who is not acting.”

Asked to clarify whether the meeting holding later with the Acting President was a continuation of the postponed session, Akunyili stated that “today’s meeting is not shifted to two o’clock. The meeting will no longer hold, but at two o’clock, we ministers are going to hold a meeting with the Acting President at his conference room.”

Pressed on whether President Yar’Adua was fit to resume his duties, she got visibly angry, saying “why would you ask me that type of question. I’m not a doctor.”

Her reply to subsequent questions was “I don’t know” as she walked away.

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