From Madu Onuorah, Oghogho Obayuwana and Francis Obinor:

  • ACTING President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has taken another step towards steadying the ship of state, thereby dousing, to some extent, the political tension over the sudden return from Saudi Arabia, at night, of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

    The confusion in the Presidency and the country over who is in charge, between Dr. Jonathan and Yar’Adua’s aides, had obviously slowed down government’s activities and put the nation on edge.

    But yesterday, Jonathan seemingly asserted his authority and moved to get input from outside the government towards a quick implementation of policies. He set up a Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) “to provide alternative inputs into policy formation, promote good governance in the areas of power, economy, security, infrastructure, social sector, the electoral process, and the fight against corruption, among others.”

    In the meantime, the European Union (EU), after acknowledging that there was uncertainty in the polity, yesterday urged Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to stabilise Nigeria’s democracy.

    In the first reaction of the European bloc to the return of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Nigeria, the EU urged Nigeria’s democratic institutions to remain faithful to the principles of democracy, responsible governance and the rule of law.

    Other terms of reference for the PAC to be chaired by former Minister of Defence Lt.-Gen Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, include:

    • “to evaluate policy implementation and advise on areas requiring adjustments;

    • to advise the President on how to maximise the benefits derivable from government’s efforts;

    • to advise on such actions and programmes that may improve credibility and performance of the government; and

    • to advise on any other matter referred to it by the President.”The committee is to be inaugurated at the Presidential Villa on Thursday. Foremost constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, will serve as Deputy Chairman of the Council, which also includes renowned banker, Fola Adeola, Malam Abubakar Gimba, Mr. Basil Omiyi, formerly of Shell, Alhaji M. D. Yusuf, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Amb. G. B. Preware, Prof. Bartholomew Nnaji, Mr. Kase Lawal, Mallam Muhammed Hayatuddeen, Justice Alfa Belgore, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, Mrs. Mobola Johnson, Hajiya Halita Aliyu, Alhaji Magaji Danbatta, Prof. B. G. Bajoga, Dr. (Mrs) Sally Bolujoko, Mrs. Mariam Uwais and Chief Kanu Agabi.

      Others are Dr. Bamanga Tukur, Alhaji Ismaila Isa, Prof. Shehu Said Sarinwata and Dr. Simon C. Okolo. The Chairman, National Economic Summit Group, is also a member while the Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation would serve as Secretary.

      The statement announcing the constitution of the Council was signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President (Media & Publicity), Ima Niboro, who also yesterday said his boss had not yet met Yar’Adua despite a story “making the rounds” that he had done so.

      In a message last night, he said: “There is a story making the rounds in the media that the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, met with President Yar’Adua this morning. This story is entirely false. The Acting President has not seen the President since his return from Saudi Arabia last week.”

      In a statement yesterday by the Vice President of its Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the EU said: “The European Union welcomes news of the return of President Yar’Adua to Abuja. The EU extends its best wishes to the President and his family and continues to hope that he will make a good and complete recovery from his illness.

      “The EU acknowledges the challenge posed by uncertainty in the political process in Nigeria at the present time, and commends the will of the democratic institutions of Nigeria to remain faithful to the principles of democracy, responsible governance and the rule of law.”

      It said further: “In this perspective, the EU encourages the efforts of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and the government of Nigeria to foster stability in the country and sub-region. The EU also underlines its support for the government of Nigeria’s resolve to ensure the continuity of democracy and to tackle the many challenges facing the nation.”

      Last week, the United States (U.S.) Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, issued a statement noting that although America welcomed the news of President Yar’Adua’s return to Nigeria, it was hoping that “his health is sufficient to enable him fully resume his official duties.”

      Expressing fears over the implications of the manner of his return for the stability of Nigeria, the U.S. had 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.”

      Carson’s statement continued: “Nigeria is an extra-ordinarily important country to its friends and partners, and all of those in positions of responsibility should put the health of the President and the best interests of the country and people of Nigeria above personal ambition or gain. As a nation of 150 million people, Nigeria’s democracy and its continued adherence to constitutional rule should be the highest priority.”

      Also by the close of last week, a similar public statement was made by Britain. The United Kingdom (UK), through its High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Bob Dewar, urged Nigeria to avoid uncertainties and what it called “constitutional confusion.”

      Britain also called on the Nigerian political elite to act in such a way as was consistent with the constitution and principles of democracy, good governance and peaceful rule of law.

      According to the British government: “It is important to avoid uncertainty at this time. It is also important at this time to avoid any political or constitutional confusion that could put at risk the integrity and transparency needed in the conduct of public affairs.”

      Britain, however, did not fail to hail the maturity displayed so far in Nigeria, saying: “It remains important for the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and government of Nigeria to take forward work on the many pressing priority issues affecting Nigeria’s citizens without any further delay…The British government will support the Acting President and government in taking these and other issues forward in a spirit of constructive partnership.”

      The priority issues were listed to include tackling corruption and poverty, implementing economic reform, improving governance and democratic accountability, and bringing peace and stability to the Niger Delta.

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