By Wole Oladimeji, Akeem Oyetunji, Julius Toba & Daniel Okpole:
•Governors visit Ogbulafor, insist North must produce President in 2011
THERE was a drama in the House of Representatives yesterday over the move to table a motion on the state of health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The pro and anti-Yar’Adua lawmakers engaged in a battle of wits for several minutes, shouting and screaming in the process.
When the situation became uncontrollable, the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, said it had become inevitable for him to call for an executive session to resolve the impasse.
The lower chamber, however, backed the Information and Communications Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili, over her recent utterances on Yar’Adua’s whereabouts since he returned from Saudi Arabia on February 24.
Several attempts by some members to bring up the issue of the President’s ill-health by invoking Section 8 (4) of the Rule Book were stalled by their colleagues who insisted that it must not be debated at all.
The executive session that Bankole called for lasted for two hours, after which a resolution of the House was read by the Leader, Tunde Akogun.
The House, in a one-paragraph resolution read by Akogun, urged Nigerians to concentrate only on those issues that could promote peace, unity and progress of the country.
After the motion on the minister which was raised by Mayor Eze on the need to curb government officials on their utterances was defeated by members who voted against it, the issue of the President’s whereabouts was raised.
The mover of the motion had wanted the House to sanction government officials over utterances against the President, saying: “People have been talking of a cabal holding the President hostage and such utterances heat up the system. Therefore, the House should resolve that the utterances of government officials should not be allowed to heat up the system.”
But members, who were already agitated, moved against the motion and spoke with one voice against it.
After the motion, Patrick Obahigbon (Edo PDP) attempted to raise a motion to condemn the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, for deploying Brigade of Guard soldiers to the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja to welcome Yar’Adua without the authorisation of the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Bankole immediately invited him for a quiet discussion.
Thereafter, Obahiagbon announced that he would like to drop his motion, based on the Speaker’s advice.
But, another member from Lagos State, Samuel Sejero, took the floor under matter of urgent national importance to say that his privileges were breached because since the President’s return, “nobody could say where he is. As a Nigerian and a parliamentarian, we should know the whereabouts of the President. We are all aware of the return of the President but up till now, nobody could say anything on his arrival.”
This did not go down well with other members who started shouting “No, no, no.”
Bankole tried to stop Sejero to no avail.
The Speaker then called for the executive session.
After the session, some members insisted that the matter would still be revisited, adding: “The resolution has nothing to do with the questions on the whereabouts of the President.”
Meanwhile, as the Federal Executive Council (FEC) reconvenes today, Jonathan will receive the report of a six-man team dispatched to Saudi Arabia to ascertain Yar’Adua’s health status.
The report, which will be presented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Yayale Ahmed, is expected to generate heated arguments and possibly lead to the invocation of Section 144 of the constitution which empowers FEC to declare an ailing President incapacitated and consequently communicate same to the Senate for further action.
The SGF was billed to present the report last Wednesday but the council meeting could not hold owing to uncertainty surrounding the sudden arrival of Yar’Adua in the wee hours of that day.
The council members had arrived the Presidential Villa early enough for the crucial meeting only to be informed by the SGF that it had been shifted to 12.00 pm at the Acting President’s Meeting Room and not the Council Chamber.
According to a source, Jonathan declined to preside over the last FEC meeting because he detested the manner in which Yar’Adua’s arrival, who had been away for 93 days, was shrouded in secrecy, coupled with the deployment of troops without his consent.
He was also said to have taken an exemption to the President’s preference for communicating to him through aides rather than a one-on-one meeting.
It was gathered that the council has further been polarised as ministers loyal to the Acting President are said to be intensifying efforts to convince their “lily-livered” colleagues to jettison personal interests and embrace national interest.
Also yesterday, Prof Akunyili had a piece of advice for those creating a gulf between Yar’Adua and Nigerians.
She urged them to have a rethink and a change of heart, saying it was inexplicable that the President had been held incommunicado since he returned from Saudi Arabia.
The minister, who spoke with newsmen in Abuja, said: “As the image maker and spokesperson of the Federal Government, I am yet to see the ailing President. Unnamed persons who have been preventing the President from speaking to Nigerians should better have a rethink and a change of heart.”
She praised the military high command for the manner it has conducted itself so far despite what she attributed to pressing calls by “some enemies of the state that they take undue advantage of the situation.”
According to her, the high sense of professionalism, patriotism and dedication shown by the military to defend and develop the nation must be commended.
She cautioned rumour-mongers to desist from their actions and noted that what the nation needed were persons that can contribute and support the process of governance.
Her words: “Those bent on doing otherwise will be challenged by nemesis. Neither me nor the Acting President has seen or spoken to the President since he was said to have returned on Wednesday last week.
“Those who are insisting on preventing the President from speaking to Nigerians should better have a rethink and a change of heart. His health is a national issue and should be made public, he should be allowed to speak to Nigerians. We deserve to know his health condition.”
Meanwhile, the Action Congress (AC) has declared that the Nigerian Army and indeed the entire military acted professionally and responsibly all through the leadership crisis caused by the failure of the President to legally transfer power to his deputy.
In a statement issued yesterday, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, dissociated the AC from the castigation of the Nigerian Army hierarchy by the Lagos State chapter of the party, saying that “the view does not represent the opinion of the party, either in Lagos or at the national level.”
Mohammed noted that at the height of the crisis, the military was being openly prodded by some elements within the polity to take power and give politicians the ‘Rawlings treatment’.
He said: “But the military shunned such unpatriotic calls and stuck to the ethos of its profession, while insisting on subjugating itself to civilian control.
“Going by Nigeria’s history of coups and counter-coups, the behaviour of our military while the leadership vacuum lasted is a source of pride.
“It simply shows that all the efforts that have been made to re-orientate the military and strengthen professionalism, after years of involvement in government, have paid off. It shows that our military, which is widely respected around the world for its peace-keeping role, has re-branded itself.”
The party said since the military has blatantly refused to be dragged into the controversy over the leadership crisis, it should be left alone to carry out its constitutional responsibilities without distraction.
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