By Yusuf Alli:
• Governors meet in Abuja • Ex-Minister pushes for Section 144

Ministers will decide today whether to invoke Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution or not to determine the President’s health status, it was learnt yesterday.

Ahead of what sources called “the day of decisions” governors were locked in a series of meetings yesterday in Abuja on the fate of the President.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) was about to debate the President’s health about two weeks ago, but a row broke out over the propriety or otherwise of such a step.

The Council constituted a six-man delegation to Saudi Arabia, which was led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmed.

Although the delegation went to Saudi Arabia, it had hardly landed when it heard of the news of the President’s return to Nigeria.

Since the President’s return last Wednesday, there have been tension over whether the FEC will still ask the Senate to raise a Medical Panel on Yar’Adua’s health – in line with Section 144 – or not.

Section 144 reads: “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.”

Investigation by The Nation yesterday revealed that some ministers, led by a G-10 caucus in the cabinet, plan to push for Section 144 at today’s meeting.

According to findings, some of the ministers met at Radio House in the office of the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, at about noon yesterday on the plan.

It was also learnt that those for Section 144 met in Abuja in the evening to perfect their strategy for today.

It could not be immediately ascertained who will move the motion.

A Minister, who was part of the meetings, said: “We are set to go ahead with the application of Section 144 of the Constitution to determine the health status of the President.

“Since Yar’Adua returned to the country, neither the Acting President nor any of the ministers has seen him. We believe we have the right to know if he is incapacitated or not.

“Some of us have actually been threatening to leave the cabinet, if no concrete action is taken by the Federal Executive Council to address the ill-health of the President and the political tension it has caused.”

Another cabinet source added: “The motion might come under Any Other Business but I won’t tell you who will raise the issue.

“I do not want to pre-empt what will happen at the FEC meeting. We have had extensive consultations and most members of the cabinet are in support of the invocation of Section 144.”

But ministers loyal to Yar’Adua have also been meeting to frustrate the motion whenever it is raised.

A source said: “The pro-Yar’Adua ministers have added ethnic agenda to the matter. If the issue is not properly handled by the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, we may end up with a North-South split in the council on Wednesday.

“Already, some governors have infiltrated the cabinet by asking their nominees to stand by the President.

“There is tension everywhere.”

It was gathered that the Yar’Adua family is set to stop those who may want the President humiliated out of power.

A source said: “The First Lady does not see anything wrong in Jonathan being in control as Acting President. In case the FEC goes ahead to invoke Section 144, the family is looking forward to the Senate to checkmate the ministers.”

A source alleged that a former minister in Obasanjo’s administration provided the roadmap for the invocation of Section 144.

It was gathered that Yar’Adua’s family has stumbled on a mail sent to some highly-placed Nigerians by the ex-minister.

The mail reads in part: “The continued leadership of Goodluck without a ‘Vice-President’ will evoke feelings of complete exclusion in the political class of the North. This will lead to agitations (already Tanko Yakassai, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, Senator Ibrahim Mantu and Hassan Adamu, Wakilin Adamawa have been asked by Yar’Adua’s people to start this) by politicians and traditional rulers. A VP can only be nominated when Goodluck becomes substantive President.

“My sources within Goodluck’s team suggest that he does not intend to dissolve the cabinet or fire ministers and advisers as long as he is Acting President. This will lead to disappointment of Nigerians who ‘expect changes’ and with time, the Yar’Adua clique will capture Goodluck as well.

“The total sum of the foregoing means we must continue to push for the declaration of permanent incapacity of Yar’Adua so that Goodluck will be substantive President and will then nominate a VP and put the Yar’Adua era totally behind us.

“There are two other ways to achieve this-impeachment and FEC resolution for a medical panel by the Senate. In my view, the impeachment option is not viable because:

(i) The Yar’Adua people have billions of Naira to spend in the National Assembly to prevent or delay any steps to impeach him.

(ii) The option requires that a panel set up by the CJN within 30 days of request finds Yar’Adua guilty of impeachable offences. The current CJN’s relationship with Aondoakaa is a big question mark.

(iii) The option is time consuming-that will take anything from 1-6 months … which is precisely what Yar’Adua’s people want-delay until an early primary in mid-June takes place and then give Goodluck a lame-duck mandate.

“The most viable option-which process can be completed within weeks- is the FEC-Medical-Panel-Permanent Incapacitation option. We must focus on that and remain resolute until success is achieved. This is through continuous pressure, naming and shaming the reluctant, self-centred ministers, and emphasising the reality of power-now with Goodluck and not Yar’Adua.

“Umaru Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet continues to plot. They have a massive war chest …”

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