By Martins Oloja, Oghogho Obayuwana, Muyiwa Adeyemi and Chuks Collins:
* Anxiety Over Deployment Of Soldiers To Airport * UK Warns Against Constitutional * CrisisActing President, Wife Meet Turai
DETAILS of what transpired between Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, First Lady Hajia Turai Musa Yar’Adua and personal aides of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from Tuesday night to Thursday have begun to emerge.
The Guardian learnt in Abuja yesterday that Jonathan’s strategic plan for the day began in the early hours of Wednesday when he decided not to attend or preside over that day’s weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting unless he saw and spoke with the President.
And contrary to earlier reports that the Acting President did not meet with Turai on Wednesday evening, he, along with his wife (Patience) actually met with the President’s wife at the Nigerian leader’s official residence in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
It was learnt that Jonathan’s decision not to attend the FEC deliberations without seeing the President “was to avert a likely constitutional crisis if both leaders attended the session. And it was taken in the early hours of Wednesday as the convoy from the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja arrived at the Presidential Villa.”
Jonathan reportedly made two attempts to meet with Yar’Adua without any headway. The first was on Wednesday morning when the Aide De Camp (ADC) Col. Mustapha Onoedieva, Chief Security Officer (CSO), Mr. Yusuf Tilde and Senior Special Assistant to the President (Special Duties), Alhaji Inuwa Baba, came to his office to persuade him to attend and preside over the Council’s meeting.
The aides had told the Acting President that seeing the President was not immediately feasible as he (Yar’Adua) still had jet lag and therefore was still sleeping. The second attempt was later in the evening when Jonathan and his wife visited and met with Turai. It was learnt that Jonathan insisted on seeing his boss even as Hajia Turai was artfully dodging the question of how and when to see the President. She was said to have successfully warded off the Acting President’s subtle but hard pressure.
There are however worries in Nigeria’s defence and security sector on the implications of what transpired on Tuesday night with the deployment of about 300 soldiers who threw a security cordon around Abuja and the environs without approval or notification of the channel of deployment or command.
Some security chiefs termed the deployment as “a coup d’etat against the Acting President.”
The soldiers were said to have been brought in to Abuja from Kebbi State.
The Guardian learnt last night that the Acting President stayed up till the presidential convoy arrived from the airport. It was then that he took a decision not to attend or preside over the FEC session because he was unsure of what was on the ground pertaining to the returning President.
According to sources, “if Dr. Jonathan had attended the meeting, and out of deference to the President, who could be made to attend, and sit on the official seat of the Vice President, it would have meant that he had technically ceased to be the Acting President. But if he attended and tried to sit on the seat for the (Acting) President and Commander-in-Chief and there was resistance by Presidential Guards, it would have triggered off a confrontation between aides of the President and the Acting President. Either way, this would have triggered a fresh constitutional crisis. This is because it would mean at that point that Nigeria had two Presidents and Commanders-in-Chief.”
In his attempt to see Yar’Adua before the Council’s session, at 8a.m. the Acting President allegedly initiated calls to both top aides of the President but none picked them. By 10a.m, the Presidential Guards took over the Council Chamber’s security. It was after that that the ADC and the CSO to the President emerged.
Upon discovering that the Acting President was not in the chamber, the duo went to meet him in his office where they informed him that Yar’Adua had asked that he preside over the meeting. But Jonathan was said to have refused, informing them that he would only do so after seeing his boss and confirming their words from him personally.
His request to see the President was allegedly turned down on the excuse that after the long flight, Yar’Adua was still sleeping.
And as the game of wits continued inside the State House, the denouement came when it became obvious that Jonathan could not see the President immediately. Accordingly, he asked that all ministers should meet with him by 2 p.m. hoping he would have met with his boss by then. But it was not to be as his (expectation) was cut off.
In the evening, there was a glimmer of hope as the Acting President, along with his wife, met with Turai, who welcomed them and thanked them for their concerns and prayers.
The Acting President, after sharing in the joy of the President’s return, asked about his boss. He got a cut answer that “he is Ok. He is doing well.” Turai quickly delved into how her husband holds Jonathan in high esteem and also impressed with the way he had managed the ship of state in his absence…
Jonathan then asked pointedly to see his boss. The First Lady replied that it was not possible for now as “the President is still resting after the long journey.” The meeting ended without any clear agreement on when and if the Acting President would see the President as Turai veered off any discussion that could lead to seeing her husband.
A third attempt was to be made yesterday evening by Jonathan to see Yar’Adua. The Guardian learnt that there were fears that Yar’Adua might still be in the air ambulance that brought him from the airport, as he did not walk down from it to his home. A source said it took about 50 minutes for the President to be evacuated to the ambulance that took him to the Presidential Villa.
Also, sources said contrary to the reports that two-company of soldiers (about 100 soldiers) were deployed for the security cordon that accompanied the President’s return, about 300 soldiers were involved in the exercise. And none of the soldiers was allowed the use of their telephones. Each was asked to drop his or her phone while those who came to their duty posts with theirs had them seized. This was to ensure that none would use the telephone to take pictures of the President when he was being evacuated from the aircraft or to record the proceedings between the air ambulance and the land one.
As the dust began to settle after presidential spokesman, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi’s clarification on the status of Jonathan, the import of the deployment of the soldiers has raised fears of command and control in the Army as neither the Acting President, the Minister of Defence nor Chief of Defence Staff was informed of the deployment of the soldiers.
It is not yet clear if the Chief of Army Staff was informed as the Army Headquarters Garrison and the Guards Brigade, which ordered the deployment are under his direct control. But an unconfirmed source said the COAS was sighted at the operations site at the airport on Tuesday night.
Security sources said that “the implication is that while the period the President’s operation lasted, technically, the security of the nation and its democracy, including the safety of the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation, the members of the National Assembly, the members of the Executive Council of the Federation were in their hands. If they had decided to truncate the nation’s democracy or put at risk the lives of top Nigerians, there would have been no one stopping them as the soldiers sidelined every other security arm and took over all the key and vulnerable points and installations all over the city.”
A source also said that there is frustration on the part of the Acting President that despite all the goodwill and efforts, he is yet to see his boss. The situation, they said, has left him “high and dry” as he is at a loss on how to explain to Nigerians the fact that three days into the arrival Yar’Adua, he could not see him.”
Amid this confusion, the United Kingdom (UK) has asked Nigeria to avoid uncertainties and what it called constitutional confusion at this critical time.
In its first reaction to the home coming of Yar’Adua yesterday, the British High Commission, urged Nigerian political elite to act in consistent with the constitution and principles of democracy, good governance and rule of law in resolving the saga.
The statement by its High Commissioner Bob Dewar and signed by the commission’s Public Affairs Officer Jonathan Bacon began thus:
“We have read in the media reports of the return of President Yar’Adua to Abuja. We continue to extend best wishes to him for a full recovery from his illness.
“The British government continues to encourage the government and institutions of Nigeria to act in a way that is consistent with the constitution and the principles of democracy, good governance and the peaceful rule of law.
“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.
“We therefore welcome the clarification on leadership during President Yar’Adua’s recuperation from illness, provided by recent official statements, namely that the Acting President will continue to oversee the affairs of State,” it added.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has demanded a public appearance of Yar’Adua to assure Nigerians of his true state of health.
Speaking in Awka on Thursday, NANS President Kingsley Ezekwelu, welcomed the President from his long medical trip to Saudi Arabia.
It however advised the President to take a deserved rest to recover fully, and “to take a personal look at his health according to his doctors’ advice, the interest of his family and the love for the progress of the nation, before taking decision on whether to now formally resign or return to his seat as President of Nigeria in due course.”
The students, who acknowledged that as human, anyone could fall ill, they therefore denounced the political pranks and drama, “including series of lies, half-truths that had fed the nation by close confidants and family of Yar’Adua. They therefore insisted that Nigerians deserve to know the whole truth about the health of their leader.”
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