By Chesa Chesa and Abel Orukpe:

• Don’t Ethnicise Current Leadership Crisis, AC Warns
• Institutions Greater Than Individuals, Says Fashola

Both the Action Congress (AC) and Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State have lent a hand of support to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan who, on Sunday, insisted that he has no agenda  against the North, or any other region for that matter.

Do not ethnicise or trivialise the leadership crisis, the AC cautioned; Fashola declared that public institutions are greater than any individual or groups, even those who build and manage such institutions – and this should be the focus of Nigerians.

The counsel buttressed the explanation given by Jonathan to counter allegation by Northerners that he diverted the N19 billion meant for the dredging of the Niger River to shoreline and land reclamation  projects in the Niger Delta.

Jonathan’s Spokesman, Ima Niboro, insisted in a statement that the reports are “entirely false, and are being sponsored by desperate persons who are determined to tamper with the peace and unity of our dear country.”

There is no relationship “whatsoever,” Niboro said, between the dredging of the River Niger and the proposed shore protection and land reclamation projects in the Deep South.

“The latter are a part of the post-amnesty projects planned for the region, and are to be funded from a ‘ring fenced’ fund dedicated to the Niger Delta amnesty programme.

“In the instant case, N5.5 billion, part of the dedicated amnesty fund under the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation, was set aside by the Ministry of Transportation for improvement of waterways and related issues in the Niger Delta.”

The ministry proposes to dredge a channel through the River Nun, taking off from Onya in Delta through Odoni, Kalama, Tombia, Yenagoa, Okodogu, Okokiri, Nembe (with a spur to Brass), Apiama, Ndukiri, Sand Village, Ekulama, Idama, Tombiabok (with a spur to Degema), Bobake, Ndorokiri, Obekiri, Yekiri, Okungba, up to Port Harcourt.

Niboro added that the total cost of this project was estimated at N19 billion, and was set out as follows: Onya (Delta) to Nembe (Bayelsa), with a spur to Brass;    Nembe to Port Harcourt (120 kilometres), with a spur to Degema (Rivers).

“By this plan by the Ministry of Transportation, the entire funds would have been spent on Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers, with the bulk going to Bayelsa, the home state of the Acting President.

“But in reviewing the decision, Jonathan considered that other Niger Delta states should benefit from the project.”

He explained that another factor that guided the decision to take a second look at the plan was the fact that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was yet to be carried out, whereas for a project of this magnitude that affects navigation and the ecology of aquatic organisms, an EIA is mandatory.

“However, from conception through completion and approval, an EIA would take between one and a half to two years to complete. So, should funds earmarked for urgent post-amnesty intervention projects be left unutilised for two years, even as the Niger Delta Amnesty was threatening to unravel before our eyes?

“There was a further consideration. Even with an EIA, the deepening of the channel would result in a faster flow, and worsen river bank erosion for communities on the route. This has always been a significant challenge for riverine development planning in the Niger Delta.”

Niboro said Jonathan invited Niger Delta Governors and asked them to consult with the people and find a way forward.

When the Governors returned for the next meeting, he recounted, their position was clear that some of the greatest challenges confronting the Niger Delta riverine communities are shore protection and land reclamation, as many are being washed away by erosion.

“There was also complete agreement that the Federal Government moves quickly to consolidate the gains of the amnesty, and be seen to be delivering on its commitments to the people of the area.”

Following the presentation of the Governors, a unanimous decision was taken to embark on a “vigorous effort” to protect the shores of vulnerable communities, and reclaim lands washed away, Niboro added.

Jonathan subsequently directed Finance Minister, Usman Muhtar, “to begin a virement (transfer) process to move the N5.5 billion provided in the Supplementary Appropriation for this project, under the amnesty initiative, to the Niger Delta ministry.

“This is a detailed administrative process that would naturally have to pass through the National Assembly (NASS) before it is concluded.”

Niboro insisted that there was no time Abuja announced that the dredging of the River Niger has been stopped, “indeed, the project remains on course, and site reports indicate that things are going on just fine.”

The AC warned individuals and groups against “sectionalising or trivialising” the leadership crisis, because the issues are national and must be resolved through constitutional means.

A statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by AC National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, implored all concerned to bear in mind that  Jonathan occupies the post of Acting President “for all Nigerians,” not for South Southerners, the Ijaws, or Christians.

“We therefore strongly advise sectional groups and religious leaders against making statements that can be misconstrued as playing the sectional/tribal/religious card, and avoid the situation that occurred over the June 12, 1993 Presidential election which was almost turned into a South West issue,’’ he warned.

As things stand, the AC added, there are two scenarios facing the nation: The first is the possibility that President Umaru Yar’Adua is “unconscious and does not know what is going on around him,” in which case he is incapacitated.

“While no one can blame him (on the condition that he is incapacitated) for the missteps of the cabal holding him hostage, Section 144 of the Constitution must in that case be invoked.”

The second scenario, “which is highly unlikely,” is that Yar’Adua is fully conscious and aware of the confusion in the polity, caused by his ailment.

This will constitute “gross misconduct and he should therefore be impeached” in line with Section 143 of the Constitution, the AC advocated.

In both scenarios, in the view of the AC, it is up to the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) and the NASS to act.

The AC also questioned the source of the statements issued by Yar’Adua’s Spokesman Segun Adeniyi, wondering who is giving him orders.

“If Adeniyi is speaking for (Yar’Adua), has he seen (him) since he returned to Nigeria?”

“If he has not seen his boss, has he (Adeniyi) communicated with him (Yar’Adua) on phone or by email since his arrival? If not, what is the source of the statements he has been issuing in the name of the President?

“Who asked Adeniyi to refer to the Acting President as Vice President? And who asked him to eventually retract that part of his statement?’’

Fashola told journalists at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos that the important thing in corporate and national governance is that institutions are “bigger than men and even if you built them, even if you nurtured them. Institutions must be more important than the individual.”

He said “those are the lessons we drew” from the lecture he delivered at Bayero University,  Kano (BUK) that Nigerian politicians must see political institutions as more important than their personal ambition, not minding what roles they played in building and sustaining such institutions.

“It is a clarion call to all political leaders to get ready to contribute their quota to the building of institutions, in the recognition that institutions need great men and women to build them.

“When institutions fail or when they succeed, it is men or women that have failed or succeeded. The roles of men and women in building and managing institutions are important,” Fashola added.

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