By Olayinka Oyebode:

There seems to be no let-up in the row over some Islamic clerics’ visit to President Umaru Yar’Adua.

The outrage sparked off by the visit last week grew at the weekend.

Frontline lawyer Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) said the purported visit was aimed at destabilising the polity.

But a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain and younger brother of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Ibrahim Masari described their reactions as “mere ranting of individuals who do not wish the country well”.

Last Friday, a Muslim leader, Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, relived the encounter with Yar’Adua at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He claimed that the President prayed with his guests and shook their hands.

Yar’Adua has not been seen in public since he fell ill and was rushed to Saudi Arabia in November 23, last year.

Sagay said the purported visit could prevent the country moving forward with Acting President Gooduck Jonathan.

According to him, the President’s handlers have perfected plans to cause distractions each time the country makes moves to forge ahead, by coming up with spurious reports about their boss.

He urged the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which is expected to be inaugurated tomorrow, to determine the President’s health status through the invocation of Section 144 of the Constitution.

Sagay said: “It is all a political calculation aimed at stopping Jonathan from assuming office as substantive president. Remember each time we are about to make some progress in stabilising the polity, they come up with one funny development or the other.

“The other time Jonathan became acting president, they quickly flew him in midnight. Now that he is about to swear in new ministers, they suddenly said he is recovering and talking. You can see something is wrong somewhere. The President’s men have suddenly become desperate.”

The best solution is to ignore all the antics and go ahead with governance while waiting for the new ministers to apply Section 144, he said.

Sagay, an expert in Constitutions, noted that Ahmad is given to such controversial actions.

Describing the purported visit as “shocking”, CNPP, in a statement, had once more brought to the fore the imperative of the application of Section 144 by the incoming FEC to avail Nigerians of the state of Yar’Adua’s health.

The statement signed by CNPP’s National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu said: “CNPP reasons that like the Imams, Nigerians earnestly and eagerly want to know whether President Yar’Adua is still capable of discharging the functions of the high office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The invocation of Section 144 is imperative for, going by the statement of the Chief Imam, the capacity of President Yar’Adua to discharge the functions of his high office is questionable; more so, when the visit was neither made public nor made known to the Acting President or the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House offered the golden opportunity accorded the Imams.

“In the absence of doubting the veracity of the Imams’ visit, the state of the health and indeed the permanent capacity of the president to discharge the functions of his office cannot be measured or determined by any other scale except the one clearly stipulated in the 1999 Constitution – Section 144.”

ARG said the question to be asked is whether Yar’Adua is President of the Imams or of the country?

Its publicity secretary Yinka Odumakin said it was sad that after the president spent 93 days abroad, he returned over a month ago and has not been seen by either the Acting President or any top government official.

Odumakin said the decision to meet with Ahmad and other Muslim clerics, weeks after Libyan leader, Moamah Gadaffi said the country should break along religion line, showed the insensitive nature of the president’s handlers.

Coordinator of the Socialist Democratic Movement Segun Sango blamed the development on Jonathan’s leadership style.

Sango said: “As Acting President and Commander –in-Chief, Dr Jonathan has the right to know what is going on. If there is a subject of his whom he cannot see and every other person is seeing, then something is wrong. He should rise up to the occasion”.

Condemning the reactions, Masari said: “These individuals are persons whose approach to issues of national interest does not rise above personalities and personal aggrandisement.

“It is even worse in this case that instead of thanking God that such assurance on the health condition of the President is coming from no other person than a religious leader, like the Chief Imam, these persons are busy trying to create hopelessness in the minds of Nigerians.

“Very soon, Nigerians will know better who is desperate for power between the pro-Yar’Adua group and the anti-Yar’Adua group. I will rather advise them to be patriotic enough by engaging in objective criticisms instead of polluting the minds of Nigerians.”

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