From MURPHY GANAGANA, AIDOGHIE PAULINUS & LAMBERT TYEM:
Agitations over the whereabouts of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and the lingering political impasse in the country intensified yesterday as the Save Nigeria Group [SNG], a coalition of civil society and human rights groups marched through major streets in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city with a mock coffin to signal the death knell of a cabal believed to be holding the country to ransom.
Vehicular traffic grinded to a halt as leaders of the SNG led a mammoth crowd of participants in a procession from the Unity Fountain at the upmarket Maitama district of Abuja to the National Assembly complex where conveners of the group announced that like the cabal, the days of members of the National Assembly in their offices have also been numbered.
However, unlike the previous rally, the procession was denied access into the National Assembly complex, as detachments of regular and anti-riot policemen including men of the Mounted Troops, effectively cordoned off major entry and exit points in an exercise coordinated by the Deputy Inspector General of police in charge of ‘B’ Department [Operations], Mr. Hamza John Ahmadu.
A leader of the SNG and President of the West African Bar Association [WABA], Mr. Femi Falana, however, gave indications that the development was not unexpected going by the trend of events that had unfolded in the past few days up till the commencement of the rally on Wednesday. But he declared that the group cannot be intimidated by whatever oppressive tactics deployed to thwart its resolve to save Nigeria from bad governance and injustice.
“I want to tell you that we’ve not, and cannot be intimidated. Up till this moment [Wednesday] our leaders had been under tremendous pressure not to march on the streets of Abuja .
What our enemies wanted to hear was that we ran away, but we are not intimidated. The information at our disposal is that they have hired thugs to unleash terror on us. I was the one who wrote a letter to the IGP seeking for police protection and not permission to hold the rally. We’ve been denied access to the National Assembly complex on the grounds that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has received our letter of complaint for onward delivery to the Acting President. Even with what has happened we should end this rally in peace, not on a sad note”, Falana admonished the participants.
In a one-page petition dated March 10, 2010 and addressed to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, the Save Nigeria Group specifically demanded for an end to the invincible presidency of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua by the activation of Section 144 of the Constitution to enable presidential powers to be fully accountable; quick and thorough implementation of the Uwais Report on electoral reform starting with the immediate removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as chairman and the reconstitution of INEC with persons of impeccable integrity and competence, and the dissolution of the present Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF), which it accused of active collaboration with presidential aides to foist the sustained political and constitutional crises on the nation.
The SNG noted in its letter signed by fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, that its demands are aimed at saving the nation from real and imminent dangers which are a threat to democracy and good governance. Part of the letter reads: “We, the Save Nigeria Group, a coalition of pro-democracy and human rights organizations and patriotic Nigerians who desire the entrenchment of a truly democratic and accountable governance hereby petition you on certain developments that can truncate democracy and security in Nigeria. We believe in Nigeria and are determined to fight to save the country from the control of groups and individuals that profit from the failure of the Nigerian system.
“For more than 100 days, Nigerians have not seen or heard from President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua since he was evacuated to Saudi Arabia for treatment. For the three months he reportedly stayed in an intensive care unit of a Saudi hospital, several of his aides continued to claim that the President was getting better. Some claimed he had started intense physical exercises. It is now more than two weeks since he was brought back to Nigeria in the dead of night. We have not still heard from or seen President Yar’Adua.
The refusal of President Yar’Adua to resign from office on account of his deteriorating ill-health and failure to transmit letter of vacation on time as required by the Constitution has resulted in a severe but avoidable constitutional crises. This crisis has compounded other political challenges caused by an electoral system that is designed to aid electoral malpractices. This dysfunctional electoral system threatens democracy and good governance in Nigeria.”
But the Future Nigeria Group [FNG], a relatively unknown body which was apparently sponsored by power brokers including some Area Council chairmen in the Federal Capital Territory , countered the SNG position with a threat of war if President Yar’Adua is not allowed to complete his four-year term of office. “It is Yar’Adua or war; we are ready to die for him. Goodluck (Jonathan) should go back to where he came from. The office he is presently occupying does not belong to him,” said Habibu Sule, a leader of the group while addressing members at the entry gate of the National Assembly complex shortly after the SNG procession had left the scene.
Another group –Yar’Adua for New Nigeria [YNN], questioned the role of the United States (US) Government on political developments in Nigeria, as it questioned the source of funds available to the Save Nigeria Group. Reacting on yesterday’s rallies in Abuja, YNN national secretary, Dr. Aminu Idris, warned the US government and its citizens to keep off Nigeria’s internal affairs.
Said he: “What does the Save Nigeria Group want? They wanted Mr. Vice President as Acting President; that has been done. Now, they are saying enough is enough. Will they prefer the President dead? The statement from the US State Department and the Secretary of State all point to connivance between the SNG and the USA. We plead with America in the name of God to leave Nigeria alone. Yes, we have problems, but we are capable of solving them. So, they should leave Nigeria alone. If they say there are funds meant for developmental projects from the US and other Western nations, those funds should be used for developmental activities that will benefit Nigeria, rather than using them to fund rallies and create problems for the people of Nigeria. The US government and citizens will be better off in a peaceful Nigeria . Their interest will be better served under a peaceful Nigeria.”
Though the rally by the SNG group was peaceful, there was palpable tension in the air as the procession approached the entrance of the National Assembly complex at about 11.36am and was denied access by the police. The situation was further compounded by the presence of a counter group at Eagle Square within the precincts of the Federal Secretariat complex, where they chanted solidarity songs in Hausa and carried placards bearing the photograph of Umaru Yar’Adua, with a declaration of support for the ailing President. This came amidst speculations of the presence of another group made up of members of an Islamic sect, feared to be waiting in the wings to wreak havoc.
Members of the Future Nigeria Group were conveyed to Eagle Square venue of their rally in about nine 14-seater Toyota Hiace buses some of which bore the approved colour for commercial cab and buses in Abuja, even as others have the inscription of some Area Councils of the FCT. While members of the group carried only one placard with Yar’Adua’s photograph embossed, participants at the Save Nigeria Group rally had several placards with various inscriptions. Some of them read: ‘We Must Know Umaru’s Health’, ‘Dissolve Excof Now’, ‘Governors Are Part of the Cabal’, and ‘Turai, Leave Nigeria Alone’. Others are: ‘Jonathan, Get Decisive’, ‘On Uwais Report We Stand’, and ‘Greedy Governors Want To Destroy Nigeria’.
The atmosphere at the National Assembly complex, however, became charged when, after being denied access, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, called on participants at about 12.04pm to return to the Unity Fountain where the rally kicked off. The visibly angry crowd refused to join Falana as he sang an inspirational song on the hope of moving Nigeria forward. Rather, some of them protested the directive and insisted that the gates of the National Assembly must be flung open. “You people [SNG] leaders must show that you are serious in this cause; as leaders, you should be able to go into that place and let the police arrest you,” one of them declared.
Even as most of the leaders of SNG had left National Assembly complex, some of the participants refused to leave until at about 12.50pm, when an unpainted mock coffin with green inscriptions was brought out from a white Toyota Coaster bus with a Federal Government of Nigeria [FGN] number plate and deposited at the gate. The bus, with the inscription of Students Union from one of the federal universities in the South-West region of the country, had conveyed participants to the venue.
Moments later, some participants at the rally carried the mock coffin and marched through Shehu Shagari Way back to the Unity Fountain in Maitama. The coffin bore the inscription: ‘R.I.P Cabal’, ‘R.I.P Kitchen Cabinet’. Less than 400 metres away from the National Assembly complex, the coffin-bearing procession was halted at about 12.58pm by a detachment of policemen led by the Assistant Commissioner of police in charge of Operations at the FCT police command, Mr. Inalegwu, but the protesters defied his orders and moved ahead. They could not even be stopped by a human barricade which the police attempted to create.
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