By Adeleke Adeseri, Emmanuel Aziken &  Inalegwu Shaibu:

LAGOS— The ministerial team which left for Saudi Arabia, 12.15 a.m. yesterday, was billed to return to the country this morning, but they failed to meet President Umaru Yar’Adua just as the other delegations before them.

Information from Riyadh, capaital of Saudi Arabia as at press time, indicated that efforts being made by the ministers had not yielded any positive result. However, the ministers were able to meet the Saudi monarch,  Abdullah Bin AbdulAziz, in Riyadh ‘to thank him’ as the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, reportedly said the team will do.

They are expected to return early today to brief the FEC meeting that will start by 10.00 a.m. The decision to send a FEC team to Saudi Arabia was taken at last Wednesday’s meeting of the cabinet.

The team comprises the Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, Health Minister, Prof. Babatunde Oshotimehin, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, and Minister of Petroleum Resources, Rilwanu Lukman, who apparently did not join his colleagues because of the ongoing 10th Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference in Abuja.

Usually reliable sources told Vanguard that although the ministers had sought permission of the President’s doctors and the immediate family to see him, there was no clearance yet, as at the time of going to the press. Even their request for a possible video conference was equally turned down.

Jonathan drops Yar’Adua’s style

Meantime, the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, has adopted a formal approach in his executive communication with the Senate dropping the informal salutation adopted by President Umaru Yar‘Adua.

In his first executive communication which arrived the Senate, yesterday, Dr. Jonathan dropped the contentious salutation of “My Dear Brother” adopted in the past by President Yar`Adua. He rather chose the formal salutation of “Your Excellency.”

The Senate, through its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze hailed the communication from the Acting President saying that the Acting President has started exercising his powers and a vindication of the Senate’s resolution adopting Dr. Jonathan as Acting President.

President Yar’Adua’s adoption of the salutation “My Dear Brother” was criticized by some senators in the past who, during a debate on the issue, described the greeting as patronizing on the Senate.

Presents FCT budget, picks CCB members

In two separate letters to the Senate channeled through the President of the Senate, Dr. Jonathan tabled the 2010 budgetary proposals for the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and nominations for a new chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB.

Erstwhile Secretary of the CCB, Sam Saba, was nominated as Chairman of the Bureau. Other members nominated by the Acting President were Ibrahim Manzo, Chief Stephen Bekefula, Amb. Habib Elabor, Dr. (Mrs.) Christiana Okwori,  Alhaji Disina Mohammed, Prince Okechukwu Nwadinobi and Dr. Ademola Adebo.

Details of the FCT budget were not revealed yesterday, but Senator Eze said the Senate would pass the 2010 federal budget next week

Senators divided on time frame

Also senators were, yesterday, divided on the time frame for the President to transmit a letter of notification to the National Assembly when proceeding on vacation. While some senators at the resumed consideration of a bill to alter the provisions of sections 145 and 190 of the 1999 Constitution insisted on the seven days, others were rooting for 14 days.

Proponents of seven days argued that the position of the President and Governors was too sensitive to be left vacant for a single minute. According to them, the Vice President or Deputy Governors should start acting immediately a President or Governor embarked on vacation without transmitting a letter to the National or State Assembly.

But while the senators were in support of the 14 days time frame for the President or Governors to notify the National Assembly or the State Assembly, they were, however, in quandary on the exact interpretation of vacation.

Those that spoke were Senators Sati Gogwin, PDP, Plateau Central, Aloysius Etok, PDP, Akwa Ibom North-West, Wilson Ake, PDP, Rivers West, Thompson Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East, Patrick Osakwe, PDP, Delta North, and George Akume, PDP, Benue North West, among others.

Senator Ake who was the first to open debate said the amendment being sought would check the notorious habits of governors who left their duty posts for months without officially handing over to the deputies. He, however, added that 14 days was too much for the governors.

Senator Osakwe lamented that the country was faced with the current situation because of the constitution foisted on it by the military.

He said: “Section 145 is a product of the military. This is the time that our democracy must be seen to be working. It is the time to change what we feel is not in consonance with the tenets of democratic principles. I think seven days is too short. It should be 14 days.”

Senator Sekibo, however, differed by saying that number of days being canvassed for President to transmit a letter was too long for the country to be left without a leader.

He said: “The amendment being sought is only one aspect of the provision of the constitution that deals with Presidential succession. There are others we need to look at critically.

I have problem with clause two. Why do we wait for seven days for the President to notify the Senate and for the Senate to mandate the Vice President to take over? If a man absconds from his duty post, should we not  punish him? If a man is not at his duty post, it means he has absconded, so for me the clause should read that if the President absconds from his duty post, the Vice President should take over as Acting President.”

Senator Etok advocated a fixed time frame under which the Acting President can perform the functions of the President, adding that allowing too much time will create tension in the country.

He said: “How long should the Acting President act? If it takes too long time, then the Acting President will become a sole administrator which will not augur well for a nation the size of Nigeria. It should be 90 days for the Vice President to act.”

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