From Alifa Daniel:

* Beware of fake Yar’Adua, ACF chieftain warns
* Invoke Section 144, says CNPP

CLAIMS by a group of Islamic clerics that they met and prayed with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua at the Presidential Villa in Abuja have sparked new agitation over the true state of the health of the ailing number one citizen.

While a group of senators under the aegis of National Interest Group (NIG) are meeting today while they are expected to insist on seeing the President in person, the coalition of opposition parties, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has called for the invocation of Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution which spells out the handling of the president’s and vice president’s health status.

However, a chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mohammed Abdulrahaman, has cautioned that some of Yar’Adua aides are so desperate that they could have presented a “fake president” for the Islamic clerics.

President Yar’Adua has not been seen in public for over 130 days, amidst speculations that he would resume duty soon.

Curiously, most of the speculations appear when the weekly Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) is at the corner. “This time I suspect it is because a new EXCOF is about to be inaugurated and some people are nervous,” a source said in Abuja.

The new EXCOF is expected to be sworn in tomorrow.

The National Interest Group of Senators (NIG) is billed to meet today to discuss a wide range of issues, including the visit of the clerics and its implication on the national polity.

The NIG, according to one of its members, would also ask to see the nation’s Number One citizen since he is now strong enough to receive visitors, but the source would not give further details of the meeting or exactly where it would hold.

“If he is healthy enough now to receive visitors we also want to see him and talk to him,” he said.

But the secretary of the NIG, Senator Smart Adeyemi, was not forthcoming with the agenda of the meeting when he was reached on phone yesterday. He would not also confirm if the NIG is meeting today at a location in Abuja.

However, the CNPP, through its spokesman, Osita Okechukwu, noted that the reported visit of the Chief Imam of Abuja National Mosque, Ustaz Mohammed and other Moslem clerics to the President “has once more brought to the front burner the imperative of the new (EXCOF) to invoke Section 144 to avail Nigerians of the true state of his health.”

Section 144 of the Constitution states:

“144. (1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if – by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the Executive Council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and

(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under sub-section (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion, the President or Vice President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.

(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to sub-section (2) of this section.

(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-

(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and

(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.

(5) In this section, the reference to “executive council of the Federation” is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct”.

The CNPP statement said further: “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 C-in-C 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 Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to discharge the functions of his high office is questionable; moreso when the visit was not made public nor either the Acting President or the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives were 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.

“Consequently, CNPP challenges the new EXCOF to, as a matter of urgent national importance invoke Section 144 and break the gridlock and the paralysis of a Divided-Presidency.”

In a move observers saw as intended to further compound the political tension in the country, and urge Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to get ready to vacate his position, the Chief Imam of the National Mosque in Abuja, Ustaz Musa Mohammed, said that he and two other Islamic clerics visited President Yar’Adua at the Presidential Villa in Abuja yesterday, and from their observations he has recovered and is now fit enough to resume duty.

The Abuja Chief Imam who spoke on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service added that although they were not able to sit close to the President, they prayed for him and he raised his hands while joining them to say Amen.

He said the President sat down when they were with him and was dressed in jumper and trousers with a cap to match.

Besides, the Islamic leader who said that he was on the visit together with Dr. Datti Ibrahim Ahmad, President of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria and one Sheik Musa Pantami, explained that they sought permission from the President’s family to see the ailing President and not that they were invited to see him.

“We met him sitting down with his wife while his ADC stood behind him. Although we could not hear what he said, from where we sat, we could see his mouth saying Amen, together with us when we prayed for him. In fact, contrary to rumours that he was seriously ill, we saw that he had improved tremendously and we believe he would be able to resume work any moment from now.”

Asked why they did not try to talk to the President, he said they were not politicians and as Islamic clerics, they were there to pray for him and see with their eyes the President whose state of health had generated so much controversy in recent times.

His words: “When we were ushered in, we met the President and his wife seated side by side while his ADC stood to his left side. He shook hands with each one of us beginning with Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, then myself and the other person. We then proceeded to the prayer session where we all raised up our hands and prayed with the President. After, he shook hands with us again and we left at exactly 6:13 p.m.”

He said they were all happy with the situation they met the President who had gained enough strength that would enable him to resume work.

Another of the clerics, Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, told a newspaper (not The Guardian) that though Yar’Adua shook hands with them and prayed together with them, he didn’t talk to them.

Dr. Ahmad, who is the president of the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN), warned that Yar’Adua’s powers must not be taken away from him.

“We met the President around 5.00 p.m. late in the afternoon. Contrary to what some people have been saying, the president is not in a situation where he is almost dead; he is only sick.

“He was sitting down on a dinning chair when we came in and met him. He was not being supported by anybody but himself, he was sitting down calmly. He did not look like someone who is almost dead.

“When we entered, we were not sure of what we were going to meet. So we entered and stood at a respectable distance and greeted him. He extended his hand to us and we shook it one by one. This is contrary to the view of those who keep saying he doesn’t know where he is.

“After that, we prayed for his health. He joined us in the prayers, raising his hands the way we raised our own; his lips were moving. When we finished, we told him we only came to greet him. He shook hands with us.

“We did not wait as such after that. However, we told him that we just wanted to see him to know the truth from the lies that they have been telling us that he is dead, no longer able to recognise anyone and all the lies that you and I have heard before.

“Obviously, he has lost some weight and he is a bit weak. But he was sitting down calmly. He shook our hands on arrival and when we prayed with him for his quick recovery, he again shook hand with us.

“I wish to warn that there is need for people to be careful in the utterances being made about incapacitation, taking the presidential authority and giving such to other persons.

“Some people had to reflect before they stage a civilian coup against him. President Yar’Adua has his deputy who could act for him while he is not there. He knows that he is alive and is only unwell at this point in time.

“However, nobody should take over his position because he is not available. The President still has a good chance of recovery. Nobody should take over his post and create problems for the country. Those who are thinking of doing that are playing with fire.

“I will suggest that Dr. Jonathan continues to act as president till Yar’Adua is fit enough to resume. If he does not get well by 2011, election will take place and another person will emerge through a democratic process.

“But if any person attempts to seize that presidential authority now, the consequences will remain with the country for a long time.

“It will not be a wise decision and not in the interest of even younger generations of Nigerians”, he said.

Chieftain of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and one-time Vice President of the Kaduna Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KACCIMA), Alhaji Mohammed Abdulrahaman, has warned that the Federal Government should subject Yar’Adua to serious medical test if the family and aides eventually present him as fit to continue in office as the nation’s President.

Besides, the ACF chieftain faulted the account of the Abuja Mosque Chief Imam, Ustaz Musa Mohammed and prominent Islamic clerics who said they met with Yar’Adua at his Aso rock resident, with his family.

Abdulrahaman said in an interview in Kaduna at the weekend, while reacting to the visit of the Chief Imam and other Islamic leaders, that the Government should be on guard, “because these people (the family and aides of Yar’Adua) are becoming so desperate such that they could go and perform plastic surgery on anybody and present him as president Yar’Adua”, stressing that “the account of the clerics which suggests that Yar’Adua was now hail and hearty but could not speak should be given serious medical investigation whenever he appears”.

“This whole story of Yar’Adua appearing and the account of the Imam and clerics that they saw him and shook hands with him, I believe these people are becoming more desperate over this matter. And when people are desperate they can go to any length. You see, people who can afford to hide this man from Nigerians for so long, if they are allowed to go further in this game and they are bringing any man out as our President, there is no problem. But, we shall subject any person they bring out as Yar’Adua to DNA Test. To make sure that in their desperation they don’t bring anybody with a plastic surgery as our president. Because we know this can be done. Those people have gained so much from the illness of Yar’Adua, they don’t love Yar’Adua, certainly they don’t, for them to have subjected him to this kind of travail”.

“If Yar’Adua becomes well to communicate with Nigerians without any stress, we would be very happy. After all we all fasted and prayed for him… That is why we have wondered why they have not put the electronic media, particularly the television to record most of these appearances and the visit of the Imams to Yar’Adua…you see, there are a few things that have happened that are unacceptable. It is unacceptable for a group of people to hide the man from Nigerians. Nobody would accept it because he is Nigerian president, and it is an offence to keep him away”.

According to Abdulraham, he president “is the property of Nigeria and not the family. So, when he shows up and we see him and we know he is the one, those questions on why he showed be hidden away would have to come up. Some people would have to be prosecuted. I don’t think Umaru really had a cabinet before it was dissolved, because of the way most of them behaved. How can you love somebody so much and trade his life for money, for personal gains, for looting and for a chance to misdirect the public treasury and budget?”

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