By Uchenna Awom and Golu Timothy:

In an act of incredible desperation, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, like a thief in the night returned to the country in the earlier hours of today.

The Air-ambulance that brought ailing Yar’Adua touched down at exactly 1.45 am, stopped at the runway and evacuated the ailing president into a waiting white ambulance with a red stripe.

Ten minutes later, the presidential plane carrying family members of Yar’Adua also landed.

His return was very much like in the manner he left the country, unannounced.

The surprise move, LEADERSHIP gathered was to neutralise what is widely perceived to be a decisive meeting today by a divided Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) to finally end the long-drawn Yar’Adua saga and facilitate the full constitutional conferment of presidential powers on Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.

His return was shrowded in so much secrecy that Jonathan was kept in the dark.

“As at 1.15 pm the acting president was not officially informed about the arrival of Yar’Adua,” a senior presidential staff told LEADERSHIP this morning.

The EXCOF had sent a six-man delegation, on Monday, to Saudi Arabia to assess the president’s exact health condition, a move that is expected to precede conclusive action to resolve what represented an incipient constitutional succession crisis.

But LEADERSHIP gathered that when the ministerial delegation, unaware of Yar’Adua’s travel plans, got to Riyadh, enroute to Jeddah, a 90-minute flight, they learnt that the president was already airborne and heading to Nigeria. Reacting to this information, the delegation promptly turned back to start their home-bound journey. Their plane was expected to arrive by 5.00am.

The ministerial team comprised Ojo Maduekwe (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Rilwanu Lukman (Minister of Petroleum Resources), Adetokumbo Kayode (Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice), Abba Sayyadi Ruma (Minister of Agriculture), Yayale Ahmed (Secretary to the Government of the Federation) and Babatunde Osotimehin (Minister of Health).

However it is not certain if Yar’Adua will be conscious enough to preside over today’s crucial EXCOF meeting, even if he meets the constitutional requirement of communicating to the National Assembly on his return from medical vacation.

It could be recalled that NASS hinged its recent empowerment of Goodluck Jonathan as acting president on the BBC interview granted by Yar’Adua on January 12.

Indications of Yar’Adua’s imminent return began to manifest yesterday when heavy-duty medical equipment, mainly consisting of life support facilities were off-loaded into the residence of the president.

Sketchy reports available to LEADERSHIP indicate that Yar’Adua was loaded aboard the aircraft which took off from the Jeddah International Airport, by 8pm Nigerian time. Ahead of Yar’Adua’s secret reentry into Nigeria today, Leadership gathered that medical equipment were surreptitiously moved into Aso Rock. Soldiers from the Brigade of Guards early this morning cordored off the Presidential Wing of the Airport, thereby preventing journalists from going near the arrival hall. The Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Adamu Aliero, was the first minister to arrive at the airport at 1.15am to receive his boss.

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AFTER 92 days away from his seat, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua sprung a surprise and arrived Abuja early this morning. He had spent the last three months seeking medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and causing a constitutional crisis at home. He arrived in an air ambulance at about 2.00 a.m and drove in a long convoy to the State House, Aso Rock.

Soldiers and other securitymen drove away newsmen who had mounted vigil at the airport and along the route.

Yar’Adua had left Jeddah airport in the evening of Tuesday in an air ambulance with doctors while another plane carried his family members.

A delegation of Nigerian ministers went to Saudi Arabia on Monday reportedly for more news on the president’s health and had been expected to report back to the Federal Executive Council meeting today.

There was no information on the state of the president’s health yesterday. No details have been given on his condition since he left Nigeria in late November to receive medical treatment for pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart that can restrict normal beating.

Yar’Adua’s long absence created a constitutional crisis and prompted protests by Nigerians with some demanding his resignation, especially since he failed to fulfill the constitutional requirement of transmitting a letter to the National Assembly informing it of his absence and empowering his vice president to act in his stead.

The situation threatened to paralyse the government until the National Assembly installed Vice President, as acting president on February 9.

Signs that the President was coming home became obvious in Abuja yesterday as security surveillance was increased at the airport.

Some governors who were in the capital for one event or the other, especially the Nigerian Oil and Gas Conference changed their itinerary by staying back in the capital city instead of returning to their states. A few actually called on their colleagues who were not in Abuja to come over to the federal capital.

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By Madu Onuorah:

THERE were strong pointers in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia yesterday that members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) delegation sent to meet President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua will not see the Nigerian leader.

The Guardian learnt that doctors in Saudi had even written a letter to the Federal Government on new developments in the course of treating the President. The tone of the letter was apparently to prepare Nigerians, especially the members of the FEC delegation, who were billed to leave Abuja yesterday, that they might not see the President.

A declaration yesterday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, that the team will not return to Nigeria with a report on the ailing leader’s health condition, is now seen as a further proof that the Nigerian delegation will not be allowed to see the ailing leader.

Two delegations had gone before without success. Indeed, The Guardian confirmed that the one comprising Governors Gabriel Suswam of Benue, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi and Ibrahim Shema of Katsina had a few hours of discussion with First Lady Turai Yar’Adua during the trip. It was disappointed at not being allowed to see the President. Not even the presence of Yuguda whose wife, the President’s daughter and three-month-old son, the president’s grandson, made matters better

The decision to send a FEC team to Saudi Arabia was taken at last Wednesday’s meeting of the cabinet.

Maduekwe however linked the delay in the team’s departure for Jeddah to “normal issues of process,” adding that the ministers will leave via the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja last night.

The minister said the purpose of the visit was to thank the Saudi authorities for their care for Yar’Adua and to show solidarity with the First Family.

The team comprises the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Ahmed Yayale, Maduekwe, Health Minister, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwan Lukman and Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma.

After meeting with the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Maduekwe told journalists in Abuja yesterday that “you don’t fly into other people’s country without getting all the facility clearance. There are things to be sorted out. Remember the request was made close to weekend and the offices opened on Sunday (in Saudi Arabia). Your request to come into a country is received, is processed. And we have very good relations with the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) and there is no problem. Our desire to be there is accepted.

“So, there is a process. It is just like nobody comes to Nigeria without notifying us. There is protocol arrangement at the airport to receive them. We are not going as private citizens but as government officials. And on the basis of reciprocity, like if the Saudis come to Nigeria, they will be properly received at the airport. So, as we go, we will be properly received at the airport. Like I told you, this request was made close to the weekend. When I asked the Saudi Ambassador to see me, he duly said he would pass on our request to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

He continued: “It was only yesterday (Sunday) that the details of our going were concluded. By the time we had them, it was almost midnight, so, we couldn’t continue because we have to inform the people on the delegation. You don’t just tell them five minutes to the time that you have got to leave… So there is no problem and the Saudis have responded to our request very promptly.”

Asked about the mandate of the team, the minister said: “We will be expressing our deep appreciation to the King of Saudi Arabia for the excellent and generous attention, he and the government and the people have given to our President, who unfortunately has been away for almost three months now for medical treatment.

“We need to be on record to thank the King for that. And that’s enough reason for us to go. And it’s enough reason for a strong team from the government to go. We didn’t know that this thing would last two weeks, one month, two months and it’s close to the third month. It’s just time. We couldn’t have done it much earlier because we would have thought it was just for a few weeks.

“We don’t want it to be on record that when our President comes back, even if he comes back today, that for the three months he was there, we didn’t go to Riyadh to thank the King. It is better to go physically to do the thanking. We can write letter to thank him but this is the King of Saudi Arabia. And nothing less than what we are doing is less than adequate. That’s all. That is the major emphasis on what we are doing.”

He dismissed any thinking that the delegation would seek and bring medical report on Yar’Adua’s health condition, saying “we are not a medical team. We are not a medical panel.”

Reminded that Osotimehin is on the trip, Chief Maduekwe said “the constitution does not make that doctor a member of a medical panel. The fact that he is the minister of health does not make him a member of a medical panel. An engineer can be minister of health, even a lawyer like me can be minister of health. The only position in the Executive Council, which by constitutional provision requires a particular profession to head that ministry is the office of Attorney- General. The fact that the Minister of Health is on this team does not automatically mean that he is going there as a medical doctor. It could have been minister of culture. It could have been minister of transport. And it could have been anybody else. So, it should not establish any linkage between the presence of Osotimehin, renowned medical scholar and minister of health. There is no linkage between that at all and the purpose of this visit.

He added that the purpose of the visit was to express solidarity with the First Family and register our prayers and best wishes for the rapid recovery of the President.

It is also to give assurances that under the leadership of the Acting President, governance is going on, he said.

On when the delegation is expected back to Nigeria, Madueke said: “We leave tonight (Monday) and we are not going to be there all week. It is not going to last long and as soon as we carry out the purpose of our going there, we will start coming back.”

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