By Tolu Ogunlesi, Terfa Tilley-Gyado and Elizabeth Archibong:
Since returning her critically ill husband to the country in the dead of the night yesterday, Turai Yar’Adua has in the last twenty-four hours effectively seized control of the apparatus of government, shoving aside Goodluck Jonathan and unilaterally causing a reversal of the decision by the National Assembly to name him Acting President.
She has a combination of factors working to her advantage: on the one hand, her husband is back in the country and expected to resume Presidential functions; on the other, the state of his health renders him incapable of exercising any presidential authority, automatically creating a vacuum for a proxy.
This bizarre scenario is what Mrs. Yar’Adua is exploiting, with urgency and precision. Yesterday, she instigated a series of puzzling actions, aimed at curtailing the movement and powers of the Acting President.
These include the deployment of two members of the brigade of guards to barricade the “presidential seat”, allegedly to prevent Mr. Jonathan from sitting on it to preside over the meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation; and the early afternoon ransacking of Mr. Jonathan’s office by personnel of the State Security Service (SSS).
Not long after that action, the President’s spokesperson, Segun Adeniyi issued a statement announcing that, “while the President completes his recuperation, Vice President Jonathan will continue to oversee the affairs of state.” There is however no evidence that the Acting President is in any position to oversee Nigeria’s affairs, as he spent most of Wednesday holed up in his office or home, as ignorant as the rest of the country about happenings in the corridors of power. In the vacuum, the First Lady is in absolute control, not only of the affairs of state, but also of access to the President.
Acting in the dark
Over 20 hours after arriving in the country, no public official has yet seen Mr. Yar’Adua, NEXT findings reveal. It emerged yesterday that even Mr Jonathan, has not seen or spoken to Mr Yar’Adua since he returned to the country. A highly placed source in Aso Rock revealed this Wednesday, adding that a political stalemate is in the offing between the two men.
The source confirmed that the Mr. Jonathan was completely unaware of the president’s homecoming until just a few hours before his plane landed in Abuja. In addition, all the security and army personnel that were dispatched to the airport did not receive their orders from the Acting President’s office.
Two army units, the 4th battalion and Guards brigade, were deployed to secure the road leading to the airport and escort the presidential convoy back to Aso Rock.
According to our source, “300 carefully selected officers were secretly deployed and conveyed in 25 vehicles for the operation. Even the weapons were released to them at night.” The directive for this deployment was not issued by the Acting President who is also the present commander in chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. This caused a little pandemonium among the ruling class who wondered who deployed the men.
“The Acting President did not give orders for the deployment of the troops and neither were we consulted on such.
So we all wondered if the army was just acting on its own. Maybe it was the Chief of Defense Staff, or the Chief of Army staff or the National Security Adviser who deployed them; you know they all never liked Mr. Jonathan. We don’t know even up till now,” our source stated.
A President held hostage
The list of persons who are being denied access to the President by the First Lady is growing.
Apart from the Acting President, none of the Ministers or Presidential aides has seen or spoken to Mr. Yar’Adua. Not even Segun Adeniyi, Mr. Yar’Adua’s senior special assistant on media and communications, who issued a press statement on behalf of the President has seen or directly heard from him, NEXT findings reveal.
The Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Bukola Saraki, and the Chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Vincent Ogbulafor, have also been unsuccessful in their attempts to see Mr. Yar’Adua.
“They are preventing everyone from seeing him. None of us, except his wife and his security aides have seen him since his arrival. Right from the airport, they hid him from everybody. The Vice President even tried to go see him yesterday, but was disallowed by Turai,” a senior government official stated.
At the moment, no one outside the tiny inner circle has any details about the current state of the President’s health. A widely-quoted NEXT exclusive story in January reported that he was “seriously brain damaged.” Our investigations continue to point to a man who remains incapacitated and clearly unable to function as President, contrary to Mr. Adeniyi’s statement that the President had been “discharged” by his Saudi doctors.
We have it on reliable authority that since the President’s arrival in the country on Wednesday, his critical condition has necessitated his continued stay in the Ford E-250 intensive care ambulance that picked him at the Abuja airport. He is expected to be in the ambulance until the intensive care unit that will receive him is retrieved by Julius Berger from Katsina and re-installed in House 7 within the grounds of the Presidential Villa.
Sources also said that the President was carried on a stretcher aboard the ambulance that airlifted him into the country. The arrival of the President in the early hours of Wednesday was engineered to take place in utmost secrecy. Just before midnight on Tuesday, the military units sealed off the presidential wing of the airport and cordoned off the area, ordering all airport staff to move to the international wing. The airport was sealed off from journalists and other visitors who had begun to gather at the presidential wing.
The air ambulance conveying the President landed at 1.45am in a remote section of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway. Tarmac floodlights were also dimmed, heightening the covertness of the operation.
Sinking deeper into confusion
A brief private meeting between Mr. Jonathan and the ministers held in place of the customary Wednesday Executive Council meetings, which Mr. Jonathan has consistently chaired in the absence of Mr. Yar’Adua. The meeting, which traditionally starts at 10.00am, was postponed by Mr. Jonathan as soon as news of the President’s arrival broke.
The Ministers were duly notified.
A minister confirmed that the instruction to postpone the council meeting came from Jonathan.
“I received a call at about 8.30 from his secretary saying that our meeting would be postponed,” the minister said. “I was asked to come directly to the conference room by 2 (o’clock) where they would explain why the meeting did not hold.” The minister went on to say that many of his colleagues did not know about the arrival of the President until Wednesday morning. “Some of us were hearing it from you people in the media as of this morning,” the minister said. “As for me I have not spoken to him since he left and that remains so.” The failure of the meeting to hold is just one of the many manifestations of the deepening confusion that has plagued the country since news first broke on Tuesday evening of Mr. Yar’Adua’s return.
At the end of the meeting, the Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili announced that the Mr. Jonathan would be meeting with Mrs Yar’Adua on yesterday evening. Even though a source said the meeting was not at Mrs Yar’Adua’s behest, but an attempt to stave off a constitutional crisis, the fact that it is taking place at all is yet another pointer to the significant role that the President’s wife will be playing in the current power configuration.
It remains unclear what the agenda of the meeting will be, but a source insisted that the ongoing political stalemate cannot be dispelled until the Acting President meets with the President. “Until the Acting President receives a secure directive from the President, the executive council cannot fulfil its duties,” the source said.
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