By Ihuoma Chiedozie:
The Presidency was in disarray on Wednesday following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s unexpected return to the country earlier in the morning.
At the time of filing this report (5.30pm), Acting President Goodluck Jonathan and the ministers were yet to see Yar’Adua.
Our correspondent learnt that Jonathan only heard that Yar’Adua was back through the President’s aides.
Signs of confusion were evident in a statement from the President, which referred to Jonathan as vice-president instead of Acting President.
Admitting that Yar’Adua was still recuperating, the statement from the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, said Jonathan would “continue to oversee the affairs of state.”
However, the statement was silent on whether Jonathan would continue to discharge the duty in the capacity of an Acting President.
The weekly Wednesday Federal Executive Council meeting was the major victim of the confusion that surrounded Yar’Adua’s return, as he and the Acting President stayed away from the meeting, leaving the ministers, special advisers and other members of the Council stranded for over two hours.
Amidst the confusion, there were indications that the protracted power struggle in the Presidency, occasioned by Yar’Adua’s long absence from the country, has not come to an end with his return.
Signs of uneasiness and confusion were apparent in the Presidential Villa throughout the day, starting from the unusual late arrival of the cabinet members to the meeting which was called off after members were already seated. It was the first of such incident in the history of the Yar’Adua administration.
The cabinet had waited for over two hours before the acting president directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, to inform the Council that he had postponed the meeting.
Jonathan then directed the ministers to report to his conference room for a “mandatory” meeting at 2:00pm prompt.
Making the announcement at 12:10pm, Ahmed said, “The Acting President has mandated me to announce that this meeting is postponed, but a special meeting with the ministers will hold in the Acting President’s Conference Room at 2:00pm. Attendance is mandatory; thank you.”
Just like the President’s return, the announcement was unexpected and shock was registered on the faces of the cabinet members, staff of the council secretariat and journalists who were present in the council chambers.
Immediately, some of the ministers, most of whom had been uncharacteristically silent throughout the over two-hour wait for the commencement of the meeting, stood up from their seats and started to confer among themselves as they moved out of the council chambers.
Interestingly, immediately after making the announcement, Ahmed rushed to meet some particular ministers and was overheard saying emphatically, “2:00pm,” “2:00pm,” apparently in reference to the scheduled meeting at the Acting President’s conference room.
As the ministers moved out of the council chambers, journalists asked Information and Communications Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili, whether Yar’Adua was indeed back.
“Yes, I heard it on CNN,” the minister said.
Asked who was actually in charge of the government at the moment, she told journalists that the question was unnecessary and that they should join Nigerians in praying for the President’s full recovery.
There were expectations that the 2:00pm meeting in the Acting President’s conference room would be dramatic, and the heightened when ministers rushed early to the meeting, with nearly all of them beating the 2:00pm deadline.
But the meeting turned into an anti-climax of sorts as it lasted barely five minutes.
Journalists who were excused from the venue at the commencement of the meeting had hardly returned to their waiting posts when the door of the conference room was opened to discharge the ministers.
However, there was an indication of surprised relief on the faces of the ministers who must have expected another raw deal at the meeting, judging by the tone of Ahmed’s announcement about two hours earlier.
No minister was ready to talk until Akunyili, one of the last to emerge from the room, disclosed the Acting President’s short message to the ministers.
Akunyili said, “It wasn’t a very elaborate meeting, the Acting President invited us, as you all know, to a meeting in his office meeting room at 2:00pm.
“When we came, he told us that he had heard that the President had returned to the country; that he had been briefed by the aides of Mr. President and he hoped to see the wife of the President this evening (Wednesday) and when we meet next week, we will be briefed on the outcome of the Saudi trip by the six ministers, members of the council, and that when he is eventually briefed by the President, he will call us again.”
Akunyili did not entertain any questions, and did not elaborate on the reasons the Acting President would be meeting Turai.
Also, she did not explain why Yar’Adua has not made any public appearance since he came back to the Presidential Villa on Wednesday morning.
However, the statement issued by Adeniyi, which referred to Jonathan as “vice-president,” also said he would continue to oversee the affairs of state until Yar’Adua fully recovered.
The statement expressed appreciation to Nigerians for their prayers, but noted that all human beings were subject to the vagaries of ill-health.
Also, the statement expressed gratitude to Jonathan for “competently overseeing the affairs of state,” and thanked the leadership of the National Assembly for their role in maintaining order and stability during Yar’Adua’s absence.
The statement reads, “After being discharged by the team of medical experts overseeing his treatment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Umaru Yar’Adua returned to the Presidential Villa, Abuja early this (Wednesday) morning.
“President Yar’Adua wishes to express his profound gratitude to all Nigerians for their prayers for his recovery, their exceptional generosity of spirit and their appreciation of the fact that all mortals are subject to the vagaries of ill-health.
“President Yar’Adua is grateful to the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for competently overseeing the affairs of state in his absence.
“The President also wishes to thank the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the entire membership of the National Assembly, the Governors’ Forum, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces and other security agencies, former heads of state and other eminent Nigerians for their roles in maintaining order and stability during his absence.
“President Yar’Adua wishes to re-assure all Nigerians that on account of their unceasing prayers and by the special grace of God, his health has greatly improved.
“However, while the President completes his recuperation, Vice-President Jonathan will continue to oversee the affairs of state.”
Our correspondent observed that ministers arrived unusually late for FEC meeting on Wednesday.
Usually, cabinet members start arriving for the meeting from 9:00am, but until 9:39am, journalists were pondering whether the meeting had been called off as none of the members had arrived.
The first minister to report in the Presidential Villa for the meeting on Wednesday was Minister of State (1) for Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Jibril Maigari, who arrived at 9:39am.
Maigari’s arrival precipitated a rush as the cabinet members dashed to be in the council chambers by 10:00am prompt, when the meeting normally commences.
But they had to endure a long, tortuous and fruitless wait as Yar’Adua and Jonathan failed to turn up.
While they waited for the two principal personalities, members of the cabinet were unusually silent as they kept to themselves, obviously pondering on the implications of the President’s unexpected return.
Meanwhile, as the ministers continued to wait inside the council chambers, Yar’Adua’s Aide-De-Camp, Col. Mustapha Onoyiveta, and his Chief Security Officer, Mr. Yusuf Tilde, who had been with the President since he travelled to Saudi Arabia, appeared in the corridor and were hugged by friends and associates.
However, despite the general feeling of anxiety among the cabinet members, there were discernible signs of joy and jubilation among those of them that are believed to be Yar’Adua’s loyalists, particularly members of the kitchen cabinet.
Members of the kitchen cabinet were more relaxed during the wait, and continuously left their seats to confer among themselves.
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Sen. Adamu Aliero; Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Sayyadi Abba-Ruma; and the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Tanimu Yakubu, were noticeably more comfortable than most of their peers. Aliero on arrival exchanged pleasantries with Onoyiveta and Tilde before entering the council chambers.
A source in the Presidency informed our correspondent that members of the kitchen cabinet were moving to get Jonathan to immediately relinquish the powers he had been wielding as Acting President.
But it was also gathered that Jonathan preferred to meet Yar’Adua first.
Although no official reasons were given for the cancellation of FEC meeting, it was gathered that the development was an outcome of the confusion that followed Yar’Adua’s return, particularly issues surrounding his inability to inform Jonathan.
Also, the aborted meeting was dogged by confusion over Jonathan’s immediate role with Yar’Adua present in the Presidential Villa.
Sources said it was unclear to Jonathan if Yar’Adua would appear at the meeting, and in such a situation, what role he (Jonathan) would play, since he was still recongnised as the Acting President.
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