Indications emerged on Monday that the six-man delegation raised by the Federal Executive Council to visit ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia might only be on an appreciation visit and may not necessarily see the President.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, told journalists in Abuja that the delegation’s mission was to thank the King of Saudi and express the appreciation of the government and people of Nigeria to the monarch for accommodating Yar’Adua.
He did not, however, respond to the question on whether the team would have an opportunity to meet with President Yar’Adua while in Saudi Arabia.
He said, “We will be expressing our deep appreciation to the King of Saudi Arabia for the excellent and generous attention, both the government and people of Saudi have given to our President, who, unfortunately has been away for almost three months now for medical treatment.
“We need to be on the record to thank the King for that, and that is enough reason for us to go and it is enough reason for a strong team from the government to go.”
Maduekwe, who himself is a member of the team, said that the six-man delegation would leave for Saudi Arabia on Monday night.
Besides Maduekwe, others in the team include Petroleum Minister, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman; Health Minister, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin; Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Adetokunbo Kayode; Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Sayyadi Abba-Ruma; and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed.
Maduekwe spoke to journalists when he came to the Presidential Villa for a meeting with the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Another member of the delegation, Osotimehin, was also in the Villa on Monday to see Jonathan.
Osotimehin, who arrived in the State House earlier on Monday morning, had initially informed journalists that members of the delegation were waiting on Maduekwe to finalise the travel arrangements with the Saudi authorities.
The delegation was forced to postpone its trip on Sunday night when the members were denied landing clearance by the Saudi aviation authority.
However, the delegation’s chances of successfully meeting Yar’Adua on his sick bed at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, appeared uncertain as Maduekwe could not offer a definite response when journalists asked if the ministers would see the President.
Maduekwe was also not definite about the date the Federal Government emissaries would return to the country.
“We are leaving in the next few hours; we leave tonight (Monday night) 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 start coming back,” he said.
When he was asked if the ministers would see Yar’Adua, Maduekwe said, “We will talk to you when we are back.”
Maduekwe’s response gave room for the suspicion that the trip might go the way of previous ones.
Prominent Nigerians who had so far travelled to Saudi Arabia, but failed to see Yar’Adua include some governors, chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, including the National Chairman, Mr. Vincent Ogbulafor; a delegation of members of the House of Representatives, as well as some of the President’s loyalists, including ministers.
The inability of previous visitors to see the President has led to concerns that the six-man FEC delegation might eventually return to the country without seeing him.
A national daily (not The Punch) had reported on Monday that Yar’Adua’s wife, Turai, had already barred the ministers from seeing her husband.
The FEC’s decision to appoint six of its members to travel to Saudi Arabia had also prompted speculations that the council might be moving to invoke the provisions of Section 144, which mandates it to declare the President incapacitated to remain in office on the grounds of ill-health.
But Maduekwe stressed that the delegation was not a medical mission, and would not be seeking to determine the President’s state of health.
He said their objective was to pay a solidarity visit to Yar’Adua and members of his family, and also convey the gratitude of the Nigerian Government to the King of Saudi Arabia, for his hospitality to the President.
He said any minister could have made the team, adding that Osotimehin was not going to see Yar’Adua in the capacity of a medical doctor.
He 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 is that of the Office of the Attorney-General, it must be a lawyer.”
Explaining the purpose of the visit, Maduekwe said the delegation would also assure Yar’Adua that the country was moving forward under Jonathan’s leadership.
He said, “The purpose of this visit is exactly what I have told you; to express appreciation to the King of Saudi Arabia and also express our solidarity with the first family and register our prayers and the best wishes for the rapid recovery of the President and of course give assurances that under the dynamic leadership of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, governance is going on.
“The executive council remains focused, united and that every issue whether it is infrastructure, healthcare or education or even diplomacy has been proceeding normally.
“You can see the flow of foreign visitors to Nigeria and we need again to have this conversation in Saudi both with the government of Saudi and also members of the first family.”
He said FEC did not make the gesture until now because it did not know that Yar’Adua would be away for so long.
He said, “We didn’t know that this thing would last two weeks, will last one month, will last 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 but it’s entering the third month.
“So we felt there is need to be on the record.
“We don’t want it to be on the 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 a letter to thank him but this is the King of Saudi Arabia and nothing less than what we are doing is adequate, that’s all.
“That is the major emphasis on what we are doing.”
Maduekwe also said that the delay in the delegation’s take-off was due to “normal issues of process.”
He added, “Ok, and the offices opened on Sunday, your request to come into a country is received, is processed and we have a very good relations with the Kingdom and there is no problem and our desire to be there is accepted.
“So there is a process, just like nobody comes to Nigeria without notifying us that the person is coming.
“Protocol arrangements at the airport to receive them; we are not going as private citizens, we are going there as government officials and on the basis of reciprocity, like if the Saudis come to Nigeria they 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.
“It was only by 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 get the people on the delegation to know.”
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