By Sunny Igboanugo and Rafiu Ajakaye:
President Umaru Yar’Adua flew out of Jeddah on Tuesday night to return to the saddle in Nigeria, against all expectations, and with mum still the word from his close associates in the saga of three months that has kept Nigeria on edge.
The plane conveying Yar’Adua, who left the country on November 23 last year for medical treatment, touched down at the the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja at about 3 a.m.
The jet left Jeddah International Airport with him and his entourage at about 11 p.m. (Saudi time), two hours ahead of Nigeria for the six-hour flight.
He shunned his own Presidential aircraft that took him out of the country for one provided by the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah bin Abdul Aziz, with his family members and security details.
He left ahead of the six members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) team which travelled out of Nigeria on Monday to visit him at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah.
The Ministerial team was said to have first gone to Riyadh to meet with Aziz, but was met instead by the Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister because protocol stipulates five days’ notice to meet him.
The team, according to sources, had no choice but to deliver a letter from Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to the Minister for onward transmission to Aziz before it went on to Jeddah to meet with Yar’Adua.
The letter thanked Aziz for his hospitality and generosity, and for taking good care of Yar’Adua, but also explained the concern of the Nigerian Government and the people over their inability to reach their President in the last three months, and therefore asked the Saudi Government to provide them access to him.
The Ministerial team was expected to also leave the country at midnight (Saudi time) back home to enable the members attend today’s EXCOF meeting in order to brief the cabinet and Jonathan on the true health situation of Yar’Adua.
Daily Independent reliably gathered that the team did not meet Yar’Adua, who was already airborne when it arrived Jeddah.
Events before and after the President’s trip had been steeped in controversy and drama that left the country totally nonplussed, bruised and in clear danger following agitations from several quartres.
In the weeks before November 23, 2009, attention was completely turned to the National Assembly where a superiority contest was taking place – a debate on which Chamber should host the President to present the 2010 Appropriation Bill.
That left the President himself almost completely out of national gaze.
Yar’Adua then gave the lawmakers an ultimatum to resolve their rift or have the Bill sent to them, without the honour of having him laying it before them, as has been the convention for the few years of democracy since Independence in 1960.
Lawyers and laymen alike disagreed on the legality of the President not appearing in person to read the budget, but most legal minds quickly dismissed the debate as unnecessary and blamed the disruption (of the convention) on the bickering of lawmakers. The President’s Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Muhammed Abba-Aji, laid the bill before each arm of the parliament.
But the jetting out of Yar’Adua to Saudi Arabia on Monday, November 23, promptly brought out a theory that the superiority contest must have been provoked to achieve a purpose: shielding the consistently worsening health condition of Yar’Adua from public gaze. Budget presentation, a ritual that may last well over an hour, could have confirmed the long-held rumour that Yar’Adua was so weak and lean he could no longer stand for more than 30 minutes.
The Presidential Spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, merely issued a statement announcing Yar’Adua was going on a medical vacation, again provoking a debate and pressure on the government to say exactly the state of Mr. President’s health. This debate was followed by a rumour about 78 hours later that the President had died in a Saudi hospital.
This rumour prompted Adeniyi to, on November 25, issue a statement announcing that the President is suffering from Acute Pericarditis”, an inflammatory condition of the coverings of the heart, but is fast recuperating. He lamented the death rumour. Adeniyi was reading to reporters a statement from Yar’Adua’s Personal Physician, Dr. Salisu Banye. And so Rock confirmed for the first time since the uproar that the President was at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
With doctors acknowledging how grave the President’s condition is, Nigerians called on him to write the National Assembly empowering his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, to be Acting President.
But if the secrecy with which the issue has been handled angered most Nigerians, quite a number of pressing issues worsened the anger.
The gradual collapse of the amnesty deal in the Niger Delta, the budget impasse, and the December 25 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft by a 23-year-old Nigerian and the subsequent listing of Nigeria among “countries of interest” by the United States brought to the fore the need for an active President, strong enough to steer the ship of Nigeria.
With the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) turning down calls to declare the President unfit and clear the way for Jonathan to take charge, Nigerians of varied background came under different umbrellas to ratchet up the pressure. This took various forms, including street protests and press conferences, all directed at getting Yar’Adua to hand over power. The country has since recorded a chain of events, including court declarations and National Assembly resolutions. They are as follows:
On January 5, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took the Federal Government to court, and prayed the latter to compel the EXCOF to act appropriately
On January 12, Yar’Adua broke his silence in a two-minute interview with the British Broadcatsing Corpoiration (BBC), during which he thanked Nigerians for their prayers, urged on the Super Eagles then at the Nations Cup, but sidestepped the issue of the listing of Nigeria among terrorist countries and its impacts on her citizens worldwide
On January 13, a Federal High Court in Abuja declared that Goodluck is empowered by the Constitution to exercise, in the absence of Yar’Adua, all the powers vested in him, including signing of sensitive documents, so far such powers are delegated to him. The presiding high court judge, Justice Dan Abutu, made the pronouncement while interpreting the meanings and intendments of sections 5(1) and 148 (1) of the 1999 constitution in a suit brought by a lawyer, Mr. Christopher Onwuekwe.
Also on January 13, the House of Representatives resolved to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to see the President. The team returned without seeing him
On January 28, the same court ruled that Jonathan can carry out presidential duties, as delegated by Yar’Adua, but can’t be Acting President until conditions precedent are satisfied, that is Yar’Adua must transmit letter.
On January 21, the same Justice Abutu ordered the EXCOF to investigate the state of health of President Umaru Yar’Adua and pass a resolution within 14 days. He gave the verdict in a suit filed by former House of Representatives Minority Leader, Farouk Aliyu, and Jigawa State Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chairman, Sani Gabbas. He, however, held that: “The Court certainly has no power to declare the president permanently incapacitated as the body vested with such powers in line with Section 144, is the Executive Council of the Federation. The Court cannot usurp the power of the Executive Council of the Federation.”
On January 22, former President Olusegun Obasanjo denied imposing Yar’Adua on the country and called on the ailing President to stand down – a call greeted by criticism from the PDP and opposition which accused the former President of deceit
On January 27, the Senate urged Yar’Adua to transmit letter announcing his medical vacation
January 29, former President Shehu Shagari and other elder statesmen urged Yar’Adua to transmit letter and asked the lawmakers to save the country
On February 3, Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, submitted a memo to EXCOF urging it to pass a resolution making Jonathan the Acting President – a step that drew nationwide applause and polarised the federal cabinet
On February 4, following claims and counter claims that Yar’Adua may have written a letter announcing his vacation and directing that Jonathan be made Acting President, Abba-Aji denied possession of such letter
On February 8, the ruling PDP sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia to ascertain the state of the President’s health. It returned without seeing Yar’Adua
On February 9, the National Assembly passed separate resolutions empowering Jonathan to be Acting President
On February 10, the EXCOF said it was in full support of the National Assembly resolution and pledged support for the Acting President
Also on February 10, Jonathan made a slight cabinet reshuffle removing Michael Aondoakaa as the AGF/Justice Minister and redeployed him to Special Duties Ministry.
On February 17, the EXCOF set up a six-man committee to visit Yar’Adua, probably setting the ground for the setting up of a medical panel to ascertain the true state of his health.
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