Malachy Uzendu and KALU OKWARA:

Save Nigeria Group (SNG), a coalition of human rights and civil society groups led by Prof. Wole Soyinka and Pastor Tunde Bakare among others, next Wednesday (March 10) will organize a protest march in Abuja to demand the invocation of section 144 of the Constitution in resolving the lingering leadership crisis in Nigeria.

Also, the Action Congress (AC) has said the resort to the section 144 would not only solve the problem but also save President Umaru Yar’Adua from humiliation.

Section 144 of the Constitution requires the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to constitute a medical panel to determine if the President is incapacited to carry out his duties to enable the Vice President to take over and discharge such duties.

A text of a press conference on the state of the nation jointly signed by Buba Galadima, Yinka Odumakin, Osita Okechukwu, Mike Igini, Mallam Tanko and Mallam Salihu on behalf of the SNG, said Nigerians had been fed with falsehood for the past 100 days regarding the health of President Yar’Adua.

The SNG wondered how a man who was said to be having daily 25 minutes acrobics could come back and refuse to spare a minute to meet with acting President Goodluck Jonathan who had been holding forte for him since he went to Saudi Arabia for treatment.

“The alleged return of President Umaru Yar’Adua under the cover of darkness on February 23, 2010 and the refusal by his handlers to allow any person, including the acting President, access to him has further demonstrated the deep contempt the cabal that has hijacked the president to hold the nation to ransome and for the rest of Nigeria,” read the statement.

The SNG lamented the inability of the FEC to deliberate on the health of the President at its Wednesday’s meeting, stressing that such a deliberation would have led to the invocation of section 144 to resolve the leadership debacle.

Noting that such actions were direct affront on the dignity of Nigerians, the SNG said Nigeria had already become a laughing stock of the world.

As the way forward, the SNG resolved to embark on graduated measures, including the Wednesday’s protest and other civil disobedience measures, to retrieve Nigeria from the grip of the cabal.

“Our patience has run out as a nation as there is limit to how far a country can survive on good luck. If we want to retrieve our country back we must do the needful. To this end we have resolved to settle for these irreducible minimum:

“A constitutional resolution of the anomaly of an invisible President co-existing with an Acting President constantly undermined by the cabal by the invocation of Section 144 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without further delay;

” Urgent electoral reforms with a wholesale implementation of the Uwais report as the benchmark to restore the integrity of the ballot box so that never again shall we be governed by a set of officials with dubious mandate like those who have taken us through 100 days of the theatre of the absurd;

“In furtherance of the above, the Acting President must urgently come up with a Harmonisation Committee on what the Senate and the House of Representatives are doing on the Uwais report;

“A non-partisan transitional cabinet of the brightest and the best from all corners of Nigeria must be put together by the Acting President to chart a new course for the country while the Presidential Advisory Committee can remain truly advisory as the nation requires new thinking and new thinkers; and

“Immediate implementation of the Public Procurement Act signed into law in 2007 by Yar’adua but which has yet to be implemented because of the sustenance of the corrupt tendencies associated with the weekly award of contracts by FEC,” read the statement.

Also, in a communique issued in Benin on Wednesday, after its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the Constitution did not envisage an indefinite acting presidency.

“The mere fact that the President is right there in Aso Rock, whether he is fully conscious or not, is like a sword of Damocles hanging over the Acting President. Executive power is simultaneously vested in the President and the Acting President, and this is a recipe for confusion.

“The Acting President can neither dissolve the cabinet nor appoint new members into it. He cannot take bold actions, like dealing decisively with the electoral reform,’’ AC said.

It also said if today – God forbids – the Acting President takes ill or he is otherwise unable to perform the functions of his office, the nation will be thrown into another round of constitutional crisis, with terrible consequences.

‘’Simply put, the Acting Presidency as we have it now is like a car moving on three tyres, instead of four, and without an extra tyre….since there is no Vice President. The Acting President is at the mercy of the ailing President and his kitchen cabinet,’’ the party said.

It called on the Governors’ Forum, which seems to have emerged as a major player in the ensuing power show in Abuja, to use its clout to put pressure on the FEC (most members of which were nominated by the governors) to act fast in the interest of the nation.

“It is obvious that President Yar’Adua is not in a position to decide whether or not to resign on the basis of his health. Therefore, in order to save the President from a possible impeachment, which we believe is not the best option, the FEC should give him a soft landing by invoking Section. 144.

“Once that is done, the Governors’ Forum should also use their collective power to get the National Assembly to act fast on the FEC declaration, thus paving the way for Jonathan to become a substantive President so he can in turn act without constraints to move the nation forward,’’ AC said.

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