From Chuks Okocha and George Oji:

• PDP throws 2011 presidency open to all Northern zones

Governors have reacted to mounting criticisms against their position on the status of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, maintaining that their decision to oppose his removal from office was taken in the interest of the nation’s democracy.

The governors had, last week, said President Yar’Adua remained President and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan should continue in his acting position, effectively truncating reported plans by the ministers to declare Yar’Adua “incapaciated” in line with Section 144 of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the expanded National Caucus of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) met at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, till early this morning and decided that the 2011 presidential ticket of the party would be thrown open to the three zones in the North, although the North-West, where the incumbent President comes from, is agitating to retain the ticket in the event that Yar’Adua is unable to run.

Justifying their position in a statement signed by the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State yesterday, the governors said: “In the days leading to the proclamation of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, a cloud of fear and uncertainty hovered over the country. The complexity of the situation we have found ourselves had thrown everyone into a state of confusion.

“At the time, it was not certain if the constitution envisaged such a situation. No one was sure if the solution prescribed by the constitution was sufficient to resolve the problem. It was obvious, however, that the solution we needed at the time was more political than legal. This gave birth to what is now known as the ‘doctrine of necessity’, which may not have been 100% faithful to the letters of the constitution. We are glad to note that the action has doused the swelling tension and Nigerians are happy to move on, again.

“It is important not to forget that the process that culminated in the so-called ‘doctrine of necessity’ adopted by the National Assembly, was started by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which met to take the position that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan should be declared the Acting President.

“It was the NGF that actively lobbied their various representatives in the National Assembly to convince them on the need to go that way. They did, and the nation was relieved, and everyone, saluted the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for rising above divergent partisan interests of its members to do what was best for Nigeria.”

Ths governors said it was “quite surprising” that no one at that time spoke of “separation of powers” or argued that the Governors had no role to play or no responsibility in the matter.

“It is like clapping for an adopted child when he does the right thing, but jump up to deny his legitimacy when we disagree with his opinion.  That is wrong!” the statement said.

The call for the Acting President to be declared the substantive president can neither be denied nor denounced, they said, in view “of the uncertainty that still pervades the health of Mr. President. However, as in the previous occasion, this is another untested area in this country. It is, therefore, an issue that calls for extreme caution and care in the interest of the country.”
They maintained that it was the complex nature of the issue that inspired the position of the NGF.

The statement read: “It is legitimate for other people to hold the opinion that the Forum has acted rightly or wrongly, but the NGF knows that one thing that is worse than even acting wrongly, is not acting at all. It is, therefore, an act of political naivety for anyone to suggest that the Governors of the 36 States of the Federation, States that are represented by all ministers, and all members of the National Assembly, have no role to play in resolving this issue and therefore, should fold their hands and watch the tension build across the country over contending interests.

“Yes, the Governors have interests to protect and this should be obvious, given that the preservation and the protection of democracy is the fundamental platform of their legitimacy. We therefore, fail to see how this runs in conflict with the interests of every Nigerian or lover of Nigeria.

“The Governors recognise the enormity of their responsibility to the Nigerian nation. This is why they have not only intervened in critical and difficult moments, but have done so at the appropriate time too. And, this is why it is yet again possible for all the Governors to rise above partisan interests and loyalty to vote for what is best for Nigeria and Nigerians. We have no doubt that if, as the editorial suggested, the interest being served in this process is either that of PDP, or self-interests of one or two persons in the Forum, such consensus would not be so easily forged.

“We live in extra-ordinary times. Opinions are bound to differ; motives are bound to be questioned and; intentions are bound to be suspected. Inspite of all these, patriotism and national interests must be placed above sentiments and self-preservation. This is the time that all those who have found themselves in leadership position, whether in government or in the civil society, must all rise to the occasion and play their parts in putting country above partisan, self-serving and populist interests. Neither the fear of misunderstanding nor the fear of misrepresentation must be allowed to dissuade us from embracing the challenges of leadership.
“The survival of our democracy is certainly more important than any sectarian or individual interest.”

Other decisions taken by the expanded caucus of the PDP, as already reported by THISDAY, include holding its national convention to pick the presidential candidate in September this year as well as lobbying lawmakers for quick constitution amendment to allow for 2011 polls to hold next January in order to allow for at least four months of election-relation litigations.

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