By Peter Babs Imade & Abu-Sadeeq Amokpa:
•Doubts if President can continue to govern Nigeria
•AC warns against sectional politics
WORRIED by the ominous silence in Nigeria’s seat of government, the United States (U.S.) President Barack Obama administration has put in an urgent request to Aso Rock to know the true condition of the ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Reports at the weekend indicated that the response to the request, contained in a statement issued by the State Department, was still being expected from Abuja as at yesterday.
Sources said that there were growing concerns in Washington D.C. about the fate of Nigeria, especially since last week’s unannounced return at night of Yar’Adua and the fact that nobody has claimed to have seen him since then.
Yar’Adua jetted out to Saudi Arabia on November 23, last year, to seek medical attention for acute pericarditis.
A daily U.S. government bulletin, circulated among top administration officials and a handful of reporters, said at the weekend that “the U.S. diplomats in Abuja have asked Nigerian officials about Yar’Adua’s condition.”
The bulletin added that the U.S. is aware that Nigerian “President is in dire health and is unable to govern the country.”
It is believed that based on that country’s intelligence and diplomatic reports, the Americans knew clearly that Yar’Adua was in no position to return as President because of the seriousness of his medical condition.
This explains why the U.S. sent its top African diplomat to meet with Acting President Goodluck Jonathan recently to assure him of American support.
That knowledge, it is also believed, influenced a series of U.S. government activities on Nigeria like the Tuesday, last week, hearing of the US Senate on the matter.
The bulletin quoted a top State Department official as saying: “We do have concerns about his movement from Saudi Arabia back into Nigeria and what some people around him might be trying to do with that.
“This is the basis for the warnings that have been issued from Washington to Nigeria in recent days.”
The bulletin issued on Friday night was entitled: Concerns in Washington over Nigerian Political Stability, and it was written by a U.S. State Department official, Stephen Kaufman.
Said Kaufman: “The Obama administration has concerns over the stability of Nigeria and says that while it welcomes the return of incapacitated President Umaru Yar’Adua, the country needs a strong and effective leader in-charge.”
The bulletin also quoted the U.S. State Department Head of Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary of State P. J. Crowley, as saying on Friday that “what’s important first and foremost is who is … the recognised leader of Nigeria,…and right now, I believe it is Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.”
According to Crowley, the U.S. is concerned that the return (of Yar’Adua) could be “an effort by his senior advisers to upset Nigeria’s stability in an effort to forward their own personal interests.”
He added: “We have tremendous concern about stability. And our message to all of the players in Nigeria is, make sure that this moves forward in a stable, constitutional and democratic way.
“Nigeria at this point needs a strong and effective leader to ensure the stability of the country and to manage Nigeria’s many political, economic and security challenges.”
U.S. top diplomat for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, had earlier stated that, that country has determined that Nigeria cannot be ignored or dismissed, hinting that “the U.S. will continue being particularly outspoken until the matter is completely resolved by Abuja.”
Meanwhile, in a desperate move to find both a credible replacement for their principal, as well as cover their own tainted tracks, some top government functionaries loyal to Yar’Adua are engaged in serious talks with former military leader, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).
The surreptitious move, which was reportedly led by the First Lady, Turai, was said to have the blessing of Yar’Adua himself.
Credible Presidency sources told the Nigerian Compass at the weekend that the decision to shop for a reliable replacement for Yar’Adua was taken by the cabal surrounding him last week after his condition reportedly took a sudden change for the worst.
The top notchers in Yar’Adua’s camp, sensing that their principal might not return back to full fitness, reportedly called a quick meeting where it was decided that a careful move be made to shop for “a most reliable and acceptable figure” to replace Yar’Adua come 2011.
At the meeting said to be attended by the quartet of Turai; Security Adviser to the President, Ibrahim Tilde; Yar’Adua’s Economic Adviser, Tanimu Yakubu, and the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Abba Sayyadi Ruma, various popular options were purportedly laid on the table and thoroughly scrutinised.
Names said to have been bandied as likely successors are: Babangida, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and former Governor Attahiru Bafawara.
Others include Bauchi State Governor and Yar’Adua’s son-in-law, Isa Yuguda, Governor Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State and his Kano State counterpart, Ibrahim Shekarau.
Reliable sources disclosed that the group eventually settled for Babangida, after it was convinced that the former military president, who maintains a close political affinity with Yar’Adua, can be relied upon to protect his interests.
The extensive meeting over, the team reportedly contacted another group headed by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Senator Adamu Aliero, directing him to swing into action.
Aliero’s brief was simply to travel down to Minna, the Niger State capital, and talk Babangida into accepting the offer.
The FCT minister reportedly had the crucial instruction to meet with Babangida’s political god-son and immediate past Governor of Niger State, Abdulkhadir Kure, to help convince his godfather.
Aliero, it was reliably gathered, had travelled down on, at least, on three occasions to Babangida’s sprawling Hilltop Mansion in Minna where he, alongside Kure, reportedly had closed-door meetings with the General over the matter.
Babangida, who was reported to still be nursing a quiet presidential ambition, was said to have told Kure that he would make further consultations and get back to the group.
Sources said the former military president has deliberately refused to give in directly to the group’s entreaty, as he prefers to watch and see how the present political drama in Abuja plays itself out.
But in a telephone interview, an informed Babangida’s man, Nma Kolo, denied knowledge of any quiet move by Yar’Adua’s loyalists to talk Babangida into accepting its offer to replace Yar’Adua come 2011.
He said: “I am not aware of moves by any group close to Yar’Adua to make IBB its candidate in 2011. But one thing remains clear: There is intense pressure on Babangida to come out and indicate interest in the 2011 presidential election. Even at that, he is still consulting extensively.”
Kolo, however, alluded to the fact that Babangida remains politically close to the Yar’Aduas, even as he said the former military president was deeply concerned over Yar’Adua’s ill-health and has been in close contact with the family.
Meanwhile, the Action Congress (AC) has warned individuals and groups against sectionalising or trivialising the leadership crisis currently facing the country.
It said the issues arising from the crisis are national, which must be resolved through constitutional means.
In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said all concerned must bear in mind the fact that Acting President Jonathan is occupying that position for all Nigerians, not for the South-Southerners, the Ijaws or Christians.
“We, therefore, strongly advise sectional groups and religious leaders against making statements that can be misconstrued as playing the sectional/tribal/religious card, and avoid the situation that occurred over the June 12th, 1993 presidential election, which was almost turned into a South-West issue,” it said.
AC stated that as things stand, there are two scenarios facing the nation: “The first is the possibility that President Umaru Yar’Adua is unconscious and does not know what is going on around him, in which case he has become incapacitated. While no one can blame him (on the condition that he is incapacitated) for the missteps of the cabal holding him hostage, Section 144 of the Constitution must in that case be invoked.
“The second scenario, which is highly unlikely, is that President Yar’Adua is fully conscious and aware of the confusion in the polity, caused by his ailment. This will constitute gross misconduct and he should, therefore, be impeached in line with Section 143 of the Constitution.
“In both scenarios, it is up to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly to seize the moment. They must begin to work towards a post-Yar’Adua era and take actions that will ensure the peace and stability of our nation, which is greater than any individual.
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