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Why governors shifted support to Jonathan

Barely 48 hours after Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili lost her cool and did a position paper asking President Umaru Yar’adua to do the…

Barely 48 hours after Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili lost her cool and did a position paper asking President Umaru Yar’adua to do the constitutional thing by handing executive powers officially to the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, the state governors gathered in an emergency meeting in Abuja to discuss the political dilemma. Since the information minister’s action became public, it has been as if a battle line had been drawn. You either insist that Yar’adua remains the president despite the uncertainty about where he is and what may be happening to him, or you stand up with those asking for immediate transfer of executive powers to Jonathan.  

On Friday, the governors swarmed the Presidential Villa, Abuja to register their solidarity to the Vice President over the constitutional crisis. They said they would be at the National Assembly this week to prompt the lawmakers to pass a resolution that will make Jonathan take full charge as acting president till the return of Yar’adua.

The chairman of the Governors Forum, Governor Buloka Saraki of Kwara State announced that the position canvassed by the governors was unanimous.

Saraki said, “We associate ourselves with the court ruling that has been given concerning the president and the vice president, and we now agree to meet with the leadership of the National Assembly to urge them to pass a resolution recognizing the vice president as the acting president of the nation. Under the circumstances, we believe that the president has been acting in that way and in order to further give more force to that, the National Assembly as well, should pass an order.”

NEED TO DOUSE TENSION

In his own comment, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio said, “We are out to douse tension generated by the issue across the country. While we are praying for the president to recover there is need for a more assertive action and for us to bring all these publications in Nigeria to an end.”

On his part, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State said, “We believe that at this point it is necessary that appropriate actions be taken and solutions found to what appears to be a problem of the existence of a vacuum.”

Governors Gabriel Suswam of Benue State and Aliyu Akwe Doma of Nasarawa State could not be reached last night when our correspondent made the latest effort to get their comments. Doma’s spokesman, Ibrahim Addra said he had no briefing on what informed the governors’ decision.

  However, Sunday Trust recalls that the build-up to the Abuja meeting of the governors included an hour-long meeting between Benue State Governor Suswam and his Nasarawa State counterpart, Doma in the latter’s official residence in Lafia. They met during the afternoon of Friday January 22.  

  Suswam who spoke to newsmen after the meeting said they discussed “national politics” at the Government House. He was supported by Doma during the interview.

  He said “I actually come to consult with him (Doma). All of us are aware of the national issues facing us. As a senior brother, as a neighbour, we always consult on issues like this. So I have come to consult with him on the happenings and on the way forward”.

  Suswam refused to divulge details of the ‘national issues’ discussed during the closed door meeting. Asked if the issues included the ailing President Umaru Yar’adua and the politics of his replacement, Suswam said, “No, we discussed national issues, all national issues that are afflicting the nation now – all national issues”.

 

BANDWAGON EFFECT?

Our checks elsewhere last night indicated that very probably, the governors decided to press for a handover of executive powers to Jonathan to forestall their losing political relevance in the event Yar’adua fails to return to the country and assume duty as president.

Many of those contacted declined comment on the matter, but views gauged on the subject indicated that the Governors Forum might have had a quick thought of a need to guard against being considered anti-Jonathan.

“They [governors] might have been told that the man [Yar’adua] is in critical condition,” one of our respondents said last night. “They are afraid that if Yar’adua does not return, they might lose out in the political game. They might have been the first to speak out. Why did they wait till now when Dora Akunyili had made her move?” the source queried.

A Maiduguri-based politician told Sunday Trust that what the Governors’ Forum did was a mere gimmick to hoodwink Vice President Jonathan. He said they want Jonathan to believe that they are solidly behind him”.

GOVERNOR ACTED IN PUBLIC INTEREST

But analysts were of the feeling that one should expect nothing short of what the forum did because it has members who always swing to the direction of the wind. He said the forum is replete with people whose loyalty is commanded by only such person as “seen to be in charge”.

But the Director General of the Governors Forum Asishana Okauru denied all this, saying the governors acted purely in the interest of the nation. He described the claim that the governors were afraid of the unforeseen as “unfair, disrespectful to the governorship institution, speculative and untruthful.”

He said the forum was compelled to meet owing to a number of issues including the Jos crisis and the president’s absence.

Last Thursday’s governors’ meeting is the second since the year began. It was termed Emergency Meeting.

The governors called on all arms of government to support the vice president to discharge his duties as acting president. They dispelled rumours that northern governors had said Jonathan should not act as president, reiterating that the northern governors are part of the Governors’ Forum and there was no dissenting voice.

It was not clear whether Yar’adua’s governor sons-in-law, Usman Dakingari of Kebbi State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State were truly not opposed to this. But it was reported that the vice president was happy over the decision of the governors although he likened their action to a coup in a light-hearted remark.

The governors were hopeful that by their action, appropriate actions would be taken to tackle the constitutional crisis that has been looming over the seeming leadership vacuum in the country.

One of the governors was quoted as saying, “In the event that the transmission [transfer of power] does not occur, certain actions can be taken to guarantee the stability of the nation.”

All sorts of things have happened. Nocturnal meetings, rallies, court rulings, protests, campaigns, and debates, all in the name of “filling leadership vacuum” created by the president’s absence wafted across the political space, culminating in what many have termed a bombshell in Federal Executive Council last Wednesday when Akunyili was reported to have passed a memo urging her colleagues to demand a vacation letter from Yar’adua to the National Assembly so that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan could officially exercise the powers of the president.

But Akunyili’s move was halted by members who apparently were on the side of Yar’adua.

One question that has not been answered is why would Akunyili do what she did when her colleagues would hardly muster such courage? Analysts were of the opinion that the woman might be acting former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s script. Some equally said she might have got wind that the president might find it hard to return.

Akunyili’s ‘revolt.’ What next?

Because her action appears to have opened a big crack in what was hitherto seen as unassailable Federal Executive Council. Speculations were rife that Akunyili would abandon her office since she was put there by the man she wants removed. But it has become clear that she has no intention of resigning from the council.

Reports yesterday quoted sources close to the minister as saying that it was sheer mischief to suggest that Akunyili would vacate her office for “dutifully carrying out her responsibility by advising her colleagues on how to get out of the constitutional crisis created by the president’s prolonged absence due to ill-health.”

Court’s ultimatum expires

As the Governors’ Forum vowed last Friday to do everything to stabilise the polity, the 14-day ultimatum issued FEC by an Abuja High Court directing FEC to pass a resolution on the state of Yar’adua’s health expired the same day.

Justice Dan Abutu had on January 22 in a suit filed by Mr Farouk Adamu Aliyu and Mr Sani Hussaini Garun Gabbas against FEC directed FEC to within 14 days consider, pass and publicise a resolution in accordance with the provisions of section 144 of the 1999 Constitution stating whether the president is incapable of discharging his duties as demanded by the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Many described the High Court ruling as being inconsequential. Lagos-based lawyer, Festus Keyamo for instance, raised alarm saying FEC would be weighed down by moral consideration to do anything that would drastically move the nation away from where it had been.

And as it was said, FEC in its weekly meeting after that court’s order, published its position stating that all the 42 members of council had agreed that the president was not incapable of carrying out the duties of the president.

The Council maintained that Yar’adua’s long absence on medical grounds does not mean incapacity to discharge the functions of the state and members would not be intimidated into initiating the process of removing the president.

FEC stated that transfer of power by the president to his vice is discretional.

Political analysts, including politicians, activists and lawyers described FEC’s action as non-compliance with the court’s order because that FEC’s declaration was not what was intended by the court. They challenged the Council to discard their personal interests and act for the good of country in general. The debate was still raging when Akunyili tendered her memo, bringing a new dimension to the whole Yar’adua saga.

 

The statesmen’s stroke

Before Akunyili’s move, Nigeria’s most eminent statesmen led by former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, Second Republic president Alhaji Shehu Shagari and former Head of Interim National Government Chief Ernest Shonekan went to the National Assembly on Thursday 28 January, 2010 and asked Yar’adua to write a letter of medical vacation to the National Assembly in line with section 145 of the constitution so Jonathan can act as president.

The former leaders, comprising former Chief Justices of Nigeria and legislators, spoke under the banner of Eminent Elders Group (EEG). They said it is necessary to resolve the political crisis that Yar’adua’s absence has created.

Senate’s stand

The Senate had on January 26, 2010; after a five-hour intense debate, equally issued FEC a seven-day ultimatum to produce a comprehensive report on Yar’adua’s health. It was said that the Senate wanted to be furnished with details of the president’s health so as to know whether or not he is capable of being in that position.

The Senate said failure by FEC to act would compel it to invoke section 88 of the constitution which gives it power to investigate matters under its jurisdiction. Reports had it that the senators were clearly divided over the matter.

A day after this, the Senate again resolved after a three-hour closed-door session that Yara’adua should comply with section 145 by notifying the Senate formally of his medical vacation which has kept him away for nearly 80 days.

This the Senate said was necessary so the vice president would be given the mandate to officially assume the role of acting president.

Obj’s ‘honour’

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo whose transition programme in 2007 brought in Yar’adua as president amidst cries that the man would not be able to do the job due to failing health was bold enough to openly declare that Yar’adua should toe the line of honour.

Speaking as chairman at the 7th Trust Annual Dialogue in Abuja on January 21, 2010, Obasanjo who is the Board of Trustees (BOT) chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) advised Yar’adua to consider “taking the path of honour and the path of morality” by leaving the office of president.

PDP did not take this lightly. The National Publicity Secretary, Prof Rufai Ahmed Alkali said, “General Obsanjo has been a subject of ridicule despite his pre-eminent position in society. It is unfortunate and indeed a great disservice to all the accolades he has garnered for himself over the years.”

Kongi’s protest

The Senate’s resolution was spurred by mass protest against Yar’adua’s absence led by Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka on 12 January in Abuja.

Soyinka who is leader of the Save Nigeria Group told the National Assembly that Yar’adua had been Away Without Official Leave (AWOL) and should be impeached if he fails to comply with the provisions of section 145 of the constitution.

ACF shoots self

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has also got into trouble by declaring that Yar’adua is unfit to govern. Already, one of its founding members, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai has left the forum. Yakasai said by such declaration, the forum had lost track of the objectives of its establishment.

The organisation was founded solely to promote and defend the interest of the north. It was expected that the forum would decisively stand on the side of Yar’adua insisting that he should not hand over to Jonathan.

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