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Sunday, 31 January 2010 09:20

Yar'Adua - National And Global Pressure Mounts

By Sufuyan Ojeifo and Paul Ohia with News Agency reports

ABUJA, Nigeria, Jan 29 (ThisDay) - Elder statesmen, over 200 members of the House of Representatives and world powers made strong statements on the continued absence of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua from the country which has left a power vacuum in Nigeria.


The Eminent Elders Group, comprising former Heads of State, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Chief Justices of Nigeria (CJNs) and other elder statesmen urged Yar'Adua to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to enable Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan step in as Acting President.


About 200 out of the 360 members of the House of Representives have also signed a letter asking the President to formalise his medical leave on a day the US, UK, France and European Union voiced their concern on the power vacuum.


The Senate had, at the end of a two-day closed session, which held on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, passed a resolution urging Yar'Adua to formally notify the National Assembly of his medical vacation in Saudi Arabia in line with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.


The elders group, led on the visit by Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, yesterday met separately with Senate President David Mark and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, behind closed-doors to present to them a letter containing its resolutions on the state of the nation.


The letter written and signed by a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, on behalf of the group, reads: "I have been mandated and have the honour to address this letter to Your Excellency on issues of fundamental importance to the wellbeing of our dear nation, Nigeria.


"For well over eight weeks now, our President has been ill and out of the country. This illness and long absence from the country is causing serious concern not only to Nigerian citizens but all those who do business with Nigeria and have the wellbeing of the country at heart.


"It is for this reason that I called the meeting of some of our former Presidents and Heads of State, former Chief Justices of Nigeria and elder statesmen today (January 27)."


The group said further in the letter entitled, "The State of the Nation", that "Following a critical review of the general political situation of the country in the recent past, but more especially since the illness of the President and his prolonged absence, it was decided to address this letter to Your Excellency, the Vice-President and the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives.


"Resolution of the issue of Acting President pending the return of the President: it is important to resolve this issue by inviting the President to formally issue the necessary communication that will enable the Vice-President to be Acting President in accordance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution as soon as possible."


Shagari met with Mark and Bankole in company with Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme; former CJN, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi; former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. T.Y. Danjuma; former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana; and a member of the Senate (1999-2007), Senator Jonathan Zwingina.


Those who attended the meeting facilitated by Gana and Zwingina and which held at the ECOWAS Parliament last Wednesday, included Shagari; former Head of the defunct Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan; Ekwueme; former Chief Justices of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais; Hon. Justice Alfa Belgore; and Kutigi.


Others are former Minister of Police Affairs, Chief Solomon Lar; former Federal Information Commissioner, Chief Edwin Clark; former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma; former Federal Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Ahmed Joda; Danjuma; Gana; and Zwingina.


Presenting the letter, Shagari said that they were concerned about the lingering political crisis in the country occasioned by the prolonged absence of President Yar'Adua and his failure to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to enable his Vice-President to step in as Acting President.


According to him, "We were worried about the situation in the country. We were happy to know that you were discussing the same thing that we were discussing. Everything depends on you. Everything depends on your decision."


In his response, the Senate President assured the Group that the Upper House would certainly benefit from the wealth of experience of its members.


He said: "The experience this group will bring on board will be immeasurable. We believe that we need to be notified that the President is on medical vacation.

"In doing this, we were conscious of the security, political and power balancing in this country. The unity of this country is of utmost importance."


According to Mark, "We are humbled by your humility. We are anxious to put this impasse behind us so that we can make progress."


World powers also commented on the impasse yesterday, lamenting the "uncertainty" caused by his absence.


"Nigeria is going through a period of uncertainty because of the prolonged illness of President Musa Umaru Yar' Adua," said a joint statement by the US, EU, UK and France.


The powers said they welcomed constitutional efforts in Nigeria to "resolve the question of governing authority in the president's prolonged absence".


"Nigeria's stability and democracy carry great significance beyond its immediate borders given its importance as a global oil producer and stabilising force in West Africa," said the statement.


It was signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.


It is the first time foreign powers have openly expressed concern about Yar'Adua's absence amid concerns by opposition groups that the president's illness has made him incapable of ruling the country.


The statement was issued in London as foreign ministers met to discuss how to aid war-torn Afghanistan.


"We extend our best wishes to President Yar'Adua and his family and join the Nigerian people in wishing him a full recovery," said the foreign ministers' statement.


But it nonetheless commended efforts to break the political deadlock gripping the country, pointing to the recent outbreak of religious and ethnic violence in central Nigeria which claimed hundreds of lives.


"Nigerians have launched an important conversation in examining how constitutional processes can resolve the question of governing authority in the President's prolonged absence.


"We commend these efforts and their pursuit through appropriate Nigerian democratic institutions to address its citizens' concerns," they said.


In the House, about 200 members have endorsed a letter addressed to the President demanding the transmission of a letter formally notifying the National Assembly of his absence in compliance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.


The lawmakers have threatened to seek "other legislative options" if the Presidency and the Executive Council of the Federation continue to flout the provisions of the constitution.


The lawmakers, THISDAY learnt, are aggrieved that several attempts by them to have the issue decisively tackled over the past couple of weeks have been truncated by the leadership of the House.


Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh however denied knowledge of the group of lawmakers behind the purported letter.


He also denied that the House received any financial inducement to scuttle the move to compel President Yar'Adua to send in a letter.

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