Governors Storm Abuja for Yar'Adua

THIS DAY Newspaper-Sufuyan Ojeifo

Abuja — As senators failed to arrive at a decision yesterday on the controversy trailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's absence from the country, some governors have arrived Abuja to persuade members of the Upper Chamber "not to rock the boat".

THISDAY learnt that the governors, some of whom accompanied Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to visit crisis-ridden Jos, Plateau State yesterday, are trying to lobby the Senators not to discuss any issues about the impeachment of the President over his failure to officially hand over to his deputy.

"The governors are urging the senators to give the President till next week to return to Nigeria after his medical treatment in Saudi Arabia," the source told THISDAY.

It was drama galore as pro-Yar'Adua senators and the anti-Yar'Adua group engaged each other at a closed session that lasted for over five hours.

It was the lengthiest session the Senate has had since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic Legislature on June 3, 1999.

Despite locking themselves in their red chamber from 11.50am to 4.52pm to deliberate on the outcome of the closed door briefing they received from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mahmud Yayale Ahmed on Yar'Adua's health, the Senate could not conclude on the issue.

The newspaper learnt that the senate discussed the President's absence as it affects pending bills and other issues before the Senate, and could not reach an agreement on whether or not Jonathan can exercise presidential powers in line with the first judgment of Justice Daniel Abutu of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

Some of the issues that are being considered include the legality of the VP signing the 2010 Appropriation Bill when it is passed and also if he can sign other bills passed into law by the National Assembly.

The Electoral Reform Bill is also the Senate agenda, as well as the issue of the appointment of National Commissioners into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Some argued that Justice Abutu's first ruling had effectively empowered the VP to exercise presidential powers - along with the revelation by the SGF that Yar'Adua verbally asked Jonathan to act on his behalf before he travelled abroad.

It was also argued that by deploying troops to Jos last week, the VP has effectively started exercising presidential powers.

However, some senators insisted that the proper way for Jonathan to exercise these powers was the transmission of a vacation letter by the President to the leadership of the National Assembly.

The upper legislative chamber will, however, continue deliberations again in closed session this morning to round off discussions and decide on the next line of action.

Deliberations at yesterday's session, THISDAY gathered, also touched on the outcome of the meeting between the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) and 21 senators with legal background.

The meeting held Tuesday, last week, was said to have agreed that the Senate should endorse the judgment of the Abuja High Court on Sections 5 and 148 of the 1999 Constitution.

Justice Abutu had ruled that the Vice-President could exercise presidential powers in the absence of the President but could not be sworn in as acting President since Yar'Adua did not transmit a letter to the National Assembly to that effect.

It was learnt that the meeting reached the agreement with Aondoakaa in the "interest of peace, stability and good governance of the nation".

However, two of the senators at the meeting, Nimi Barigha Amange and Heineken Lokpobiri (both from Bayelsa State), were said to have moved against the agreement, as they spoke in favour of a resolution on Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.

Senators rooting for the activation of Section 145 on the transmission of a letter to the National Assembly by Yar'Adua to enable the Vice-President step in had initiated a move to have the Senate pass a resolution on compliance with the provision.

The move, however, ran into stormy waters at the session as the pro-Yar'Adua senators, said to be well over half of the members present, vehemently opposed it.

Sources said they insisted that instead of passing a resolution on Section 145, the Senate should rather endorse the two subsisting rulings by Justice Abutu.

The second ruling given last Friday by Justice Abutu had given the Executive Council of the Federation (also known as the Federal Executive Council (FEC)) 14 days, beginning from last Saturday, to take pass a resolution on the health of the President.

FEC is expected to take a decision on the matter today at its weekly meeting.

The deadline for the implementation of the court ruling by FEC is Friday, next week.

It was learnt that the pro-Yar'Adua group argued that if the President had been away for over 60 days, next week's deadline for FEC to implement the ruling should be seen as not too far away.

THISDAY also gathered that the pro-Yar'Adua senators canvassed the endorsement of the two rulings to break the logjam in the Presidency created by the President's prolonged absence from the country.

Yar'Adua has been at the King Faisal Specialist and Research Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia since November 23, last year where he has been receiving treatment for acute pericaditis - an inflammation of the lining of the heart.

A source at the session said that the pro-Yar'Adua senators argued that the Vice-President had been performing the functions of the President since the first ruling on Sections 5 and 148 of the constitution was delivered.

They said the exercise of the functions as provided in sections of the constitution was the basis for his deployment of military troops in Jos to keep the peace.

But the Jonathan-for-Acting-President senators were said to have frantically argued that Section 145 of the Constitution is the appropriate constitutional provision that should be activated in the present circumstance of the President's ill-health that has kept him away from his desk for over 60 days.

A source said that the pro-Yar'Adua group attacked the other group's position on Section 145, arguing that it should come up, if necessary, at the end of the implementation of the two Abuja High Court rulings.

According to the source, "Those who want the Vice-President to step in as Acting President wanted the Senate to pass a resolution on Section 145.

"But the pro-Yar'Adua group did not allow them to raise and push the issue through. If the pro-Yar'Adua group had allowed the other group, then a motion would have come up tomorrow (today).

"The opposition stalled the group's move.

The Senate President David Mark ensured that every Senator spoke his or her mind on the issue. The issue has not been concluded upon. It will continue tomorrow (today) at the end of which a decision will be taken."

THISDAY gathered that the session was characterised by heated debate, even as tension in the chamber was said to be rising.

The prolonged session had virtually weighed many senators down as some of them left before it ended. A senator came out, saying he was going to send his aide for food as he was famished.

Amid the heated debate, some senators pushing for a resolution on Section 145, among them Bala Mohammed-ANPP (Bauchi South) and Smart Adeyemi-PDP (Kogi West), were said to have become unruly, chanting: "Today na today on Section 145".

Adeyemi was said to have been shouted down at a point when he was flaunting his credential as one-time National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

These acts were said to have irked some members of the pro-Yar'Adua group who allegedly expressed concern that some members of the PDP were signing up to a drive being championed by an ANPP senator.

THISDAY learnt that the Mark leadership handled the session with maturity, ensuring that aggravation during the debate did not degenerate into mudslinging or bandying of innuendoes.

The source said that a suggestion at the session that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should travel to Saudi Arabia to visit Yar'Adua was rejected.

There were indications last night that the Presidency had been briefed on the deliberations at the session.

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Meanwhile, briefing Senate correspondents, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Information, Senator Ayogu Eze, said: "We have been behind closed door in the past five hours or thereabouts, trying to look at the issues before us especially the issue regarding the health of Mr. President and the briefing we received from the Secretary of the Government of the Federation and all other developments surrounding the matter in the last couple of days and weeks.

"As you can see, it was a very painstaking session and it was the determination of the leadership of the Senate that every member of the Senate who wanted to speak will be given an opportunity to do so.

"We had to extend our sitting period and yet we were not able to exhaust the opportunity for everybody to speak. So discussion and deliberation on the matter will continue tomorrow (today) also in closed session and then we are going to conclude and come out with a position at the end of the session tomorrow (today)."

Eze said the Senate was interested in taking actions that would assist in moving the nation forward.


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