Protesters Demand to see Yar'Adua

THISDAY Newspaper

Protesting Save Nigeria Group (SNG) has said it is unacceptable that ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has been incommunicado since he left the country for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009.
The group therefore demanded to see the ailing President.

SNG said yesterday in a letter to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan where the group also stated its demand that members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) should invoke Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution and declare Yar’Adua incapacitated to continue in office.
The group has been agitating for Yar’Adua to step aside in the light of his medical problems. The letter received on behalf of Jonathan by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Yayale Ahmed was the highpoint of yesterday’s rally in Abuja by the group.

“For more than 100 days, Nigerians have not seen or heard from President Yar’Adua since he was evacuated to Saudi Arabia for treatment. For the three months he reportedly stayed in an intensive care unit of a Saudi hospital, several of his aides continued to claim that the President was getting better. Some claimed he had started intense physical exercises. It is now more than two weeks since he was brought back to Nigeria in the dead of the night. We have not still heard from or seen President Yar’Adua.

“The refusal of President Yar’Adua to resign from office on account of his deteriorating ill-health and failure to transmit a letter of vacation on time as required by the constitution has resulted in a severe but avoidable constitutional crisis. This crisis has compounded other political challenges caused by an electoral system that is designed to aid electoral malpractices. This dysfunctional electoral system threatens democracy and good governance in Nigeria,” SNG said.
SNG’s National Coordinator, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who presented the letter containing the group’s requests to government, listed their demands as follows:

*An end to the invisible Presidency of Yar’Adua by activating Section 144 of the Constitution so that presidential powers will be fully accountable;

*The dissolution of the present Executive Council of the Federation which has largely collaborated with presidential aides to foist this crisis on the nation; and

*Quick and thorough implementation of the Uwais Report on Electoral Reform starting with the immediate removal of Professor Maurice Iwu as Chairman and the reconstitution of INEC with persons of impeccable integrity and competence.
Protesters under the umbrella of SNG had gathered at the Fountain Square before Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja by 9am from where they marched to the junction of the Presidential Villa.

The protesters, were, however, denied access to the seat of government.
Security led by Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations (DIG 'B') Mr. John Ahmadu was tight as both plain clothed and uniformed policemen far outnumbered the SNG protesters.
Around 10.45am, riot policemen had formed a human shield at the Presidential Villa Junction and the Federal Secretariat.
The operatives particularly locked out human rights activist and Chairman of the West African Bar Association, Mr. Femi Falana, and former Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Alani Akirinade (rtd), from entering the National Assembly to present their petition to the parliament on the current political crisis in Nigeria.

The duo, who were part of the mass protest of SNG, stormed the gates of the parliament in company with the vibrant preacher, Pastor Bakare, and hundreds of other protesters at about mid-day but were prevented from going beyond the gates.
Before the arrival of the protesters, all the three entrances to the National Assembly were shut and policemen deployed at every pole along the routes leading to the National Assembly and the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.

The presence of the protesters created a long traffic jam on major routes in the Three Arms Zone as lawmakers and other people who work in the National Assembly struggled to gain entry into the area.
Vehicular movement was disrupted throughout the over four hours rally.
It was when the police and other security agents had refused the protesting members of SNG access to the vicinity of the Presidential Villa and sensing a violent response that the SGF arrived to address the rally.

Before then, proponents of the rally notably Gen. Akinrinade, Ayo Opadokun, Falana, Hajia Mohammed Najatu, Uche Onyeaguocha and Faruk Aliyu Adamu among others had addressed the rally.
Akinrinade charged the rally to brace up for more protests, if the government is unwilling to listen to their demands.
“Nigeria does not need two Presidents, one acting and the other sick. We want an effective President who shall be fully in charge,” he said.

Falana, Najatu and others called for the full invocation of Section 144 of the 1999 constitution to save Nigeria from collapse.
They said two options are open to Yar’Adua: to govern if he is well enough for the rigours of governance or quit and that in the alternative, the EXCOF should exercise the powers granted it by the constitution.

Several placards were carried by the protesters with the following messages: “Greedy Governors Don’t Destroy Nigeria”, “No Division in the Presidency”, “We Demand to Know Where Yar’Adua is”, “Sack Iwu Now”, and “On Uwais Report We Stand”, among others.
Meanwhile, another rally, a pro-Yar’Adua one, was holding simultaneously with the SNG march, but at the Eagle Square near the Presidential Villa junction.

Coordinator of that rally, Musa Yakassai, said in a statement he distributed that the ill-health of President Yar’Adua is a natural occurrence and should not be used to disparage his integrity as President of Nigeria
He said there was no need for the full invocation of Section 144 of the constitution as “the Acting President is the legitimate Commander-in-Chief whose ability is not in doubt; the three arms of government are functional, an indication that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is in charge”.

He said the incessant anti-Yar’Adua rallies were anti-establishment, designed by the opposition to distract the Federal Government from delivering on the assured dividends of democracy to the people.
“We rallied today to give support to the Federal Government, the PDP and the Nigerian political fathers whose commitment to the Nigeria project deserves commendation,” the group, which claims to belong to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth organisation said.

The rallies were generally hitch-free as policemen, led by DIG Ahmadu were on ground to ensure peace.
Senate has, however, said it has no hand in the decision to bar SNG members who embarked on a protest march from entering the premises of the National Assembly.

The police, citing orders from above, had barred the protesters from gaining access into the complex like they (protesters) did on January 12, this year, when it embarked on a similar action to call for the empowerment of Jonathan as Acting President.
Reacting to the police action, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Information and Media Anthony Manzo stated that the Upper House was not party to the decision to stop the protesters.

Manzo also explained that Senate President David Mark and the leadership of the Upper House had no reason to shun the protesters, explaining that the inability by Mark to address the protesters did not amount to shunning them.
According to him, “I am not aware the protesters were barred from entering into the National Assembly because we are ready to receive anybody who engages in any meaningful protest (and) provided that it is not violent.

“Why I used the word meaningful is because what is meaningful to a group may not be meaningful to another group. It is the beauty of our democracy; we are growing and I hope that time will come in which we will have a speaker’s corner here like they have in the UK where people can come up and protest on anything.
“Non-violent protest, that is what we encourage and it is good; it is part and parcel of democracy and it is very good for us.”

Responding to another question on why the protesters were prevented, he replied: “They were prevented? I hope you know that it is not by Senators who were in the National Assembly. Are you telling me that they were prevented by the security services?
“The Senate President can never issue that directive; we are very open to receive any peaceful demonstration that is why this is the Parliament and it is regrettable if that happened...

“The Senate President always receives any group of people; you can see that his schedule is busy; but if you are saying that whether the Senate President will receive them tomorrow, I can’t make a categorical statement.
“This is because the Senate President is a busy man; he has schedule; and I don’t think that the Senate President will have any objection whatsoever to receiving any group of Nigerians, because we are a law making chamber.

“This is the centre of democracy and certainly Professor Wole Soyinka and his group are welcome any time.”
Manzo also reacted to the call by former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, for the impeachment of ailing President Yar’Adua by the National Assembly, saying the Senate was not contemplating impeachment of the President.
He said the Senate was standing by its resolution empowering Jonathan to step in as Acting President pending the resumption of office by the ailing president, stressing that the resolution had helped to stabilize the polity.

Manzo (acting Senate Spokesperson) stated: “In my own view, on the issue of the President, the Senate has already spoken. There is a subsisting resolution on ground, which is working; the one that enabled the Vice-President to become acting president. We believe that the situation is stable.
“As for impeachment, it is a process; there is a parliamentary process that would be started; but, that is not something that we are contemplating at this time.”

Briefing journalists in his office after the rallies, the Commissioner of Police FCT Command John Haruna said there was no reported case of violence of any sort and that he was personally on ground to ensure peace.
He, however, said a young man who was found with a dagger was immediately arrested.

“I want to thank God that everything went on well and there was no record of violence or manhandling by the police. We ensured that every policeman in the command went out and performed his duty by ensuring peace. The young man here was found with a dagger, my men immediately arrested him, but he said it was just for personal protection. Thorough investigation will be carried out on his claim. There was no violence, no problem at all,” Haruna said.


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