ECOWAS leaders to replace Yar’Adua as chairman

THE failure of President Umaru Yar’Adua to return to the country, 28 days after he left for a medical treatment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has taken its negative toll on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government Summit which was scheduled to be held today (Monday). President Yar’Adua was elected chairman of the organisation in Abuja on December 19, 2008 

for a period of one year after President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso served out the final leg of his third non-consecutive tenure which lasted from 2006 to 2008. His first tenure was in 1990. 

Before the unavoidable shift of the date for the summit to January 18, 2010, the heads of state were expected to consider the performance of West Africa’s economy and the 2009 work programme of the institution, which is articulated around five priority areas of activity and expected to be presented to them by the President of the Commission, Dr. Chambas, as part of the 2009 annual report. 

The priority areas are the completion of work on the creation of a customs union, negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), the development of agricultural and environmental policies as well as the state of peace and security in the region. 

Apart from those areas, the summit was also to consider the Council of Ministers’ report which, among other things, includes recommendations on various sectoral programmes from such meetings as the ECOWAS Ministers of Health, Culture, Justice as well as Telecommunications and ICT. 

It would have also considered the guidelines for the preparation of report on the ECOWAS multilateral surveillance mechanism. The ministers had ended their meeting in Abuja on Saturday, November 21, in preparation for presentation of the report to the heads of state.

The regional leaders were expected at the botched summit to sign some supplementary acts and decisions, including such areas as telecommunications and information, communication and technology (ICT) as well as the establishment of a regional copyright observatory. 

A major event at the summit, the Nigerian Tribune gathered, would have been the replacement of President Yar’Adua who emerged the sixth Nigerian leader to chair the organisation in 2008 after Olusegun Obasanjo (1978), Muhammadu Buhari (1985), Ibrahim Babangida (1986 – 1988), Sani Abacha (1996 – 1998) and Abdulsalam Abubakar (1998 – 1999).

Indications emerged that the regional leaders will, in January, not give in to any move to re-elect President Yar’Adua for a fresh mandate under any guise, owing to what sources mainly termed his “leadership without direction.”

A source told the Nigerian Tribune that the tenure of President Yar’Adua was one of the worst to be experienced by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Commission, which was set up by Article 7, 8 and 9 of the Treaty and which defined its composition and functions.

Meanwhile, the presidency is said to be confused on what to do to stop the N353 billion 2009 supplementary budget from lapsing as a result of the failure of President Yar’Adua to assent to the budget bill.

The 1999 Constitution stipulates that the President can only hold on to a bill passed by the National assembly for 30 days after which the lawmakers can override the veto by securing two-thirds majority of the two chambers.

Sources told the Nigerian Tribune on Sunday that the presidency had toyed with the idea of taking the bill to Saudi Arabia to secure presidential assent but that members of the kitchen cabinet advised against that bid after securing vital information on the true state of health of the president.

Again, sources said that the Presidency had contemplated sending a letter from Yar’Adua to the National Assembly, to pave the way for Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the bill but that other members of the cabinet decided against it with the hope that the President would have returned to the country last week.

But it was confirmed that the Presidency is also suffering from the effects of non signing of the budget as the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta has become the first casualty.

While the House of Representatives passed the supplementary budget on November 18, 2009, the Senate passed it on November 23.

But it was gathered that the clean copy of the bill actually got to the President’s table on Tuesday, December 8, 2009.

Going by the legislative procedure, the bill could be deemed to have spent its 30th day in the presidency on December 23, thus paving the way for the National Assembly to override the presidential veto.

Sources, however, said that some presidential aides were planning to send an emissary to the National Assembly to calculate the days from December 8, when the National Assembly’s bureaucracy actually presented the budget to Aso Rock.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives as well as officials of ministries and parastatal agencies have been lamenting the inability of the system to effect some payments as a result of the failure of the president to sign the budget.

The House of Representatives had said on Friday that it was aware of what to do to get the budget to become law.

Senate spokesman, Mr. Ayogu Eze, also said on Sunday that the Senate, which began its on recess on Thursday, was actually on standby.

“We are on standby. We are strictly not on holiday, if we are called we will come back,” Senator Ayogu Eze said.

A source in the National Assembly said that the presidency might actualise the delivery of the letter that would ensure that vice-president Goodluck Jonathan takes over in acting capacity to the National Assembly this week.

The source said that though the letter had not been sent as at Sunday, top members of the legislature were aware of the possibility that this might happen this week.

If the letter is sent, the vice president would be able to assent to the budget and other pending issues, including the swearing- in of the new Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).