Yar’Adua Loyalists Regroup in S’Arabia

Politicians loyal to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua massed in Jeddah weekend, claiming to be on a goodwill visit to the hospitalised president, in what is, however, seen as a strategy meeting on how to tackle the acting president, Goodluck Jonathan.

The pro-Yar’Adua politicians who are now in Saudi Arabia include Governors Gabriel Suswan (Benue), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina, the president’s home state), and Isa Yuguda,  president’s son-in-law (Bauchi). 

The trio left Nigeria last Thursday and arrived in Jeddah on Friday. They have since been joined by Alhaji Usman Dakingari, Governor of Kebbi State, another son-in-law of Yar’Adua.

Also, last Friday, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Dr Haliru Bello Mohammed, Deputy National Chairman; and Alhaji Kawu Baraje, Deputy National Secretary arrived in the kingdom.

It is believed that Chief Mike Aondoakaa (SAN), who was removed as Attorney General of the Federation last week and redeployed as special duties minister by the acting president, has also left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia.

Aondoakaa was said to have taken permission to make a short trip to Europe. But the claim has been described as a trick to join the group in the oil-rich kingdom.

THISDAY, however, gathered that five members of the House of Representatives, sent by the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly to pay a goodwill to the president, were not part of the pro-Yar’Adua group as they have returned yesterday without seeing Yar’Adua. 

The five-member team consisting of Hon. Baba Shehu Agaei, Minority Leader of the House; Mallam Mohammed Ndume; Mallam Jibrin Adamu; Mr. Patrick Ikhariahle; and Mr. Fatai Moruf met the First Lady, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua.

The visiting Yar’Adua loyalists have held several meetings in the last three days with Hajiya Yar’Adua; Ambas-sador Garba Aminci, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; with the President’s daughter, Zainab, and the Chief Security Officer to the President, Yusuf Tilde, also attending some of the meetings. 

Mallam Muntaka Rabe, the First Lady’s former personal assistant who is now Executive Secretary of Petroleum Tax Development Fund (PTDF), and Alhaji Isa Chanraci, protocol officer to the First Lady, are said to be in Saudi Arabia as well. It is, however, not clear whether the two bureaucrats are part of the anti-Jonathan plot going on in the oil-rich kingdom. 

Members of the group had been shocked by the speed with which the acting presidency arrangement caught on in the National Assembly, which they thought they had under their control.

The meetings in Saudi Arabia are therefore meant to refocus the group’s plans, as they believe power is fast slipping from their grip. 

Giving an insight into the deliberations at the Saudi meetings, Mallam Nasir el- Rufai, former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, in a memo on the state of the nation at the weekend, noted that the group is plotting to file a law suit challenging the constitutionality of Jonathan’s ascension to the position of Acting President. 

It is believed that the Yar’Adua group’s strategy is to file a suit which will be a means of waging psychological battle against the acting president and, therefore, slow him down in his effort to carry out far-reaching reforms in the administration.

El-Rufai wrote, “The Yar’Adua people have already approached (an Abuja-based lawyer) to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Goodluck’s ascension. My sources indicate that he has declined after the last judicial disaster engineered by Aondoakaa and Justice Dan Abutu. But they will find another Abuja-based lawyer. And with the current leadership in the judiciary reportedly close to Aondoakaa, the ascension may go the way of Shonekan’s ING.” 

Some of Yar’Adua’s loyalists are also said to be exploring means of getting the President back to Nigeria “as soon as practicable.” Members of the group, who subscribe to this option, believe that once the doctors in the Saudi hospital can give them the nod that the President is strong enough to travel, they will want him back in Abuja. 

To achieve this plan, members of this group are discussing with the Saudi authorities to provide a 20-seater air ambulance for the President’s journey back or to fully equip the presidential jet for the purpose. “They are just waiting for any significant improvement in the President’s condition which will make him strong enough to travel back and continue his treatment in Nigeria. They believe if he is in town, he can effectively checkmate the acting presidency arrangement,” a source said. 

A source, however, said apart from using the court process to torpedo the arrangement that produced Jonathan as acting president, the Yar’Adua loyalists are also planning to mobilise traditional rulers, social political groups and opinion leaders in the North to drum up the fact that the arrangement that produced Jonathan is unconstitutional and can short-change the North.

El-Rufai had in his memo named a group consisting Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, and Alhaji Hassan Adamu as having been put together to start a campaign indicating that the North has been excluded from national leadership again. 

THISDAY gathered that the pro-Yar’Adua group are not only scheming on how to undermine the Jonathan acting presidency arrangement, but are also executing options that can be adopted in case the president is not back in the country early enough to be able to be part of the electioneering process for 2011 polls. 

The group is also planning to ensure they influence the choice of the presidential candidate of PDP in 2011, THISDAY learns.

“The Yar’Adua group is being pro-active. They are plotting beyond the immediate period. They are planning against a situation where Yar’Adua is unable to return to power. They want to ensure the acting president Goodluck Jonathan does not start getting ideas to become the PDP flagbearer in 2011. Part of the strategy sessions held in Jeddah is to ensure that the group has a plan B on how to produce a presidential candidate who will fly the PDP flag with Jonathan as running mate,” a source said.

Following Yar’Adua’s absence from the country for 78 days due to his illness and his failure to transmit a written communication to the leadership of the National Assembly to enable his deputy, Jonathan, to formally take over power in acting capacity, the National Assembly last Tuesday passed a resolution recognising Jonathan as acting president. The federal legislature acted on a suggestion made by the Governors’ Forum. Other eminent Nigerians, civil society groups and professional groups had made similar calls.

The Senate said it applied the Doctrine of Necessity to take the president’s interview on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in which he said he was recuperating in the Saudi hospital and would be back at home whenever his doctors advised him to do so, as the recommended transmission of a letter informing its leadership that he was on medical vacation. 

The Senate resolution was followed by a similar move by the House of Representatives the same day. Jonathan has since resumed as acting president and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.