Yar’adua; The Coup and Counter Coup

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s return to the country around 2 am Wednesday was a counter coup of sort to checkmate the federal cabinet members that were rooting to declare him incapacitated. How long can the President’s camp hold out asks Tunde Rahman.

If members of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) had taken a vote last Wednesday, February 17, 2010, they would

have successfully invoked Section 144 of the Constitution and declared President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua incapacitated going by the mood of the ministers at the Council Chambers. Foreign Affairs Minister Ojo Maduekwe had in a surprise move called for a revisit of the controversial memo by Information and Communications Minister Dora Akunyili.

In that memo, Akunyili had tried to prick the conscience of the EXCOF members, who had earlier said Yar’Adua was fit to continue to rule in spite of his health problems, for them to have a rethink on the matter and do what to her was the right thing. The meeting became rancorous with Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister Adamu Aliero shouting down his colleagues.

In the end, the ministers agreed to set up a six-man delegation to Saudi Arabia not only to ascertain the health status of the President but also to thank Saudi Arabian King for his hospitality towards the Nigerian President. But, according to sources at the meeting, truth is the idea of sending a six-man cabinet delegation to Saudi was just to give the pro-Yar’Adua camp a soft landing of sort because if the ministers had gone for the kill, they would have taken Yar’Adua out because the pro-Jonathan ministers had suddenly taken the upper hand.

“They were certainly in the majority and they were rooting for Yar’Adua to be declared incapacitated but Acting President Goodluck Jonathan then did not allow a vote to be taken,” said a source at the meeting.

That was the first coup and it was by the pro-Jonathan camp. To the group, the idea of going to Saudi was just a mere jamboree. The camp felt that declaring Yar’Adua incapacitated was already a fait accompli. It felt that like other delegations- those of the House of Representatives and Governors’ Forum-, which had earlier gone to Saudi before it, the cabinet delegation would also not see Yar’Adua not to talk of having any audience with him and that it would just be a matter of time for the team to come back and for the cabinet to invoke Section 144 and declare the President incapacitated.

To the camp, it did not matter if the delegation had more of ministers believed to be loyal to President Yar’Adua. In the delegation were Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Yayale Ahmed and Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN) said to be sympathetic to Jonathan’s cause; Maduekwe, who is believed to be shifty in aligning with any of the two camps, and the three others like Water Resources Minister Sayyadi Abba Ruma, Health Minister Babatunde Oshotimehin and Petroleum Resources Minister Rilwanu Lukman who are all said to be of the Yar’Adua camp. 

However, as it has now turned out, the pro-Yar’Adua camp was quick on the rebound. And it was then a question of time for the camp’s counter coup to unfold. The group was getting regular detailed briefings on the goings on at Aso Rock and was also mapping out its strategies.

As the cabinet delegation was making arrangements to procure Saudi visa, the Yar’Adua camp was working on getting the President discharged from the King Faisal Specialist and Research Centre, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he had been since November 23, 2009 and getting air ambulance from the authorities in Saudi to ferry him home. It was a desperate move and it didn’t matter whether it was in the interest of Yar’Adua or not as long as it preserved the presidency for the camp.

To the Yar’Adua camp, it was better to have a dying Yar’Adua at home being tendered to at the Presidential Villa than have him outside the country in Jeddah, which would likely have disastrous implications for Yar’Adua and his camp. The camp seemed to have reasoned that allowing Yar’Adua stay permanently in Saudi till he gets well would be political suicide. The camp seems to have reasoned that even if Yar’Adua is holding on precariously to life, it was better to have the President in the Villa than outside the country otherwise the table would be turned against him in no time at all.

The counter move by the Yar’Adua camp has two implications. One, with the President’s return, you can no longer talk about an Acting President because you cannot have two presidents – President   and Acting Pres-ident – at the same time. Two, with the President in town, Acting President or Vice-President Jonathan will be helmed in to do the bidding of the President or what is said to be the bidding of the President.

Indeed, right from the onset of the crisis, the Yar’Adua camp had always seen Jonathan or had liked to see Jonathan as performing delegated duties on behalf of the President and had secured court judgments (from Justice Daniel Abutu, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja) to that effect. Even when the National Assembly by its resolutions made Jonathan Acting President, the Yar’Adua camp continued to refer to him as Vice-President not Acting President. One instance was the interview granted to journalists by Chief Michael Aondoakaa when he was removed as Justice Minister and AGF and taken to the Special Duties Ministry. Aondoakaa referred to Jonathan as Vice-President throughout that interview.

The Yar’Adua camp had carried that stance over till now going by the statement issued yesterday by the President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi.  President Yar’Adua has returned to the country, Adeniyi said, adding, however, that the President has said the Vice-President should continue to oversee the affairs of the state. He referred to Jonathan as Vice-President in the statement.

In the final analysis, though the counter coup by the Yar’Adua camp has been most virulent, it is yet to be seen how enduring that coup will be. Reason: the President is still sick and seemingly incapable of running the affairs of the country yet he and his camp want him to hold on to power and want to continue to see Jonathan as mere Vice-President and not Acting President. How long will they continue to hold out like this?  Big question.