Before the ministers rush for Saudi visa

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH Feb 21, 2010

Forty-five-year-old Noelia Serna seems to be wearing the cloak of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Doctors reportedly pronounced this Colombian woman dead,  but like a cat with nine lives, she returned to life. ITN News reported last Friday that Serna was hospitalised after she suffered a heart attack and was on life support before doctors declared her dead. It was a shocked funeral worker, Jaime Aullon, who later discovered that the hitherto deceased woman is still alive.

On at least three occasions, rumour mongers had pronounced Yar’Adua dead. An American news portal even published his ‘death’ on its website last January. It turned out that it was all false.  Now, some tale bearers say he can exercise for 35 minutes and will soon be heading home.

It’s possible that the six ministers who will be in Saudi Arabia shortly to see him will join him in this exercise. The Federal Executive Council last Wednesday mandated these ministers to visit Yar’Adua and ascertain the state of his health. They will also pray with his family and convey the gratitude of the government and people of Nigeria to the king of Saudi Arabia. The king has graciously kept our President in his prestigious hospital for almost three months now.

Thank God there is no woman among the ministers billed to travel to Saudi Arabia. This means that all the ministers will likely get their visas. Remember that the House of Representatives asked six members to visit Mr. President. Five of them got their visas and travelled. The sixth person, Ms Nnenna Ukeje, could not get her visa. Part of the speculations was that the Saudi authorities are not usually comfortable with single ladies visiting their kingdom. Ms Ukeje complained bitterly against this marginalisation. But the deed had been done.

The Reps team stayed for about six days in the oil kingdom without seeing Yar’Adua. They only saw the wife, Turai. After some sight seeing, they returned home last Saturday with basketful of prayers for the ailing President.

Some other prominent Nigerians had made attempts to see Yar’Adua. His in-law, Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, as well as Governors Gabriel Suswam of Benue, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina, Bukola Saraki of Kwara State had reportedly gone to see him without success. The President’s Principal Private Secretary, David Edevbie and his powerful acolyte, Taminu Yakubu, also went but failed to see him.  

Just last week, it was reported that the National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Vincent Ogbulafor, and members of the National Working Committee of the party made spirited but failed attempts to see Yar’Adua. They only succeeded in seeing Turai. Perhaps, they also prayed with the woman for the quick recovery of her sick husband.

It is intriguing that these failed attempts to see the President did not deter the FEC from angling for another visit. How are we sure that these Yar’Adua appointees will give us accurate report of the man’s state of health? These are the same people who had proclaimed him fit when every indication pointed to the fact that the man was seriously ill. 

 Maybe they will succeed where others failed considering that they represent Nigeria’s highest decision making body. Perhaps, the beefy face of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Adetokunbo Kayode, or the grey hairs of the Petroleum Minister, Rilwanu Lukman, will make a way where there has been no way.

Who knows, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe; Agric Minister, Sayyadi Abba-Ruma; Health Minister, Babatunde Osotimehin; and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed may use their influence in the Presidency to make impossibility possible.

I must say that the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has a large heart for accepting that Lukman should be on that trip. Recall that he ordered Lukman last December not to go on Christmas vacation until they found a solution to the fuel crisis ravaging the country then. Lukman defied that order; travelled abroad to relax and nothing has happened ever since.

 But before the ministers embark on their trip or even before they acquire their visa, they need to bear certain things in mind.

One, Nigerians expect to get a comprehensive update on the state of health of their President. Not the he-is-eating-well-and-sleeping-well type of report, but a report that will show the seriousness of the illness, the treatment so far given and when he will likely be discharged.

Two, the ministers should know that their trip will only be meaningful if it serves the purpose of fulfilling Section 144 of the constitution. In other words, if the President’s predicament is irredeemable, they should say so and transmit the necessary information to the National Assembly, which will in turn follow constitutional provisions to deal with the issue.

Section 144(1) stipulates that the President or his deputy shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. Of course, the declaration is followed by a medical examination, which will be made available to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives for necessary action.

There is no more room for cock and bull stories. The ministers should be ready to account for every kobo spent on that trip if they come back without seeing the President. They should be prepared to refund the hotel bills, the feeding allowances, the visa fees, and the air tickets collected for the journey.

All things being equal, I am hoping that the President’s illness is not making us embark on another executive foolishness.

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