Govt denies Yar’Adua’s death, pressure mounts

AMIDST rumours yesterday of the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia, the Presidency has urged Nigerians to ignore the story, saying that it is “not only false, but also a figment of the writers’ imagination.”

Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Olusegun Adeniyi, said the public should discountenance the story, insisting that President Yar’Adua was not only alive, but very much conscious and getting better.

Meanwhile, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and some other prominent Nigerians and groups yesterday called for an urgent solution to the quagmire

According to Adeniyi, who sent his response from Angola where he said he was attending the opening ceremony of the African Cup of Nations as a member of the Presidential Task Force on Nigeria’s participation in 2010 World Cup: “The speculations are false. The President is alive and actually getting better. He is very much conscious, can talk and has been talking , including making phone calls to some people back home.”

The presidential spokesman added that he travelled to Angola with the permission of President Yar’Adua. “I am here officially. But I am coming back home, hopefully tomorrow, because he has so directed,” Adeniyi said.

Indeed “last night, former governor of Abia State, Oji Uzor Kalu told The Guardian what he called “the most authentic proof that the rumour is worse than a lie.”

“How could a man I spoke to on December 31, 2009 could have died on December 10?”

According to him, “Mutawallen Katsina spoke to me. I know his voice. Hamza, his Special Assistant who was his ADC when he was Katsina State governor, facilitated the call. ” I was in Lebanon. I called Hamza to ask after the President’s health and he told me he wouldn’t see him until about four hours later.”

After that, said Kalu, “he indeed called me back and handed the phone to President Yar’Adua. His voice was low but we exchanged banters the way he and I would normally do.”

According to the former Abia governor, the President may have been moved to one of the residential houses of the Saudi King from hospital to stave off pressures.

“But to say keeping him in-communicado means he is dead is stretching the imagination too far.”

Inside the Presidential Villa Abuja, the atmosphere was normal all through the day. There were no public engagements by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan who was still in his office at about 6pm.

But he received some visitors. The first was the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu and, later, chairman of the National Ports Authority (NPA) and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tony Anenih. Also, the Director General of the State Security Services (SSS), Mr Afakriya Gadzama, was with the Vice President. All officials were also on the ground in the Presidential Villa.

When The Guardian contacted the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, she said: “I am not aware. What I do know is that Mr. President is responding to treatment, and he recently spoke with the Vice President.”

Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, also told The Guardian that he was not aware of anything on the President “Chukwuma! You should take it easy. I have not heard of any such thing,” he said in response to the rumour of the President’s death.

Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, United States and Joint Pioneer of Test Tube baby technology in Nigeria, Prof. Oladapo A. Ashiru OFR, in his reaction remarked:

“Medically by the time any patient with Churg-Strauss Syndrome develops renal complications followed by ureamic pericarditis — uniquely associated with kidney/renal failure — the treatment becomes extremely challenging even to the best of medical teams. At this trying time when our international image is being dented, especially with the December 25 bomb attempt, the most important thing we must sell is credibility. It is very clear that if our leaders are found to be non-credible it will tell on us. This is why those in government must quickly do their best to be truthful to the nation.”

There were also reports yesterday that governors of the 36 states of the federation may extend their emergency meeting which started late yesterday night in Abuja.

Expectedly the meeting, chaired by the Kwara state Governor Bukola Saraki may make the issue of the President’s health the kernel of meeting.

The position of the governors on the issue may be made public at the end of the meeting “if the majority of them would favour it” said a source.

Sources told The Guardian that the meeting became imperative in order to prevent further speculations about the state of health of the President.

Soyinka also yesterday spoke on the prolonged absence of Yar’Adua, saying that the nation is at a standstill.

He called for mass action by the citizenry against what he described as a ‘ridiculous regime’ holding the country to ransom to avoid the elongation of the current emergency.

Soyinka explained that the rally holding today in Abuja , the Federal Capital Territory, was organized to protest the apparent violation of the constitution by the administration and its penchant for reeling out lies to the public.

He said similar protests would be held across the country to press for the application of the constitutional provisions as panacea to what he called “this national emergency.”

The literary giant said those lying to the nation about the health of the president have committed treason, adding that they should not go unpunished.

Soyinka who was the’ guest of the month’ at the Agricultural Training School, Epe, Lagos State told the participants Nigerians must be mobilized to legitimately confront the government over its inaction.

Hailing the participants for choosing farming as an occupation, Soyinka who said he was nature friendly observed that the agricultural initiative trailed the farm settlements of the Obafemi Awolowo era in the old Western Region.

He recalled that his sad moment when he was a student at Government College, Ibadan, was when the colonial school authority slated farming as extra-curricular activity.

Soyinka also said one of the errors committed after independence was the neglect of agriculture in the school curricular.

‘ One of the saddest days was when the colonial school authorities cancelled agriculture. Football, athletics remained. It was one of the most disastrous experiences. If you cannot grow what you eat, you must encourage people who can do it… We have oil, but we cannot drink oil. Wrong sense of education made people to abandon agriculture due to oil’, he said.

The eminent scholar said, although the call for violent revolution has filled the air, it is not the best option, warning that history has shown that it usually consumes its architects.

He feared that a violent revolution may herald the emergence of another Stalin, reminiscent of the brutality the Soviet revolution unleashed on the people of Russia and other nations.

But, the retired university don frowned at the docile attitude of people to burning national issues which, he said, contrasted with the perception of foreigners about an average Nigerian.

Soyinka said that complacency often made Nigerians to attribute the problems of the country which affect their daily wellbeing to an act of God.

‘ What I will like to change is what appears to be the national character of docility. People absorb so much. This is what Yoruba call Iwosi in this country. The contempt for the people is amazing.

‘ People endure two hours of electricity per day. I know how much I pay for diesel. It is enough to award scholarship to people for their entire career. Many people outside think Nigerians are aggressive, noisy and loud. They are taking out on other people the way they cannot express at home.

‘ The president is away for 40 days without handing over and all of you are here saying that you are planting cassava’, he said.

Soyinka welcomed all legitimate solutions to the current impasse, except violence, adding that the call for an Interim National Government by his compatriot, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, was also in order.

He said the participants at today’s rally in Abuja would make some resolutions that would aide the government to halt the tension and anxiety in the country.

‘ For me, the most important thing is to wake the nation up, to make people understand that they don’t have to accept the act of contempt from their rulers and regard it as the norm. The nation must be made one way or the other to understand that the line has been crossed by leaving this nation without a head for so long, in not sticking to the provisions of the constitution.

He said the lying spirit that has seized those at the helm of affairs in the country to make them liable to treason.

‘If the president of a nation is not in a situation where he can manage the affairs of the nation, and you keep lying and covering up to the nation, you are committing treason against the people’, he stressed.

‘ The constitution we have is not the people’s constitution. For me, that constitution must be completely overturned. We must have a genuine people’s constitution. However, that is what we have at the moment and that is why we have operated it for so many years. People should not keep the constitution as something we should follow when it is convenient. That is not healthy. It is what holds the nation together. If you don’t follow the constitution, you are laying the ground for dangerous friction in the country’, he added.

Soyinka also berated the National Assembly for failing to rise to the occasion, lamenting that their reluctance has made the conspiracy of lies to triumph in the country.

He reiterated his call for a Sovereign National Conference to discuss the contentious national issues, recalling that he has discussed the option with President Yar’Adua when he met him.

He also said he had pointed out to the president the embarrassing activities of the electoral commission under Prof Maurice Iwu and the danger of delaying the proposed electoral reforms.

However, 58 senators from the Northern part of the country met in Abuja yesterday evening to review the implications of the prolonged ill health of the President.

The lawmakers met under the platform of the Northern Senators’ Forum.

Although no official statement was issued at the end of the meeting, it was gathered that the lawmakers agreed to support a motion being put together by the entire Senate to debate the health condition of President Yarçdua.

According to sources, a key prayer of that motion is that a delegate of Senators be sent to Saudi Arabia to visit the President to acquire first-hand information on the true state of his health.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, had said in Minna, Niger State at the weekend that the Senate would discuss the state of the nation, including the continued absence of the president when it resumes.

But the House of Representatives may shift debate on the president’s health, earlier scheduled for today to tomorrow, Wednesday. The shift, according to sources, is to mourn the death of Hajia Aisha Nafada, the mother of the Deputy Speaker, Alhaji Usman Bayero Nafada.

Speaking with The Guardian on the telephone yesterday, the chairman of the House Committee on Finance, John Enoh, said the time had come for the House to take decisive action on the absence of the President from office for over one month.