*As Goodluck Jonathan consolidates power . . .
Less than a week after the National Assembly passed a resolution empowering former Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to exercise presidential powers, fresh facts have emerged as to how former President Olusegun Obasanjo worked behind the scene to ensure other former heads of state and presidents moved against ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
Peoples Daily enquiries revealed at the weekend that shortly before the NASS resolution last Tuesday, the Eminent Elders’ Group (EEG), comprising General Yakubu Gowon (retired ), former President Shehu Shagari, Head of Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan, former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, ex-Army Chief General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retired), Professor Jerry Gana, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, three former Chief Justices of Nigeria, among others, had called on the federal lawmakers to transfer power to Jonathan.
Before the formation of the EEG, Obasanjo, according to a source, had telephoned President Shagari to inform him on the need to call a meeting of former leaders to discuss the absence of the president and its political and constitutional implications.
However, Shagari was said to have declined calling the meeting, insisting that the right person to do so was Gowon, who by hierarchy, heads the forum of former leaders.
“Shagari said he was not the right person to be called upon to summon the meeting and therefore advised Obasanjo to do the right thing by calling on Gowon to summon the meeting,” Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, elder statesman and second republic National Assembly liaison officer, told Peoples Daily in Abuja yesterday.
Undaunted by Shagari’s refusal, Obasanjo, according to Yakasai, approached former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who also politely told Obasanjo he would not do as he had requested. “IBB said he was still mourning his wife, Hajiya Maryam” who passed away last December. Shagari, according to the elder statesman, then approached Gowon on the need for a meeting to resolve the seeming political impasse.
“If the former leaders were not initially keen on the need to meet and resolve the controversy, the disclosure by the top military echelon that some politicians had approached them to intervene in the political logjam pushed them to meet to discuss the state of the nation,” Yakasai explained.
He said categorically that the EGG headed by Gowon was the product of Obasanjo’s machination against Yar’adua. Besides faulting the presence of Professor Jerry Gana , Alhaji Ahmed Joda and Jonathan Zwingina in the EGG, the former NEPU firebrand alleged that Obasanjo used the group against Yar’adua to show his contempt for the ailing president.
However, a source close to the group told Peoples Daily that though Obasanjo initially may have hoodwinked the former leaders, the Gowon-led group was quick to see through the scheme and quickly backed out, more so that Obasanjo had been accused of having knowingly foisted an ailing president on the country.
“Yes, it is true that Obasanjo started the whole process but the former leaders who met felt that it wouldn’t be fair to allow things degenerate to a level that the long-term interest of the nation would be seriously damaged.
“So, when the leaders finally decided to meet they resolved not to invite Obasanjo to join them. The idea behind this decision was not to have someone who was being criticised by the public over his comments at the 7th Trust Dialogue Lecture where he was quoted as having declared that Yar’adua should follow the path of honour and morality by resigning his office”, the source said.
According to the source, it was in furtherance of the group’s vision that the former leaders insisted that Jonathan be allowed to perform the functions of president his unhindered.
It was in a bid to persuade Jonathan to avoid Obasanjo like a plague who was reported to have had a meeting with the Acting President in the early hours of last Friday that the EEG met with the latter afterwards.
“I can tell you that Obasanjo does not have any hand in the affairs of the EEG. I can assure you that the group will spare no effort in ensuring that he is kept at bay and not be allowed to have any say in the affairs of the EEG,” the source declared.
When contacted for official comment, the Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Alhaji Ahmed Joda, would not be drawn on whether Obasanjo played a role in the formation of the EEG.
“I think the best person that can comment on the issue is General Gowon. He is the leader of the group and he is the only one that can comment on the matter,” Joda said.
Senator Jonathan Zwingina, a member of the group, also declined comment on the matter, explaining that he did usually grant telephone interviews but promised Peoples Daily an interview appointment within the week.
At their last Friday meeting with the Acting President, the former leaders called on him to review the 7-Point Agenda of the Yar’adua Administration with a view to implementing programmes that would impact positively on Nigerians. The group’s spokesman, Prof. Jerry Gana, told newsmen at Aso Villa that the Gowon-led group told Jonathan to ensure transparent governance and justice for all segments of the society.
Meanwhile Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) alleged yesterday that Obasanjo was exerting his influence on Jonathan. Although it did not disclose how exactly the former President “rudely intruded” in Jonathan’s handling of state affairs, the CNPP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, expressed worry that Chief Obasanjo “if allowed to meddle in the Jonathan presidency, might halt genuine electoral reform, the government’s post-amnesty programme and renewal of infrastructure that collapsed under Obasanjo watch.”
The CNPP appeared concerned that barely 48 hours after the February 9, 2010 National Assembly resolution on the continued absence of President Yar’adua on health ground, “We sighted Chief Obasanjo at the Aguda Lodge, Aso Villa, the official residence of the Acting President.”
“We are tempted to ask what has Chief Obasanjo left in the State House, Aso Villa after 8 years of misrule that he wants to pick now? CNPP is asking this question in the Obasanjo tradition,” it stated.
By Musa Simon Reef & Tom Chiahemen