Nigeria: House to Debate Yar'Adua's Absence

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The House of Represen-tatives will on resumption from its Christmas and New Year vacation next week commence a debate on the implications of the continued absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua from the country for health reasons.

Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Honourable Ita Enang disclosed this yesterday at the weekly chat with journalists in Abuja, stating that the lower legislature would discuss the president's long convalescence at a Saudi Arabian hospital.

Enang's statement is coming on the heels of plans by yet another group called the 'Save Nigeria Group' to embark on street protests next week in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, London, Washington DC and New York over the president's refusal to hand power over to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan as provided by the constitution.

President Yar'Adua, who has suffered from kidney problems, left Nigeria 47 days ago. His physician later released a statement saying Yar'Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart.

Unveiling the legislative business of the House in 2010, Enang said the debate on Yar'Adua would come in the form of a motion and would be deliberated upon “to allow lawmakers most of whom have been uncomfortable with the situation to air their views on the matter.”

Enang said the proposed debate would dwell largely on the constitutional and national security implications of the prolonged absence of the president and “not necessarily on the state of his health since only his personal physician and the medical team in Jeddah are competent to discuss the nature of his ailment and to what extent he is recuperating.”

He, however, said it would be difficult to predict what resolutions the House would reach and what line of action it would take after the debate.

“We will discuss the state of indisposition of the president because there is pressure from members that we discuss it. I will not be able to say what the resolution of the House will be but I know that there are matters for us to discuss on the floor of the House,” Enang said.

The House last December tactically avoided deliberations on motions raised on the constitutionality of the president's absence before the lawmakers embarked on recess last year.

Sources say this current move is being influenced by some key figures in the House “who are now convinced that the National Assembly might not be able to hold the off the fire any longer given the long drawn out cat and mouse game being played by the Federal Executive Council on the issue, and the current situation where the parliament appears to be docile in the eyes of the public.”

Enang also confirmed that the president recently spoke to the Speaker of the House, Honourable Dimeji Bankole on the telephone.

Although Enang was not forthcoming with the details of the telephone chat, he simply said the conversation centered on the state of the legislature.

The prolonged absence of the president from the country has generated heated debate among Nigerians and groups who are questioning the propriety of his leaving the country for treatment without handing over the reins of government to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

Added to this, lack of information about the true state of his health has stirred up controversy in recent weeks with several civil society organisations demanding his resignation.

Groups such as the Nigeria Bar Association, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, a group of 100 lawyers and several eminent Nigerians, have also mounted pressure on the National Assembly to take the necessary steps to save the country from the leadership vacuum.

Other issues, according to Enang, that will top the agenda of the House when it resumes include the bill on electoral reforms and the constitutional amendment as well as the bill on anti-terrorism pending before the two chambers of the National Assembly.

Also yesterday, Enang dismissed the controversy surrounding the signing of the 2009 Supplementary Appropriation Act, stating that contrary to insinuations in some quarters, “the signature on the 2009 Supplementary Budget is the signature of President Yar'Adua.”

According to Enang, copies of the signed budget have been dispatched to the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

He charged those who think that the president's signature might have been forged to go to court and prove their case.

On the general plan of the House for the New Year, Enang disclosed that the House would receive the report of the Constitution Review Committee as well as begin consideration of the anti-terrorism bill designed to provide a legislative framework to combat terrorism in Nigeria.

The anti-terrorism bill was first introduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 but was not concluded before the expiration of the tenure of the then House which prompted President Yar'Adua to reintroduce it in October 2009.

The Constitution Review Committee, Enang said, was ready with a comprehensive report and the aggregated inputs of Nigerians who attended the public hearings on the bills.

The House, he said, would not only consider the bill in plenary but will vote on it to ensure that two thirds of the members endorse the amendments.

Also in the line up for 2010 is the controversial Freedom of Information Bill. The bill which was stalled by the Committee of the Whole House, is expected to be resurrected and possibly sent to the Committee on Information and Justice to enable the bill go through the all important stage of public hearing to feel the pulse of the public.

Meanwhile, in an effort to break the power vacuum and constitutional gridlock currently enveloping the country, the Save Nigeria Group will next week mobilize supporters to hold protests in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, London, Washington DC and New York.

The group which was convened by the fiery Lagos Pastor, Tunde Bakare, after a meeting in Lagos on the state of the nation, called on Nigerians to join its membership and work to halt the nation's slide into the status of a "failed state and quasi-dictatorship."

It lamented what it termed “the dangerous slide of Nigeria into a failed state, worsened by the power vacuum and absence of a Commander-in-Chief in Nigeria for the past 45 days (47 today).”

Expressing outrage at the story making the rounds that Yar'Adua spoke to some federal officials, the Save Nigeria Group called on him to address all Nigerians by radio or television, stressing that he is the leader of the entire country.

It further demanded that Yar'Adua saves Nigeria's fledgling democracy, national security and his own health by deploying and implementing the provisions of Section 145 of the constitution.

The group also expressed worry that as the nation approaches the 2011 elections that the genuine electoral reform promised by President Yar'Adua during his inauguration is vanishing due to lack of political will and outright refusal to implement the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee recommendations.

In a related development, text messages where sent to several mobile phones last night announcing the convening of a protest against the prolonged absence of the president and the current impasse in government.

According to the message, protesters are expected to converge at London's Trafalgar Square on Monday, January 12, 2010 at 12 noon, after which they will move to Parliament Square and then end at the Nigerian High Commission at 9 Northumberland Avenue.