Monday, January 11, 2010

El-Rufai writes Obama over Nigeria's terror listing

Former federal capital territory minister Nasir el-Rufai has described as "regrettable" the decision of President Barack Obama's administration to put Nigeria on a list of terror states.

In a letter to the US President, Mr. El-Rufai expressed "profound sadness and distress" on behalf of all Nigerians for the recent attempted terror attack by a Nigerian aboard an American airline in Detroit on Christmas day. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, had laced his underwear with explosives which failed to detonate aboard a Delta airline from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day.

Affirming the need for a renewed fight against terrorism and its sponsors, the former minister regretted that "one of the new measures put in place has been to subject incoming passengers of Nigerian nationality to undergo the same security screening procedures as state-sponsors of terrorism."

Bandwagon effect

Mr. El-Rufai, in his letter, observed that "this understandable change in policy has created a negative and hopefully incorrect perception that the United States considers us (Nigeria) to be a terrorist state."

Raising further fears of Nigerians being subjected to this wrong perception across the world, he stated that "there are significant fears that other countries will adopt similar measures, and speculation that 150 million innocent and peace-loving citizens of Nigeria could be subjected to racial profiling and discriminatory treatment at all airports and transportation hubs in the world." He added that "There are strong arguments which point out that the addition of Nigeria to a terrorism list causes more damage than benefit."

The former minister stated that it "saddens him to witness this acrimony", and said "instead of (the policy) providing an additional security precaution, this decision has sown deep bitterness and distrust on the streets of Lagos and Abuja, among people who firmly reject the actions and beliefs of this one tragically misguided individual."

Please, reconsider

Writing the letter from his base in the United Arab Emirates, the former minster, referring to "the leadership lacuna in Nigeria's governance", said that when "constitutional order is restored from the currently troubled leadership in Nigeria," the U.S. and Nigeria "can repair their once strong partnership."

He referred to Mr. Obama's recent speech in Cairo appealing to the Muslim world, in which he (Obama) had said "so long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end."

In the light of this speech, Mr. El-Rufai urged the US president to reconsider the targeted policies against Nigerian nationals, which he claims "contradicts the essential principles of your Cairo declaration.

"I also believe that the goodwill that defined relations between the United States and Nigeria can be restored. Nigerians are ready to lead the way. But you must give us the chance to build trust," he concluded.


US official arrives Nigeria over political crisis

US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, is due to arrive Nigeria this week as part of his country's efforts to deepen diplomatic engagement with Nigeria which is navigating a leadership crisis at the moment, NEXT diplomatic sources revealed yesterday.

Sources in Washington D.C. and Abuja, told NEXT that Mr. Carson's proposed visit to Nigeria is aimed at carrying out a ‘broad spectrum feel of the political temperature in the light of the succession politics now frantically apace in Abuja'. The US diplomat is also expected to seek reasons for the delay in debating the anti-terrorism bill that has been with the National Assembly for the past four years.

Nigerian officers in Abuja confirmed the visit yesterday, saying Mr. Carson is expected to hold talks with the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan and the Senate president, David Mark.

"The Senate is a critical actor in the game of authorising the Vice president. The senate has a one-week window of relevance," our sources said, explaining the critical need for a meeting with the senate president.

Sources, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, say talks have already begun between Mr. Carson and the Nigerian vice-president; adding that last week, a telephone conversation between the two was facilitated by the American embassy in Abuja.

International interests in Nigeria

There are indications that Nigeria's 2011 elections is becoming a source of concern in international quarters. Ahead of Mr. Carson's visit, a multinational mission comprised of representatives from the European Union, U.S., Canada, and Japan are already in Nigeria. Sources believe that their presence in Nigeria is to assess Nigeria's preparations for the upcoming elections.

"The rationale of this mission is to emphasize that whatever the resolution may be, a credible election in 2011 in Nigeria is central to the international acceptance of a new place for Nigeria in the international community," a source told NEXT.

In 2009, the US president, Barack Obama and the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, on at least three occasions, expressed their displeasure with the current state of affairs in Nigeria - especially as it concerns governance, development, and anti-graft activities.

Mr. Obama, during his visit to Ghana in July, had sent a veiled barb against Nigeria while simultaneously praising Nigeria's neighbour, Ghana on matters of democracy and the pursuit of free and fair elections.

Barely three months after her visit to Nigeria during which she doled out a couple of reprimands to Nigeria on matters of corruption, Mrs. Clinton, in an address at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall, Washington D.C in December, 2009, again criticized Nigeria's Human Rights policies.

"In other cases, like...Nigeria, governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve," she said.

Last week, the American government, through its Transportation Security Administration (TSA), announced that it would begin enhanced screening procedures on any US-bound air passenger travelling through a list of 14 nations, in which Nigeria was included.

Suffice it to say that Nigeria has not occupied a favourable position in the diplomatic circles for the past few months.

Mood in Washington and Abuja

In Nigeria and the U.S., there are growing concerns for the succession plan for the Nigerian president, who is critically ill in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

In Washington D.C., two camps are pitched against each other - the constitutional succession camp and the national security resolution camp with interests in a possible military regime.

"There are those who are rooting for a constitutional succession versus a tiny, but influential, power wonks who promote a national security resolution in the light of the ‘crotch bomber'," sources said.

Inside sources in the Obama administration however said the American president will stay on the constitutional succession track, although there are muted concerns about ‘Goodluck Jonathan's ability to steer a potentially difficult Nigeria', sources said.

In Abuja, diplomatic source said, there is a frantic ‘horse trading by the Hausas'. There are reports of a scramble to fill in a suitable candidate from Northern Nigeria for the impending vacancy in the office of the vice-president of the country.

E-learning project gets committee

To make Nigeria's quest for a place among the 20 economies of the world by 2020 feasible, access to information and communication technologies at all level of the education sector should be accorded priority, the minister of education, Sam Egwu has said.

Mr. Egwu, who spoke while inaugurating the committees to drive e-learning initiative in Nigeria, said in Abuja at the weekend the that e-learning is a logical and strategic approach to effect the much needed technological transformation in Nigeria.

"As a nation and key player in world affairs, Nigeria cannot afford to be left, trailing behind other nations in the global ladder of ICT. We must, therefore, mobilise our resources in partnership with the private sector, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Education for All goals and the seven point agenda of the present administration," he said.

Mr. Egwu urged the committee to come up, without delay, with actionable plans and recommendations that will ensure the immediate diffusion of e-learning into our education system.

The programme is expected to start by the end of first quarter of 2010.

E-learning is expected to redefine education; for example, the classroom will no longer be demarcated by brick walls rather "students can communicate with their teachers from their bedrooms or wherever they are, especially during strikes, while housewives can receive lectures from their kitchen without having face to face interaction with their instructors." Will this new initiative void the recent directive that students should make up to 75 per cent lecture attendance before they are awarded a pass mark in any subject? Mr. Egwu said e-learning does not in any way contradict that policy.

"I mean, the 75 per cent attendance is still there.

This e-learning helps the student to save the time they spend in going to the library, the time they spend in trying to make contact with their teachers and even to access journals. They stay in the comfort of their hostels, rooms or apartments and access journals, their teachers and even facilities outside their university or that institutional environment," he said.

The minister also said the committee will do basic work on infrastructure. He noted that communications equipment manufacturers must be involved. He also said that the deployment of e-learning will be carried out through public private partnership.

Private partnership

"This explains why Omatek, Zinox and Calfa were included as members of the committee," he said. "They will judiciously use their resources, creativity and passion for the actualisation of this laudable initiative.

We are going to have manufacturers come in to produce the laptops to be used by students." The Chief Executive Officer of Zinox Technologies, Leo Stan Eke said that the project came about in order for the government to create a solid foundation for e-learning in the country.

"If there is no solid e-learning foundation, this country cannot move forward in human capital development and that is the challenge," he said. "That also explains why we have half baked graduates." Omatek Computers Chairman, Florence Seriki, added that it is about time Nigeria joins the e-learning team.

"There is a lot of gap between e-learning in Nigeria and all over the world," she said. "It is also a way of allowing the youth themselves to produce the same computers. It brings capacity building... It will also create interconnectivity among students."


National Assembly commission confirms acting Clerk, Deputy

The National Assembly Service Commission has confirmed the appointments of Oluyemi Ogunyemi as the acting Clerk to the National Assembly and Salisu Maikasuwa as acting Deputy Clerk.

Mr. Ogunyemi, formerly the deputy clerk, stepped into the position following the retirement of Nasiru Arab last October while Mr. Maikasuwa, who was the Clerk of the House of Representatives (Special Duties) was named the acting deputy clerk.

Mr. Ogunyemi will function in acting capacity until April 27, when he is to proceed on his terminal leave, preparatory to his retirement from service on July 27. This will pave way for Mr. Maikasuwa to take over as substantive Clerk.

However, last Friday's confirmation of the appointments may put the commission on a collision course with the leaderships of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which asked that the process be suspended to enable complaints raised by contenders to the positions be resolved.

The Deputy Chief Whip of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said the appointments by the commission were unilateral as both chambers of the federal legislature were not involved.

He added that the leadership of the House is yet to meet and resolve the many complaints against the commission and those appointed.

"To my knowledge, the leadership is not aware of such appointments," he said.

"As at is, we asked them to hold on until they furnish us with the nominal roll of all the staff, to verify the complaints that seniority was not followed in the planned appointments."

Ensure fairness

The lawmaker said until the House' leadership concludes its investigation into the complaints, it would not endorse any appointment made by the commission.

Asked if the leadership will likely reverse the appointments, Mr. Tambuwal said that would only be determined after the leadership meets and studies the various complaints.

"One thing is clear, any appointment that does not follow due process will not be endorsed by the leadership," he said.

The Spokesperson of the Senate, Ayogu Eze, said he was not in a position to comment on the matter.

Aliyu Dogondaji, the commission's chairperson, declined comment when contacted. He said, as a civil servant, he was not allowed to speak to the press. He, however, warned journalists to ensure fairness "in whatever you are going to write."

Senate faults Soyinka

The Nigerian senate on Sunday faulted Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's comments on their ultimatum to the United States following the grouping of Nigeria with nine other nations for terrorism.

The senators said Mr. Soyinka's reference to their decision as ‘absurd' is ‘most unfortunate'.

"I had expected that, being one of the captains of the literary ship in Nigeria, he should have read the entire comment from the senate before casting aspersion on the institution for something that did not happen at all," Ayogu Eze, the senate spokesperson, said in Abuja on Sunday.

The upper legislative house had last week come out strongly against America's decision to enlist Nigeria alongside Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria as countries to be subjected to stricter searches with regards to terrorist activities.

The senate threatened to reconsider Nigeria's relationship with America if, by the time they resume this week, the American government has not de-listed Nigeria from the group.

Mr. Eze argued that it was unfair on the part of America to hurriedly tag the entire country for the action of a single Nigerian who barely lived in Nigeria.

Following the senate's position, some Nigerians, including Mr. Soyinka, countered their stance.

"It is wrong for those the senate holds in high esteem to attack its reputation and seek to rubbish its actions without justification. I am constrained to observe that Prof. Soyinka is gradually falling into this group of Nigerians who offer opinions hastily without first obtaining all the sides to an issue," Mr. Eze said.

No deadline given

The senate spokesperson said he would always restate the fact that the senate rejects the ‘obnoxious classification' which was done ‘without due consultation with relevant authorities in Nigeria.

"On resumption we are going to weigh in on the matter, with a view to finding a solution to it," he said. "We also want to use this opportunity to restate our opposition to terrorism in any form from any quarter. We condemn what Umar Abdulmutallab did, and ask that innocent Nigerians be spared the agony to which they are exposed because of this one-off incident. His action, heinous and condemnable as it is, is not enough ground to criminalise innocent and law-abiding Nigerians over a matter they know nothing about."

The senator also denied media reports that they (Senate) gave America a seven day ultimatum, dismissing them as "misleading headlines".

"What I said at the press briefing ... was that we rejected the classification and demanded that our name be taken off that list," Mr. Eze said.

He reaffirmed that when the senate resumes next, it will engage all its diplomatic and legislative gears to bring about the reversal.


Jonathan is doing well, says PDP

The manner in which Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has presided over the nation's affairs in the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who is spending his second month receiving medical treatment abroad, is to be commended, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said on Sunday.

The party, in a statement sent to journalists by its National Publicity Secretary, Rufai Ahmed Alkali, said that contrary to claims by the opposition that there was almost no real leadership at the federal level because Mr. Jonathan lacks the necessary executive powers, the Vice President has attended to all issues that required presidential attention and filled the vacuum created by Mr. Yar'Adua's absence.

Mr. Alkali said that the opposition, which tried to set an agenda for the government over the President's health by constructing various scenarios, has no right to do so.

"People are sitting down outside and defining the dos and don'ts of government. The reality of it is that we are operating a system and so far to our knowledge, there has been no evidence of breakdown of this system," he said.

"The Vice President is there as the Vice President of this country and he has done extremely well in the past few weeks since the President travelled outside the country. All these issues of what should be done or what should not be done is the prerogative of government."

The PDP spokesperson said it was unnecessary to join issues with opposition, whom he said would not be impressed no matter what good the government does. He said the present administration must be applauded for its achievements in office so far.

"It does appear to us that whatever Mr. President does at this point in time, some people are just ready to go all the way not wanting to look at the positive side. I thought one of the good things we are supposed to have celebrated is the issue of Niger Delta. For the first time in the history of this country, it has been virtually addressed. What remains is to mop up.

"So far, the people in the Niger Delta have put themselves together and provided the environment for cooperation, reconciliation and for settlement and the Federal Government provided the policy framework - including the funding. I thought it is a major achievement in the history of this country."

Economic shields

Mr. Alkali also pointed to the way government has handled the economy, which, he claimed, appears to have shielded it from the recent global economic meltdown.

"The world has been going through a great depression, but government has not come out to say that because of the global economic meltdown our own economy has collapsed," he said.

"Government kept on moving. The fact that we are able to pull through this very difficult period is plus to the government. I know that the global economic downturn affected us in so many ways more than we Nigerians want to admit. Everybody knows that there is no way there would be a worldwide depression and it would not affect Nigeria, which is an integral part of the world economy. But despite the pressure, government kept on moving. I think this should be a plus."


Those who could be vice president

Aliyu Muhammed Gusau

Aliyu Gusau has always been in the precipice of power. Commonly referred to as the ‘spy master’, this retired army general has constantly had a role to play in the balance of power in the country. The recluse former intelligence officer first rose to prominence when he was made the Director of Military Intelligence under former President Shehu Shagari.

Mr. Gusau and Oladipupo Diya, another retired general, were also said to be masterminds behind the fall of the Ernest Shonekan-led Interim National Government. Under the Ibrahim Babangida regime, he became the Chief of Army Staff and was appointed National Security Adviser under former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

Adamu Aliero

Adamu Aliero was born on January 1, 1957 in Aliero Local Government in Kebbi State. Mr. Aliero graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with a Bachelors of Science degree in Political Science. His political career took off in 1998 when he contested for a senatorial seat under the banner of the United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP). Mr. Aliero, a former customs officer, was elected governor for two terms of four years each on the platform of the opposition All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) but switched loyalty to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the end of his second term as governor and was elected into the Senate in 2007. He, however, vacated his seat in the senate when he was appointed Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in December 2008.

Sule Lamido

Born in April 1948, Sule Lamido was appointed minister of foreign affairs in 1999 by former president Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr. Lamido retained that position until 2003. Mr. Lamido was the National Secretary of the defunct Social Democratic Party during the Third Republic and was heavily criticised for his handling of the botched June 12 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by the late Moshood Abiola. He was, however, imprisoned in 1998 by the late dictator Sani Abacha for criticising Mr. Abacha’s plan to perpetuate himself in office. He was elected governor of Jigawa State in 2007. Mr. Lamido has been involved in politics for more than 30 years. His political career dates back to his days in the defunct People’s Redemption Party (PRP).

Jubril Aminu

Born August 1939, the senator representing the Adamawa Central Senatorial district attended the University of Ibadan, where he graduated in 1965 as a medical doctor. Mr. Aminu was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri between 1980 and 1985, and has been education minister and also petroleum and mineral resources minister under the Ibrahim Babangida regime between 1989 and 1992. He was also Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission and then Nigerian Ambassador to the United States between 1999 and 2003.

Mr. Aminu was a delegate of the Nigerian National Constitutional Conference from 1994 to 1995, and has been a senator since 2003 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party. Chairman of the senate committee on foreign affairs, he was mentioned in a German court as one of the beneficiaries of the $12.7million bribe allegedly paid by Siemens between 2001 and 2004 to top government officials to secure contracts in Nigeria.

Murtala Nyako

Murtala Hammanyero Nyako, a retired vice-admiral of the Nigerian Navy, was elected governor of Adamawa State in 2007 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Mr. Nyako, born on August 27, 1943 was appointed Chief of Naval Staff in January 1990 and Deputy Chief of Defence Staff in 1992 before retiring from the Navy in 1993.

Mr. Nyako’s election as governor, in the 2007 general elections, was nullified by the the Adamawa State Election Petitions Tribunal. He, however, won the re-run election held on April 26,

2008. He was a member of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) which annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

Security men attempt to raid NEXT office

An attempt was made by two armed plain clothed security operatives on Saturday to forcibly gain access into the premises of Timbuktu Media, publishers of NEXT on Sunday and NEXT Daily, located on Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun in Lagos.

Forceful entry
At about 5.10 pm, two middle aged men dressed in button-up shirts arrived our premises in a gray coloured Honda car with plate number AA 736 AKN. The men, who originally introduced themselves as
Protocol Officers of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), demanded for copies of last Friday and Sunday editions.

They claimed they wanted to make some clarifications on a story published on the organisation. However, when they were given the Friday edition of NEXT, they said it wasn't what they were looking for and subsequently asked to be given a copy of this week's NEXT On Sunday. But the security personnel on duty explained that copies of the paper would not be available until the next day. This explanation got the men agitated and they attempted to gain entry into our premises by force, but were prevented by the police constable on guard.

In search of editors
The men, who were armed with automatic pistols, demanded to speak to any editor around. When their demands were not granted, they blocked the entrance to the premises with their car and threatened not to let anyone in or out. This was followed by a heated exchange of words between the man and the resilient constable. One of them claimed to be his superior, and said he could order the policemen on duty to vacate their duty post. When they realised that the security personnel on duty would not budge, they got into their car and left. One of them remained, however, to watch over the premises from across the road.

Some of the members of our staff who had gone to deliver copies of NEXT ON SUNDAY at the airport, and who had seen the car as it left our premises, claimed to have noticed the car trailing them from the airport.


FINANCIAL MATTERS: The CBN’s January MPC meeting

First the known facts (and in no specific order). At its first meeting this year, the monetary policy committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) voted to maintain the monetary policy rate (MPR) unchanged at 6% “with the asymmetric corridor of interest rates remaining at 200 basis points above the MPR and 400 basis points below the MPR”. Apparently, going by the MPC’s communiqué after the meeting, the economy grew (GDP) by 6.90% in 2009. The headline inflation rate (now, this is a tricky one, so it helps to quote directly from the MPC’s communiqué) “as measured by the year-on-year increase in the all item consumer price index was 12.4% in November 2009”.

Both monetary aggregates and aggregate domestic credit (net) grew a lot slower than in previous years, and much slower than what the CBN described as its “indicative benchmarks”.

Even though the monetary authority’s policy neutrality did not come as a surprise, it helps to understand why, in the face of evidence that inflation may have rediscovered its bite, the CBN opted to leave its policy rate unchanged. First, given the apex bank’s commitment to improve the “overall efficiency and stability of the (banking) system in a manner that will ensure that banks play their appropriate roles as transmission channels for resources to the real sector” it was always open to debate whether the time had come to rein in the policy of quantitative easing that has seen the CBN continue to drive growth in the system’s liquidity. The current state of some operators in the financial services sector hasn’t been of much help either. Second, the CBN, more than most, is aware that its policy rate is only distantly related to “the retail lending rates of deposit money banks (DMBs)”.

So, while the policy rate has remained at 6% since July 2009 when the MPC reduced it from 8%, banks’ “average maximum lending rate (rose) to 23.1% in November from 22.97% and 22.64% in September and June, 2009, respectively”.

Policy Relationship

Now, the problem raised by the (absence of a) relationship between the policy rate and retail lending rates is not simply a question of estimating the economy’s policy reaction function - the time it takes from the implementation of a policy and when reactions from the economy kick in. The Bank of England estimates, for example, that “changes in (its) bank rate can take up to two years to have their full impact on inflation”. Granted that the CBN concedes that it is slaving away at reaching a working understanding of this process, the whole problem with the policy rate then comes down to its relationship to inflation.

Retail deposit rates in the country are exceptionally low. Indeed, they are way below the inflation rate. One would have thought that the CBN’s concern with increasing “credit to the growth-enhancing sectors of the economy and therefore, (engendering) an all inclusive growth” would have been matched by policy conditions that conduce to a rapid increase in the economy’s savings pool. But with retail deposit rates at around 4% and inflation where it is, retail depositors in the country lose their shirts just by keeping money with the banks. The spread between banks’ weighted average deposit rates and lending rates is however thinner than is suggested by looking at the figures for retail deposit rates alone, only because banks’ have boosted deposits via pretty expensive tenored funds. These tenored funds are not just dear, they are also pretty unreliable: always in search of higher returns, and hence not really available to create liabilities.

Still, were the policy rate related to any other domestic index, it would have been a pretty useful tool in the apex bank’s struggle to maintain price stability. Inflation would have been within manageable limits, actual and potential depositors would earn a return that encourages further savings, and entrepreneurs and investors would have the assurance of stable monetary conditions in order to pursue new investments. Desirable though all of these are, the apex bank’s recent meeting on monetary policy failed to reassure that it is headed in the right direction. Yet we had hoped. For this was the first meeting of the re-furbished MPC.


Those who spoke truth to power

Femi Falana is used to being called all sorts of names. Recently, frustrated with the lawyer's badgering, the attorney general of the country added another one: busybody. Micheal Aondoakaa called him a busybody for challenging the position of federal ministers on President Umar Yar'Adua's health crisis.

He is not a physically imposing man, but Mr. Falana stands tall amongst many others challenging the illegalities of President Yar'Adua's absence and how the country's constitution has been flouted to glorify narrow interests in government.

The G53

The Group of 53 members are strange political fellows, but like at other crucial points in our nation's history, people of conflicting persuasions came together to call for justice.

The group recently strongly called the attention of Nigerians to the unhealthy development from President Umaru Yar'Adua's medical trip without a proper handing over to the vice-president as required by the constitution. Despite the purported denial of membership by some on the list, the group succeeded in breaking the silence of the political class on the matter.

Rotimi Akeredolu

The chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Rotimi Akeredolu, despite signs of division within the association's fold, has been vocal about his fear that Nigeria, in the hands of the present crop of leaders, is heading towards a constitutional crisis.

According to him, "If the president is found to be incapable of discharging the functions of the office, he should be asked to resign. There should be no difficulty in finding a successor. The provisions of the constitution are clear on this."

Opposition parties

Led by the Action Congress, whose spokesperson has consistently called on the ruling party to tell Nigerians the true state of their president's health, opposition parties have kept the pressure on the ruling party and the federal government to respect the constitution - making sure the matter never leaves the headlines.


The scramble to succeed Jonathan

For the past few weeks, as it dawned on them that Umaru Yar'Adua is unlikely to return from his medical treatment as Nigeria's president, the fading leader's wife,

Turai, and several loyalist aides have been shopping around the candidacy of Adamu Ailero as our next vice president.

Mr. Aliero, the Minister of the Federal Capital, is close to the Yar'Aduas, and the First Lady and her cohorts calculate that they can best protect the Yar'Aduas' interests through a friendly successor.

President Yar'Adua is prostrate in a Saudi hospital, believed to be severely brain damaged, unable to recognise anyone and unlikely to ever again serve as president. The First Lady has barred any senior political or government leader from access to her husband, and relies exclusively on Saudi staff, apart from two presidential security aides, our sources say.

The delay in publicly admitting the president's incapacitation, our sources say, is to buy time to ensure a friendly successor for Mr. Yar'Adua. But pressure is building throughout the country for a constitutional succession that will see the ascent of the current vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, to the top job.

This may come as soon as this week, several well-placed politicians and government officials now believe.

The plan to engineer Mr. Ailero, 53,into the vice presidency, ostensibly to help position him after the widely expected interim presidency of Mr. Jonathan, is being spearheaded by a powerful coterie of four presidential aides, according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the matter. These are Inuwa Baba,

the political adviser known by some as "the Andy Uba" of the Yar'Adua Aso Villa; Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, the president's chief economic adviser, and Sayyadi Abba Ruma, the agriculture minister.

But their effort has run into strong head winds, according to several sources.

There is also the candidacy of Mohammed Aliyu Gusau, the former intelligence chief in the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. On the unofficial expectation that the president must come from the north for another term of four years under the ruling party's rotational presidency system, Mr. Jonathan would likely serve out the last remaining year of the Yar'Adua presidency before the party chooses another candidate for the next election. Mr.

Jonathan's deputy, by this reckoning, would be well placed to be that candidate.

Mr. Gusau, a retired general, gets his principal support from an influential network around Mr. Babangida, who has been receiving powerful guests at his hilltop mansion in Minna, the Niger State capital, on account of the recent death of his wife, Maryam, from ovarian cancer.

Lurking in the shadows is Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president who is keen to plot his return to political eminence. Mr. Obasanjo is reported to have been pushing Sule Lamido, former foreign minister and current governor of Jigawa State to be Mr. Jonathan's deputy. Mr. Lamido's candidacy would have benefited from the current manouvre of the constituency of governors to have a bite at the pie. Sources familiar with this scheming programme say it is not going far. Bukola Saraki, Chairman of the Governor's forum who made a dramatic Christmas visit to Ota, home of the Obasanjo's reportedly received a cold shoulder. "This is a man who had not been here since May 2007 suddenly showing up see what politics can lead to?" said our source.

But beyond the problematic Saraki lobby, the mere involvement of Mr. Obasanjo, who has many enemies in the ruling party that used to be under his thumb, has proved a liability for Mr. Lamido, according to party insiders.

"One of the best ways to destroy a candidate is to say that he is Obasanjo's man," one influential politician told Next on Sunday. Yet there is a quiet spat between the Obasanjo and the Babangida vision for the next political dispensation with Obasanjo openly warning against a military intervention last week in a direct message to the army velvet ranks and another comment he pass through Babangida to the current leadership of the army.

Mr. Obasanjo's fallback candidates, according to our sources, are Murtala Nyako,

67, the former naval commander and now governor of Adamawa State, and Jibril Aminu, the senator and former education minister.

Neither man is believed by insiders to have much of a chance.

Several younger retired military officers and their political allies are also believed to be interested in vying for the top post including Buba Marwa, the former military governor of Lagos, and current ambassador to South Africa, who also is close to Babangida. Marwa however faces strong corruption hangover on account of his money laundering charges for his role in the massive treasury loot of the late General Sani Abacha.

A dark horse is the aging Adamu Ciroma, 76, a fixture in politics and government for the past 40 years who is being touted by the traditional northern political elite whose influence was severely curtailed during Mr. Obasanjo's two terms as president, from 1999 to 2007.


Yar'Adua is brain-damaged

President Umaru Yar'Adua is seriously brain damaged, is not able to recognise anyone, including his wife Turai, and can no longer perform the functions of the office of the president, according to multiple sources who have spoken to NEXT on Sunday.

But this fact, which has left a nation of 150 million people rudderless and its government in disarray, is being concealed from the public through an elaborate scam orchestrated directly and energetically by the First Lady.

Turai Yar'Adua has barred all but two security and one civilian aide, and a legislator from having access to the president in a two-tier power loop of which she is the organising principal. The inner core consists of the president's chief security officer, Mohammed Tilde, and his military ADC, Mustapha Onoedieva; an infantry colonel from Edo State. Through Mrs. Yar'Adua, this small knot works with Shehu Inuwa Imam, a member of the House of Representatives from Katsina State who is the president's childhood friend; Tanimu Yakubu, the president's chief economic adviser; and Sayyadi Abba Ruma, the agriculture minister. She is also aided by Inuwa Baba, the senior private adviser to the president on protocol matters.

Mr. Baba is an old Yar'Adua family friend, so loyal that he once got into prison uniform to stay behind bars with Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, the elder brother of the current president. who died in Abacha's gulag in 1999.

The group has blocked all direct access to the rapidly ailing president, said sources in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region and in Europe and the US.

Despite several trips to Saudi Arabia, no other Nigerian government official, including the president's principal private secretary, ministers, and governors, has succeeded in seeing the president, who vanished from our country 50 days ago and has not been heard from since.

Grand deception

The people working frantically to keep up this ruse, including Mr. Yakubu, have also gone to great lengths to deceive the public, by claiming they have spoken to a president who is unable to speak and has lost all powers of cognition.

In fact, we can confirm that senior government officials lied when they claimed that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, who is next in line to succeed Mr. Yar'Adua, has spoken directly to the president.

Although Mr. Jonathan subsequently went along with the charade, he has confided in several people in recent days that he did not speak to the president at all, according to informed sources. "He is trying not to create any friction because he knows he is about to become the next president," one source told our reporters.

In a telephone conversation with NEXT on Sunday, the Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, emphatically dismissed any notion that the president did not speak to any of the state officials. Mr. Aondoakaa said the vice president confirmed this claim himself that the dialogue took place,"No, that cannot be the case," Mr. Aondoakaa insisted on Friday.

Mrs. Yar'Adua now relies on an all-Saudi staff, including drivers, security personnel and others, in the hope that no Nigerian outside her Gang of Three on the ground in Jeddah can tell for certain what is going on. Such is the nearly impregnable ring of steel thrown around the fading leader that even his principal private secretary, David Edevbie, was unable to see him when he recently travelled to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to get the "president" to sign the budget. We have learned that Mr. Edevbie was restricted to his hotel, where he received a visit from the president's chief security officer, who collected the documents and subsequently returned them "signed."

He may never come back

Even the president's closest and most powerful aides have accepted that Mr. Yar'Adua may never return as president. "It is over for this president," said one source at the centre of the nation's political firmament. "The question is when and how."

Virtually all those who spoke to NEXT did so on condition of anonymity, reflecting the sensitivity surrounding the president's rapidly deteriorating health and their own political calculations during an inevitable transition.

While the end is virtually certain, several sources said the First Lady is hoping to hold off any acknowledgment of Mr. Yar'Adua's incapacitation in the hope of lining up a friendly successor, including an effort to position Adamu Aliero, the minister of the federal capital territory and a close ally of the First Lady, as the new vice president once Mr. Jonathan steps up to the presidency as mandated by the constitution.

Other political forces, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as well as a claque of powerful former military officers led by Ibrahim Babangida, the former military president, are also pushing various candidates to be Mr. Jonathan's deputy (see accompanying story.)

However, many see Mr. Jonathan, a colourless former governor of tiny Bayelsa state and an accidental vice president, as a mere transitional figure who will hold power only until the next elections are held.

By that calculation, the ruling People's Democratic Party will honor its internal rotational arrangements to keep a northerner in the presidency for an additional term of four years. This would put a new vice president in pole position to become the PDP presidential candidate and be a sure bet to be the next president. The calculation is that, in Nigeria, votes do not count and the incumbent party is practically guaranteed to use every means to maintain itself in power.

In orchestrating her increasingly frantic efforts, Turai Yar'Adua' has proved an enthusiastic user of email as well as sms messages to friend and foe alike. She, with the gang wound tight around the president, has been working hard to sell the candidacy of Ailero to be Jonathan's deputy.

A government in chaos

The cloak of secrecy thrown around the president's status, and Turai Yar'Adua's determined push for an ally to succeed her ailing husband, have thrown our government into chaos. "Nobody knows what's going on," confessed one senior government official.

The cabinet, or federal executive council, is paralysed because it is in the dark. On a recent interview with BBC, for example, Ojo Maduekwe, the foreign minister, said, incredibly, that he had had "no cause" to speak to the president for the past six weeks! Information minister Dora Akunyili has issued statement after statement even though she has not had any contact with the president.

Yet the cabinet, which should by law start the process of declaring the president medically incapacitated, is refusing to lift a finger.

The sense of confusion has also stopped senior officials from coordinating their official actions. For example, according to our sources, Ahmed Yayale, the secretary to the government, had no idea that Mr. Edevbie had travelled to Saudi Arabia to try to see the president-until after the fact.

Even the security services are not immune to the governmental disarray. The director general of the State Security Services (SSS), Afakriya Gadzama is said to be angry that Mr. Tilde, the president's chief security officer, is no longer taking his calls.

As an employee of the SSS seconded to be at the president's side, Mr. Tilde is supposed to keep his agency in the loop regarding the president's safety.

That even the SSS chief is kept out of the loop is particularly jarring. Mr. Gadzama is after all widely considered a trusted aide of President Yar'Adua. The two go back as far as their high school days at Barewa College, where Mr. Yar'Adua, then a house prefect, appointed Mr. Gadzama to succeed him in 1971.

"If Turai doesn't trust Gadzama," said one source who is also a Barewa old boy, "that is how paranoid they have become."

This royal mess has left Abuja in a state of paralysis. "The government has ground to a halt," a senior official said last week. "Something will have to give very soon."


The Great Cover Up

Tolu Ogunlesi

It has turned out to be one of the biggest cover-ups in the history of Nigeria. And some of the most powerful persons in the country are responsible for it.

An uncoordinated combination of silence, half-truths, and outright lies peddled by these men and women have formed an inscrutable web around President Umaru Yar'Adua, who, forty nine days ago, left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia in search of medical attention, for what his spokesperson described, in a press statement, as "pericarditis", an inflammation of the lining of the heart.

Since then, the days have turned into weeks, and the bogus claims from the corridors of power have grown even more ambitious.

The loquacious

Leading the pack is the country's attorney general and minister for justice, Michael Aondoakaa. His outrageous comments have attracted wide condemnation from public commentators.

Defending the president's decision to travel abroad without handing over to his vice, he said: "There is no evidence that he is not exercising his powers as president. He has his vice-president and his ministers whom he delegates power and functions to. He does not have to be in the country before he can exercise his power. He can do that anywhere. The president can delegate his power to anyone and he can even give instruction anywhere in the world, even on his sick bed."

Speaking through a spokesperson days after the president travelled, he referred to the trip as a "medical check-up and short vacation."

The chief economic adviser to the president, touted to be a leading member of the president's kitchen cabinet, was also quoted by a Nigerian daily as saying that the president had placed calls to the vice president, Goodluck Jonathan; the senate president, David Mark; and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, on the night of Tuesday January 5, 2010.

"The president's health condition has substantially improved. In the last week, I have spoken to him on telephone countless number of times," Mr. Yakubu is reported to have said. "Our conversations every time lasted more than five minutes."

The accomplices

The vice president has appeared particularly eager to convince Nigerians of his relevance, against a backdrop of rumours that he has effectively been sidelined in the affairs of the country. This desperation has made him an accomplice in the perpetuation of falsehoods regarding communication with the president.

Days after the president's departure, Vice President Jonathan, while receiving Sallah visitors on behalf of his principal, said: "This morning, I personally conveyed Mr. President's personal greetings. We spoke yesterday and even this morning. After this, I will even speak with him again. He asked me to convey his personal greetings to all Nigerians."

On January 6, at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, the minister for information and communication, Dora Akunyili, told journalists that the vice president had confirmed to the council that he indeed spoke with the president, as disclosed by Mr. Yakubu.

Also deeply implicated in the charade is Bukola Saraki, the chairman of the Governor's Forum, which comprises all the 36 state governors. He has been one of the most vocal defenders of the president. In early December, newspapers widely reported that Mr. Saraki led a delegation to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to visit Mr. Yar'Adua in hospital. It is highly unlikely that they even sighted him, as NEXT's investigations reveal that the president was already brain-dead at the time they were supposed to have met with him.

Castigating the "anti-democratic individuals" behind the reports of the president's dismal state of health, Mr. Saraki told reporters, at the end of a meeting of the Governor's Forum last Wednesday, that the president "has now spoken with some people. We are happy to say that he is improving very well."

On his own part, the senate president, David Mark, has stuck to a religious theme since the president's disappearance. On the 30th of November, 2009, he asked Nigerians to embark on a Novena prayer for the President. The Novena prayer is a nine hour or nine-day Catholic prayer. Two weeks later, speaking at a thanksgiving service at the St. Mulumba Catholic Chapel in Abuja, he repeated his calls for prayers. Under his watch, the senate has also been unambiguous about its unwillingness to do anything to resolve the constitutional crisis caused by the president's absence.

The speaker of the House of Representatives has also clearly been helpless in the face of the president's refusal to hand over to his deputy. On 15 December, 2009 he overruled an attempt by a member of the House to raise a debate regarding the impropriety of the president's refusal to hand over, and then announced a January 12 date for the resumption of the House.

Also, through his spokesperson, he, like the vice president, also affirmed that he received a call from the president on the night of January 5.

The silent

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, in 2006, in the wake of a failed third term bid, chose President Yar'Adua as his successor, and, despite being aware of his health challenges, vigorously campaigned for him, falls into the class of those conspicuous by their silence. He has severally declined comments on his successor's health.

Ditto former military president Ibrahim Babangida, whose name has consistently come up in the series of permutations regarding the identity of the person who will succeed Vice President Jonathan, if or when Jonathan is sworn in as President.

A number of the leading contenders for the position are deeply linked to Mr. Babangida. Muhammed Gusau and Murtala Nyako, both former military officers, served in the Babangida administration as Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Naval Staff respectively. A third candidate, Jubril Aminu, served Mr. Babangida first as minister of education and later as minister of petroleum and mineral resources.

Messrs Obasanjo and Babangida, apart from being retired military men and former rulers of Nigeria, are both influential members of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP). Mr. Obasanjo currently heads the PDP's Board of Trustees, which is the highest decision-making organ of the party.

‘Umaru, are you dead?'

The dubious resort to claims of telephone conversations with the president recalls the phone call placed publicly (and televised) by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, on March 7, 2007, to Mr. Yar'Adua, who was conspicuously absent from the PDP residential campaign rally in Abeokuta. At the time, Mr. Yar'Adua was receiving treatment in Germany.

With the line in speakerphone mode, President Obasanjo famously asked the then presidential aspirant, "Umaru, are you dead?", to which he replied "I am alive."

This time around, the country waits desperately to hear the president himself dispel the news (exclusively reported by NEXT, in its Sunday, January 10, 2010 edition) that he is in a vegetative state and thus permanently unable to function as the president.

Until then, the rulership of the country appears to lie in the hands of the un-elected Federal Executive Council, supervised by the vice president.

Later this week (Friday, January 14), an Abuja High Court will resume hearing in a suit filed by constitutional lawyer, Femi Falana, seeking a declaration by the court "that the meetings of the Federal Executive Council held since November 23 2009 till date and the decisions taken there at are illegal and unconstitutional as they violate Section 148(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999."

Additional reporting by Ifedayo Adebayo, Elor Nkereuwem and Nicholas Ibekwe