By Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA—THE British Government and the African Union, yesterday, commended Nigeria for resolving the power logjam that resulted from absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, currently receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, by installing Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, even as the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, admitted that the absence of President Yar’Adua has impaired Nigeria’s diplomatic relations.
During an interactive session with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, yesterday, Maduekwe said the absence of President Yar’Adua exerted great challenges on the country in the diplomatic arena following his inability to attend to fellow heads of s
tate. He appeared before the Senator Jibril Aminu led committee which had Senators Abubakar Sodangi, Manzo Anthony and Felix Bajumo in attendance.
Conveying a message from the British authorities, he said: “Just before I came in here, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. David Miliband, called me and wanted to express his government’s profound appreciation that challenging times like these were being managed very well by the National Assembly, by the Executive Council of the Federation, by the entire leadership. That Nigeria has justified the confidence many of Nigeria’s friends have in this country.”
Noting how foreign relations were impaired by the ill-health of the President, he said: “One cannot divorce the issue of diplomacy from the domestic situation. All over the world, wherever I go, the challenge is made even more difficult for me now with the unfortunate indisposition of Mr. President and, of course, the Vice President himself cannot travel.
“Where the President normally would go and he is unable to be there, it should be the Vice President. But if the President is outside the country, it means the foreign minister is instructed through the then Vice President now Acting President to represent the nation.”
Explaining his difficulties with Presidents and Prime Ministers of other countries, the foreign minister said: “I had a very difficult challenge to explain things to them to assure them that Nigeria is going through a very difficult moment. But I assured them and the National Assembly has vindicated me in that assurance. I assured them that whatever happened, the constitution of the country, the robustness of our democracy, the country would come out of it strong, respected and appreciated.
"And when the National Assembly took the historic decision they took, few days ago, not only did it bring stability to the nation, it also assisted the foreign minister in his task of engaging the rest of the world.”
Earlier, Senator Aminu conveyed to the minister the resolution of the Committee to reject the Ministry’s N.2.4 billion budget for miscellaneous expenses on the note that the proposal was outside the limit of the envelop given the Ministry.
The African Union, in its reaction, urged the military in Nigeria, to respect a decision to hand power to the country’s deputy leader until the recovery of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua.
AU praises move
In a statement, the African Union commission chairman, Jean Ping, praised the move to install Goodluck Jonathan as acting head of state for demonstrating “respect for the constitution, good governance, democracy and the rule of law.”
The union said in a statement: “In so doing, the government and people of Nigeria have, again, resolved a delicate and sensitive political situation within the constitutional and legal provisions available and without recourse to violence or unconstitutional means.
“The chairperson of the commission encourages all the stakeholders in Nigeria, including the military, to continue in their firm support for and practice of constitutionality.”
The Federal Executive Council had initially opposed the idea of the Vice President being formally appointed as acting president in the absence of Yar’Adua who has been treated in a Saudi Arabia hospital for a heart condition since November.
But ministers rallied round Jonathan, Wednesday, after the National Assembly had voted to hand him the reins of power. After his installation as Acting President, Jonathan commended the security services for “their loyalty and devotion to duty during this trying period.”
The debate around the crisis arising from Yar’Adua’s absence has brought to the fore the political battle over the delicate power balancing act. The situation is further complicated by an unwritten rule under which the presidency traditionally switches between the north and the south at every two elections.