As his health failed and he had to be rushed to a Saudi hospital, late president Umaru Yar’Adua illegally bypassed his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, and handed presidential authority to Yayale Ahmed, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
This unconstitutional act, in November 2009, has now come to light through US diplomatic cables leaked to Wikileaks and made available exclusively to NEXT.
The sidelining of Mr Jonathan, who finally became president only after Mr Yar’Adua died in March last year, was confirmed to US diplomats by none other than Mr. Ahmed himself.
The 59-year-old secretary to the government, apparently ran Nigeria, performing the functions of the president, while late president Yar’Adua lay sick, unable to discharge his duties.
The leaked diplomatic cables show that Mr. Yar’Adua, after becoming too ill to govern, asked Mr. Ahmed to discharge the functions of president on his behalf, effectively sidelining his deputy, Mr. Jonathan.
The Nigerian Constitution directs the vice-president to discharge the functions of the president whenever the latter proceeds on vacation or becomes unable to perform his duties.
But Mr. Yar’Adua repeatedly travelled out of the country, at times for prolonged medical treatment, without handing over to his deputy.
Ahmed goes to Washington
According to the cable, dated September 17, 2008, Mr. Ahmed told the American ambassador, Robin Sanders, who met him on September 15, 2008, that when president Yar’Adua became too weak to govern, he handed over to him, and asked him to perform the executive functions of the president.
“Ahmed noted that Yar’Adua had asked him to take over a lot of the day-to-day executive responsibilities due to his health,” the ambassador said in her cable to Washington.
To enable him to consolidate his position as the country’s de facto president, Mr. Ahmed then requested direct meetings with senior US government officials. Ms Sanders assured him she would inform Washington of his request.
It is not clear whether Mr. Ahmed eventually met with American government officials in his capacity as the anointed acting president. He was, however, in Washington on April 6, 2010, where he represented Nigeria at the signing of the US-Nigeria Binational Commission.
Mr. Ahmed’s disclosure that he acted in Mr. Yar’Adua’s stead, ahead of then Vice President Jonathan, offers some insight into the deft political manoeuvring and power play in the country during the period the late president was sick and unable to govern.
Mr. Yar’Adua wouldn’t handover to Mr. Jonathan during his numerous trips abroad for medical treatment, allegedly following advice from his wife, Turai, and close associates who claimed the vice president could not be trusted.
Keeping it among friends
Even after it became clear that the late president had become incapacitated and would no longer be able to perform the functions of his office, the cabal around him still blocked Mr. Jonathan from ascending to the position of acting president, until the National Assembly and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum stepped in.
In another cable dated October 24, 2008, which profiled Mr. Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet, the Americans described Mr. Ahmed as a powerful and influential Nigerian who ran the show while the late president was sick.
Mr. Ahmed, a former defence minister and head of the civil service, became SGF on September 8, 2008, replacing Babagana Kingibe. He thus became one of Mr. Yar’Adua’s closest confidants.
The dispatch described Mr. Ahmed as, “A former classmate of the President; in charge of most of the day-to-day operations of the government; affable but should not be underestimated; reasonably positively disposed towards the U.S.; recommend we take him up on his desire to visit Washington DC.
“If Yar’Adua weathers the medical issues longer than anticipated, then Yayale Ahmed most likely will be the one running the show behind the scenes unless he is forced out in some political play, which could happen,” the cables said.
Mr. Yayale’s spokesperson, Salisu Na’inna said he could not comment on the statements credited to his boss because he was in a meeting when NEXT contacted him. He promised to call back but had not done so at the time of going to press.
Source: Wiikileaks through NEXT