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Abati: The Jonathan Presidency (8)

IN his inaugural speech on May 6, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan had formally outlined the major concerns of his administration, in addition to paying tribute to the departed President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He addressed Nigerians as “my dear brothers and sisters.” In a matter of months, the new President will also start addressing Nigerians as “my friends”. Commenting on the former President, he said: “President Yar’Adua’s contribution to political development and good governance would never be forgotten. He will therefore always occupy a pride of place in the political history of our dear Nation. He was a man of great personal integrity, deep devotion to God and outstanding humility. In all his public service, he displayed uncommon commitment to the peace, progress and unity of our country. He has left for us a profound legacy that provides a firm foundation for Nigeria’s future. His exit has therefore created a huge vacuum in his personal contributions to the political growth and development of our nation. I have lost not just a boss but a good friend and brother.” Well put.

But the business of governance must continue and Jonathan had a job to do, so in the sixth paragraph of his speech he declared that “In this regard our total commitment to Good Governance, Electoral Reform and the fight against Corruption would be pursued with greater vigour. As I had stated time and again, we must enshrine the best standards in our democratic practice. One of the true tests would be to ensure that all votes count and are counted in the upcoming General Elections. Similarly the effort at ensuring the sustenance of peace and development in the Niger Delta as well as the security of life and property around the entire country would be of top most priority in the remaining period of this administration.”The seventh paragraph was further instructive: “I want to reassure all Nigerians that the pledges which we had made to improve the socio-economic situation which we face through improved access to electricity, water, education, health facilities and other social amenities would continue to be given the needed emphasis. The welfare of our teeming workers and the unemployed youths would also be accorded a new impetus.” He had more or less struck the same chords since his assumption of office as Acting President. There wasn’t therefore much that was new in the agenda that the new President set for himself; besides this was merely a continuation of the same programmes indicated in the Yar’Adua seven-point agenda. Jonathan’s emergence as full president and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces brought a definite end to the reign of uncertainty in the country and greater stability to governmental affairs.However, he faced a serious, multi-pronged dilemma: consolidating his hold on power, proving that he was bringing to the new assignment more than mere good luck, and securing a place for his Presidency in history through performance. Like Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, all Americans, it was now his burden to complete the remainder of the term of a President that had died in office, but it was also an opportunity for him to prove his mettle in the art of public governance and either win plaudits or reproach. Given the peculiar nature of the Nigerian arrangement, Jonathan had more than this to worry about: he had to worry almost immediately about entrenched interests that did not want him to use the platform of the Presidency to seek a stay in office beyond May 29, 2011, the effective end-date of the Yar’Adua Presidency.Immediately after the seven-day mourning period, President Goodluck Jonathan resumed work at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. His first assignment in the President’s office was a meeting with a Gambian delegation led by that country’s Vice President, Mrs Isatou NJie-Saidy. He also inspected the facilities in the president’s office. Renovation work by Julius Berger (the ubiquitous Nigerian government contractor) had already started at the official residence of the President, and there were reports of the Yar’Aduas moving out. Some of the members of the Yar’Adua cabal had suddenly gone underground since the death of the former President. The Special Adviser to the late President on Media and Communication, Segun Adeniyi, offered to move on to enable him pursue a Fellowship programme at the Harvard University in the United States.There were further indications that the appointments of Yar’Adua’s aides will be reviewed. Both the President and the Vice president usually have a retinue of aides performing similar functions, although they all work within the same Presidency; it was therefore natural for Jonathan’s aides to take the front seat as their boss moved up. Still, there were a few Yar’Adua aides who hanged around hoping to be retained and quite a number of them managed to stay on: a credit to the new President. As is to be expected, there was renewed intense lobbying for political appointments.  The President had about 39 major appointments to make including Vice President (1), INEC Chairman (1), INEC Commissioners (10), Executive Vice Chairman, Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) (1), Supreme Court Justices (2) and members of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) – (24). The President was further reminded in those early days that the position of the Comptroller-General of Immigration would be vacant in July. In April, shortly after his return from the United States, Acting President Jonathan, as he then was, had directed the then INEC Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu to proceed on terminal leave in line with the expiration of his five-year tenure.Iwu and his assistants may have expected an extension of tenure for another term of five years, but while in the United States, Dr Jonathan had given a hint that he intended to reform the electoral system and that those in the electoral commission whose tenure may expire would definitely be relieved of their positions. He kept that promise. Iwu’s exit however brought much elation to various stakeholders who held the then INEC Chairman personally responsible for the failure of the 2007 General elections, and the temerity with which the offence was repeated in all the court-ordered rerun and by elections since 2007 and particularly the February 2010 Gubernatorial elections in Anambra state indicating that the commission under Iwu’s watch was incapable of improvement and efficiency.Iwu’s interpretation of his performance was remarkably different, and he was consistent in insisting that he was not the villain, rather the blame should be heaped on Nigeria’s political class and even the people. His protestations were ignored; he was accused of partisanship and insincerity, not a few asked for his prosecution! He would not be the first Nigerian electoral commission chairman to be so vilified although he was considered the worst of the villains.  Thankless as the job of the INEC Chairman seemed to be, there was intense lobbying for it and speculations about the new Chairman. The Nigerian President wields enormous powers and is in a position to dispense almost limitless patronage. In a country where principles count for little and loyalties are ephemeral, Dr Jonathan soon found himself surrounded by professional fortune-hunters, seeking further cut from the proverbial national cake.  Grovelling in the corridors of power is a major Nigerian pastime, and in due course, Dr Jonathan would prove to be adept in exploiting this weakness to serve his own purposes as everyone before him in that position had done.But he met a strong opposition in the Northern power bloc which was determined to restrict him to a period in office not later than May 29, 2011. Fending off this opposition would eventually become a major source of irritation and distraction for the remainder of his administration, and perhaps the explanation for the over-arching obsession with power politics and politicking during the period. The political interest of the North with regard to the presidency of Nigeria had been an issue during the crisis of former President Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health, but the need to stop the South South and Jonathan in particular from appropriating what the political North considered to be its right, became more intense after Jonathan’s return from the United States. The President himself may have unwittingly triggered the renewed offensive against him.  In his CNN interview, Christiane Amanpour had asked him seven questions on his likely Presidential ambition, and as Jonathan evaded the questions, the interviewer kept pinning him down to it, until he made the following confession: “there are options for me if I want to contest election. I can re-contest as vice president to anybody. I can contest as a president, because the laws allow me. But that is not my own priority now. My priority now is to see how, within this little period left, what impact can we show.” Jonathan may have been a bit diplomatic but among his South South kith and kin, his emergence as President with full authority was seen as “the turn” of the minorities to lead Nigeria for the first time since independence in 1960.The moment Jonathan became President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the largest militant group in the Niger Delta insisting on “resource control” granted the Federal Government “some weeks” of amnesty to allow President Jonathan to begin to address the second phase of the amnesty and rehabilitation of militants programme initiated by the Yar’Adua administration. Yar’Adua’s ill-health had stalled the amnesty process in the Niger Delta and not enough had been done previously to secure the support of the state Governors in the region. Since Jonathan is of that region’s extraction, it was widely thought that his administration would be able to bring some stability that would be of advantage to the extractive industry.This region of the country which produces the crude oil that is the mainstay of the country has never held Presidential power. The Ijaws in particular, being the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, and the most widely spread in the coastal region, consider it their right to also hold power at the centre.  The people of the Niger Delta and Jonathan’a aides began to drop hints that Jonathan may contest the 2011 elections, since there are no laws technically forbidding him from doing so.  One of Jonathan’s first outings as President, within the first week, was a visit to the Niger Delta where he promised “improved coordination” of the amnesty programme! In the course of that visit, a former Niger Delta militant, Victor Ebokawe, also known as Boyloaf, one of those characters that became prominent by piggybacking on the Niger Delta crisis, gave an interview to BBC Network Africa. “Nothing is going to stop him”, he said. “He cannot tell us that he will not run…The presidency of Nigeria is not the birthright of a particular region..Jonathan is a man who is ready  to rule Nigeria as one Nigeria.”  The Northern political establishment may have had its own ambitions for 2011 in relation to Yar’Adua’s death, but its members were further riled by the body language of the fedora-hat wearing, walking stick wielding Niger Delta militants who had taken over the Presidency of Nigeria – in the North’s reckoning, by default. To worsen matters, within days of Jonathan’s ascendancy, there were suggestions that his tenure in office should not end in May 2011, but May 2015, because after all the Yar’Adua-Jonathan ticket was due to expire after an eight-year period.  This kind of talk is common in Nigeria where the voter is regarded as unimportant by politicians and political decisions are driven strictly by self-interest.Indeed a founding member of the PDP from Rivers state, Prince Emma Anyanwu in response to objections from the North to auto-suggestions of a Jonathan candidacy in the 2011 general elections ruffled more feathers when he issued a statement in Abuja saying, inter alia: “since the joint ticket is presumed to be for an eight-year tenure by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which gave it to them and since Jonathan cannot come back to serve as Vice president after ascending to the position of President due to the death of Yar’Adua, it is just and lawful for him to complete the remaining five years of the joint ticket.”  There were reports around the same period of plans to extend Jonathan’s tenure by six months or two years due to “inadequate time to complete the ongoing fundamental reforms in the polity.” Whatever that meant. Such suggestions proved to be problematic and divisive. What were the responses to these emergent currents particularly from the conservative Northern establishment? And how robust and impactful were those responses and their implications for Nigeria’s future?* To be continued  


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Posted by on Jan 15 2011. Filed under Articles, Columnists, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-present), Presidency, Reuben Abati. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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