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INSIDE THE SEAT OF POWER : A day in Aso Rock without President Yar’ Adua

*FEC meeting engages new gear
*The truth, the myth about closure of government

This report presents insiders’ accounts of how Aso Rock Presidential Villa has been functioning in the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. This report was pieced together using words of very close presidential aides, serving and former ministers in this administration.

By Jide Ajani, Deputy editor

WEDNESDAY, November 25, 2009: Day 3 of President Yar’Adua’s absence.
THIS report presents insiders’ accounts of how Aso Rock Presidential Villa has been functioning in the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. This report was pieced together using words of very close presidential aides, serving and former ministers in this administration. Wednesday, November 25, 2009: Day 3 of President Yar’Adua’s absence.

Lateness to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, was never an issue. No minister dared come in late, except, of course, he or she was on a presidential errand – and which is very, very rare.  In any case, such a minister could actually be excused.

Therefore, because none of the ministers knew what to expect, occasioned by the air of anxiety which had gripped the nation concerning President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s health, punctuality was, as never before, paramount. Just before 10 am that morning, the ministers were seated – having been made to understand that the meeting would start at 10 am as scheduled.

From left; the Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsanye; SGF, Mallam Yayale Ahmed and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan at meeting of the Federal Executive Council at Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja Wednesday last week. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.
From left; the Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsanye; SGF, Mallam Yayale Ahmed and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan at meeting of the Federal Executive Council at Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja Wednesday last week. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

Enter Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the man on whose shoulders fell the rein of chairmanship of that day’s Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting.  This was not Jonathan’s first chairmanship of FEC.  But even he, as Vice President, did not know that he would have to chair three other FEC meetings (and still counting).  Kicking off with prayers, the FEC commenced business. This was a clear departure from the  Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar days  when, at the height of their battle of attrition, the FEC could not hold its meeting.  But this was not President Olusegun Obasanjo neither is it Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

How FEC Operates Under Jonathan – Timing.
The very first sign of change noticeable since the sudden absence of President Yar’Adua as chairman of FEC is timing. Unlike Yar’Adua, who is almost always ambushed by some ‘state matters’ just before the FEC meeting, Vice President Jonathan does not appear to be too bugged down by such encumbrances.  While Yar’Adua presided over FEC meetings, it was never known to have started at exactly 10 am.  There were times the meeting would start as late as 12 noon.  But since Jonathan started (and he has already chaired four of such meetings) the meeting starts at exactly 10 am.

FEC Meetings: Between Yar’Adua and Jonathan
In terms of style, there may not be much difference in the handling of the meeting although it is easily discernible who really, was in charge. For example,  Sunday Vanguard gathered that whereas robust debates characterized FEC meetings even under President Yar’Adua, the nature of “robustness of the meetings now under Vice President Goodluck Jonathan is even more visible”.

At a private session to commemorate the first year of President Yar’Adua’s first year in office, Sanusi Daggash, then National Planning Minster, said there were occasion  when President Yar’Adua  brought memos to the FEC and were shot down.  We have shot down quite a number of his memos because even when he has his own idea of what is good, he still brings it before the FEC was deliberation and he wants people’s input” he said.  This showed how liberal Yar’Adua could be.

However, the new found voice by some ministers may actually bother on quasi sycophancy. In the FEC, virtually all the ministers are purely beholding to President Yar’Adua. Therefore, even when there are debates about memos, there are  ministers who would wait for Yar’Adua’s body language, or some who would merely take a good reading of his lips before making their own contributions known.

   From left, Minister of State FCT, Chief Chuka Odom; Minister of State Niger Delta Development, Elder Godsday Orubebe; Minister of State DEfence, Mallam Abdulkadir Adamu and the Minister of State Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola discussing during the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.
From left, Minister of State FCT, Chief Chuka Odom; Minister of State Niger Delta Development, Elder Godsday Orubebe; Minister of State DEfence, Mallam Abdulkadir Adamu and the Minister of State Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola discussing during the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that “there are those ministers who would talk at the top of their voice now without being indecorous though, but would not even make a whimper when Mr. President was on seat and chairing the meeting”.

FEC Meeting: Rewind To The Obasanjo Years
This is how a former minister described a typical FEC meeting during the Obasanjo years: The Federal Executive Council, FEC, is in session and President Olusegun Obasanjo has just presented a memo to council.  A minister gets up, looks round and declares: “Mr. President, my fellow ministers, this memo presented by Mr. President is a wonderful piece of policy proposal and I don’t even think we should debate it.  It is clear-headed and in the interest of the masses.  All it needs is for a secondment and we can move on.  Again, Mr. President, you have done well.

That is why you are the President of the greatest country in Africa.  My colleagues, let us clap for Mr. President.  A rancourous applause, laughter and the business is concluded.  He sits down.  And a very handful of his colleagues are jostling to second his motion for the adoption of the memo. Everything lasts for just 35 seconds.  Mr. President approves. That was then.  And whereas that depiction of Obasanjo’s own FEC may have sounded exaggerated, the former President’s open declaration to advisers that he would not be bound by their suggestions makes such a depiction quite believable.

How FEC Takes Decisions
What, perhaps, is not markedly different from a typical FEC meeting is that its duration is dependent on the number of memos brought before it. Once a memo is presented, it is debated. Arguments are taken. At the end of discussions it falls on the chairman of FEC to give his approval or to step it down because of some other considerations.

In the very instance of Jonathan, he, too, gives approvals. The significance of this is that it puts a lie to the wild stories  in town that governance has come to a sudden halt. In fact, a source said the “level of ignorance some otherwise knowledgeable Nigerians display in their bid to score cheap political points is very shameful and unfortunate.  How, for instance, do you think those being paid salaries are being paid salaries if government has come to a halt as bandied by some ill-wishers?  How would contractors get their money as they are getting if the country has come to a halt”?

In what appeared to be a moment of rage, another source very close to FEC thundered that “President Yar’Adua does not have to be around to make ministers do their work.  Let me be honest with you, there are some ministers whom Mr. President is only suffering; he may re-assign them or remove them because they have never been known to be active or purposeful so it would not take the absence of Mr. President for those people to turn coat.

It would not take the absence of the President to slow down the work of that ministry.  As it is, each minister is a president in his own right in the ministry he oversees.  He represents the thought pattern of Mr. President in his or her ministry.”

     From right, Women Affairs Minister, Hajiya Aisha Salamatu and other Ministers during special prayers for early recovery of ailing President Umaru Yar'adua as the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja, Wednesday last week. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.
From right, Women Affairs Minister, Hajiya Aisha Salamatu and other Ministers during special prayers for early recovery of ailing President Umaru Yar'adua as the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Aso Chambers, State House, Abuja, Wednesday last week. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

Between President Yar’adua And Vice President Jonathan
The relationship between both men is said to be very cordial. Yar’Adua understands that he needs the confidence and respect of his deputy. This he believes should be earned through mutual respect and understanding. Therefore, Yar’Adua carries his deputy along, ensuring that Jonathan has enough work to do. Vice President Jonathan, too, has the confidence of his boss because he (deputy) continues to carry himself with dignity. Jonathan, Sunday Vanguard gathered, will hardly do anything without his boss’ consent since he has played that role elsewhere before – at least he was described as the docile deputy to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State, only to outfox him and become governor.

Most of the stories being peddled that Jonathan is a mere handbag may not be particularly true, according to Aso Rock insiders who should know. Some even query Jonathan’s relevance on account of the onslaught that went on in the Niger Delta earlier in the year before the Amnesty. But it does appear as if some people fail to recognise that the Vice President is the Vice President of Nigeria and not Vice President of Ijaw nation. Fortunately, the VP understands his roles and responsibilities.

Nigeria’s future, president’s power in question

By Associated Press
AFTER decades of military rule, coups and strong-armed elections, Africa’s most populous nation now finds itself with a seriously ill, and absent, president. For weeks, President Umaru Yar’Adua has been hospitalized in Saudi Arabia for what staffers say is a serious heart condition. With no clear successor, Nigeria is roiled by uncertainty and some prominent citizens are even calling for his resignation. The president, long troubled by a kidney ailment and poor health, did not formally appoint an acting leader in the West African country before he left, as the constitution requires.

The constitution puts Vice president Goodluck Jonathan next in line, but it’s unclear if the Muslim-dominated north would allow the Muslim Yar’Adua to be replaced with a Christian, as Jonathan is. Customarily, the Nigerian presidency alternates between Christian and Muslim leaders. Northerner Yar’Adua still has two years left in his term.

As Yar’Adua’s absence grew from days to weeks, a group of 50 prominent Nigerians this month issued a petition calling on Yar’Adua to resign if he’s medically incapable of running the country. The vice president has sat in on federal meetings in Yar’Adua’s place. Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s information minister, said Friday, that she cannot comment on the president’s absence or the growing calls for him to step down from office.

“I don’t think anything has changed,” Akunyili said, adding that the president is responding well to treatment. Further pressed, she asked a reporter to call her back “after Christmas.” But as militants in the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta grow restive during peace negotiations and lawmakers bicker, Nigerians want to know who actually controls the nation.“We are 150 million sheep without a shepherd,” said an editorial in the Nigerian newspaper NEXT.

The uncertainty over Yar’Adua and the country’s future hangs over conversations in a country where, despite its plentiful oil, people clog streets queuing for gasoline and where corruption is rampant. “You can’t have a country of between 140 and 150 million people with nobody effectively in charge,” said Richard Joseph, a political science professor who studies Africa at Northwestern University. “Something has got to happen.”

Yar’Adua became president after a 2007 election marred by fraud, intimidation and violence. Still, it marked the first time power transferred from one elected civilian to another in the country, which became independent from Britain in 1960. Yar’Adua travelled out of the country several times for what his advisers said were medical checkups before he left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on November 23. He was admitted into the hospital the next day. As questions mounted, his physician released a statement saying Yar’Adua suffered from acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart that can cause a fatal complication.

“It is pretty serious,” said John Campbell, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007. “I think the seriousness is underlined by the fact they’ve been willing to be open about the immediate cause of the hospitalization.”

Yar’Adua has left unfinished business after striking a temporary truce with militants in the Delta. Their attacks on the infrastructure and kidnappings of oil workers cut Nigeria’s oil production by about a million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa’s top oil producer. Yar’Adua met with militants just before leaving for Saudi Arabia, which calls into question who will fulfill the president’s promise to funnel more oil revenues into the impoverished and neglected Delta.

Also left hanging is a proposal before the country’s National Assembly to overhaul rules governing Nigeria’s oil industry, which could allow officials to cut foreign companies out of lucrative fields where they have worked for years and increase the government’s share of profits. “Basically what’s happening in Nigeria right now is nothing,” Campbell said. “The whole situation is on hold.”


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