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Acting President: How far can Jonathan go?

By JIDE AJANI Deputy Editor, HENRY UMORU & LUKA BINIYAT, Abuja
After the hoopla for all of 78 days about Nigeria’s vacuous presidency, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was penultimate Tuesday empowered to act as President by the National Assembly.  That action may have cooled the temperature in the polity but there are new concerns.

In a polity of clashing socio-political and economic interests, the major concern now is the challenges confronting the Acting President and his capacity to rise to the occasion before Umaru Yar’Adua’s return especially in the light of camps and groups with their own self-serving interests. The question now is: how far can Jonathan go?

The meeting was held on Tuesday, January 27, 2010. It was one in a series of the formal and informal meetings (usually held either at Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, or some such other locations in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja) in the bid to create a road-map for tidying the post amnesty engagement of this administration.

Then Vice President Jonathan was said to have sent a simple but significant message to the meeting to the effect that:  Nigerians are watching, the people of the Niger Delta and the militants are waiting.

It was Jonathan’s own way of reminding those charged with the post amnesty arrangement that parts of whatever successes this administration would claim rest on a successful post amnesty arrangement.

But last Thursday’s meeting of the Federal Government’s National Integrated Power Projects, NIPP, chaired by Acting President Jonathan was more decisive.

Just as was his chairmanship of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meetings, Jonathan is attempting to be his own man. At last Thursday’s meeting which also saw Rilwan Babalola, Power Minister; Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State, and Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State in attendance, among others, Jonathan all but read the riot act.

For a man who was at a similar meeting when President Umaru Yar’Adua charged Babalola to do every and anything to achieve the 6000 megawatts promise to Nigerians, Jonathan knew what the issues were and also took cognizance of what is at stake.  At the meeting between Yar’Adua and Babalola, which also had Rilwanu Lukman, Petroleum Resources Minister and Jonathan in attendance, President Yar’Adua had urged the power minister to get cracking, confessing that he, Yar’Adua was already losing sleep over the matter.

Yar’Adua had said to Babalola:   “Anything you need to succeed, I will give you. If anybody stands in your way and you want him or her out, just tell me and I will clear such a person for you. But I want results. I can hardly sleep again because of the power situation. I made a pledge to Nigerians that by the end of this year, they will enjoy stable electricity and it is a pledge I intend to keep. My name and credibility is at stake on this issue.”

At that point, then Vice President Jonathan chipped in that the credibility of everybody in the administration was at stake, including that of the Minister himself.  Jonathan wanted it to be  collective.

But to this, President Yar’Adua was said to have interjected.

“No, it is my credibility that is at stake. How many Ministers of Power have we had and who remembers them? If things fail tomorrow, Lanre (the minister) is a young man. He will simply dust his CV again and begin to look for another job but Nigerians will remember the promise I made as President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.”

Therefore, at last Thursday’s meeting, Jonathan knew that whatever had to be done should be done.  He did not mention the earlier meeting which involved President Yar’Adua but was said to have requested a daily briefing on developments regarding the power issue.

What these moves by Jonathan suggest is that he is conscious of the verdict of history.  But there is an implicit difference between an individual’s desire to deliver and the capacity of same to accomplish.

Right in the face of Acting President Jonathan is the cluster of intrigues going on with a view to achieving mind-bending results of immense implications in the polity.

First are those who are bent on being part of the emerging Jonathan Presidency and who would not stop until they achieve their objectives by hook or crook.  One of the groups is the Hallelujah supporters who have already started employing subterfuge as a means of reaching him.   Dominating the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the National Assembly, some of them have already begun positioning themselves for ministerial appointments and other plum appointments that may likely begin to unfold soon.

Whereas there is a plethora of clamouring that Jonathan should dissolve the FEC and appoint his own men, those close to him say he may not go that way soon.  A source in Aso Rock Presidential Villa told Sunday Vanguard that “the Acting President knows what he is doing.  Rather than create an unnecessary distraction by dropping ministers, he would likely make some ministers less relevant than they were before his ascension”.

Sunday Vanguard was also told last week that the presence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo would be a very major factor in the activities of Jonathan.  They may be right. For a man who was first made gubernatorial candidate of the PDP in Bayelsa State for the 2007 elections; and who later single-handedly made him running mate to Yar’Adua, Obasanjo’s image looms large around the Jonathan presidency.

At a time when the prognosis for an early Yar’Adua return to Nigeria is not positive, Obasanjo’s role as Chief Consiglieri or Chief Counsel to Acting President Jonathan is not in doubt.  What, perhaps, may be in doubt is to what extent Obasanjo may be willing to go after perceived detractors of Jonathan’s administration.

Already, there are many plots and sub-plots on how the presidential elections of 2011 would play out with the North, insisting on having its unfettered go at the presidency based on the policy of rotation.  Chief Richard Akinjide, Second Republic Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation,, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard said:  “the policy of rotation and zoning is a purely Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, affair which has no force of law and is not binding on all Nigerians”.

In the area of security, Jonathan was able to play his hands with the way he handled the Jos crisis of last month.  Without full powers as Acting President, he was able to demonstrate the strength and powers of the Presidency in moving swiftly to stem the tide of wanton destruction.  As Acting President now, more is expected.

However, and without prejudice to whatever intentions Jonathan may have, does he possess the capacity to deliver?  For a man who displays a demure demeanour, some doubt if he would be willing to be firm.  But to compound his situation is the image of a rambunctious Obasanjo around him.  Therefore, even when he tries to be his own man by taking some decisive decisions, Jonathan runs the risk of being perceived as playing the Obasanjo game.

And should he not show a strong hand, he stands accused of being feeble and waiting for Obasanjo’s say-so on any issue.

There standeth the contradictions in his capacity to deliver and the expectations from Nigerians.  Has he been further manacled or has he been freed to take charge?

Politicians assess his chances

Alhaji Isa Ozi-Salami, the Ohi-Otenyete of Ebira land and member, Northern Union

“He should be able to go far because the structure he has inherited ie quite adequate for him to work on, all he needs to do now is to inject discipline and tackle corruption and if he can do just this, he will go very far in addressing the problems and issues of the country”.

Mrs Josephine Anenih, former PDP National Woman Leader, Member BoT

“Judging from Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s antecedents, I have no doubt in my mind that he will perform, look at the period President Umaru Yar’Adua has been away and before the National Assembly passed a resolution that he should be, he carried on the affairs of the country very well. Acting President Jonathan will perform; he is talknado as Benin people will say.

“He will not only pursue President Yar’Adua’s agenda, he will add his own, Nigerians should allow him to work, he should be allowed to concentrate. Thank God that he stopped visitations and congratulatory messages. I was very happy when I heard the news, he does not believe in frivolities, he is a very serious man, Nigerians must not distract him and once he is allowed to settle down to his work, he would deliver on the seven point agenda.  Nigerians must know that the world is not waiting for us, we need to catch up”

Senator Walid Jubril, Member BoT of the PDP

“Well, President Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were elected together.  Now that Yar’Adua is not around and Jonathan is now acting, he has the ingredients to put everything together including security, economic development, food, etc. He will be able to put everything together, I have no doubt in my mind that Jonathan will perform.

“Acting President Jonathan should be very careful of some Nigerians who have perfected themselves in the act of sycophancy.  When he was the Vice President, no one came to him.  I am very happy that he stopped courtesy visits and congratulatory messages. There is no need for that because of the short period, they are good at distracting people, they have made his office a Mecca of sorts, and if they want to advise him, they have different avenue they can use”.

Senator Suleiman Salawu, National Chairman of Action Alliance

“Personally, I believe that any product of PDP can never produce anything positive, not to talk of solving the power, security and other problems in the country. Yar’Adua before his illness tried in his seven-point agenda, but the PDP environment did not allow him bring out any result.  It will be a herculean task for Jonathan.

He cannot solve the problems because the PDP will not allow him.  PDP is the enemy of Jonathan, enemy of the country.  The question is: why were they opposed to his becoming acting president? We pray for him to succeed, at least to break the North-South dichotomy”.

Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Member, PDP NEC

“Those who love the continued existence of Nigeria, those who want the preservation of Nigeria as a united federation must praise the National Assembly for what they did in making Jonathan the Acting President of Nigeria. I say this because the exercise they did has prevented Nigeria from degenerating into a state of chaos and anarchy. It was obvious that if the situation of our president not being in the country had continued, the Armed Forces would have intervened in the affairs of Nigeria and if the armed forces had intervened, it would have been a terrible history for Nigeria because no one could adequately predict the future of Nigeria as one and indivisible country.

“To those who believe that what the National Assembly did was not legal, I wish to humbly submit to them that even in Britain, America and the western world, some undemocratic procedures are used to further the course of democracy so as to ensure the survival of the democratic system and survival of their nation states.

“I personally believe that we as Nigerians must continue to pray for the good health of our President.

The present situation of Jonathan acting will give the president plenty of time to look after his health. I have no doubt in my mind that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan will hand over to Yar’Adua when he is hale and hearty. “I am one of the many Nigerians who believe that Jonathan will perform. He will get it right if all Nigerians support him. One good thing about Jonathan is that he has never exhibited any trait of inordinate ambition and opportunism”.


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