By Dayo Benson, Political Editor and Gbenga Oke
For Acting President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the tasks ahead are daunting but time to accomplish them is limited.Â But it appears time is not the only factor he has contend with, at least for now. Jonathan has the hawks hovering around Aso Rock portal of power and various powerful individuals and interest groups to worry about.
Unknown to many, the Acting President who is not strange to political intrigues, given his experience as the deputy governor of Bayelsa State, decided to be his own man from Tuesday last week. It was gathered from a highlyÂ authoritative source that Jonathan was to sack former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa outright. His redeployment as a Special Duties minister, it was learnt, was as a result of Senate President, Senator David Markâ€™s intervention.
Aondoakaa who became a source of grave concern to his colleagues at Bar over his gaffs on ailing President Umoru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua health issue, had been pencilled down for removal from Federal Executive Council. So disturbing were Aondoakaaâ€™s utterances that the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, had to drag the ex-AGF to court. It was on the account of his role in the events of past few weeks of tension and uncertainty that informed the decision to kick him out of the cabinet.
However, an impeccable sourceÂ revealed that it was the Senate Presidentâ€™s last minute call to the Acting President that made the latter have a change of mind and instead send him to the cooler as special duties minister. Markâ€™s gesture, was a pay back of sort to a controversies that arose from the 2007 general elections.
Aondoakaa, a fellow Benue man like Mark, had played a vital role in ensuring that Mark did not lose his seat at the Senate. Aondoakaa was said to be one of few friends that rallied round Mark against his All Nigerians Peoples Party, ANPP, opponent who was fiercely challenging his victory before election petition tribunal. The matter became very dicey when the case got to Court of Appeal. At the end, Mark won, thanks to Aondoakaa and others. So, it was a case of one good turn deserving another.
Before Jonathan’s emergence as Acting President last week, he confronted and indeed contended with several forces both within and outside Aso Rock. While Aondoakaa was doing the yeoman job for his appointor and his other colleagues, President Yarâ€™ Adua absence was fun time for most ministers. Their conduct, competent source said, suggested that the president can as well stay away for as long as possible.
Before Jonathan assumed office as Acting President, it was that contracts worth billions of naira had been awarded by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in what watchers described as a jamboree. President Yarâ€™ Adua did not award such huge contracts from 2007 up till the time he left th country last November. Now that power has changed hands at least temporarily, the party may well be over. Most of the cabinet members whose ministers were involved in contract spree are said to have political ambitions in 2011.
Prior to his emergence as Acting President, certain forces stood in the way of Jonathan. Some of them have since fallen in line or so it seems.Â Apart from the hawks in Aso Rock most of whom are Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s loyalists, which included cabinet members, a very powerful force within the National Assembly was also said to be opposed to Jonathan’s ascendancy. It was learnt that such opposition was probably not unconnected with personal interests. A reliable source informed that those who are in this tiny but powerful group vowed never to have anything to do with Jonathan.
A top member of the group said he would not oppose any bill Jonathan might send to the National Assembly even when a Federal High Court said he could exercise executive functions. However, another group also within the legislative chamber promised to work with Jonathan.
This issue was the major agenda of a joint meeting of leadership of the National Assembly and top Peoples Democratic Party, leadership. It was later resolved that making Jonathan Acting President was in the overall interest of the country. It was at that all those who were initially against Jonathan becoming Acting President began to have a rethink.
How Govs were worked on
Since the mood of the nation dictated that the Vice-President must be made Acting President. All 36 state governors, particularly PDP governors, resolved to enthrone Jonathan. But it was not without some persuasions. A competent source disclosed that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole played a vital role in rallying the governors to agree to make Jonathan Acting President. According to another source, Bankole called Governors Yisa Yuguda of Bauchi State, Dankigari of Kebbi State, Gabriel Susuawon of Benue State as well as chairman of Governors Forum, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State to support the idea at a meeting Bankole hosted.
Specially, Governor Suswan was asked to prevail on the Senate President to allow the idea sail through. On his part, Sakari was to work on his colleagues at the Governorâ€™s Forum to accept Jonathan as Acting President. However, at the last Governors Forum, while others supported the plan, Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva was said to have kicked against it.
Since he became governor, he and Jonathan were not enjoyed smooth political relationship as far as Beyelsa politics is concerned. So, Sylva was said to have raised the possibility of being jolted by Jonathan. A source close to the meeting said Sylva was taken aside and reassured that nothing of sort would happen before he supported th agenda with the governors collective voices as one, Jonathan Acting President was almost a done deal.
Likely legal obstacles
In pressing its resolution that made Jonathan Acting President, the National Assembly had cited the jurisprudence Doctrine of Necessity. But some lawyers have argued that the lawmakers need to go a step further by ensuring the action conforms with constitutional provision. Before its resolution was passed, a senator from the South-South who is a senior lawyer was said to have demurred.
His argument was that the move was somewhat at variance with the constitution. Similarly, with about three suits in different court over the issue, a section of the National Assembly members are said to be worried over likely outcome of such suits. Some of the lawmakers are afraid that the manner the vice president was made Acting President may not stand legal test.
That one of the cases challenging the legality of National Assembly was filed by one of its members is even a greater concern to some of the lawmakers. But there may be way out somehow. Chief Justice of the Federal High Court, Justice Hon. Abutu had Tuesday insisted that the FEC should make a definite pronouncement on Yarâ€™ Adua health status.
Justice Abutu had added a clincher; failure to do so may earn FEC members jail term. If FEC members are courageous enough to say that the President is unfit to continue to hold office, as most Nigerians fear, then issue may somehow resolve itself both legally and constitutionally. If this happens especially as expected, events may certainly overtake the cases in court, but until that happens, the fear linger.
In the past few days, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been talked about as exerting some influences on Jonathan. So also is Ijaw leader and first republic information minister, Chief Edwin Clarke. Initial report had it that Obasanjo had a secret meeting with the Acting President. However, the north is said to be uncomfortable with Obasanjo moving close to Jonathan. It was learnt that it was because of the likely influence the former president may have on Jonathan that the north was initially opposed to the idea of Acting President.
On his part, Chief Clarke appears to see Jonathan Acting Presidency as an Ijaw, affair much to north discomfiture. He was said to have forwarded names f ministerial nominees to Jonathan. Not unmindful of the likely consequences of been seen as an Ijaw Acting President. Jonathan had banned all forms of visits and congratulation messages in newspapers. This, no doubt will enable him focus on the onerous task ahead and stay off distraction. But a question that begs answer is: Can Jonathan actually be his own man. Events in the days ahead will determine.