By Emmanuel Aziken, Daniel Idonor & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ACTING President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, assumed responsibility of the new office, when he approved a mini-cabinet reshuffle which led to the immediate swapping of portfolios by three ministers including the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa, who now becomes the Minister of Special Duties.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode becomes the new Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Special Duties, Alhaji Ibrahim Kazaure becomes the new Minister of Labour and Productivity.
The redeployments take immediate effect.
Jonathan presided over the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, from the official chair of the President bearing the countryâ€™s mark of power, the â€œCoat of Arms.â€
Information and Communication Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili, who briefed State House Correspondents after the meeting, said the Council extensively deliberated on the resolution of the National Assembly, declaring former Vice President Jonathan as Acting President and unanimously endorsed it.
She said: â€œFEC accepts the resolution of the National Assembly that the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan becomes an Acting President, Commander-in-Chief. Council commends the National Assembly for their action, and pledges to support the Acting President in his onerous responsibility of steering the ship of the nation.â€
Asked why the sudden swap within the cabinet, Akunyili said: â€œit is the decision of the Acting President to move, it is presidential power, he has the presidential powers to remove any of us.â€
According to the Minister, her popular memorandum to FEC, penultimate Wednesday, asking ailing President, Yarâ€™Adua to toe the path of honour by handing over power to his deputy, had to be dropped at yesterdayâ€™s meeting because she felt there was no need for it again, especially when FEC had adopted NASS resolution.
Akunyili was accompanied to the briefing by the Ministers of Finance, Dr Muhtar Mansur, Sports, Mohammed Ndanusa, Health, Dr. Babatunde Oshotimehin and Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe.
There was a breath of fresh air in Aso Rock, at the meeting which attracted a mammoth crowd of President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s aides, some who had, hitherto, absented themselves from FEC meetings without official permission, particularly since Yarâ€™Adua left for treatment.
Obviously afraid of being the first casualties, the Yarâ€™Adua aides were among the early callers at the meeting which was attended by all the ministers and many other cabinet members, because of fear of imminent cabinet shake up.
However, controversial Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji was conspicuously absent, while Principal Secretary to the President, Mr David Edevbie,Â was seen without a tie for the first time.
The Acting President who does not tolerate lateness to FEC meetings, has put intense pressure on ministers who have to work extra hard to ensure they arrived before Jonathan at yesterdayâ€™s sitting.
Unlike in the past, ministers and presidential aides started arriving, as early as 8:43 a.m, for the meeting which started at 10.00 a.m; whereas in the past many of them would choose to attend between 10:30 and 11.00 a.m.
Meanwhile, the former Minister of Justice, Aondoakaa, yesterday, told newsmen he had no regrets over his actions in the last eight weeks, noting that there was no way he would have avoided those actions, particularly his insistence that there was no vacuum.
He said: â€œThere is no action Iâ€™ve taken that I have regrets for, because every action I took was in the interest of the country. No country will say there is a vacuum. No Attorney General worth his salt will go on the pages of papers to announce that there is a vacuum. We have to preserve executive powers until a leader is selected. A leader has been given by the National Assembly and we have recognized him.
â€œWhat we did was a collective decision. First the Acting President told me of the need to go to another ministry. He had a discussion with me in the morning, and it was a cordial arrangement. How do I look at it? Well I am in the government, in the cabinet and I pledge my loyalty to the acting President, I am the Minister of Special Duties.
â€œThe Minister of Labour is now Minister of Justice; I am now the Minister of Special Duties. No, I think itâ€™s understood, first I had a discussion with the Acting President, I have taken a position and in this life when you take a position and there is a change in the position you allow another person who will have a free atmosphere to defend the new positionâ€.
Asked how he intended to perform his new assignments, he said: â€œWhen I go there the permanent secretary will brief me on what the special duties are and I will do the job.â€
Other decisions of the FEC included the variation of the contract for the construction the two hundred bed hostel at the National Stadium from N892 million to N1.74 billion. The facility is to be upgraded from two-star to a four-star structure.
FEC also approved the appointment of fund managers to manage the recent N10 billion funds, as approved by the National Assembly, for the proposed Urban Mass Transit Programme that was designed to provide loans to operatives at 0.75 per cent interest rate.
Cabinet shake-up covered by our resolution â€“ Senate
The minor cabinet reshuffle carried out in the Federal Executive Council was within the powers conferred by the Senate resolution on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President of the country, the Senateâ€™s acting spokesman, Senator Manzo Anthony has said.
Reacting to yesterdayâ€™s cabinet reshuffle, Senator Anthony told Vanguard in a telephone interview that the Acting President was empowered by the Senate resolution to run the Federal Government in a way he thought fit to do.
Affirming that it was an administrative procedure that will not bother the Senate, he said:
â€œOur resolutions were two and very clear. If you give somebody acting appointment, it implies that he would do all the jobs of the person he is acting for and if in his opinion that the government he is leading as acting President will run better by reshuffling ministers so be it. Ministers are doing jobs on behalf of the President and it may well be that he will deploy them to areas that he believes that they will perform better and you will agree with me that once you stay in a place for a long time that it is always good to expose you to other areas.
â€œI donâ€™t read much into this other than that this is just normal business and we donâ€™t comment on day to day administrative business of the President, that is not our job in the National Assembly. What he has done is within the purview of his role as President and just like you donâ€™t expect the President to interfere in the changes in the committees in parliament, so I think it is purely administrative.
â€œThe resolution says he is Acting President and the Acting President says I can run this thing better this way, so I donâ€™t think he has done anything outside the purview of our resolution.â€
Anxiety grips Ministry of Justice workers
There was palpable silence at the Ministry of Justice complex located in Maitama, Abuja, yesterday, as members of staff of the Ministry had a few anxious moments, discussing in hush tones, the removal of their embattled former boss, Chief Michael Kaases Aoandoakaa, SAN, who was relieved of his duties as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, by Acting President Dr.Goodluck Jonathan.
Aoandoakaa who left his office to attend the Federal Executive Council, FEC, regular Wednesday meetings at the Presidential Villa, had scheduled to hold a closed door meeting with the judicial workers upon return, in an attempt to dissuade them from embarking on an indefinite strike action which they had threatened to commence yesterday.
His plans were, however, shattered by Acting President Jonathan, who appointed former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokumbo Kayode, SAN, to take over the reins of leadership at the Ministry of Justice forthwith.
Upon hearing the news of the removal of their former boss, the workers gathered in small groups to discuss the new turn of events. One of the workers told his colleagues: â€œI know Oga, he will surely resign from this appointment because I donâ€™t think he will like to act as the Minister of Special Duties after holding sway in Nigerian politics for such a long time. What will he be doing there? This is like being relegated to obscurity.â€
Meantime, batches of fierce looking mobile policemen had as early as 9.00 a.m, yesterday, fenced-off the perimeters of the Ministry of Justice Complex, where they subjected everything that was taken out of the complex to intense scrutiny.