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Seven days of Jonathan’s Acting Presidency

By Daniel Idonor,  Asst. News Editor
Tuesday, last week, will indeed remain an indelible date in Nigeria’s history, following the historic resolution by both chambers of the National Assembly, declaring the phenomenon Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the first Nigerian Acting President in a manner reminiscent of the election of a President.

Knowing little that it was to be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of his life, Jonathan had the previous week received 21-man representation of the Governors’ Forum who visited him to inform him that they have resolved to empower him to henceforth function as Nigeria’s Acting President and Commander_in_Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigerian, with a promise to appeal to the National Assembly to pass a resolution to that effect.

For those who are conversant with events in Aso Rock, like Sunday is a market day for the clergy, so also Wednesday is to cabinet members; because it is the day the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting holds. On that fateful Wednesday which historians would prefer to record as day two of the Jonathan presidency, Jonathan arrived office 8:30 and  met with Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed.

He also met at about 8:50, the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Kasaa Aondoakaa.   Soon after other ministers started rushing to attend FEC, as early as 8:52 am as against 10:30 during Yar’Adua era. While in the Council Chambers of the State House, unsuspecting Ministers, who were unaware of what the day has in stock, began grouping in numbers along Yar’Adua and Jonathan interest in discussion.

Controversial Aondoakaa, ever noted as the arrowhead or cross bearer of the Yar’Adua camp, was sighted upon his return from Jonathan’s office, drawing the attention of Abba Ruma and another compatriot and Chief Economic Adviser to Yar’Adua, Dr Tanimu Yakubu, perhaps to inform them that the deed has been done, as they were carried away by their meeting until Jonathan entered without them knowing. Aside them, Jonathan who arrived exactly 10:05am also took many others unaware, as he walked pass his former chair and his Aide_de_Camp, ADC, hurriedly pulled out the Chair, with the inscription of the Commander_in_Chief, bearing the seal/coat_of_arms,

That FEC meeting which was to be the shortest of its kind refused to be, deliberation of the two earlier memoranda to council surprisingly took members more than expected time; but that perplexing state was to fade away soon when by 12:15 pm, news filtered from the meeting a 30_minute break has been approved for attendees. Aondoakaa was the first to storm out, obviously in  a state of confusion, as he was seen holding three phones, trying to make calls with all of them at the same time.  His aides had to come to his rescue by helping him to take some of the incoming calls.

As he battled with incoming calls, the no-nonsense Jonathan smartly walked to his office, and moments later unsettled Aondoakaa was seen rushing to  meet Jonathan in his office; and soon after the Minister of State, Niger-Delta Affairs, Elder Godswill Orubebe. Again, Ministers resumed their dangerous grouping openly while the 30 minutes break lasted. Muslim Ministers who had gone to pray refused to come close to Southern/Christian counterparts, as they continued their discussions near the Villa Mosque. Before returning to FEC, Jonathan received  Kuwait’s envoy.

Soon after they went in for the second stanza of the FEC, handsets of State House Correspondents started rigging as their employers and editors as well as other Nigerians began to enquire if Aondoakaa has been fired. And not wanting to be embarrassed like the previous week when Akunyili heroic memo, asking Yar’Adua to step down was linked to the press outside the villa, reporters began a hunt for confirmation. But at exactly 5:20 pm when FEC finally ended it was discovered that Aondoakaa was never sack, but merely replaced. The man in the storm  was later ambushed by reporters where he spoke.

Mini_Cabinet Reshuffle

Indeed, Jonathan, Wednesday, 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 became the Minister of Special Duties.

The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode was made the new Attorney_General of the Federation and Minister of Justice;  the Minister of Special Duties, Alhaji Ibrahim Kazaure took over  the new Ministry of Labour and Productivity. Jonathan presided over the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, from the official chair of the President bearing the country’s mark of power, the “Coat of Arms.”

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: “FEC 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.”

Asked why the sudden swap within the cabinet, Akunyili said: “it is the decision of the Acting President to move, it is presidential power, he has the presidential powers to remove any of us.” According to the Minister, her popular memorandum to FEC, penultimate Wednesday, asking ailing President, Yar’Adua to toe the path of honour by handing over power to his deputy, had to be dropped  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 minister, Mohammed Ndanusa; Health minister, Dr. Babatunde Oshotimehin; and their Foreign Affairs counterpart, Chief Ojo Maduekwe. There was a breath of fresh air in Aso Rock, at the meeting which attracted a mammoth crowd of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s aides, some who had, hitherto, absented themselves from FEC meetings without official permission, particularly since Yar’Adua left for treatment.

Obviously afraid of being the first casualties, the Yar’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, was seen without a tie for the first time.

Aondoakaa reacts

Meanwhile, the former Minister of Justice, Aondoakaa  has  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.

Said him: “There is no action I’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.

Speaking further he said: “What 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.

“The Minister of Labour is now Minister of Justice; I am now the Minister of Special Duties. No, I think it’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 position”. Asked hoaw he intended to perform his new assignments, he said: “When I go there the permanent secretary will brief me on what the special duties are and I will do the job.”

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.

Receives US Envoy

On  Day one of his presidency, Jonathan who never knew what fate had for him that Tuesday, settled down for the day’s assignment by receiving the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Johnnie Carson, in the State House.

He used the occasion to direct the Inspector_ General of Police, IGP, Mr Ogbonna Onovo, and the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, to commence immediate prosecution of all persons arrested for election malpractices in the just concluded Anambra gubernatorial election.

Jonathan also reaffirmed the commitment of the present administration to credible elections in the country come 2011, saying “this remains the first rung in the ladder towards good governance.” He regretted that a significant leverage for electoral malpractices in the past was because electoral offenders were not punished.

“We believe that for us to move forward, we must institutionalize good governance, and the first rung in the ladder is credible elections. We are determined to have free and fair general elections in 2011, under the supervision of local and international observers. We will ensure that the votes of our citizens count in 2011.” He said last weekend’s gubernatorial poll in Anambra and the Edo Assembly poll in Etsako were instances to show the world the trend the 2011 poll will take.

Dr. Jonathan  urged the US Government to reconsider its stand and de_list Nigeria from its watch list of “countries of interest” in the international war against terrorism. He reiterated that the incident of attempted bombing of a Detroit_bound plane by a Nigerian, Farouk Abdumutallab, was isolated and novel to the Nigerian people. He noted that Abdumutallab would not have had such inclinations if he had lived in Nigeria for most of his adult life.

On the Niger Delta, Jonathan told the US envoy that the Nigerian Government believes that the post_amnesty phase is as critical as the amnesty itself. “We are done with the disarmament and we are committed to all follow up issues,” he said, while urging US assistance and contribution in the area of capacity building for Niger Delta youths. He said the youths can be useful in the oil industry if they are exposed to training, as their excesses arose largely from illiteracy and unemployment.

He also expressed Government’s zero tolerance for corruption at all levels, saying “we are dealing decisively with the menace.”

While conveying the appreciation of the Federal Government to President Obama and the US Government for its best wishes for the speedy recovery of President Umaru Yar’Adua who is attending to his health in Saudi Arabia he called for the speedy establishment of the Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission as a platform for discussing issues of mutual interest including terrorism.

Of course the first day’s activities could not have ended without Jonathan’s acceptance broadcast to the nation, at exactly 10:00 pm.  He used the opportunity to hail NASS, saying that “in following the extant provisions of the 1999 constitution to arrive at this decision, the leadership and members of the National Assembly have shown great courage, statesmanship and patriotism.

I salute them all.  In the same vein, I will like to commend all the other political actors and national leaders, particularly the former Heads of State, Elder Statesmen, Governors of the 36 States and other leaders of political groups, civil society organizations, the media, and indeed all Nigerians, for their invaluable contributions and counsel. Our security services also deserve our special commendation for their loyalty and devotion to duty during this trying period.

Jonathan Seeks NASS Support

On day three Jonathan received members of the Senate leadership led by Senate President, Senator David Mark, at his official residence in Aguda House, Presidential Villa, where he solicited the support of the National Assembly in the march towards a better Nigeria under the new political dispensation, stating that though there are daunting challenges ahead, the government is determined to ensure that the nation surmounts these challenges. According to him, the business of governance is collective and all arms of government should work together in the interest of the nation, within the ambit of the doctrine of separation of powers.

Earlier, Senator Mark congratulated Acting President Jonathan on behalf of the Senate and pledged the cooperation of the Upper Chamber for him. “The Senate leadership is here to congratulate you and to let you know that we are ready to receive correspondence from you. We are very willing and prepared to work with you. We look forward to the first letter from you and I expect a loud ovation when your first letter comes to the Senate,” he said.

Senate President Mark was accompanied by his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin, Senate Chief Whip, Senator Mahmud Kanti Bello and Senate Minority Leader, Senator Maina Maaji Lawan. Others are the Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora, Minority Whip, Senator Ahmed Yerima, Deputy Majority Whip, Senator Mohammed Mana, and Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya.

Warns Perm Secs against Gang up

Still on the third day in office, Jonathan swore-in the newly appointed 17 permanent secretaries in the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, warning the new appointees not to be agents of division and gang up in their various ministries. He charged the newly sworn-in Federal Permanent Secretaries to live above board and uphold the government’s policy of zero tolerance to corruption, which is the guiding principle of the administration. He advised them to ensure good working relations with ministries that have more than one Minister and avoid being agents of division and rancour.

The new Permanent Secretaries are Umar Faruk Baba, Sheik Gone Musa, Awosika Ajorisedere Josephine, Mohammed Sani Lawal and Wiloughby Stephen Olukorede. Others include Odusote Ibukun Abimnola; Mohammed Sambo; Aliyu Salihu Gusau; Daudu Ibrahim Jalo; Olorunfemi Biodum Nathaniel and Mahe Ibrahim Gaya. Also sworn-in were Ozodinobi Anthony Zikora; Ene-Ita Nkese; Bamidele Fatima Binta; Bonat Charles; Kigbu Dausa and Uhomiobhi Martin.

S/South Govs Canvass Support

Day Three can simply be described as congratulatory and solidarity visit day, as he received in his office, governors of the South_South geo_political zone who were on a congratulatory visit to him. The Governors called on all Nigerians to give their maximum support to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to enable him succeed in the discharge of his duties; saying Jonathan’s assumption of office as Acting Nigeria’s number one citizen has given birth to a new political dispensation and chapter in Nigeria’s history which requires the support and loyalty of everyone irrespective political differences.

The governors, represented by Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta and Liyel Imoke of Cross River, said “Nigerians should all come together and support the Acting President to discharge his duties”.

Receives Bankole

On this day too, Jonathan received principal officers of the House of Representatives led by the Speaker, Honourable Dimeji Bankole, and called for a harmonious relationship among the three arms of government.

In his remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Oladimeji Bankole, said they were in Villa to register their solidarity to the Acting President of Federal Republic of Nigeria and to declare their total support for the resolution of the National Assembly. He assured that “the House of Representatives is going to work with the Acting President to ensure that the promises made to Nigerians to deliver the dividends of democracy are executed”.

Pledges to resolve power crises

On Day 4, Jonathan arrived office 9:13 am, and received in audience Mr. Samuel Jonah, Director of Jonah Capital Companies, a pan_African mining investment group, with promise that the Federal Government is determined to make electricity available for all Nigerians. He affirmed that improved power supply will fast_track wealth creation for the citizenry and assured that Government is working round the clock to address the sector.

According to him, Government is aware of the yearnings of Nigerians for improved power supply and expressed Government’s resolve to alleviate the strains being experienced by small and medium scale enterprises with regards to adequate power supply. “The power sector will be addressed and Government is totally committed on this,” he stated.

Earlier, Jonah, who is also a distinguished member of the Honourary International Investors Council (HIIC), congratulated the Acting President on his assumption of office. He said his company is ready to partner with Government. He said his company is ready to partner with Government on coal exploration as an alternative energy source to boost electricity generation in the country. He said discussions are ongoing with the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development on the best way forward in this regard.

Former Heads of State

Jonathan, on day five, met with former Heads of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Chief Ernest Shonekan, as well as former President Shehu Shagari, at the Presidential Villa. At the meeting, Jonathan assured the former leaders of his commitment to doing what is right, as he steers the affairs of the country in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Earlier, Gen. Gowon who led the delegation said that they were in the State House on a solidarity visit and to consult with the Acting President, as well as to offer advice for peace, security progress and general development of the nation. He explained the need for a robust determination to move the nation forward.

In the group were former Vice President Alex Ekwueme; former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Jusstice Alfa Belgore; former Defence Minister, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma: Chief Solomon Lar; Mallam Adamu Ciroma; Sen. Ahmed Joda; Chief Edwin Clark; HRH Johnny Turner; Prof. Jerry Gana; Sen. Jonathan Zwingina; Senator Isaiah Balat, and Dr. (Mrs) Christy Silas

On Day Six, in view of the popular saying that all work with no play  makes Jack a dull boy, Vanguard learnt that, Jonathan on Sunday chose to go to church quietly , returned home, had some rest and later withdrew to attend to crucial official work, this time, from the comfort of his bed room.

Jonathan Warns Against Laxity

Day 7: There was a report that rather than perform their duties, some Ministers have been in the habit of frequently abandoning work for frivolous trips to their home states for politicking, especially since Yar’Adua left for treatment, a situation the Jonathan was said to have frowned at. He was reportedly said to have sounded a warning to Ministers and other cabinet members who have hitherto been relaxing or simply not delivery on their mandates, since ailing President Yar’Adua left for medical treatment, saying that they either resume serious work or be shown the way out.

Jonathan bans congratulatory adverts/visits

Still on Day Seven: The Acting President ordered an immediate end to the series of congratulatory advert placements in some national dailies, warning against the use of public funds on such an extravagant enterprise.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.