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What next after Goodluck Jonathan?

By Rotimi Fasan

IT was many hours after the actual event, precisely at the very hours the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria broadcasts its flagship news at 7 in the morning, that I would hear the maiden broadcast of Goodluck Jonathan, the Acting President.

But news of the resolution from the National Assembly mandating him to take over in the inevitable absence of President Yar’Adua that had left his duty post for God-knows-where got to me some minutes before 11pm on a local radio in Ibadan the previous night.

Hearing the National Anthem that early in the morning was to say the least quite ominous, not with the increasing rumour of possible restiveness in the military following the long absence of Yar’Adua and what that portended for us all.

A friend had rushed over on hearing the National Anthem and I could understand why. There was that ring of dejavu to the Anthem, a fearful reminder of those days when Nigerians had woken up to the news of yet another revolt in the barracks and their familiar call to Fellow Nigerians…But this time it was different and the voice of the Acting President, yet to acquire the accustomed ease of power, was not altogether strange.

Indeed considering the enormity of the responsibility he now has to shoulder and his dizzying rise from Deputy Governor of Bayelsa to the substantive position of President and Commander-in-Chief even in an acting capacity, Jonathan didn’t do badly at all. He had had to assert himself in the midst of subordinates who couldn’t possibly reconcile themselves to the idea that an ‘upstart’ like him could, without straining for it, find himself not just ‘in government but also in power’.
Only the day before, the newspapers were splashed with news of the Acting President locking out some ministers who had arrived late for a meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation. It was the second time in as many months that he would have to do that. Umaru Yar’Adua fared no better in the early days of his arrival in Aso Rock. The duo of Yar’Adua and Jonathan, unlikely candidates for Nigeria’s highest office, belong in the bottom rung of Nigerians whose ascension to power had been fraught with doubts and uncertainty.

For Jonathan things might, hopefully now, start changing for the better. And so ended 78 agonising days of uncertainty since Yar’Adua unceremoniously left the presidency for a medical pilgrimage to where many who have no proof of it claim is Saudi Arabia. Nigerians can at least hope to be free for the time being from the embarrassingly self-serving blather of Michael Aondoakaa who pretends to serve and know more about the condition of President Yar’Adua than close friends and family members of the President.

I will not join those congratulating the National Assembly on performing a task they ought to have carried out long before now. While the circumstances in which many of the members of the Assembly found themselves might have been difficult and prone to misinterpretation by pretenders to presidential as opposed to national loyalty, there was hardly any justification for the pussy-footing that marked their deliberations when it became clear that some people were bent on holding Nigeria hostage to their private interest and desires.

There is no reason why the fate of a country should be tied to that of a person to say nothing of a largely unelected clique who only pretends to more concern for an ailing leader than the rest of those who elected that leader into office.

So much of what Nigerians read and heard of the powers of this clique and the wife of the President, Turai, probably belong in the realm of myths than truth but there can be no denying the damage that the role of these persons, even if only in their management of information concerning the health of the President, have done to the image of President Yar’Adua.

It is not impossible that the President is himself hostage to the caprice of this clique who (praying he is well and very much alive) might have been misinforming him about the true state of things in Nigeria, but the bottomline is that his failure to do that which was constitutionally required of him, namely transmit a letter to the National Assembly that would enable it mandate the Vice President to act in his absence, detracted from his democratic credentials and his much touted respect for ‘due process’ and ‘rule of law’.

Beyond this presidential lapse and the assumption of presidential duties by Goodluck Jonathan is the crying need for amendments to the duties, obligations and powers of the president; in any event the occupant of that office may find themselves unable to function for health or other reasons.

Now that it has become clear that Sections 145 of the Constitution is prone to abuse, there should be clear resolutions permitting the National Assembly to act in the event of the failure or refusal of the president or an unelected Executive Council of the Federation to act in accordance with constitutional requirements.

The limits of spousal rights should be clearly defined: No more should the wife or husband of a president confuse her/his spousal role and even go beyond it by insisting on private and exclusive access to a leader who ceases to be a private citizen much less the private property of an individual the moment he or she is elected into office. These should be the irreducible minimum for anyone aspiring to the position of president.

For how are we sure that a spouse, especially one of several (in the case of a woman) with some private grudge cannot use the opportunity of their ill-health to manipulate information and access to a leader in order to do that leader in? As with a spouse so it is with a clique. People have been known to do this, especially where there is some fortune or other private gains to be made.

These are some of the lessons we should not allow ourselves to forget from the near national catastrophe that the question of President Yar’Adua’s ill-health brought us even as one prays that the President comes back home in much better health.


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