ABUJA is a city divided since penultimate Monday when the National Assembly made its famous resolution, urging Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to seize power, as Acting President.
There is palpable excitement in many offices and ominous disquiet in many others. You get into some offices and immediately feel the excitement in the air, a feeling of satisfaction and expectation about good things to come. People in those offices commend the National Assembly for installing an acting president through a resolution, expect government to roar back to life once again, and congratulate each other for escaping an untoward happenstance.
â€œThe army would have taken over if the National Assembly did not act fast,â€ one top government official told me. How did he know?
â€œI heard; it was all over the place,â€ he said. You get into some other offices, and there is disquiet; the sort you could slice with a knife. I went to see another top government official who has for some time now been accusing me of â€œabandoningâ€ him.
Abandon is a word frequently bandied about here, especially when the user wants to target and blackmail an important person. â€œYouâ€™ve abandoned me o,â€ you accuse, and stay back to watch the poor fellow squirm and deny it vigorously. As he is defending himself, you quickly chip in something that he will agree to do, to show that he is still a good friend.
But abandon was far from my friendâ€™s mind Friday last week, when I visited his office. â€œI was about to perform my ablution and go to the Mosque,â€ he apologised, as he stood up, removed his babanriga, and brought his hands out in supplication.
I quickly moved to the door, but not before asking when I could see him next week. His hands in prayer mode, he apologized that next week is filled up in his calendar. â€œPerhaps, sometimes in March?â€ he asked. I got the message.
These are not the best of times for chit-chat, in some Abuja offices. The excitement building up in some offices in the Federal Capital over the temporary change of guards was somewhat overshadowed by the reported visit of an Ota General to the man of good luck. What could be the subject of their three-hour nocturnal chat? â€œWhat is he coming to do here again?â€
I heard someone complain at a business centre in the Sky Memorial, Wuse Zone 5. â€œHe will come and pollute this one again!â€ By the time someone finishes making the rounds of government offices in Abuja, one goes away with the feeling that the last may not have been heard of this National Assembly resolution that became law in Aso Rock.
Politics of health (2) Continued from last week
WHY do the powerbrokers find it difficult to entrust the Vice President with temporary power? At the core of the current political jockeying are three things â€“ the PDP power rotation principle as it benefits the North at this time, the fear of Vice President Jonathan as an ambitious man with a running streak of good luck, and a real worry that Mr. President may not return to Nigeria in one piece.
The calculation appears to be that if Mr. Yarâ€™Adua returns to Nigeria in a state in which he is unable to exercise his executive functions, this would leave a powerful and ambitious Jonathan to run wild and free for two years at the helm.
Should this happen, so the argument goes, the North may not be guaranteed another slot at the Presidency after the Yarâ€™Adua-Jonathan mandate expires in 2011, with an ambitious and powerful VP in the saddle.
There were suggestions that the wily General of Ota planned the whole thing from the beginning. It is instructive that General Obasanjo did not find this rumour funny, and he quickly went public to try to quench it, swearing that he did not know the true medical condition of his successor at the time he was hand-picked for the job. Also, and perhaps to curb Jonathanâ€™s enthusiasm, the ruling party crafted a subtle letter to tell the VP that â€œpower belongs to Godâ€ (read â€˜take it easyâ€™) while simultaneously praising him for being â€œloyalâ€ to the President.
These manoeuvres have, unfortunately failed to stem persistent unease over the prospect of a Southerner becoming president, should Mr. Yarâ€™Adua abdicate.
TheÂ fact that we are currently debating whether Yarâ€™Adua should temporarily entrust his deputy with executive powers has proved that the PDP constitution is more important than the Nigerian Constitution. Although they publicly quote the 1999 Constitution to back up their understanding of the word, handover, the party people privately rely on their understanding of the dictionary meaning, and the party constitution to support or oppose it.
In the context in which it is being applied by progressive acolytes of the President, handover means to temporarily â€œentrustâ€ power to Jonathan, which will enable the country move forward with critical and pending executive decisions and actions.
They say that it is in the Presidentâ€™s interest that the Vice President assumes temporary power, so that the country could move on with governance. The common dictionary supports this interpretation, which runs through all of Prof. Dora Akunyiliâ€™s logic on the issue when she faced her colleagues at the Federal Executive Council.
In the context in which it is applied by conservative acolytes of the President, handover could very well translate to â€œgiving upâ€, â€œsurrenderingâ€, â€œrelinquishingâ€, or â€œrenouncingâ€ power.
The dictionary also supports this interpretation, which runs through the sentiments expressed by the likes of the founder of Arewa Consultative Forum, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai. â€œIt is unheard of for any elected leader to hand over his mandate to any other person,â€ he said.
The job of the National Assembly appears to leave the Constitution and instead ignite a debate over the true meaning of handover, stoke it as we shout and protest in our various trademark fashions, and maintain the tempo for as long as it takes the President to return to his seat.
The success or failure of this talkshop strategy depends on how long the President continues his stay on in Saudi Arabia without the ability exercise executive power.