Acting President Goodluck Jonathan penultimate Wednesday decided to strike by dissolving the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, in a move many have described as unavoidable. But the list of ministerial nominees sent to the National Assembly last Wednesday is a mish-mash of recycled politicians and professionals. Yet, there are insinuations in Abuja that one of the first moves of this EXCOF would be to clear the path for a substantive President with a view to appointing a Vice President. And to do this, EXCOF members must give effect to the letters and spirit of Section 144 of the Constitution. Can this EXCOF bite the bullet?
It was not as sudden as it appeared. The appointment of General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), as the National Security Adviser, NSA, that is. Indeed, it was to be tied to the stability of Nigeria and the stability of the Jonathan presidency.
Earlier in the year when the nuisance constituted by the Umaru Yarâ€™Adua group was becoming irritating, word came from the United States of America, USA, specifically from the State Department. General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), a seasoned intelligence guru, who was being primed for the then soonâ€“to-be-vacant office of the vice president was at the centre of the message. The American government wanted something to be done and done fast regarding the clear and present danger that Al-Qaeda was posing in Africa but specifically Nigeria; this, in the wake of the Abdulmutallab terror plot. Although conducted as a covert mission, an under secretary in the department was sent to Nigeria to impress on then Vice President Jonathan that the security of the nation was paramount and a tested hand was required as NSA.Â After delivering his message, there was to be a gestation period which would allow the prime time for the change of guards.
Then came the Jos crisis which resurged. That was the excuse Jonathan needed to bring in Gusau.
But bringing in Gusau was not easy for him. There was Lt. Gen. Yakubu Danjuma, former Chief of Army Staff, former Defence Minister and now Chairman, Presidential Advisory Council, PAC, who wanted a former state administrator who is now an ambassador. Then there was a former head of state, who was pushing for a candidate to replace Sarkin Mukhtar as NSA.
But the odds were staked in favour of Gusau. And once Gusau came in as NSA, the template changed.
Need for new Ministers
One of the first things Gusau made Jonathan understand was that he could not continue to carry the baggage of a divided Executive Council of the Federation.
Then there was the seeming cantankerous disposition of the state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governorsâ€™ Forum, headed by Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State. Add to this the obvious omnibus posture of a former state governor from the South South geo-political region in matters Aso Rock Presidential Villa. All these coalesced to convince Jonathan that he could not continue to suffer the antics of members of EXCOF who were usually on one anotherâ€™s throat. The division in EXCOF became more pronounced when Information Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili began speaking out against what she said was the agenda of a cabal holding Yarâ€™Adua and Nigeria hostage.
Shopping for new Ministers and the politics of ministerial nomination
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the composition of the PAC by Jonathan was a pulse-feeling and water-testing measure. He reasoned, according to a source in Aso Rock Presidential Villa, that once he could put together a PAC, the membership of which was hailed by the generality of Nigerians, he stood to benefit more in the event that he could summon the courage to sack EXCOF members. He did. But at a price! There was the initial hiccup of the Yarâ€™Adua group which Gusau was able to check. But more fundamentally was the process that would go into the nomination of fresh members for EXCOF.
Jonathan, Sunday Vanguard gathered, had been hunting for possible replacement for ministers even before he decided to sack EXCOF members. It was in the process of hunting for people of integrity that he made a detour to first inaugurate the PAC which received wide acclaim. Having less than a year of full and active governance, Jonathan had made up his mind that whatever he could do to salvage the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had to be done within just 10months.
Then there was also the issue of the 2011 elections. There are speculations that Jonathan may contest for the presidency. There is an even bigger and ripper speculation that his NSA, Gusau is also interested in the race. How the matter would be dealt with is yet to unfold. But in selecting members of the new EXCOF, Jonathan wanted men and women he could count on to deliver â€“ in fact, that is why while you have the Nigeria head of Accenture in PAC, there is another Managing Director of Goldman Sachs in the emerging EXCOF, both representing the female and male gender, respectively.
But that did not in any way make Jonathanâ€™s job easy. Between Patience and Goodluck, the Jonathans have come to establish their reign. Patience Jonathan, the Acting First Lady, was said to have made at least one appreciable input in the nomination process, in so far as her interests were concerned – that of her friend and visible PDP leader, Josephine Anenih.
In sacking the EXCOF, Jonathan sent an unwritten message that he has come to create his own brand new administration. The reason for this is simple and clear. There exists a document called Instrument of Office. It is the letter of engagement issued by the head of state to cabinet members, and signed by the head of government.
In sacking EXCOF, Jonathan had rendered the initial Instruments of office issued to all the sacked ministers useless. Even the Presidential handshake during the swearing-in and taking of oath of office no longer has effect. The new Instrument of Office and Presidential handshake that Jonathan would give, makes his EXCOF a brand new one and his administration a clear departure from the Yarâ€™Adua administration on which ticket Jonathan rode as vice president.
So, in picking those to be newly appointed, loyalty was key. Added to this are the bountiful opportunities open to the newly nominated ministers, at the instance of Jonathan. But there were big hurdles. In Ogun State, for instance, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President, stood his ground.
Apart from the one-minister-per-state policy, a geo-political zone could produce an additional minister. For the South West Zone, both came from Ogun State and they were Obasanjoâ€™s nominees.Â Obasanjo bulldozed his way past the Governor Gbenga Daniel, and the nominations are bound to open a new frontier of contestation in the state. The nomination of Alhaji Jubril Martins-Kuye, specifically, is seen as an Obasanjo strategy to rehabilitate him and re-empower him for the challenge to Danielâ€™s leadership of the party in the state. But can this work?
In Lagos State, the Musiliu Obanikoro faction of the PDP sent a list comprising Bode Oyedele and Obanikoro himself.
Another list was sent by another faction insisting that the Obanikoro list was not authentic. At the end of the day, one Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga was nominated to represent Lagos State, dropping the substantive representative minister, Ademola Seriki.
In Abia State, the nomination of Chukwuemeka Ngozi Wogu is sending ripples down the party line. Ahamdi Nweke, another party leader is being touted as the representative and nominee of the state chapter of the party. The chapter has told the Presidency that Wogu is not known to the party as a leader at the state level. Sanusi Daggash from Borno State who was seemingly unceremoniously dropped by Yarâ€™Adua in 2008, was brought back by Jonathan.
And whereas some people are complaining about the nomination of Josephine Anenih from Anambra State instead of Edo State, there are those who insist that the prerogative of nomination to EXCOF belongs to the President. Because of the role of Dora Akunyili in the heady days of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s absence, it was strategically decided that her name would not be sent with the first set of names.
However, once her name surfaced on the list, Sunday Vanguard learnt that some northern senators who did not buy into her outburst at EXCOF, are laying ambush for her at the screening on the floor of the Senate.
The Yarâ€™Adua Connection
But Sunday Vanguard was told that there was a deliberate and conscious decision not to embarrass the ailing Yarâ€™Adua. For purposes of political pragmatism, it was agreed that at least two persons from the Yarâ€™Adua family be appointed into EXCOF. It was this deliberate decision that informed the choice of Murtala Yarâ€™Adua, son of late General Shehu Musa Yarâ€™Adua into the new cabinet. Another loyalist of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s on the list is Dr. Shamsudeen Usman.
The Question of Legitimacy
There are underground discussions on the possible motive of Jonathanâ€™s wholesale sack of members of EXCOF. Presidency sources have pointed the possible scenario which gave rise to that dissolution. The February 10, 2010, resolution of the National Assembly empowering Jonathan to act as President is not known to the Constitution.
Section 145 of the Constitution states clearly: â€œ145. Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.â€
There was no transmission from President Yarâ€™Adua to the National Assembly which claimed to have relied on the doctrine of necessity in passing its resolution. Even Section 144 which states how the EXCOF could come to the rescue of Nigerians in a given circumstance failed to so act.
Section 144 states: â€œ144. (1) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office, if –
(a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the Federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and
(b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
(2) Where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the President or Vice-President is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation.
(3) The President or Vice-President shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(4) the medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the President of the Senate, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria:-
(a) one of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and
(b) four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.
(5) In this section, the reference to â€œexecutive council of the Federationâ€ is a reference to the body of Ministers of the Government of the Federation, howsoever called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the President may direct.â€
Nigerians had urged EXCOF members to give effect to this section of the constitution with a view to allowing for a smoother process of a change of baton but this never happened, forcing the National Assembly to create a nebulous resolution. Now that Jonathan would have his own loyalists as members of EXCOF on the one hand, and the North, angling to have a foothold in Aso Rock Presidential Villa through the instrumentality of a substantive Vice President, there are strong indications that this EXCOF would be expected to give effect to Section 144 â€“ without prejudice to any resolution of the National Assembly.
But even in this expectation lies a danger. What happens in the event that Yarâ€™Adua re-surfaces as healthy individual? What role would be expected of him? To speak to Nigerians and resign ? To take over as President since he never transmitted any letter to the National Assembly as requested by the Constitution? Why was the National Assembly not bold enough to impeach him on the ground that refusal to transmit a letter to the National Assembly constituted gross misconduct and, therefore, was an impeachable offence? If this EXCOF gives effect to Section 144, who would take over as Vice President? The stage is set for more interesting drama in the coming weeks.