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NEW RHYTHM, DANCE STEPS AT THE PRESIDENTIAL VILLA

By NBF News
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Besides the swearing in of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 6, 2010, the most obvious sign that a new era has dawned in Aso Rock is the absence of a set of once powerful individuals, and the modification in the complex within the past month.

In addition to these is a discernible change in the attitude of some prominent visitors who have remained regular callers despite the shift in power.

The death of former President Umaru Yar'Adua on May 5, 2010, had effectively heralded a totally new administration in the country, with Jonathan's portraits replacing Yar'Adua's on the walls of corporate offices. But the changes that resulted from the development were more visible in the Presidential Villa.

While most members of the all powerful cabal lost their authority as a result of the dissolution of the Yar'Adua's cabinet on March 17, 2010, a few others in the alleged group, who were not affected in that development, had opted to stay away on their own volition.

One of them is Yar'Adua's Chief Economic Adviser, Tanimu Yakubu, who was reputed to be one of the former President's closest associates.

Though there has been no official announcement of his removal from the post, Yakubu has been conspicuously absent from his office in the Presidential Villa for quite a while now while other presidential aides on the late President's personal staff are still present and active in the villa.

Another prominent player in the Yar'Adua establishment, former Principal Secretary to the President, Mr. David Edevbie, had also left the villa as he was relieved of his job on May 17.

Indeed, Edevbie's removal is just one of the most striking changes in the post-Yar'Adua Aso Rock.

On May 17, 2010, Jonathan reversed a major policy initiated by his predecessor in the administrative structure of the villa by restoring the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President.

The development followed the appointment of Chief Mike Oghiadome, the hitherto Principal Secretary to the Vice-President, as the Chief of Staff to the President.

It would be recalled that the late Yar'Adua had, in 2008, scrapped the then influential Office of Chief of Staff to the President.

In place of the Office of the Chief of Staff, Yar'Adua had created a new position for a Permanent Secretary in the Presidential Villa, and also established another position - the Principal Secretary to the Vice-President.

Before then, during the Obasanjo administration, it was only the Office of the President that had a Principal Secretary, a position which was held by the current Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye.

Then, the offices of the Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary to the President were the most powerful positions in the administrative structure of the Presidential Villa.

However, while restoring the Office of the Chief of Staff on May 17, Jonathan retained the Office of Principal Secretary to the President, appointing Mallam Hassan Tukur to the position.

Also absent from the villa are two of the late President's most reliable aides - the former Chief Security Officer, Mr. Yusuf Tilde, and the erstwhile ADC, Col. Mustapha Onoyiveta.

By the nature of their respective positions, both officials wielded immense powers in the villa.

While the late President was receiving medical attention at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tilde and Onoyiveta were reported to be among the few persons that had access to him.

Be that as it may, another significant illustration of the adjustment of dance steps in tandem with the new tunes is the change in the attitude of the state governors.

When President Yar'Adua took ill, the governors, under the aegis of the Governors Forum, abandoned their various state government houses and relocated to Abuja, in a bid to take advantage of the reported vacuum in the presidency and extend their sphere of influence to the federal level.

Then, the governors were practically calling the shots from their unofficial national headquarters at the Kwara State Governor's Lodge, the Abuja office of their Chairman, Kwara State governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki.

On several occasions, the governors, who were apparently individually staying away from the then Vice-President Jonathan, converged on the Presidential Villa as a group to dictate decisions, or demands, already reached at their traditional nocturnal meetings to the presidency.

The governors were then calling the shots at the federal level, and they must have been further emboldened by the influential role they played in negotiations that paved the way for Jonathan's subsequent emergence as Acting President.

The governors reached the height of their powers when, at one of a series of meetings in the Aguda House, Jonathan's former official residence, they reportedly reprimanded the then Acting President for not consulting them before establishing and constituting the membership of the Presidential Advisory Council.

After that, the governors again ganged up to oppose the then Acting President Jonathan's interest in the campaign to effect a change in the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party - but that was as far as they got before Yar'Adua's death changed Jonathan's status, and also altered all political calculations ahead of the 2011general elections.

Ever since they jettisoned their opposition to Prince Vincent Ogbulafor's removal in return for the selection of one of their own, former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Namadi Sambo, as the Vice-President, the governors have, from all indications, remembered their proper place in the scheme of things at the federal level.

As Jonathan became President and Commander-in-Chief, the governors dropped their hobby of coming to the Villa to issue directives.

After the death of Yar'Adua, the governors paid a condolence and solidarity visit to Jonathan at Aguda House on May 7, 2010 as a group and pledged loyalty and support.

Considering their earlier opposition to the then vice-president's, and later acting-president's, actions, the feelings expressed by the governors in their address to Jonathan in his new capacity as the President and Commander-in-Chief at that meeting appeared suspect.

'Mr. President sir, even as you take office in this fateful circumstance, we congratulate you.

'The focus, the commitment and the resourcefulness with which Your Excellency has steered the affairs of this country even as the acting president, fill us with hope and confidence that we have found in you the leadership that we need at this critical point in our history.

'We pray the Almighty God to guide your every step; to lighten your burden and to strengthen your hands.

'For us as governors of the states of the Federation of Nigeria, we pledge our support and commitment to work with you to give our dear country the leadership she deserves and achieve success in the various critical areas that Your Excellency has identified.

'Your Excellency, please accept once again, our deep condolences and best wishes in the great task ahead,' Saraki said in an address he read on behalf of his colleagues.

But it is not only the state governors that have now learnt to behave themselves at the villa, the National Working Committee of the PDP, minus Ogbulafor, have also adjusted their dance steps to the new rhythm being played in Aso Rock.

Before now, the NWC, under Ogbulafor, will depart after visits to the Presidential Villa to make contentious pronouncements on how the nation's affairs should be handled.

But that was then. At a recent meeting with Vice-President Namadi Sambo in the Presidential Villa on June 1, 2010, the NWC was content to comply with the directive to accommodate proposed reforms which were being advocated by the 'rebel' PDP Reform Forum.

Since that meeting, the NWC had lifted the suspension it placed on members of the Forum, even going as far as inviting party members outside the forum to propose reforms in the party.

'The party is in a continuous process of development and you always want to improve.

'So, any party member who has ideas, even if they don't belong to the reform forum, let them bring them to the National Working Committee, we will consider them and bring them to the appropriate party organs,' the Acting National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Bello Haliru, said after that meeting, illustrating the new state of affairs in the Presidential Villa.