THE JONATHAN PRESIDENCY (7)
The trip to the United States on April 10, 2010 was the first time President Goodluck Jonathan would travel outside the country since his assumption of office as Acting President in February 2010. He was scheduled to attend the Global Nuclear Disarmament Summit from 12-14 April, but for Jonathan, this turned out to be more than a four-day working visit. It was a demonstration of American support for his Presidency; a sub-text that would soon be clear in the course of the visit. Nonetheless, there was some opposition to the trip at home, coming notably from Mallam Ghali Na’Abba, former Speaker of the House of Representatives (1999-2003) who insisted that the visit was “ill-timed” given the mounting problems at home. In his words: “Honestly I believe the acting president shouldn’t have left this country at this critical time…He should take time to think of how to administer this country in a situation whereby a sick and substantive president is side by side with him, a situation whereby there is no vice president and a situation where there are so many weighty things waiting to be attended to within the country…
“I thought going out to attend a meeting which I understand is on nuclear weapons, for our president is ill-timed and I must advise the acting president to sit down and face the most important domestic problems before him”.
“We have an entrenched situation whereby certain people got hold of power through manipulation. When you look at various layers of power, particularly within the political parties, you will agree with me that we are facing a very dangerous situation as far as this democracy is concerned because you will find out that the majority of these people have never been elected anywhere and they are entrenched and they are moving people from position to position just by manipulating the party’s constitution”.
As Na’Abba observed, there were indeed very serious problems at home. The Yar’Adua shadow was threatening the stability of the Acting Presidency with Yar’Adua’s loyalists claiming stridently that there was only one presidency and no such thing as a Jonathan Presidency. Civil society groups continued to insist that President Umaru Yar’Adua should appear in public and that it was unconscionable for the First Lady and a few persons to hold him hostage. Even the President’s mother and sister were said to have been turned back by the First Lady when they went to Aso Villa to see him. A few days earlier, the Acting President still in an attempt to hold on to power and assert himself had dissolved the cabinet and appointed new Ministers.
A total of 38 Ministers were appointed, including 13 returnees, and new ones. Goldman Sachs executive Olusegun Aganga was appointed Minister of Finance, Diezani Allison-Madueke was made Petroleum Minister and the Acting President said he would personally take charge of the Power Ministry. The Acting President also changed the Group Managing Director of the NPPC, replacing Muhammed Barkindo with Shehu Ladan. He told the nation that his government “will hit the ground running”. He further boasted: “I have confidence in this team, which I believe reflects the federal government’s commitment to take bold steps in solving the nation’s problems.” He also appointed new Special Advisers. Further appointments to the cabinet will be made in August 2010. But with what Jonathan had done, there were already concerns about the character of the emergent cabinet in form of protests about the seeming Niger Delta-nisation of the Presidency.
This is a familiar scenario in Nigerian politics. Every man of power who gets into high position surrounds himself with his own kinsmen. What seemed like the influx of Niger Delta figures into key governmental positions had been preceded by the take over of the presidency by Yar’Adua’s Katsina crowd, and before then by Obasanjo’s amala group. That Nigerian leaders feel more secure only when surrounded by their own kinsmen is one of the sad realities of Nigerian life and society, but their implied sense of security is of course mythical. At the time Jonathan prepared to leave for the United States, there were also troubles within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. A desperate jostling for power post-Yar’Adua had begun. It was around this period for example that former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar returned to the PDP. There had also been a report in The Nigerian Tribune, titled “2011- Count me out- Acting President” but it was either this report was false or the sources were misquoted, for as Jonathan settled fully into office, he would openly declare his interest in the 2011 Presidency, and work desperately towards realizing that ambition, resulting in sharp divisions within the ruling party.
In September 2010, Dr Jonathan would initially dither about attending a summit of the UN General Assembly due to urgent issues at home, but in April there was no way he could have accepted Na’Abba’s advice. The United States trip strengthened his hands. The Americans granted Jonathan the kind of audience and reception that Yar’Adua was not so privileged to enjoy. He met with President Barack Obama for about 15 minutes. The picture of Jonathan sitting close to the American President at that critical moment when so many forces were arraigned against him at home placed him at a great advantage. He also held meetings with the US Vice president, Joe Biden, the President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, the US Congressional Black Caucus and the Nigerian community in Diaspora. A week earlier, a Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission was launched by the US State Department, described by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “a new vehicle for co-operation”. America’s foreign policy process is driven by specific strategic national interests. President Clinton had used the meeting with Acting President Jonathan to stress Nigeria’s “regional importance.” He advised Jonathan to use the remainder of the Yar’Adua presidency to make “a difference in governance”, follow through on “countering corruption”, and realise his public promise on “electoral reform.”
There was also some talk about global security. Jonathan was accompanied on the trip by Governors Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, Ikedi Ohakim of Imo, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Aliyu Shinkafi of Zamfara state. Other members of his delegation included Foreign Affairs Minister Odein Ajumogobia and Petroleum Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke. He met in Washington DC with Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of the EFCC who had been in exile and was having a running battle with the Yar’Adua administration. There were indications that Ribadu might play a major role in the Jonathan government as an adviser, a few weeks earlier the Jonathan Acting Presidency had withdrawn criminal charges against him over allegations that he failed to declare his assets while in office.
Naturally, Dr Jonathan promised the Americans heaven and earth on nuclear security, electoral reform, the anti-corruption campaign and so on while asking for continued American support. Jonathan also appeared on CNN in an interview with Christiane Amanpour; he was also interviewed by the BBC in the course of which he disclosed that he was yet to see President Yar’Adua! He told Amanpour: “The most pressing issue for Nigeria now in terms of basic infrastructure is power.” He had a luncheon with the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA. He also addressed the Council on Foreign Relations where he intoned: “I promise Nigerians and the rest of the world that the 2011 elections in Nigeria will be credible”. He added: “This is our time. Either we continue with more of the same or our change begins.” He also promised to inject new blood into INEC by June 2010. On his return, the Presidency declared that the trip was successful and announced plans to establish a Diaspora Commission “to harmonise the contributions of Nigerians living abroad and ensure proper documentation of their input in the affairs of the nation as key stakeholders.”
Jonathan’s trip to the United States was mutually beneficial to both countries. In 2009, President Yar’Adua had cancelled a proposed trip to the UN General Assembly including meetings with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and President Barack Obama. Due to Yar’Adua’s ill-health, Nigeria was beginning to lose its pride of place on the international stage. In December 2009, following the Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab incident, the United States listed Nigeria, “a country of interest.” The US had also been critical of Yar’Adua’s failure to hand over to his Deputy as required by law. Besides, 26 oil blocks belonging to US oil companies, Chevron and Shell had expired, and there was at that moment, a hot romance between the Nigerian Government and the Chinese who appeared interested in higher stakes in Nigeria’s extractive industry. The Americans obviously got Jonathan to make the right promises. At a personal level and given the situation at home, the trip was a major triumph for Jonathan and a setback for the Yar’Adua cabal at home. If he was battling a psychological crisis arising from self-doubt, he returned from the United States more confident, and this probably accounted for his breathless junket around the world subsequently.
Those who wanted to keep Jonathan “in his place” were unrelenting, the success of the US trip notwithstanding. Rumours about President Yar’Adua’s condition continued unabated as ghost-sighting became a national pastime. The progressive community continued to protest that Jonathan must not take orders from an invisible President. But Jonathan had cleverly positioned himself in power and he was beginning to enjoy it. After the US trip, he really began to enjoy the office (see Reuben Abati, “Hurry up, Jonathan”, The Guardian, May 15, 2010 and “President Jonathan: One Month Later, When?, Crossroads, The Guardian on Sunday, June 6, 2010). His confidence level was rising, and this much was evident when he addressed the audience at the “one man one vote” campaign launched by Governor Adams Oshiomhole, at the Ogbemudia Stadium, in Benin City, Edo state. In that speech, he defined the greatest challenge of our time as good governance and the threat posed by electoral fraud. The Jonathan Presidency was on such a roll that by the end of April, many Nigerians had concluded that even if President Yar’Adua got well, Jonathan should be allowed to continue in office. That prayer was answered when on May 5, it was announced that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had passed on.
There was no dancing in the streets as was the case when Military dictator, General Sani Abacha died in June 1998, but Nigerians were relieved. Yar’Adua was the fifth Nigerian Head of State to die in office, (after Tafawa Balewa, J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Murtala Muhammed, and Sani Abacha) and presumably the second to do so from natural causes. Yar’Adua was buried the same day around 5.50 pm at the Dan Marna Cemetery in Katsina. The occasion was almost marred by violent protest by angry Katsina youths at the gates of the Katsina Township Stadium. In attendance were state Governors (Ibrahim Shema, Katsina, Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers, Adams Oshiomhole, Edo, Theodore Orji, Abia, Liyel Imoke, Cross River, Sullivan Chime, Enugu, and Peter Obi, Anambra); prominent political leaders (Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Bisi Akande, Vincent Ogbulafor, Anyim Pius Anyim, Ibrahim Mantu, Achike Udenwa), senior military officers (led by Air Marshall Paul Dike, Chief of Defence Staff), the Prime Minister of Niger (Muhammadu Danda), a Federal Government Delegation (led by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, including the SGF, Yayale Ahmed and Works and Housing Minister, Sanusi Daggash); the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumini Usman. Nigerians may have been relieved that Yar’Adua died but they did not nurse any animosity against him, instead the people they held responsible for the crisis that Yar’Adua’s ill-health occasioned were his wife, Turai, and the members of the so-called Yar’Adua cabal. Yar’Adua in death was regarded more as a victim rather than a villain.
Questions may have been raised about his sincerity (agreeing to be president when he knew that he was terminally ill, claiming that his health was “in the hands of God” whereas he studied and taught the sciences and should have known better) but the reaction to his death was largely sympathetic. The crisis of his ill-health had proven to be an eye-opener for Nigerians on the questions of human character, the politics of power and the limits of the extant constitutional order. Husband of two women (Turai and Hauwa) and father of nine children, Yar’Adua would be remembered for his spirited efforts in seeking an end to the violence in the Niger Delta, his honesty about electoral processes, and his determination to make a difference, stalled by bouts of ill-health. Goodluck Jonathan was conspicuously missing at the Yar’Adua burial. No concrete official explanation was given other than speculations about religious reasons and national security. Jonathan will later visit the Yar’Adua family after his full assumption of office as President and Commander in Chief as the Constitution stipulates under the circumstances. In the meantime, the Presidency issued a statement through Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President, Ima Niboro saying “Nigeria has lost the jewel on its crown, and even the heavens mourn with our nation tonight.” Well, so much clichéd talk about jewel and mourning Heavens! The Presidency declared a seven-day national mourning period.
Jonathan was sworn in on May 6, at exactly 9.47 am, by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu at the Presidential Villa, Abuja; the ceremony was presided over by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed. This made Jonathan, Nigeria’s 13th Head of State since 1960; the second university graduate to occupy that office and the first Ijaw/Niger Deltan to do so. Two days later, Jonathan paid a condolence visit to the Yar’Aduas in Katsina. His Presidency had finally begun without shadows and ghosts. But how would he fare? And what did he bring to the table?
To be continued.