A Nation’s Tension Headache
For about three months Nigerians debated, argued and demonstrated over the absence of ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua from the country. Then parliament appointed Goodluck Jonathan acting president and suddenly and secretively Yar’Adua returned. As KWENDO OPANGA and XINHUA NEWS AGENCY report, fresh tensions set in
There is a clear attempt by Abuja to create the impression that all is well in government. However, not since the prolonged death agony of Marshall Josip Broz Tito, founder of Yugoslavia, in 1980, has a head of state, government and commander-in-chief undergone such a gruesomely slow-motion exit from office.
Before the massacre by machete of 500 villagers and the firing by acting President Goodluck Jonathan of National Security Adviser Major-General (Rtd) Sarki Mukhtar, Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe was out on a 10- day shuttle diplomacy trip to five southern African countries. Jonathan also inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Council and the Central Bank announced it was injecting $3.3 billion dollars into power projects.
Heightened tensions had been there throughout the ailing President’s three-month stay in Saudi Arabia, and were ratcheted up by his secretive February 24 return. The massacre of the 500 has taken national tensions through the roof. Everybody wanted him to return; everybody wanted him alive and well, but when he did return it was some 15 days after his Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan had been unanimously appointed acting president to fill the three-month-long power vacuum.
In some quarters, including the cabinet, this was seen as a move by the president’s close aides to create confusion in the country and limit Jonathan’s sphere of influence and ability to pursue his own agenda and, more importantly, consolidate power. Information Minister Dora Akunyili had this in mind when she broke ranks with cabinet colleagues and demanded that Yar’Adua hands over power to Jonathan. Indeed she went further and said she would not take orders from them even if they said they quoted Yar’Adua as asking her to comply.
There would appear however to be a determined effort by supporters of Jonathan to ensure that he is asserts himself and especially so the chairman of the newly-formed Presidential Advisory Council, retired General Theophilus Danjuma. Danjuma pointedly asked the acting president to seize the moment and move swiftly to take advantage of the goodwill he is enjoying to address the pressing issues facing the country, among them the forthcoming elections and power needs.
Danjuma would appear to have been preaching to a convert. The acting president had told the council on its inauguration in early in March that “although time is short, like a determined athlete, we need no more than a hundred metres to make our mark on the sands of good governance”. The formation of the Presidential Advisory Council was seen by observers as a move by the acting president to disentangle himself from forces loyal to the ailing president if he is to have the leeway to push his agenda.
Nigerians are usually vehemently opposed to outside interference in their politics and governance, but Jonathan’s supporters will have been gladdened by the support given the acting president by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in early March. Moon said in his statement which came after the return of Yar’Adua that he was closely following the political developments in Nigeria and encouraged Nigeria’s leadership and institutions to work together in the greater national interest, respecting the rule of law and ensuring adherence to the constitution.
Pointedly, Moon sent Yar’Adua best wishes during his convalescence, but in the same breath wished Nigerians, their leaders and institutions to continue to support the efforts of the acting president and the government which he leads to help the country overcome its challenges. But Yar’Adua’s corner must have been dismayed by the move by the United States, Britain, and Canada and the European Union decision to slap visa bans on the ailing president’s aides. The visa restrictions were aimed at those aides who are thought to be deliberately creating confusion that could endanger Nigeria’s democracy.
There has also been internal action which aimed at ensuring that the polity is calm. A statement in early March which hinted at a military intervention and which was attributed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, was swiftly and emphatically denied:“Bankole is a statesman in the issues of handling issues relating to the political impasse in the country and would not join the bandwagon of those fanning embers of disunity, instability and discord to achieve their selfish political agenda.”
But even better the military itself denied it was plotting a coup. Fears of a military intervention in politics in Nigeria are grounded in the fact that the country has had more military governments than it has had civilian ones. Significantly, 36 state governors, themselves a crucial pillar of Nigeria’s politics, have thrown their weight behind Jonathan. “The return of President Umaru Yar’Adua to the country is a welcome development, but to the [Governors’] Forum, it has not changed the status-quo of Jonathan as Acting President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces,” they said in their statement.Tellingly, one of the governors told news media that at a meeting with Jonathan the governors noted the fact that Yar’Adua had returned to the country and the need for him to recuperate fully before he could think of assuming duties
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