Jonathan and the shape of battle to come

THE PUNCH Newspaper - Semiu Okanlawon

Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan

We have left our pot unwatched and our food now burns,” a great Nigerian playwright, late Prof Ola Rotimi, once wrote in one of his tragic plays.

Rotimi‘s words, even when he least must have had the impending constitutional complications now staring Nigeria in the face, appeared to have captured the fact that the thick air of uncertainty that pervades the country stems from many of the loopholes that dot the country‘s constitution.

A president suddenly becomes incapacitated. He is obviously unable to discharge the functions of his office. His failure, however, to put in place necessary machinery for the uninterrupted running of the government, has ignited cut-throat intrigues, manipulations and deceit. Those who claim to know, appear not to know. Those who know twist information to suit their whips and boost their personal egos. The outcome is a complex scenario that holds more than 150 million population and those watching from outside the country hostage. And the drama seems to have no end.

The current state of health of President Umaru Yar‘Adua, who travelled out of the country 37 days ago on medical grounds to a Saudi Arabian hospital has precipitated series of intrigues in high places. The constitutional prescription in Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution, which says that the President should transmit to the National Assembly, his inability to function in his office for a period, was ignored. The failure to do this before his trip abroad has rendered the vice-president almost ”impotent”, according to the Action Congress.

Perhaps, one of the issues that illustrate the alleged desperation of those allegedly benefitting from the present state of affairs is the confusion over the signing of the supplementary budget.

Only on Tuesday, there were reports of the President having signed the document. Of course, many have been asking questions on the truth of the President personally signing the document when he is reported to have been in a very unstable state of health.

Indeed, many have asked what stopped the President from writing and signing a letter which would allow Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to take over in acting capacity pending when he is fit enough to continue in office.

National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress, said in a telephone interview, in apparent response to the signature claims that the country was being insulted to the highest level.

Mohammed said, ”If Mr. President can sign the budget, one begins to wonder why he is reluctant to formally handover to the vice-president. Now, we have always said that the Federal Executive Council is enjoying and milking this particular situation to their advantage in the sense that a sick president who is not in charge definitely can‘t supervise any ministry or any minister, whereas a fit, acting president can supervise effectively any ministry and call to order, any erring appointee. We believe that Nigeria is too complex a nation to be run from a sick bed in faraway Saudi Arabia.”

Under whatever circumstances, many watchers expect Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to take over as acting President with the reality that the President may not return to the country in the next few weeks.

With that, however, are insinuations of new calculations and intrigues which come with contending forces at the corridor of power.

Just a few weeks ago, the Senate President David Mark, was rumoured to have come under attacks by those who saw in him, an ambition to capitalise on the current state of affairs to move higher on the ladder.

In the event of the vice-president unable to take over the seat of the president, the constitution stipulates that the Senate President is next in line for the job. Given that constitutional stipulation, some analysts, perhaps, basing their expectations on Mark‘s military background, had concluded that the Senate President was eyeing the position.

Indeed, his rumoured ambition was reported to have been the argument of the Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, Senator Mohammed Aba-Aji, who was alleged to have reasoned against Yar‘Adua transmitting to the National Assembly, his intention to hand over to Jonathan.

But then, the possible assumption of office in acting capacity as president, in the estimation of analysts, is going to breed another round of intrigues as the forces are expected to continue their battle of wits all in the attempts to dominate one another.

Even if other issues such as constitutional amendment had driven a wedge between the two chambers of the National Assembly especially among the leadership, sources said the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, appear to be united in the opposition against Jonathan as acting president.

With Mark‘s alleged ambition should the manipulations end up not favouring Jonathan, he is believed by insiders in the power game not to be favourably disposed to a Jonathan Presidency.

However, Mark is believed to watching his steps and utterances to avoid giving himself away especially when some pro-Yar‘Adua elements in the power game had sold the impeachment dummy to some members of the Senate last month.

Bankole‘s alleged opposition is believed to stem from the perception that with Jonathan in power, the influence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, will become more manifest. Bankole was believed to have derived his confidence in power owing to the perceived support of the Presidency under Yar‘Adua.

Obasanjo‘s opposition to Bankole‘s leadership of the House of Representatives is well known. Back at home in Bankole‘s state, Ogun State, it is well known that all is not well between loyalists of Obasanjo and those of Bankole with the popular belief that Yar‘Adua had found a willing ally in the Speaker as a means of checkmating the alleged overbearing influence of Obasanjo on Yar‘Adua‘s government.

But then, there are other fears in the Bankole camp over Mark even if they are seemingly united against a Jonathan presidency. The Senate President is still seen as a core loyalist of the former President and what the Speaker is believed to be running away from might actually be waiting for him under a Mark‘s presidency should that be possible.

Bankole‘s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ebomhiana Musa, said his boss had no hand whatsoever in all the power calculations going.

He accused those he described as being power hungry as being behind many of the insinuations that he was against Jonathan‘s presidency should the occasion arise.

He said, ”It is purely a constitutional matter. There is no way Bankole will be involved in anything unconstitutional. So far, the way the thing is going, they are merely throwing up confusion. Bankole is just an individual and he will always protect the constitution any day.”

“Obviously, whatever happens to be the denouement of the unfolding drama, many things are bound to give when the final curtain is drawn. The seat of power, many watchers expect, will not be the same whether Yar‘Adua returns to his seat or his vice-president takes on the baton


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