Suspense, drama on Jonathan's first day as Acting President

THE PUNCH-Ihuoma Chiedozie

At exactly 10:21am on Wednesday, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan made his first public appearance as Acting President, when he entered in the Council Chambers of the State House, venue of the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, to take the seat of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

A dropping pin would have made a loud noise as all eyes in the Council Chambers followed Jonathan as he strode past the seat designated for the Vice-President and took the President’s seat, which is emblazoned with the seal of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Surprise was registered on the faces of ministers, special advisers and journalists in the Council Chambers they observed the beginning of a new era unfolding before their eyes.

In what could be described as his first directive as Acting President, Jonathan directed the gathering to recite the National Anthem.

Camera lights flashed all through the rendition of the anthem as photographers and cameramen moved to capture the moment for posterity.

Thereafter, as journalists and other non-participants in the meeting were excused out of the Council Chambers, the Acting President gave his second directive by asking the ministers of Commerce and Works and Housing, Chief Achike Udenwa and Dr. Hassan Lawal, respectively, to offer Christian and Muslim opening prayers.

However, Jonathan’s entrance at 10:21am was the climax of an awkward opening session of the first FEC meeting he would be presiding as Acting President.

The unspoken question on every mind was, “will he sit on the President’s seat?”

Before then, ministers had rushed early to the meeting, apparently to avoid being locked out for coming late.

Jonathan had on two recent occasions locked out ministers from scheduled meetings for late coming.

However, a minister still managed to come late.

The Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Humphrey Abbah, arrived just after the meeting proper commenced. This was after the opening prayers had been said.

But there was no indication that he suffered any penalty for the indiscretion.

As the meeting waited for Jonathan to arrive, ministers and other government functionaries made the rounds in the Council Chambers, exchanging greetings and discussing in groups.

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, who would be eventually be relieved of his portfolio, was conspicuously absent from the Council Chambers as the meeting waited for Jonathan’s arrival.

It would later be revealed that he was at a meeting with the Acting President, during which he was informed of his redeployment.

The former AGF was noticeably in a sour mood when he appeared in the Council Chambers later on, and did not seem willing to mix with his colleagues.

After pacing around for some minutes, he took his seat, a position designated for the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, just by the President’s right hand, and on the right hand side of Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, Dr. Sayyadi Abba-Ruma.

Ruma himself was already seated, watching the unfolding drama, when Aondoakaa took his place beside him.

As the ministers milled around the Council Chambers waiting for Jonathan, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, was a striking exception.

Lukman sat by himself, and did not socialise with his colleagues.

Minister of Interior, Dr. Shettima Mustapha, was also silent.

When the meeting commenced eventually, indications emerged that it was going to be an eventful one when, about five hours into deliberations, the staff of the Council Secretariat, who usually sit and record proceedings, were excused from the venue.

It was gathered that the move was to enable FEC to engage in “off-the-record” discussions.

There were pronounced frowns on the faces of all the ministers and other members of FEC when the meeting eventually dispersed.

Absent was the previous jovial mood displayed when the meeting started earlier in the day as ministers discarded their usual practice of engaging one another in backslaps and raucous laughter as they dispersed.

They barely responded to greetings and everybody kept to himself or herself as they marched out of the Presidential Villa, apparently musing on what lay ahead in the new dispensation, in the Presidential Villa.

The Acting President took a break from the FEC meeting to receive his first official foreign visitor, a Special Envoy from the Kingdom of Kuwait, Mohammed Abdulhassan, who brought a special message for him from the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah.

Jonathan used the event to remind everyone that, despite his elevation, he still remained loyal to Yar’Adua, who is hospitalised at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“We are all praying for President Yar’Adua’s speedy recovery,” Jonathan informed the Kuwaiti special envoy.


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