Inside the Goodluck Jonathan inner circle

THISDAY Newspaper-Yusuph Olaniyonu

Lagos — Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Acting President, is well known to Nigerians over whose affairs he now presides. Since 2005 when he hit the limelight as the deputy governor of Bayelsa State, who was elevated to the gubernatorial seat after then governor Diepreye Alamiey-eseigha, was impeached by the legislators, Jonathan has been well known to his countrymen. They have seen him climbing up to become vice president and now acting president.

What Nigerians do not know are his close advisers, confidants and strategists whose counsel, thoughts, ideas and opinions will shape the policies, programmes and plans which the acting president may unfold in moving the nation forward from this week.

THISDAY checks in the presidency indicate that the new men who will shape the corridors of power are from varied generations, educational backgrounds, professions, religions and geo-political zones. Enter Olusegun Obasanjo, Theophilus Danjuma, Andrew Azazi, Hamman Tukur, Edo Obi and the Anyiam-Osigwe brothers. Exit Abba Rummah, Tanimu Yakubu, Ibrahim Shemah and Dahiru Mangal.

THISDAY gathered that the men whose advise may be relied upon mainly by the acting president as he gets set to name a new set of ministers to help actualise his plans to move the nation forward are 12 in number.

First in the list of members of the Jonathan inner circle is president Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo became close to Jonathan in 2005 after the former president engineered the impeachment of ex-Bayelsa governor Alamieyeseigha. Since then the two men had been very close as Obasanjo was also instrumental to the selection of Jonathan as running mate to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who was then PDP presidential candidate in the 2007 elections. Obasanjo had publicly called on Yar'Adua "to do the right thing in view of his failing health", a euphemism for him to resign and allow Jonathan take over as president. The acting president will rely on the former four-star general who is the chairman, PDP board of trustees to rein-in the party behind him and to have a firm grip of the military.

As a result of Obasanjo's influence, Jonathan may also bring in some technocrats into government while he may also have used the old man as an emissary to some Western governments.

Another member of the inner caucus is Lt, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd). Gusau, who is now national security adviser, has taken centre stage in the Jonathan led government helping to give it direction and providing adequate intelligence support needed for crucial decisions to be taken. He has also provided good cover for the administration to keep in touch with key power centres at home and abroad.

Lt. General T. Y. Danjuma (rtd.) is also a crucial adviser to the acting president on policy formulation and personnel sourcing. Danjuma, alongside members of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC), will be influential in the nominations into the cabinet about to be formed. Danjuma and the PAC members have also been helpful in advising on what should be the focus of the government in terms of programme to be implemented in the next 14 months.

General Andrew Owoeye Azazi, former chief of defence staff, was one of 13 Nigerians to ever wear the rank of a four-star general. He is a close confidant and family friend of the Jonathans. Sources say Azazi is in fact being considered as chief of staff to the president, a situation which would reenact the Obasanjo presidency in which two retired generals whose area of specialisation is intelligence occupied the strategic positions of NSA and chief of staff. Then, it was Gusau and Major General Muhammed Abdullahi (rtd). Azazi is respected in intelligence circles just like Gusau, the NSA , who is his senior. The two men are already providing strategic counsel needed by the acting president to side step the booby traps and to make top policy and personnel decisions. Azazi will have some influence in who becomes a minister in the new cabinet.

Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, the Secretary to the Federal Government, is another key player in Jonathan's kitchen cabinet. Ahmed, a consumate bureaucrat became a key player in the Jonathan inner circle because of his pioneering bold move in January when he insisted that President Yar'Adua should comply with the provision of Section 145 of the Constitution by transmitting a letter to the National Assembly, which would enable then Vice-President Jonathan to act as President.

His position surprised members of the Yar'Adua group and the first family. When his advice was rebuffed, he started referring key government files requiring the attention of the President to Jonathan in order to ensure continuity in governance in the interest of the nation. This action by a man they considered as a close ally further annoyed members of the Yar'Adua family.

Since then, Ahmed had maintained a close relationship with Jonathan. The SGF is a major decision maker in the ongoing efforts to form a new cabinet. Most advisers in the Presidency report to the SGF, who is said to be a policy formulation expert.

Alhaji Hamman Tukur, another member of the inner caucus is a young, dynamic well-educated northerner, is the secretary of the National Energy Council and former head of the Nigeria-Sao Tome Joint Commission. He is a man with strong intelligence background. He has been a friend of the acting president long before Jonathan moved to Abuja and has been a key policy adviser to Jonathan. Many who are conversant with the goings-on in the inner circle hinted that Tukur may emerge as head of a key ministry or even as the chief of staff to Jonathan. A strong source, however, noted that he is likely to become the next managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Tukur is the link between the northern intelligentsia, the turks, whose opinions now matter in the emerging politics of their area. This group includes Nuhu Ribadu, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Nasir el-Rufai and Mansur Mutar, many of whom may be brought into the government in different capacities.

Ebitimi Banigo, top banker and former Minister of Science and Technology in the Obasanjo government is another silent but key Jonathan adviser. He is a family friend of the Jonathans who has supported the acting president through thick and thin when he was in the cold in the Alamieyeseigha administration as deputy governor. His advise will matter particularly in the nominations into the cabinet and in the area of fiscal policy formulation, budgetary implementation and monitoring.

Also in the Jonathan inner circle is Lt. Col. Edor Obi (rtd), a former military administrator of Bayelsa State who handed over to Alamieyeseigha and Jonathan in 1999. Obi had maintained a close relationship with Jonathan, even when Jonathan was ignored in Yenagoa by members of the inner caucus of the Alamieyeseigha administration. Since 2007 when Jonathan moved to Aso Rock, Obi has been a constant pillar of support to him. Obi is still well regarded in Bayelsa State.

Like Obi, another key operator in the Jonathan inner circle is Tony Ezekiel, an Abuja based furniture entrepreneur who has remained close to the acting president over the years and has the ears of Jonathan.

Mike Oghiadomhe, former deputy governor of Edo State who became a close friend of Jonathan when both of them were deputy governors is a key member of the kitchen cabinet. Jonathan brought him to the presidency as deputy chief of staff until the position was downgraded by Yar'Adua to that of principal secretary. In the new cabinet to be constituted by Goodluck, Oghiadome may head a full-fledged ministry except he chooses to remain with Jonathan as a key adviser.

It is also believed that Mr. Oronto Douglas, the acting president's senior special assistant on strategy is another key member of the new kitchen cabinet. Unassuming but highly intelligent, Douglass is a cat with nine lives and one of the few people in the world to have survived cancer. He is a dependable ally of the acting president since the latter's days in Bayelsa State's government. He is Jonathan's link to the civil society groups, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and the international community where he is very strong and viewed as an environmental rights crusader. He is seen as a good strategist in the Jonathan's inner circle.

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In the inner circle of Jonathan also are the Anyiam-Osigwe brothers, Michael and Chukwuka. The two scions of a wealthy family have been very close to acting president Jonathan since his days as Bayelsa State governor. They are a pair of influential business leaders who can serve as Jonathan's link with the business community at home and abroad. The duo will sure have a role to play as the acting president gets ready to interface with different sectors of the economy and the international business community.

It is believed that there may be other influential Nigerians whose opinions will count as Jonathan strengthens his hand on the lever of power, but the above named men are the key players in the newly emerging inner cabinet.


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