Acting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has moved decisively and rapidly to unify the Government under him, dismissing — on March 17, 2010 — the entire Cabinet which had been appointed by the now-incapacitated Pres. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. This followed his move, the week before, to appoint Lt.-Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as the new National Security Advisor, a post which oversees all the intelligence and security services as well as the Armed Forces.
Sources told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs late on March 18, 2010, said that about half the ministers would be invited back into the new Cabinet.
The new cabinet would be announced within two weeks, and this should end the divided loyalties of the outgoing cabinet members, many of whom owed allegiance to Yar’Adua, and even to former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo.
GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs was able to confirm late on March 18, 2010, that Pres. Yar’Adua is still, in fact, alive, and on frequent kidney dialysis. However, given the fact that he has been in deteriorating health from this condition for a number of years, and the fact that doctors were unsure whether he would have even survived the past few days, there is now no question of him returning to office.
Acting Pres. Jonathan, who has taken over the function of Head-of-State and Head-of-Government, does not have time on his side. There are strong pressures to pretend that Pres. Yar’Adua is still recovering, and merely waiting to be restored to health and to office. The body which would ratify a transition of full power to Vice-Pres. Jonathan — now Acting President — is the Senate which must act to confirm a successor if the National Executive Council pronounces the President no longer fit to hold office, but if the President is declared no longer capable of holding office, and the full authority of the Presidency is passed to Dr Jonathan by Senate vote, then the office of President of the Senate could — under existing political party practice (within the ruling People’s Democratic Party) — rotate to a senator from a different region.
If the Vice-President was to move from his additional duties as Acting President to President, then a new Vice-President would need to be chosen. Meanwhile, there is still considerable in-fighting among the various Abuja power groups, and particularly within the group around the extremely ambitious and avaricious Mrs Turai Yar’Adua. No Nigerian First Lady has been able to wield the power which Mrs Yar’Adua amassed rapidly because of the declining health of her husband, and many orders were sent out by her in his name.
Quite apart from the hold which the wife of Pres. Yar’Adua has on a coterie of her husband’s staff and supporters — which gave her considerable access to influence and money until the past week — there are many rice bowls attached to the status quo, such as the Presidency of the Senate and the Speakership of the House of Representatives. There has been little incentive, from the personal standpoint of many in the Abuja hierarchy, to change things, and thus the fiction is preserved that Yar’Adua is still President.
Now, however, in the face of decisive action by Acting Pres. Jonathan, the camp around Mrs Yar’Adua is fracturing and bickering. Moreover, the success which Acting Pres. Jonathan has had in galvanizing the Nigerian polity in a matter of a few weeks has made him popular.
There seems little doubt but that Mrs Yar’Adua, who is believed to have amassed perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in the brief period of her husband’s Presidency, will face legal action by the government which succeeds her husband.
For the time being, however, it may well even suit Acting Pres. Jonathan to not fight this situation, as long as he is able to get Nigerian governance back on track. He has the credentials, and now the leverage, to work credibly on calming the Niger Delta crisis, given that he is from the region as the former Deputy Governor, and then Governor, of Bayelsa State, one of the key Delta energy-producing areas, and a state with considerable unrest. He is also demonstrating that he is far more capable than most analysts had thought, even though he has lacked a strong political power base of his own in the past.
National Security Advisor Lt.-Gen., Mohammed, too, is anxious to move the Delta crisis toward resolution, even though he is a Northern Muslim. His insights into the crisis, even since he resigned as National Security Advisor to then-Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo before the last elections, have been profound, and have been praised by key European leaders.
Together, Acting Pres. Jonathan and Gen. Mohammed need to build and present a credible and decisive program which would be unveiled when Dr Jonathan makes his first official visit to Washington, DC, on April 11-12, 2010, to meet with US Pres. Barack Obama.
How this visit is handled will do much to calm the fears of the major foreign investors in Nigeria’s energy sector, and to calm the energy sector itself, given Nigerian significance in global oil and gas markets.
From the US standpoint, Dr Jonathan will have to convey the messages that he has brought allegations of police corruption or mismanagement under control; that he has put in place more secure oversight of the intelligence community to track and apprehend possible terrorists (following the December 25, 2009, attempted attack on a US airliner by a Nigerian national); and that issues such as the Niger Delta crisis and the communal violence of the type which occurred in March 2010 in Jos can be now brought to an end or at least addressed by the Federal Government.
In this regard, Dr Jonathan’s main credibility in talking with the US Government is the restoration to office of Gen. Mohammed, who is recognized by US security officials for his skills, absolute honesty, and his ability to bridge gaps between ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria. Moreover, Gen. Mohammed, as the former Chief of Army Staff, has been the key to mobilizing Nigerian — and African — participation in peacekeeping and conflict resolution operations on the Continent. He was instrumental in creating former Pres. Ibrahim B. Babangida’s policy of “African Solutions to African Problems”, for example.
Gen. Mohammed, perhaps uniquely, is aware of the fact that it is not sufficient for the stifling politics of Abuja to be swept aside so that strides can be made in re-starting the economy and ensuring the appropriate security conditions to allow this. He is aware that perceptions of Nigeria abroad now must be attended and the Western views of Nigeria be updated from their antique and usually incorrect stereotypes.
He, too, is facing urgent time constraints in this endeavor. While there is great reluctance by many to change a comfortable, and profitable, status quo in the national leadership, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to which Dr Jonathan belongs, is insistent that this two-term period of governance belongs, at the Presidential level, to a Northern Muslim. This follows the two-term rule of Southern Christian (and Yoruba) President Olusegun Obasanjo so a Northern Muslim would be chosen to lead the slate for the Presidential elections of 2011.
The months of political stalemate, however, have fallen away and the public and political mood has swung firmly behind Acting Pres. Jonathan. The PDP has also come out fully behind his new Administration.
The question is whether Dr Jonathan remains Acting President until those elections, or whether Pres. Yar’Adua is to be declared no longer President (which would then confirm Dr Jonathan, the Vice-President, as successor President). Another issue to be faced, then, is who would succeed Dr Jonathan, and would he remain on the next ticket as Vice-President.
In the short-term, however, Dr Jonathan has first to clean the stables, which he began doing with the appointment of a separate advisory council headed by former Defence Minister T. Danjuma; the appointment of Gen. Mohammed as NSA; and the dismissal of the old Cabinet.
The second task, once the stable clearing is under control, will be to actually address the problems of the Niger Delta, the Jos violence (and related issues of communal unrest), and corruption and security. Nigeria must rapidly have itself removed from the US terrorist watch list, which inhibits travel by Nigerians to the US.
Indeed, progress must be seen to be done in all these areas very rapidly if the PDP is to be able to expect to achieve what it has considered its birth-right: an unbeatable position going into the 2011 Presidential elections. Moreover, Nigeria has no time to waste for another reason: other African economies are now discovering large oil and gas reserves, and if they are seen to be more stable than Nigeria then they will benefit from foreign energy sector investment, and Nigeria’s position will suffer from investment decline.
And with 140-million mouths to feed, and keep happy, Nigeria needs not only more foreign investment, it needs economic growth over a wide spectrum of activities — particularly agriculture — and across the entire country, not just in the energy-rich Delta.
Meanwhile, on March 18, 2010, the Jonathan Administration recalled Nigeria’s Ambassador to Libya after Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi called for Nigeria to be split into two separate countries. The Nigerian President’s pointed and rapid response to Qadhafi was also well received in Nigeria, where most locals do not see the recent communal violence as being in any way indicative of a polarizing of the country into a Muslim-Christian divide.