Jonathan’s shrinking presidency
BY BENAGANDE, Abuja
In the run up to the presidential election on March 28, 2015, figures obtained from the protocol department of the Presidential Villa indicated that more than two thousand visitors visited President Goodluck Jonathan on the average in a week. This figures do not include visitors that met with the president in his official residence in the Villa. Neither do they include those he met outside the official residence but within the precincts of the Presidential Villa. It was perhaps the number and quality of people who thronged to the Villa on daily basis and the assurances they gave the president during the run up to the presidential election that informed the confidence he displayed as the election drew nearer that he was going to win.
But on the Sunday after the presidential election when collation of votes had begun and it appeared that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not doing well and was, in fact, trailing behind the All Progressives Congress at the polls, less than 30 persons, apart from some security personnel and aides of the president, attended the Aso Rock Chapel which had hitherto been a beehive of activities every Sunday.
The above scenarios represent the reality at the Presidential Villa since Jonathan lost the presidential election to the candidate of the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari. Although official engagements of the president are expected to slow down as he prepares to hand over to the incoming government, what many observers find very curious is the sudden abandonment of Jonathan by people who, some months ago, were frequent visitors to the Villa and some even reportedly vowed to swim and sink with the president.
But there are precedents to this kind of swift switch of loyalty. Shortly after General Sani Abacha died in mysterious circumstance in 1998, many of those who dressed him in the robe of infallibility and urged him on to transmute from a military ruler to a civilian leader did a 360 degree turn around and condemned him in the harshest of terms.
So, though Jonathan was said to have been stung by the sudden abandonment of people he had considered his friends, he was said to have recovered from the betrayal and accepted his fate with stoicism. One of the earliest callers to the Villa shortly after the president made the telephone call to Buhari to concede defeat told Sunday Vanguard that, at that moment, the president appeared downcast.
“When former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, led a delegation from the National Peace Committee on the presidential election to visit President Jonathan shortly after he called General Buhari, the president the committee members met was not someone who was pained by his defeat but he was more devastated by the betrayal of the people whom he called friends. He kept making reference to how treacherous human beings are and vowed that, as a zoologist, may be he would go and study animals more and see whether they have the same level of treachery as human beings. He was so passionate about it so much so that a member of the Peace Committee was led to tears”, a member of the committee in attendance at the meeting told Sunday Vanguard.
Having overcome the shock of the betrayal, Jonathan set the ball rolling with the task of winding down his administration. At the first Federal Executive Council meeting after his defeat at the polls, the tension that enveloped the Council Chambers could be sliced with a knife. The president, who was used to wearing a smile on his face almost perpetually, carried a very serious mien comparable only to the day he assumed office as Acting President following the long absence of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. The conviviality that pervaded the Council Chambers was absent. It was one Council meeting that no member was seen with smile on his face and no banter was exchanged.
Sack out of the blues
But Jonathan’s shrinking presidency is not without some actions. Against all expectations, the president sacked Inspector General of Police Suleiman Abbas without any slight hint that such action was coming. Though no reason was given for the removal of the Inspector General of Police, it may not be unconnected with the IGP’s unabashed switch of loyalty to the president-elect when he led other policemen to provide security at the occasion by the Independent National Electoral Commission to provide certificate of return to the APC candidate. The explanation by the president during last Tuesday’s Council of State meeting when he told members that the former IGP had tolerated indiscipline within the force may have been a subtle way of confirming this allegation that had been in the public domain.
Though the government of Jonathan is gradually winding down, the gale of sack of high government officials has continued. On March 28, the president announced the sack of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Alhaji Habib Abdullahi, while replacing him with Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Ado Bayero, the first son of the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero. Perhaps as a way of rewarding one of his ministers, the president also appointed Mrs Asabe Asmau Ahmed as the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Equalisation Funds. Mrs. Ahmed, who is currently the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, took over from Sharon Adefunke Kasali, who has been Executive Secretary of PEF since 2007 and whose tenure was embroiled in controversy as some staff of the agency alleged that she had over stayed her term.
The new PEF Executive Secretary hails from Niger State and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, respectively and is seen as one of the most loyal ministers in the Jonathan administration that worked so hard for the success of the president’s candidacy at the polls in her state.
He has also appointed the former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, as the Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission. Expectedly, some of these decisions and appointments have elicited condemnation and criticism; it appears to be the president’s way of saying that “though I may be leaving in the next few weeks, I intend to use my presidential powers to the very last minute of my stay in office”.
If there was any doubt about the president’s desire to carry out his duties to the last minute, such doubt was put to rest, penultimate Wednesday, when the Minister of National Planning and Chairman of the Technical Committee of Jonathan’s Transition Committee, warned the APC against setting up a parallel government.
Such tough talk appears to be the spasm of an animal in the throes of death. To underscore the fact that the desertion of the president by people he had not too far in the past referred to as friends is without any exception, one of the closest persons to Jonathan while his presidency lasted, a multibillionaire businessman did not only switch loyalty as soon as the president lost the election, but also sensationally pledged loyalty to the incoming president, declaring that his election was an act of God. The treachery inherent in this declaration is that the same businessman, who was almost on every trip with Jonathan, had on several occasions declared that the president was chosen by God and any body opposed to him was opposed to God!.
Although the presidency had continued to put on an air of lack of concern at the sudden turn of events, especially the desertion of the president by people he had called friends, Jonathan appears to have accepted his fate with equanimity and seems to be better prepared to live with this hard fact than some of his lieutenants. During a thanksgiving/farewell service organized for the president, last Sunday, to mark the end of his tour of duty, he publicly revealed what has so far remained a hushed tone discussion among the staff of the Villa.
While speaking at the service, Jonathan told the congregation: “Some people come to me and say ‘look at this person or that person, is he not your friend who benefited from you? Has this person not benefited from your government? Imagine what he is saying’? I often tell them that worse statements will come.
If you take certain decisions, you should know that those close to you will even abandon you at some point. And I tell them that more of my so-called friends will disappear. When FW De Klerk took the decision to abolish minority rule in RSA, even his wife divorced him. I hope my wife will not divorce me. But that is the only decision that has made RSA to still remain a global player by this time. If we still had that minority rule there, by this time, nobody will be talking about RSA.
“If you take certain decisions, it might be good for the generality of the people but it might affect people differently. So for ministers and aides who served with me, I sympathize with them, they will be persecuted. And they must be ready for that persecution”.
Indeed the government of Jonathan may be winding down. While the number of visitors to the president has reduced to a point of almost non-existent two weeks to the hand over, Jonathan seems to have accepted the reality of his position and the ultimate fate that awaits him as he retires to Otuoke, his village in Bayelsa State. But one aspect he is willing to use till the final hours is that of his presidential powers. It is one aspect that he is ready to exercise fully to the end of his administration. The confirmation of the appointment of the Acting Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, is a demonstration of the fact that though the Jonathan presidency may be shrinking, his presidential powers remain intact and he will exercise same to the very end. But as the Jonathan shrinking presidency gives way to Buhari’s burgeoning one, the president-elect may do well to learn a lesson from the Jonathan’s presidency: Not all those who surround him and sing his praises to high heavens mean well for him. Perhaps if Jonathan had known this, the shock of the betrayal of some of his friends would have been less.