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True or false this is one of the several ‘Thriller in the Villa’ scenarios that were predicted by all manner of informed public and private…

True or false this is one of the several ‘Thriller in the Villa’ scenarios that were predicted by all manner of informed public and private commentators: At last Wednesday’s FEC meeting, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was expected to dissolve the cabinet he inherited from President Umaru Musa Yar’adua; in its place he was to appoint a new set of ministers whose first task would have been to rely on section 144 of the constitution and pronounce Yar’adua permanently incapacitated. This would then pave way for Mr. Jonathan to be sworn in as substantive president and commander-in-chief; and then…

But on the eve of that Wednesday meeting, Tuesday night to be precise, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan had a meeting with the 36 governors of the federation where the scenario painted above was effectively deconstructed and thrown away. According to reports and sources, some of them very strong and credible, the governors actually dictated to the acting president what they wanted. Namely that no dissolution of cabinet; no invocation of section 144; and more emphatically he, Jonathan, must be contented with his “Acting Capacity” and maintain the status quo until Yar’adua is well enough to resume his duties, or until 2011 when their joint ticket would expire and another general elections would be held. Failure to agree to that, they told the acting president, would mean he would be on his own. Dr Jonathan looked at the 36 governors, which included governors from his own Niger Delta, and realized that he had little or no option but to accede to the demand of the governors. What then happened in place of the Tsunami is what we have now: a subdued acting president, a quieter polity and an agitated opposition.

The relevant question to ask now is “What next?” First of all it must be clear to all by now where political power actually resides in Nigeria; state governors, under the umbrella of the powerful Governors Forum now call the shots. What may not be very clear is who and who are the significant members of the opposition and what they are likely to do next. Another very significant question to ask is: “In whose interest did the governors act?” According to the governors they acted in the interest of the country; they wanted to bring stability to a polity which temperature is rising out of control; that their action was in the best interest of everybody.

Cynics think those ideals are only a façade, and that the governors’ action was more to protect their individual and collective interests than anything else; those cynics say, with some justification, that a substantive President Goodluck Jonathan would be unpredictable and hence too dangerous and therefore unacceptable; conversely an unsure acting president and an ailing or convalescing substantive President Yar’adua are by far the best alternative for them. Under the present arrangement, the governors, ministers and other heads of federal parastatals can keep their snout as deep as possible in the trough without having to worry about a powerful president breathing down their neck. And even sweeter than everything else, come 2011 they would have the chance to exercise greater influence in who becomes what under a weakened presidency, a wobbling EFCC and an unconvincing INEC. What could be sweeter than that, especially to those nursing the ambition to succeed Yar’adua?

But then that is only one side of the coin, the cynical side. Turn over that coin and you will be confronted by this equally germane question: Can the nation trust Dr Goodluck Jonathan to hold the country together under such tremendous amount of political pressure? Does he have what it takes in terms of being a national, as against a sectional president? Can we trust him to be fair and just to all? Or as so many people have asked, does he have the liver to deliver?

In 1999 when the nation almost unanimously settled on former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a consensus candidate capable of pulling the country back from the brink it was lingering on, almost all those questions were answered in the affirmative. And they were not wild guesses either; we felt we knew enough about Obasanjo to answerer such questions with confidence; we knew everything about him that there was to know, and our conclusion was: Yes he can. Whether Obasanjo had delivered or not is an ongoing debate, and as the former president himself once told this columnist, history would be the best judge of that.

But with Mr. Jonathan we have no such privilege information to guide our assessment of him. We hardly know him beyond the fact that he is mild mannered, barely ambitious and uncontroversial. If you consider that we are in a crisis situation, these moral virtues are not necessarily the best attributes for a leader. But then neither are they enough to disqualify Jonathan. What worked, and is working against, Jonathan and is also providing legitimacy to the action of the governors forum was that wittingly or unwittingly, the acting president and his mandate got hijacked by dangerous parochial, as against national interest group; so that where Jonathan was supposed to be the symbol of our unity in diversity courtesy of our federal constitution, he inadvertently became a symbol of our differences. Suddenly you are either a southerner or Christian and therefore pro Jonathan; or you are a northerner or a Muslim and therefore anti Jonathan (but significantly not necessarily pro Yar’adua either)

Some of Dr. Jonathan’s early actions didn’t help either. A lot of people from the North took offence over his decision to interfere with the dredging of the River Niger; but in reality that was blown out of proportion by some selfish northern elements for their selfish reasons. Before Jonathan, at least five previous northerners led Nigeria covering a period of about 30 years who could have dredged the River Niger several times over, but they didn’t. Not because they couldn’t but because they wouldn’t. Why should we take it out on Jonathan?

The real danger that emanated from the Jonathan camp really had to do with the people around the acting president and their general attitude especially as he inched closer to becoming president. They became boisterous, loud, unguarded, arrogant and menacing. A big irony unfolded here, while the pro-Jonathan (they prefer to be called pro-constitution) elements were accusing a “cabal” in the Yar’adua camp of working against the national interest, they were themselves gradually metamorphosing into another “cabal” working to actualize an interest that was at best unclear.

This is the second point of convergence between ailing or convalescing President Yar’adua; and a naïve or deceptive Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. The first point of convergence of course is that on average, they are both adjudged to be good men. Both, it seems, are being systematically destroyed by the people that are either very close to them, or those that pretend to be so. If you take Yar’adua for example, most of the odium he surfers is a throwback from the terrible public image that two of his aides, Economic Adviser Tanimu Yakubu and Agriculture Minister Abba Sayyadi Ruma project. And if their public posturing is terrible, their competencies in the task they are assigned is even worse; neither of them has been able to produce a convincing performance in his assigned task.

And for Jonathan there is Dora; the rabble rousing minister of information and communication is hardly a credit to Jonathan’s perceived simplicity of style. Somewhere along the line a Christian group that go by the name of Northern Christian Elders Group (of which the Chairman of Jonathan’s consultative group, T. Y. Danjuma is a member) rose from a meeting and dealt another wicked blow to Jonathan’s cause by claiming to be his defenders; not to be outdone a northern Muslim group (which should be in the trenches fighting against the scourge of child abuse in the name of Islam) dealt its own bad card on Yar’adua.

(To be continued)

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