By Chinelo Onwualu:

Our acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, had his hands full this past week, and mostly, it had to do with the appointment of his new ministerial cabinet.

As a man who hardly talks, Mr. Jonathan has left the nation to divine his vision from the half a dozen speeches he has made so far — and the list of appointees he last week submitted to the Senate.

The emerging picture is congealing around there major preoccupations that will define the Jonathan presidency: electoral reform, curbing corruption, and stability in the Niger Delta. In the meantime, however, Mr. Jonathan must manoeuvre around a cabal determined to consolidate power.

Lobbying, Inc

As a sampler for his new routine, the State House was last week turned into a virtual gubernatorial bee hive; a veritable lobbying scene.

The presidency was witnessing the presence of more visiting governors in a week than at any other time in the fading presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua and the emerging dispensation of Goodluck Jonathan.

“This is the most I have seen here except on the traditional National Executive Council meeting days,” a State House reporter remarked as the train of governors went past in their billowing robes, with anxious aides trailing behind, all quietly concealing their main agenda of ensuring that the names of their ministerial nominees remain on the shaky rails of Nigeria’s real politick.

Although the governors kept a straight face, advertising pressing domestic state agenda as their reasons for the visits, Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State summarised the attraction for these visits: “We were consulted. The governors were consulted, and if you are consulted, then you give your input,” he said, speaking to the new reality at our nation’s seat of power.

Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State had set a record in beating the gun, calling in early on Monday and claiming he had come to see the acting president on the security issue in his state. Following in tow was the Nassarawa State governor, Aliyu Akwedoma, and on Tuesday four of the five south east governors (Peter Obi of Anambra, Chime Sullivan of Enugu, Theodore Orji of Abia, and Mr. Ohakim of Imo) knocked on Mr. Jonathan’s door with three concerns bordering on security, erosion and the construction of a new Niger Bridge. Following in their path were Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Gbenga Daniel of Ogun and Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun.

By Wednesday it had become a gubernatorial jam, as more governors poured in from Kaduna, Ebonyi and Gombe States. Plateau’s sent in his deputy, rounding up the crowded week for Mr. Jonathan. The only absent faces were Cross River State’s Liyel Imoke, who is still recuperating from an auto crash he had on his way from the Obudu Cattle ranch, and the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola.

Moving past the Yar’Adua cabal

Since President Yar’Adua’s absence from public view four months ago, a shadowy group has made strategic moves to keep his true health status secret -– even to the point of flying him into the country in the dead of night, to keep news cameras at bay.

Now gradually finding his voice, Mr. Jonathan appeared to have given the Yar’Adua inner clique its first shocker punch by way of the ministerial nominations he despatched to the Senate last week, and which is expected to secure clearance from Monday.

In what is widely seen as Mr. Jonathan’s blow to this cadre, his new ministerial cabinet includes the ailing president’s nephew Murtala Yar’Adua. With this, the acting president, apparently, dug into the family politics of the larger Yar’Adua family, according to close family and presidency sources, and this has thrown the cabal into confusion.

Last Wednesday, a delegation reportedly organised by Turai Yar’Adua, our First Lady, was dispatched to the younger Yar’Adua to persuade him to refuse the nomination. However, signs have emerged that the ailing president’s nephew is set to accept whatever placement he is given.

Associates of the younger Yar’Adua say he is dogged in his decision to accept the nomination if he scales through senatorial screening, a fact that has brought serious embarrassment to the family of the ailing president.

Setting the Jonathan vision

As far as settling the priority of rearranging the presidency and ultimately defining the power perimeters at the state house, Mr. Jonathan’s ministerial nominations offered a healthy hint that he has outflanked his opposition in the power matrix.

Bernard Mikko, former federal legislator representing Rivers State, warned against expecting a major vision plunge from Mr. Jonathan, saying his role in history is no more than a salvation factor from a truncated Yar’Adua vision.

“Given the challenges confronting him, he has no alternative than to quickly prune down on the Yar’Adua seven-point agenda, and focus on the urgent national priorities like electoral reform, power sector emergency, and anti-corruption,” Mr. Mikko said, stressing that “time is the major enemy of Mr. Jonathan and his priorities.”

Mr. Mikko rejected the excitement of designing a presidential vision from a cabinet list, but suggested that what emerges from the Jonathan ministerial nomination is the desire to design a synergy out of the polarisation he inherited from the Yar’Adua cabinet.

Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Senator from Cross River State and vice chairman of the Senates’s judiciary committee, is also hesitant to read too much, and so early, into the Yar’Adua list, saying, “I have not seen the resumes of the cabinet nominees. So, I will not be able to draw any conclusion of what to expect from the government yet.”

His colleague, Seriake Dickson, House Chairman of the Justice and Human Rights committee, was more interested in the composition of the cabinet.

“On the composition of the cabinet, I am aware that it is the result of extensive consultations,” Mr. Dickson said, adding, “I believe that they are capable of delivering the goods.”

Same ‘ol, same ‘ol

There are many, though, who do not expect much. Activist scholar, Festus Iyayi, who was a former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, said, “The fact you must understand is that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government was not put in place by the majority of Nigerians as already admitted by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua himself, because the 2007 election was rigged. So, bearing this fact in mind, you cannot really expect so much from the government.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Iyayi, a professor of business studies, said Mr. Jonathan “should concentrate on revitalising education and energy as foremost areas of concern, as well as address the problem of Niger Delta within the context of energy and work, to ensure the provision of infrastructure in the country.” According to him, “If we get education and energy right, all other things will follow, and that he should concentrate on just two or three agenda instead of wasting time on a long list of seven-point agenda that cannot be achieved.”

In sync with popular opinion

However, there are indications that Mr. Jonathan is paying attention to critics. In his first speech to the nation, he decried the lack of security in the Niger Delta.

He has restarted the stalled amnesty talks with local militants, and resumed the dredging of the lower Niger River. In the budget for 2010 passed Thursday night, the capital expenditure for the Niger Delta Ministry was ₦91 billion, almost twice the allocation in last year’s budget.

Mr. Jonathan has also been preoccupied with cleaning up what is regarded in the international community as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. The acting president has met with the chairwoman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Farida Waziri, on several occasions in the past two weeks, reportedly instructing her to take a tougher stance on corruption. Media sources also report that some of the ministers ousted last Wednesday may be invited by the EFCC to account for their actions while in office.

Finally, in what may be his most aggressive action against graft, the acting president is said to be in talks with former EFCC chairman Nuhu Ribadu, to recruit him as his anti-corruption advisor.

Mr. Jonathan’s actions have also reflected a commitment to electoral reforms. All indications point to the fact that our acting president is shopping for a replacement for current Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Maurice Iwu.

Therefore, regardless of whatever valid criticism can be levelled against Acting President Jonathan’s choice of cabinet members, a close analysis of the list indicates that he may be poised to make as much progress on his core issues as his limited time in office will allow.

Elizabeth Archibong and Sebastine Ebhuomhan contributed to this story.

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