By Yusuf Alli:

Ahead of the reconstitution of the dissolved Federal Executive Council (FEC) there are indications that President Umaru Yar’Adua’s loyalists are demanding from Acting President Goodluck Jonathan that seven key ministries be manned by their nominees.

The demand is informed by fears that the new cabinet may be prevailed upon to declare President Yar’Adua incapacitated.

The Yar’Adua loyalists, The Nation learnt, believe that the presence of ministers in the cabinet sympathetic to the President may forestall any such move.

Similar fears of reducing President Yar’Adua’s influence were raised yesterday by a prominent Northern politician Alhaji Tanko Yakassai. In a statement, Yakassai said that the dissolution of the FEC was one in “the series of desperate measures being slated by those who are intent in demeaning the constitution and grabbing total power in an unlawful way.”

Our correspondent learnt that the portfolios being asked for by the Yar’Adua loyalists are Aviation, Power, Works, FCT, Finance, Transport, Agriculture and Water resources. Some loyalists of Yar’Adua in the Senate met with a principal officer of the upper chamber on Friday night on their demands, which they said should be conveyed to Jonathan.

But the principal officer did not give any commitment.

A source said: “These demands will also be presented to the Acting President by loyalists of the President. They are asking for these portfolios as steps towards confidence-building process if only the Presidency is one as being claimed by the Acting President. The choice of ministers is however the prerogative of the Acting President. So, it is beyond what any group can decree.”

In his statement yesterday, Yakassai argued that President Yar’Adua remains in office since he ‘has neither resigned nor has he been removed from power.

Yet, these desperate individuals are acting as if Nigeria has no constitution or an Executive President in office. Their second power manoeuvre will be the change of the command leadership of the nation’s armed forces, and possibly too, the security and intelligence establishment, as a pre-condition for the final attainment of total but illegal power,” he said.

Yakassi said the 2010 budget was drawn up with key inputs from the ministers who defended their various ministries’ estimates. Yet, the acting president, he said, expects new ministers who are unfamiliar with the current budgetary estimates and provisions to master same and implement them assiduously and efficiently within the short time left for the present administration to function.”

He accused Jonathan of pursuing a ‘narrow, sectional agenda.’

However, leader of the Save Nigeria Group, SNG in Europe, Dr Kayode Ogundamisi speaking with our correspondent from London, condemned what he described as the ‘plot against pluralism, democracy and the good people of Nigeria.’ He said those opposed to Jonathan are largely the “criminal gangs bent on keeping Nigeria permanently in the red light district of global affairs.”

He accused the pro-Yar Adua groups of ‘fighting for their selfish interests and to ensure Nigeria remains an impoverished nation that lacks respect in the comity of nations.’

He also condemned the zonal arrangement for the presidency of the country saying it was a “parochial PDP affair.” He said Nigerians are ready to support any candidate that ‘shows genuine interest to address the groveling poverty in the country, corruption, assassinations and the impoverishment of the country by its leaders.’

Meanwhile, fresh facts emerged yesterday that Jonathan may not reduce the cabinet structure from 42 to 30 as being recommended by some people, including some members of the Presidential Advisory Committee, (PAC).

The last 42-member cabinet was made up of nominees from 36 states and six ministers representing each of the nation’s geopolitical zones.

A highly-placed source, who spoke in confidence, said: “No matter the situation, Jonathan cannot tamper with the cabinet structure beyond 36 members. It is a constitutional requirement that every state must be represented in the cabinet.

“So, those who are calling for a sizeable cabinet are ignorant of the constitution. Go and read Sections 14 and 147 of the 1999 Constitution. I know that the Acting President will not want to breach the constitution.

He said if there is any reason to prune the cabinet, only the six slots for geopolitical zones can be removed. But it will not be politically expedient for the Acting President to do so.

Section 14(3) says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and to promote national unity…”

Section 147 (1 and 3) says: “There shall be such offices of ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.

“Any appointment under subsection(2) of this section by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of Section 14(3) of this Constitution, provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid, the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state.”

But there indications that some governors are alreading kicking against some immediate ex-ministers following pressure on Jonathan by Governor Danjuma Goje to nominate a candidate.

“The governor of a state in the North East is said to be uncomfortable with the re-nomination of a former ex-Minister from his State who was considered to be independent-minded while in the cabinet. The governor also thinks that she is not loyal to him.

Although the party members at the state and local government levels are okay with her, the governor wants a new nominee and Jonathan might concede to him as long as the candidate is credible.

“But Jonathan, who has worked with the ex-Minister in the cabinet, is also persuaded by her hard work especially reforms at a parastatal in her ministry.

To break the tie, the Acting President is being lobbied to allow Dukku to represent the North-East in the new cabinet.

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