29 June 2012

Nigeria: Turbo Charging - Is Jonathan Reviving His Presidency?


With an image disfigured by the Islamic Boko Haram insurgency and emissions of corruption all around the different arms of government, President Goodluck Jonathan has in the last week sought to rebuild the kind of goodwill that shadowed his emergence. Will it work?

The first action was the sack of his two top security chiefs, Gen. Andrew Azazi as National Security Adviser, NSA and Dr. Haliru Bello as Minister of Defence.

Following the dismissal of the duo last Friday, the President on Tuesday frontally confronted the specter of corruption in the petroleum sector with the sack of the management team of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.

Indications are that the President is determined to further burnish the poor image of his administration with further changes in the coming weeks.

Remarkably, the sack of the security chiefs came at a time when most Nigerians had given up on an unambiguous response from the administration to the repeated security incidents that have marked the life of the administration. The actions of the President in the week leading to the sack of Azazi and Bello did not betray what was what to happen last Friday.

Indeed, his decision to go ahead with his trip to Brazil for the United Nations Earth Summit in the wake of multiple security incidents in Yobe and Kaduna States penultimate Tuesday, was in the opinion of many Nigerians a demonstration of President Jonathan's low concern for the state of insecurity in the land.

If not, then, that of his satisfaction with the performance of Azazi and Bello in handling the insurgency. But returning from his Brazil trip the President fired the duo of Azazi and Bello for reportedly measuring poorly in their assignments. If anything, the President may also have been moved by the unprecedented outpouring of public condemnation against his administration.

Not only was he accused of being insensitive, he was also portrayed as preferring the international limelight to sitting down to solve the problems at home. It was such that even strong political associates of the President normally defensive of him found it difficult putting a defence on the Brazilian trip.

Azazi's perceived poor performance and subsequent sack was largely unexpected. But given the shape and structure of the intelligence service he led, not really surprising.

Azazi by almost all accounts has about the best training in intelligence services in the country, having risen through the ranks to the peak of the intelligence branch in the Nigerian Army. His training and experience should have given him proper direction in resolving the problems raised by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Besides, Jonathan's near filial relationship with Azazi gave him a measure of security in the corridors of power.

However, the widespread breakdown of security in many parts of the North meant that the duo of Azazi and Bello had their hands full in containing the insurgency against the church in Northern Nigeria and the security institutions.

The response of the security system was not only jumbled, but sometimes smacked of lack of professionalism. It showed few months ago when Azazi at a summit of South-South political leaders blamed the crisis on the zoning policy in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

But beneath the veneer of professional incompetence attributed to Azazi are insinuations of complications in the power structure and other issues that may have hindered his effectiveness. By shoving Azazi, one of his most trusted loyalists from his Ijaw home base, aside, the President demonstrated his determination to leave no stone unturned in his efforts in checking the insecurity situation in the land.

That fact is reinforced by the appointment of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) as the new NSA. Dasuki, a scion of the Caliphate is a son of the former Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki and was also Aide-de-Camp to General Ibrahim Babangida, the country's former Military President.

Dasuki could as such be well positioned to mobilize the northern establishment in the war to bring the insurgency to its knees. Besides, Dasuki being a confidant of General Babangida could also establish a link between the administration and the former Military Head of State who could also bring his military and political experience to bear in stabilizing the polity.

Babangida and the Jonathan administration have had a bitter-love relationship before the 2011 PDP presidential primaries. Remarkably, the sacked Minister of Defence, Bello is also known in political circles to be a Babangida man. It is thus noteworthy that the sacking of one Babangida man is made up with the coming of another Babaginda man.

The changes in the NNPC are reportedly the President's own attempt to put the administration in front of the campaign against graft. The NNPC came in for serious blame in the report of the House of Representatives investigations of the utilization of the subsidy regime in the procurement of petroleum products.

Though that report has now been seriously tainted by the evolving scandal around the Farouk Lawan led probe, Dr. Jonathan's effort last Tuesday in relieving the top management of the NNPC of their jobs may show the President's determination to set himself on the correct side of popular opinion.

While there are agitations for the President to do a sweeping change of the cabinet and his advisers, it is doubtful that the President would go the whole hog given the successes scored in certain sectors like agriculture, power, labour, and the cordiality with the legislature.

But on the streets the opinion is that the changes may only be part of what is expected to put the presidency on the correct path. The people apparently want many more changes.

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