Leadership (Abuja)

30 January 2013

Nigeria: Rethinking Jonathan, Sambo Frosty Relationship

Recently, the media was awash with reports of a seeming disaffection between President Goodluck Jonathan and his deputy, Vice President Namadi Sambo, over the latter's purported plot to unseat his boss in the 2015 presidential poll. In this piece, GEORGE AGBA examines reports against the goings-on in Aso Rock presidential villa and attempts to establish the veracity or otherwise of the claim

Nothing in Aso Rock presidential villa suggests that there is a cold war brewing between President Goodluck Jonathan and his deputy, Vice President Namadi Sambo as portrayed in the media of recent. It has become a trend in Nigeria's political terrain for politicians to cry wolf where there is none. Since it was reported that the crisis of confidence between the president and vice president was getting worse, this diary has been snooping around just to lay hands on a clue, which would confirm this seeming rift, but nothing in the least of activities has been able to prove the veracity of such a claim.

There had been numerous dimensions to the reports of a purported disaffection between Jonathan and Sambo. First, it was rumoured that the frosty relationship between the duo came to the fore last December when Jonathan was in his home town in Bayelsa attending his brother's burial, while Sambo was in Kaduna for marriage ceremony of his two daughters, Aisha and Huwaila.

For the rumour mill, it was baffling that the president fixed his brother's burial on the same day his deputy had earlier picked for the wedding of his two daughters.

It was curious though, but in a shrill attempt to make politics out of the two events, they mill went further to insinuate that Jonathan knew about the wedding which Sambo had fixed for that particular day and even received the invitation before his brother died on November 20, 2012. The First lady was also billed to play mother of the day role at the wedding, according to an online report.

A reliable source at the presidency told LEADERSHIP that the decision to proceed with the wedding was an agreement reached between the vice president and his boss. "When the vice president approached the president and announced his intention to postpone the marriage ceremony of his two daughters, the president, knowing the implication of shifting what many invitees had already made special plans for, encouraged his vice to go ahead with already planned event. It is ridiculous for anyone to imagine that President Jonathan and Vice President Sambo would be working at cross purposes, with little or no communication at all", the source who preferred not to be mentioned said.

Perhaps, it could be that the reports are the usual wishful lust among the country's political circle for an unpleasant history to repeat itself. They may have thought it wise that a replay of the crisis between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, which culminated in series of legal battles, could leverage the equation to their own advantage ahead of 2015. About two years to the next general polls, political heavy weights are already warming up themselves, aligning and realigning in the best possible way they can to fish for public offices.

Propaganda is one important tool that cannot be ignored in the country's political gymnastics.

Another dimension to the alleged frosty relationship between President Jonathan and his deputy is the visit of Obasanjo to Kaduna last December to commiserate with the family and government of the state over the death late Governor Patrick Yakowa who died in a helicopter crash alongside forme National Security Adviser, late Andrew Azazi. It was reported that Jonathan received security reports that "Obasanjo's v isit was a decoy to achieve another objective: mobilize influential traditional rulers in the state against the alleged second term ambition of the president and canvass support for the return of power to the North". Jonathan was said to be mad over the alleged manner in which Sambo facilitated "the meeting between Obasanjo and traditional rulers without taking his boss into confidence".

The high point of purported disaffection between Jonathan and Sambo is reportedly an official communication gap, which has compelled the vice president to tell governors and other top public officers to channel their correspondence to direct certain letters meant for him on issue that he should superintend directly to the president, rather than bringing such issues to him for onward transmission to the president. "The VP has learnt to do this because his advice or recommendations on issues are largely treated with suspicion, kept in view or totally ignored", a national daily (not LEADERSHIP) had quoted a presidency source.

It was further reported that the sharp division in the presidency between the two major political figures has also stopped the vice president from speaking directly with friends, associates and some Northern leaders on the telephone after some state agents loyal to him hinted that sophisticated monitoring equipment have been brought into the country and deployed within security and political circles. "The VP will rather hold face to face discussions with his own people these days than having telephone conversations that can be twisted and misrepresented by overzealous security agents", another source at the presidency was quoted in the said report.

The vice president's men have since come out to dispel the rumour of an on-going rift between their principal and the president. Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media, Alhaji Umar Sani argued that, while the news making the rounds of a frosty relationship between President Jonathan and his boss were the handiwork of some mischief makers, the relationship between the duo was quite cordial and to say they are in good terms was to say the least in the, mildest way.

An aide to the president who preferred anonymity on the ground that he was not a spokesperson also faulted the report on Obasanjo's visit to Kaduna, saying Jonathan was aware of the visit. "Whoever is saying that the president was not aware of Obasanjo's visit to the state is lying. The former president travelled on a presidential jet. I am sure you know that those in charge of presidential jets could not have released one of them to Obasanjo without the president's approval. It is also important to note that the president has not complained about this issue. That news report was based on falsehood", he stated.

The reports on the bad blood running between the president and his Vice is another political rhyme that cast a spell in the eyes of even the layman. Believing such a story is like taking the cock and bull tale seriously. There is nothing in recent times that suggest any crack in the presidency. The powers delegated to Sambo by the president have been exercised even up to last Monday when he commissioned the National Staff Hospital in Abuja donated by the Chinese government. Last Saturday, he was at a project management meeting with stakeholders in the power sector where he warned sternly that the contractors handling projects under the Integrated Power Project (NIPP) must expedite their work to meet the December deadline. Last Friday, a day before, Sambo also chaired a meeting of the police fund committee in his office at the presidential villa in which he made a case for his boss, saying President Jonathan was committed to changing g the fortunes of all security agencies in the country, particularly the Police force.

Besides, Obasanjo does not appear to be a past leader who is in any position to effect the changes that the said reports claim. He has no moral standing to decide who runs for a second term or not after what the North consider as betrayal on his part during the People's Democratic Party (PDP) zoning crisis. And If Jonathan is considering a second term, it will be on constitutional grounds, which Sambo does not look like one who will be ready to come out to contest against. Even if another person from the North presents himself for the country's number one seat, he cannot make Sambo the vice president. So what would have been in Obasanjo's alleged mission that will benefit Sambo? The truth remains that since the report on the seeming rift between Jonathan and his deputy flooded the media, there had been nothing in it that adds up to making it a pleasant reality for the wishful thinkers.

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