Once derided for his hesitancy in using the instrument of state to protect his political interests, President Goodluck Jonathan may now have bared his fangs as he moves to consolidate his hold on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the polity. His challengers are scampering for shelter.
Few of the men gathered in the presidential villa that evening had seen President Goodluck Jonathan as feisty and determined as he was last Sunday. A man that had been taken by some as a weakling was before the 18 or so governors gathered in the room showing a strong hand that many had not envisaged.
By one account, the president was alleged to have sworn that he would never be humiliated out of office by the Nigerian Governors Forum and its chairman, Rotimi Amaechi.
Before now, close associates of the president like his now controversial Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, had played the game of hitting Amaechi. But Orubebe's efforts had not made any success as he was easily dismissed on account of the failed repair of the East West road, which crisscrosses the Niger Delta.
But last Sunday with few party chieftains like the National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur at hand, President Jonathan moved to divide the ranks of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF a body that had turned into a major opposition body to not just his government, but also his seeming quest for a second term.
The president, himself a former governor, was not oblivious of the power and influence of the governors. About 23 months ago at the final rally of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential campaign at the Eagles Square in Abuja, Jonathan had described the governors as the Field Marshals of the party, upon whom victory or otherwise in a presidential contest rest upon.
Perhaps in recognition of the powers of the governors, President Jonathan had conceded to them in nearly all political engagements. He stopped the e-registration of party members because of the governors, closed his eyes when Okwesileze Nwodo who he brought in as national chairman was eased out, turned the other way when several senators who pushed for his enthronement as Acting President were refused re-election tickets by the governors, and also, allowed the governors to produce all but one member of the 12-member National Working Committee, NWC of the party. The president's only proxy in the NWC is the now embattled national chairman, Tukur, who the governors led by Amaechi were as at last Sunday craving to push out.
As such, President Jonathan had every reason to express concern as the clouds began to gather around his political future. The governors were his major nemesis. Remarkably, many of the governors were also forming linkages with another powerful one-time benefactor of the president now turned into an enemy: Olusegun Obasanjo.
Before the 2011 primaries and in the heat of the crisis that trailed the Umaru Yar'adua presidency, nearly all the governors at that time had been united in opposing Jonathan's emergence as acting president. But faced with the 'Hand of God,' the governors accepted the inevitable. Remarkably, the champions against his emergence at that time are today practically licking dust.
James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State is in jail abroad, Timipire Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa State is out of power and fighting prosecution by anti-graft agencies, and Bukola Saraki, a former chairman of the influential NGF, is under the shadows of anti-graft agencies for alleged offences committed while in office. It is the kind of stealthy use of power that few have given Dr. Jonathan credence.
Last Sunday, the president literarily forced those among the governors and others outside to take notice that he would not just use his powers stealthily, but also overtly when and where the need arises.
The president's determination to weaken the opposition it was learnt, was essentially focused on two of his main opponents: the NGF and the Obasanjo tendency in the party. While Obasanjo had found it not a too difficult task forging an alliance with some northern governors, doing the same with southern governors had proved Herculean. It was especially difficult with Amaechi, the embattled chairman of the NGF. Obasanjo's problem with Amaechi had to do with the latter's bluntness in his relationships.
Amaechi it is alleged has a predilection for blunt speaking irrespective of whose ox is gored. It is a character trait that some of his associates allege may have led him to his problems with the president.
The Rivers State governor it is equally claimed, has consistently rebuffed peace gestures from Obasanjo finding it difficult to forget the hostility of the former president which culminated in him, Amaechi, fleeing the country in the twilight of the Obasanjo era. So where the two principal opponents of the incumbent president could have joined hands to fight a common 'enemy', the ill-feelings of the past created a divide that allowed the president to move in to decisively crush the opposition.
The presidency had started by disrobing Obasanjo of his political architecture in the Southwest two weeks ago with the dismissal of Obasanjo's men in the NWC and in the Southwest executive of the party.
Bode Mustapha, who is generally known as Obasanjo's Man Friday was sacked by the PDP leadership as national auditor using as excuse, the court judgment which annulled the 2011 Oshogbo zonal congress where the Southwest delegates to the national convention were chosen.
But the Obasanjo camp was quick to respond that the party's action was selective as it alleged that applying the court judgment would have meant that all those elected at the national convention including Tukur should have stepped out of office as they were elected by illegal delegates.
Following the action on Obasanjo, the presidency launched a frontal war against the NGF. Presidency officials at the highest levels were alleged to have routinely called up governors all through last weekend on the need to remove Amaechi from office.
In some cases, audiovisual recordings of Amaechi were played to some governors who were told that Amaechi was determined to remove the president and that they must divorce themselves from the alleged plot by opposing Amaechi's return as chairman of the NGF. Apparently determined to call the president's bluff, the Amaechi supporters in the NGF pushed for a quick election to reaffirm their clout in the polity.
It was an invitation that the presidency took up and the election fixed for last Monday. Its first move was to break the ranks of the NGF by the creation of a new group, the PDP Governors Forum at last Sunday's meeting with the party's governors. Remarkably, Tukur announced Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State as the chairman of the new forum even without a say by the governors. Akpabio is generally regarded as one of the strongest loyalists of the president among the governors.
Newly created forum
Other loyalists include Ibrahim Shema of Katsina, Theodore Orji of Abia, Gabriel Suswam of Benue, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi.
The next day which was scheduled for the NGF election, Akpabio made the first move on behalf of Jonathan when he invited members of his newly created forum for a meeting prior to the NGF election at the Akwa Ibom Governor's Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja.
At that meeting it was alleged that Governor Shema, another Jonathan loyalist was adopted as the PDP Governors' Forum choice as the next chairman of the NGF. From the Akwa Ibom governor's lodge, the PDP governors proceeded to the Rivers State Governor's lodge for the election which was to involve the nation's 36 governors.
As the meeting commenced, Governor Babangida Aliyu, who was absent at the two meetings at the villa on Sunday and Monday afternoon hosted by Akpabio, questioned the rationale for the creation of the PDP-GF in the continued presence of the NGF. He was immediately challenged by Akpabio leading to a shouting match among the duo that almost broke up the meeting as many of the governors immediately started packing their things to abandon the meeting.
But once reason prevailed on the combative duo, the meeting returned to order. Remarkably, the persuasion and pressures from the presidency had whittled support from Amaechi, but not sufficient to enthrone Shema. So not surprisingly the governors resolved to postpone the evil day till May.
Derobing Obasanjo: The presidency was still unfinished that Monday. Later that night, the unfinished agenda of derobing Obasanjo was completed at a scheduled meeting of the BOT where a report on restructuring the membership of the advisory body was presented to the president at the villa.
Following Obasanjo's resignation as chairman of the BOT last year, the contest for the chairmanship of the body had turned to a proxy war between him and Jonathan. Obasanjo it is alleged, was strongly opposed to the emergence of Jonathan's favourite, Tony Anenih as his replacement. A former chairman of the BOT, Anenih was displaced from the position in 2007 by Obasanjo and since then both men had played cat and mouse in the politics of the PDP.
Not surprisingly in the dying days of the Yar'Adua presidency, while Obasanjo strongly supported Jonathan's emergence as acting president, Anenih reportedly was in cahoots with the governors in opposing Jonathan. But Anenih, however, to the discomfort of Obasanjo subsequently moved in to take command of the Amen Corner of the Jonathan camp.
The opportunity to derobe Obasanjo came in the early hours of yesterday after the report articulated by a former secretary of the BOT, Prof. Jerry Gana on restructuring membership of the BOT was submitted.
The report it was learnt, recommended the excision of members of the BOT who had in the past shifted loyalties to other parties. It is a recommendation that further strengthens the hands of the president on the party as it removes some of his potential rivals such as Atiku Abubakar, Ghali Na'Abba from membership of the body.
Following the submission of the report, one of the members present, perhaps in a choreographed submission said that the vacancy in the chairmanship should be filled and Anenih was nominated and unanimously adopted. Fixing Jonathan's future was back fully on course.