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Nigeria president exerts authority in power struggle

Staff Reporter

Nigeria President Umaru Yar'Adua lost no time in exerting his authority after he returned from hospital abroad by axing a top aide.

Nigeria President Umaru Yar’Adua lost no time in exerting his authority after he returned from hospital abroad, axing a top aide who analysts said was positioning himself for a leadership challenge.

The president brushed aside rumours of ill health and sacked former right-hand man Baba Gana Kingibe within hours of resuming work on Monday after more than two weeks in Saudi Arabia, which included a lengthy stay in hospital.

The experienced Kingibe was the running mate of the presumed winner of aborted 1993 elections, Moshood Abiola, and analysts say his ambitions have resurfaced as Yar’Adua’s own future is increasingly in doubt.

Government officials admit the power struggle has been simmering since Kingibe was appointed to the crucial post of secretary to the federal government last year.

“For quite some time the president has been worried about Kingibe’s performance ... his removal was long overdue,” a senior presidential aide said.

“Besides, his sincerity and loyalty to the government has been in doubt and the president felt to keep him in that position could be counter-productive,” said the aide, on condition of anonymity.

Commentators say Kingibe, seen as a more experienced political hand than his boss, was increasingly finding it hard to keep his own personal ambitions subordinate to his responsibilities under Yar’Adua.

“Kingibe under Yar’Adua is like a lion serving under the government of a horse,” said civil rights activist and playwright Shehu Sani, referring to criticism that the president lacks dynamism.

“Kingibe found it difficult to act as subordinate” to a president whose own election in May last year still faces legal challenges from his rivals in the Supreme Court.

Now 63 and described by the Sun daily as an “astute tactician”, Kingibe ditched Abiola to accept an important Foreign Ministry post under military ruler Sani Abacha, who seized power in November 1993.

His move was seen to have quashed any attempt to have the 1993 election validated.

Ambitious man
Kingibe, who has also served as Nigeria’s ambassador to Greece and Pakistan and the African Union special envoy on Darfur, as well as holding a string of other important posts in various governments, has never “taken his eyes off the presidency”, in the words of the ThisDay daily paper.

“Mr Kingibe at one point was very ambitious about becoming the president of Nigeria. This is the history of a very ambitious man, a man who is hungry for a piece of cake in government,” said rights lawyer and social commentator Festus Keyamo.

Amidst forecasts that Yar’Adua may not stand for re-election in the event that his disputed 2007 election is annulled by the courts, analysts said Kingibe, a former intelligence officer, has stepped up his preparations to take the top job.

Some Nigerian papers are linking Kingibe to leaks about Yar’Adua’s failing health when he went on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Two days after his return from Jeddah, Yar’Adua decided it was time to send him packing.

“It’s a battle of succession within the house and the president foresees a great danger ahead,” said Osita Okechukwu, spokesperson for the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), an opposition umbrella group.

“Kingibe is an anti-democrat whose appointment in the first place was poor judgement on the part Yar’Adua,” Okechukwu charged. “He took a bit of a risk in appointing this kind of a person into the heart of government.”

Appearing unperturbed by his dismissal, Kingibe handed over the reins to his successor on Tuesday, saying “God’s appointed time will come for everyone to leave office. Time for me is now.”—AFP

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