Nigeria power transfer 'is needed political tonic'

The transfer of power to Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s acting president in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua is the tonic needed to revive governance in the key oil producer, analysts say.

Opposition leaders had said that the power vacuum since Yar’Adua (58) began his treatment for an acute heart ailment in a Saudi Arabian hospital on November 23 meant that crucial business had gone untended.

On Tuesday, the two houses of the National Assembly voted to transfer full presidential powers to Jonathan (52) pending Yar’Adua being well enough to resume work.

The Parliament’s controversial resolution was endorsed by the Cabinet the following day as ministers pledged their support for their new boss.

“The resolution and its endorsement by Nigeria’s key institution effectively ends the crisis around President Umaru Yar’Adua’s extended absence,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst from the US-based Eurasia Group.

He said crucial government decisions that had been stalled due to the long absence of Yar’Adua will now be attended to by Jonathan.

“It will likely lead to the passage of the ... Petroleum Industry Bill [PIB] in the coming weeks ... boost the ongoing Niger Delta peace process in the short-term and further consolidate the recent up-tick in Nigerian oil production and export,” he said.

Spio-Garbrah said if passed into law, the PIB, which is still before Parliament, will significantly tighten Nigeria’s fiscal regime for the energy sector, but will also make it one of the least investor-friendly in the world.

“With Jonathan now in charge, several pending state matters like the 2010 budget, the amnesty programme, the oil sector and electoral reforms will be given attention,” Debo Adeniran, leader of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, told Agence France-Presse.

But he warned that Jonathan would need a “strong political will” to enable him to tackle Nigeria’s many socio-political and economic problems.

“He must be ready to take decisions without considering whose ox is gored,” he added.

Flexing his muscles
In his first meeting with the Yar’Adua-appointed ministers on Wednesday, Jonathan flexed his muscles when he redeployed controversial Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa to the obscure Special Duties Ministry.

Doubts have risen over the past few weeks on the sustainability of the fragile Niger Delta peace as militants resumed their violent attacks on the country’s oil industry after a lull following a government amnesty programme.

Key crude supply pipelines operated by Anglo-Dutch oil group Shell have been attacked in recent weeks.

At the peak of violence last year, Nigeria’s daily oil output was down by one-third, from an average of 2,6-million barrels per day in the beginning of 2006.

The main armed militant group in the oil belt, Mend, last month called off its three-month-old unilateral ceasefire, blaming the move on lack of progress in the peace process due to Yar’Adua’s absence.

Labour and rights activist Dele Dada said Nigerians should be happy at the advent of a new leader.

“Nigerians should be excited that after almost three months of political, logjam the right thing has been done at last,” he said, referring to the political turmoil caused by Yar’Adua’s absence.

Constitutional lawyer Festus Keyamo said “the good news is that there is no more leadership vacuum in Nigeria even though the process through which Jonathan took over was constitutionally flawed”.

He said the Senate was wrong to have used an interview Yar’Adua granted the BBC on January 12 as the basis for its resolution to make Jonathan the acting president.

Parliament said it had been left with no choice but to substitute the interview for a formal notification of Yar’Adua’s medical vacation.

University of Ibadan political science expert Bayo Okunade said that the power transition offered a way out of the impasse, although it came late.

“What happened on Tuesday at the National Assembly was borne out of political expediency ...
a face-saving measure in the circumstance because we ought to have moved much earlier to enable the vice-president to assume full presidential powers,” he said.—Sapa

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