Thursday, February 11, 2010

Aondoakaa demoted

Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, sat for the first time on the seat of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in the council chamber yesterday.

He carried out a minor cabinet reshuffle which saw the controversial Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa (SAN), redeployed to the Special Duties ministry.

No reason was given for Aondoakaa's demotion from the high-profile Attorney-General position to the Special Duties Ministry.

In a brief announcement that was said to have taken everyone present at the weekly meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) by surprise, Jonathan was said to have dropped the bombshell just before the closing prayers were said.

"Aondoakaa looked like a battered man," a minister told THISDAY.

To replace him is Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), who was the Minister of Labour and Productivity until yesterday. He was the first Minister of Culture and Tourism in the Yar'Adua administration. Senator Ibrahim Musa Kazaure was moved from Special Duties to become Minister of Labour and Productivity.

Yesterday's EXCOF meeting was said to have started on a charged note as some ministers who had hoped Jonathan would not be made Acting President were said to be on the edge.

Jonathan became Acting President on Tuesday following resolutions by the two chambers of the National Assembly asking him to fill the vacuum left by Yar'Adua who has been out of the country since November 23 last year for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.

At last week's EXCOF, the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had circulated a memo asking that Jonathan be made Acting President but it was shot down by ministers believed to be loyalists of the President.

This week's meeting was also said to have been kick-started by Akunyili who said she was recognising Jonathan as Acting President and defended her decision to send in a memo, having come under criticism from some ministers for her action.

"She said the council was wrong not to have discussed her memo because in the past, some memos had been discussed the same day they were submitted," another minister told THISDAY. "The interesting thing is that many ministers were too afraid to talk even when they seemed to agree with Akunyili's position. It was only the Minister of State for the Niger Delta, Chief Godsday Orubebe, who said he supported Akunyili's position."

After the lengthy deliberations and a resolution recognising Jonathan as Acting President, Akunyili annou-nced the changes.

To demonstrate the transfer of full presidential powers, Jonathan sat on the presidential seat as he chaired the council meeting, which lasted for over six hours. The meeting saw an unprecedented attendance in recent times as all the ministers were present.

Jonathan still retained his Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Chief Superi-ntendent of Police (CSP) Moses Jitoboh.

According to Presidential protocols, the President and Commander-in-Chief usually has an army officer, usually the rank of Colonel as his ADC.

Akunyili disclosed: "Federal Executive Council accepts the resolution of the National Assembly that the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, becomes an Acting President, Comm-ander-in-Chief.

"Council commends the National Assembly for their action and pledges to support the Acting President in his onerous responsibility of steering the ship of the nation."

Asked why the Acting President had to embark on a cabinet reshuffle in his first day at work, Akunyili replied: "It is the decision of the Acting President to remove people not the decision of the Federal Executive Council. He has the presidential powers to move any of us."

Asked how he felt about his removal as Attorney-General, Aondoaka said: "First, I had a discussion with the Vice-President this morning and he informed me about the changes. I have taken a position and in this life when you take a position and there is a change in the position you allow another person who will have a free atmosphere to defend the new position.

"I think what we did was a collective decision. First he told me, it's a cordial arrangement. Well I am in the government, in the cabinet and I pledge my loyalty to the Vice-President. I'm the Minister of Special Duties. No single action I've taken that I have regretted. Every single action I took was in the interest of this country. No country will say there is a [power] vacuum. No attorney-general worth his salt will go to the pages of papers and say there is a vacuum.

"We have to preserve the executive powers until a leader is selected. A leader has been given by the National Assembly. We have recognised him. Do you reject the job you have been given?"

Asked what would be his approach to his new portfolio, the minister replied: "When I go there the permanent secretary will brief me on what the special duties are and I will do the job."

About 40 policemen had taken over the Ministry of Justice at the Central Area of Abuja, fuelling the speculation that Aondoakaa was about to be sacked while more than 20 armed policemen were at his Apo quarters residence.

As early as 8 a.m. before workers arrived for work, policemen were already at the ministry and denied entrance into the premises even to staff without identification.

The former AGF, however, did not appear in the office as at 12.37pm as he was said to have gone for EXCOF meeting where the decision to redeploy him was taken. At about 2.19 p.m, when the policemen had left the ministry, one of Aondoakaa's personal assistants came into the office but refused to talk to journalists who had laid siege for the minister.

The heavy police presence both in the office and house further fuelled the rumour that police were actually looking for documents needed to prosecute the former AGF. But that rumour diffused into thin air when the news of his redeployment filtered out.

Aondoakaa had personally appeared in all the cases filed by interested persons in the course of Yar'Adua's absence from the country. He always had ready-made answers for journalists on any issues relating to the president's absence.

This Day

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