December 31, 2008

Personalities that shaped the politics of 2008

The outgoing year definitely has its fair share of dramatic political developments of note. Some personalities made this happened and their actions and inactions constitute part of the developments that shaped 2008.

President Umaru Yar’Adua

President Umaru Yar’Adua, by virtue of his position as the number on citizen in the country, remained a major focus in the outgoing year. His high level of political tolerance was exhibited earlier in February when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party was shopping for its national chairman. Yar’Adua was expected by the leadership of the party to back one of the candidates or manipulate the process to get his most favoured candidates elected as PDP chairman. This followed what was believed to be the meddlesomeness of his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, in the affairs of the party. But, Yar’Adua disappointed those who expected this continue when he said he had no candidate other than the one that would emerge from the laid down process.

But the health condition of the President became an issue soon after, when he had to jet out of the country for about 11 days on medical grounds. There were some anxieties when his return date was postponed on two occasions.

The country also witnessed a greater level of anxiety over the President’s health when, in August, he went for the lesser Hajj, but had to stay back for medical attention, leading to his absence from the seat of power for 17 days.

His return from the trip and the escalation in the criticism of his administration led to certain changes in the polity. First, the President sacked the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, and replaced him with Alhaji Yayale Ahmed. Also, the President re-designated the position of Chief of Staff to the President as Principal Secretary. He also commenced the process of a reshuffle in the cabinet.

The cabinet change took so long a time before it was eventually effected last month with the sack of 20 ministers. It took another five weeks before new ones were appointed to fill the vacant position.

The December 12 decision of the Supreme Court which upheld Yar’Adua’s election had also, for weeks, put the President in the middle of the storm.

As the year ends, there are speculations that the President might go for a major holiday, a development which is already raising some concern.

Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo

For former President Olusegun Obasanjo, 2008 proved to be a year that confirmed the truism of transience of power. Obasanjo, who handed over power to Yar’Adua as the third executive President of the country, had thought he would carry on as a chaperon or sort to the President, but he was quickly checkmated early in the year, when his chairmanship of the party’s Board of Trustees was denounced my many leaders of the party. As a matter of fact, the re engineering process in the party, also saw to the recommendation that the clause which was inserted into the PDP constitution in 2006 and which ceded the BOT chairmanship to him, be revisited.

The recommendation, by the Dr. Alex Ekwueme-led reconciliation committee was also endorsed by the National Executive Committee of the party.

Even though Obasanjo still retains the BOT chairmanship, it is apparent that he is doing so because of the fact that no meeting of the board has been conveyed.

Even out of government, Obasanjo continued to be the issue (either for good or bad) in some quarters. The House of Representatives probe of the power sector which indicted some of his men, were seen as a probe of his eight years administration.

His face off with the governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, also provided a major excitement in the politics of the state. Even, despite the fact that Obasanjo’s name is not being mentioned in connection with the attempts to make his loyalists such as former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and his Aviation counterpart, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, account for their deeds in office, many believe that their trial amounts to a look into what transpired under his supervision.

Nuhu Ribadu

A substantial development in the politics of the outgoing year largely had to do with the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. His travails which only a few days ago led to his dismissal from the Nigerian Police, had started early in the year, when he was removed from the chairmanship position of the anti-graft agency.

For most Nigerians, Ribadu remains a hero, having done a lot as EFCC chairman to get a more positive image for the country in the comity of nations with his yeoman’s job on the anti-graft drive.

But, this year was very remarkable for the ‘Super cob’, as his name remained an household one in the country and made a lot of headlines with the various developments that have direct and indirect bearing on his person, and public office.

Adams Oshiomhole

His emergence as the governor of Edo State through the upholding of his election by the election appeal tribunal was perhaps the eight wonder in the country’s polity this year ending.

It was the first time a non-PDP petition won over a PDP sitting governor and set the record for this dispensation as the first governor to be so validated via the judicial process.

Oshiomhole’s resumption as governor of the state on November 12, changed the power equation not only in the state but in the country. Today, he is presiding over a state whose Assembly is peopled by PDP lawmakers, and whose local governments are manned by chairmen elected on the platform of the PDP.

Remarkably, however, Adams’ inauguration has reduced the number of PDP governors to 27 and increased the Action Congress from one to two governorship seats.

In less than two months after assuming power, his case has remained a reference point in the polity.

Justice Umaru Abdullahi

President of the Court of Appeal, Umaru Abdullahi remained a major issue in the polity. His position as the number one official at the Appeal Court has put him in a position to receive all the blames for all the controversial judgement made in respect of some election cases that reached the appellate court.

Apparently realising the enormity of the expectation on him, Abdullahi decided to take charge of the election petition involving Governor Adams Oshiomhole and ex Governor Oserheimen Osunbor, in view of the sensitive nature of the case.

The ruling which was delivered on November 11, also rekindled the confidence of many Nigerians in the electoral process.

James Ibori

Former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, has been in and out of the court room on sundry charges in the outgoing year, after the EFCC effected his arrest late in 2007.

In spite of his travails, he remains so relevant in the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua such that PDP insiders have dubbed him as Yar’Adua’s own “Mr. Fix it”.

He is said to be a major influence in many of the Federal Government’s decisions.

Bukola Saraki

As chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Dr. Bukola Saraki, scion of the Olusola Saraki political dynasty and Governor of Kwara State, remained an influential personality in the polity in 2008. He is seen as one of the most privileged worshippers in the inner sanctum of power in Abuja.

His leadership of the Governors Forum has transformed the group from just a mere fellowship of happy-go-lucky chaps, into a powerful bloc.

Whereas the group lost in its bid to install one of its ex-members as the Senate President in 2007, it bounced back in 2008 to determine who got what when and how at the PDP’s national convention. The group also sponsored some former governors as ministers in the new cabinet.

At the home front, Saraki has neutralised all opposition through a combination of deft political strategy and pro-people policies. The only opposition to his administration, is however coming from an unusual quarters. His estranged sister, Oyinkansola Saraki, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Progressive Alliance in the 2007 election, has remained a thorn in his flesh, as she has fought vigorously to sustain her legal battle against the governor’s election.

Dimeji Bankole

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, had his first dose of scandal that has become the hallmark of the lower legislative house, in the outgoing year, when the leadership of the House was enmeshed in N2.3bn car scandal.

It was a trying time for the Speaker as the scandal faced the possibility for his removal like his predecessor. Analysts however believe that Bankole’s displayed mastery of crisis helped greatly in dousing the tension raised by the crisis.

Prior to the crisis, however, the leadership of the House had been praised for its courage at instituting probes of some past activities of government, including the highly celebrated power sector probe, which revealed a lot of scam under the Obasanjo years. The reconstitution of the committees with emphasis on members’ credentials as a sine qua non to their headship of any committee, was also seen as a new and positive dimension in the conduct of the business of the House.

The Speaker has also been mentioned prominently in the crisis rocking the Ogun State chapter of PDP, as he is said to be nursing a governorship ambition.

Lamidi Adedibu:

The death of the strongman of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, on June 11, marked a watershed in the politics of the PDP in the South-West and the Ibadan politics in particular. It was an end of the notorious “amala” politics which had held sway in the state for decades.

That Adedibu had been an issue in the politics of the South-West since the onset of the democratic dispensation in 1999 is to say the obvious. But the politics of the “Alaafin of Molete”, was further energised with the inauguration of Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala’s administration in the state in 2007.

Between January and June 2008, when he passed on, Adedibu, had rocked the politics of the state. His notoriety had compelled the police to hierarchy to get an undertaking from him to be of good conduct earlier in the year. This followed the problem he had with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control led by Prof. Dora Akunyili, among other issues.

He had insisted on witnessing the ruling of the Appeal Court in the petition instituted against Alao-Akala’s election by the All Nigeria People’s Party governorship candidate, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, before going for his overseas treatment. He never made it! His death has thus redefined the politics of Oyo State, with new alignments and claims to leadership on the increase.

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