The first casualty in the power struggle in the Presidency preceeding the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President was recorded on Wednesday with the removal of Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
He was redeployed as the Minister of Special Duties, in a relatively unknown ministry in the Presidency.
By the redeployment, Jonathan showed that he had, indeed, taken full charge of the government through what appeared a minor cabinet reschuffle.
Chief Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), who until Wednesday was the Minister of Labour and Productivity, replaces Aondoakaa.
Ambassador Ibrahim Kazaure, who was the Minister of Special Duties and former Nigerian Ambassador to China, becomes the Minister of Labour and Productivity.
Indications that a minor shake-up in the cabinet was in the offing had emerged earlier on Wednesday before the commencement of the Federal Executive Council meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
A source close to the FEC told one of our correspondents that Aondoakaa was allegedly asked to leave the meeting and advised to go and resign from the cabinet before the commencement of full business of the day.
He was said to have gone out of the council chamber, venue of the meeting.
However, it was gathered that a phone call from the Senate President, Mr. David Mark and some members of FEC conferring with Jonathan later convinced him that dropping Aondoakaa so soon could send a wrong signal that he (Jonathan) was already moving against those perceived to be loyal to President Umaru Yar’Adua.
However, an online news agency, Saharareporters.com, claimed that the resolution to reverse the decision to relieve Aondoakaa of his duty was taken owing to protests by members of the cabinet loyal to the ailing President.
This, according to the agency, led to the call on Aondoakaa to return about 45 minutes later to be part of the FEC meeting.
A source disclosed that part of what the ministers who convinced Jonathan not to sack Aondoakaa proposed was his redeployment to another ministry.
The prolonged absence of Yar’Adua from the country due to ill-health and his failure to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to empower Jonathan to act in his place had caused a division within the cabinet.
Aondoakaa was believed to have played a key role in the efforts to prevent Jonathan from assuming the position of an Ag. President.
The perceived vacuum in the Presidency had sparked off a series of demonstrations especially in Abuja, Lagos and London where pro-democracy activists called for adherence to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution on the matter.
The vacuum had also raised fears of possible rebellion by the military.
The decision by the 36 state governors last Thursday to back Jonathan as Ag. President was believed to have been taken owing to the growing fears over the survival of democracy in the country.
On Tuesday night, Aondoakaa was on the Cable News Network where he insisted that there was no crisis in the country despite Yar’Adua spending his 78th day in a Saudi Arabian hospital.
The former AGF had said that the government was running smoothly, a claim which was countered by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on the same programme.
Aondoakaa was also accused of working surreptitiously to shield highly placed persons accused of corruption from prosecution.
Presidency sources told one of our correspondents that Aondoakaa was redeployed by Jonathan because he would not feel comfortable working with him in such a powerful and influential position as the AGF.
Briefing journalists after the FEC meeting on Wednesday, the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, said Jonathan decided to effect the redeployment in line with the presidential powers conferred on him as the Ag. President.
She said, “It is the decision of the Ag-President to move people; it is not the decision of FEC.
“It is presidential powers and he has the power to move any one of us,” she said when asked to explain why Jonathan carried out the minor cabinet reshuffle.
But when journalists wondered why Jonathan began his stint as Ag. President with a cabinet reshuffle, Akunyili said she could not answer.
“I cannot answer that,” she said.
Although it was widely believed that his redeployment followed his spirited opposition to calls for Jonathan to be made Ag-President, Aondoakaa told journalists that he did not regret any of his actions.
Claiming that the position he defended were collective decisions of FEC members, Aondoakaa said that no AGF worth his salt would admit there was a vacuum in the governance of the country.
He said, “No single action I have taken that I have regretted. Every single action I took was in the interest of this country.
“No country will say there is a vacuum. No Attorney-General worth his salt will go to the pages of newspapers and say there is a vacuum; we had to preserve executive powers until a leader is selected.
“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.”
For unclear reasons, Aondoakaa kept referring to Jonathan as “Vice-President” despite his new designation as Ag. President through resolutions of the National Assembly.
He also claimed his redeployment was a joint decision between him and Jonathan.
Aondoakaa said, “I think what we did was a collective decision. First, he (Jonathan) told me; I and the Vice-President had a discussion in the morning, it is a cordial arrangement. He had a discussion with me in the morning, how do I look at it?
“The ( then) Minister of Labour is now Minister of Justice; I am now the Minister of Special Duties.”
Aondoakaa however pledged his loyalty to Jonathan.
“Well, I am in the government, in the cabinet and I pledge my loyalty to the Vice-President,” he said.
Meanwhile, Aondoakaa’s office was said to have been raided by some riot policemen in Abuja on Wednesday.
A source close to the minister told the News Agency of Nigeria that about 10 plain-clothe security operatives forcibly gained entry into the minister’s office and three other offices presumably in search of documents.
The source said that he could not tell what exactly the operatives went into the offices to do, adding. “They did not leave with any documents, but I cannot tell whether they took computer discs.
“One of them told me that the order to raid the ministry was given by the police hierarchy a moment ago.’’
But the Chief Press Secretary to the minister, Mr. Ambrose Momoh, who confirmed that the policemen were in the premises, said that they did not gain entry into any of the offices.
He explained that the security agents were in the office around 12.30 pm while the minister was attending FEC meeting.
Momoh said, “Nobody can tell what exactly they came to do, but all I can say now is that they did not gain entry into any offices to conduct searches.
“The much we saw was that a substantial number of armed riot policemen suddenly came and surrounded the premises for about 30 minutes and then left.’’
When contacted, Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Yemi Ajayi, declined comments on the incident, saying he was not in Abuja.
“I am afraid, you may have to speak to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, for information on the true position of things since the substantive Force PRO is also out of station attending a course,’’ he said.