The return of President Umaru Yar’Adua under cover of darkness in the early hours of Wednesday after three months in a Saudi hospital was so shrouded in secrecy even Jonathan and most of the cabinet were unaware he was coming.
The surprise return raised concern that the group around Yar’Adua, led by his wife Turai, is fighting to sideline Jonathan and retain their influence over Africa’s most populous nation even with the 58-year-old leader too weak to rule.
The renewed uncertainty threatens to keep government decisions on hold in the OPEC member of more than 140 million people and could endanger hopes of cementing an amnesty for rebels in the oil-producing Niger Delta.
“Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the Acting President, is in charge,” Information Minister Dora Akunyili told Reuters in her office, adding he would remain acting head of state until parliament reversed a resolution which gave him executive powers.
“There is no way he can go back to Vice President without going through the process that made him Acting President.”
But Yar’Adua’s wife Turai is a powerful figure, controlling access to a leader not seen in public for three months.
Presidency sources say Yar’Adua is in a mobile intensive care unit. Jonathan has not spoken with him since his return.
“Who is in charge here?” said the Action Congress party.
“The president, as the father of the nation, should address the country on local radio and television to enable the citizens to assess his state of health,” the opposition group said.
RISK TO OIL REGION
Jonathan assumed executive powers two weeks ago in Yar’Adua’s absence and quickly set about reviving state business that had been in paralysis for months, pledging to push ahead with electoral reforms, restore power supply and fight graft.
Officials at the Aso Rock presidential villa said there was frustration in Jonathan’s camp at not being involved in decisions apparently driven by Turai, and uncertainty as to why Yar’Adua returned if he was unable to resume work.
Akunyili said the atmosphere was tense as ministers waited on Wednesday for a cabinet meeting that was finally cancelled.
“I simply want to admit that most of us don’t have information. We collect information in bits and pieces and you can sit down and put them together. But proper briefing? We don’t really have it, and definitely that type of situation can affect government,” she said.
If Jonathan appears to be sidelined, it could increase the chances of a new flare-up in the Niger Delta, his home region, where militants have threatened attacks on Africa’s biggest energy industry if there is no progress on an amnesty programme.
Thousands laid down weapons under the programme last year but promises of stipends and training have been slow coming.
“It is my strong feeling that if this situation continues, I guess it is not going to take more than one week, things will turn,” said Jonjon Oyeinfe, ex-leader of the Ijaw Youth Council ethnic rights group who sits on a government amnesty committee.
“In Nigerian politics, no matter how you look at it, the ethnic factor plays a deep role. An Ijaw man is (in the presidency) and the freedom fighters have looked on his presence and tried not to carry out actions that will make his position difficult,” he told Reuters.
Yar’Adua is from Nigeria’s largely Muslim north, where there had been unease among some politicians that Jonathan might become a candidate for the presidency in 2011, a post they want to keep for the north even if Yar’Adua cannot stand. Reuters