In late February, the Presidential Elections Tribunal strengthened the hand of President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua when it threw out a case brought by the former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, and General Muhammadu Buhari, challenging last year's presidential results. Although the two men are appealing against the Tribunal's ruling in the Supreme Court, the verdict has, nonetheless, given the president the opportunity to move forward with greater confidence in establishing a legacy and policy framework of his own.
The Tribunal did not actually confirm his victory so much as it denied that his opponents had proved their case. Some observers feel that this has left a number of legal loopholes free for argument in the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the chairman of the Tribunal was elevated to the Supreme Court only one week before the verdict was pronounced. There were rumbles of dissent over this, but most observers believe that the decision was taken without legal prejudice.
This reflects the general impression of Nigerians about Yar'Adua. They say he is a cautious but firm decision-maker whose promise to adhere to the rule of law is not to be taken lightly. The former Tribunal chairman will be expected to excuse himself from any sitting of the Supreme Court that deliberates upon the appeal, but in the meantime Yar'Adua's actions and decisions as president will take on more legitimacy.
Nigerians watched anxiously as the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) prepared to hold its national convention on 8 March. The results of last year's elections have given the party such a commanding lead throughout the nation that the way the party is run will have a major impact on the nation's future.
In the run-up to the convention, the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who now holds the powerful position of chairman of the party's board of trustees, was openly seeking to influence the restructuring of the party leadership. But Yar'Adua spoke out against executive interference in the process. He has consistently argued that it is wrong for presidential power to be used to override decisions taken by the party executive or the national assembly.
As a result, when Mrs Patricia Etteh, the then speaker of the House of Representatives, ran into problems, Yar'Adua refused to appeal to the members fighting her and allowed her to be impeached and removed from the post. That Mrs Etteh was widely regarded as an Obasanjo loyalist in the House made Yar'Adua's stance even more surprising, as he himself was handpicked by Obasanjo as his successor.
But since coming to power, Yar'Adua has consistently given the impression that he will not simply follow the trends set by his predecessor. He is reluctant to impose policies and personalities on state governments, and seems more inclined to listen carefully before taking decisions. The outcome of the party election at the 8 March convention appears to have reinforced this view. Instead of naming his favourite candidates, Yar'Adua asked the state governors to ensure that the delegates coming from their states would examine all the possible candidates and vote in the best interest of the party.
Although Obasanjo frantically attempted to present a slate of aspirants, the governors formed themselves into a bloc to reverse his influence. In the end, none of Obasanjo's key aspirants won. Instead, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, who had been pushed out of office because he refused to support Obasanjo's failed third-term bid, emerged as the new party chairman. His election signalled a transformation of the party's structure, and it is likely that further moves will eventually force Obasanjo's retirement as chairman of the board of trustees.
In fact, one of the unsuccessful candidates for the chairmanship, Prince B. B. Apugo (a member of the board of trustees), campaigned on the platform of reversing all the anomalies of party management introduced during the Obasanjo regime. …