An ongoing rift between two prominent members of President Goodluck Jonathan's cabinet over the handling of the government's reform programme is generating rumpus within the Administration.
The battle line has been drawn between the very influential Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, and Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also serves as Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy - a sort of de facto Prime Minister.
Mrs Allison-Madueke, seen by many as the 'peacock' in Jonathan's cabinet, due to her absolute closeness to the Commander-in-Chief and immense sway in the government, has become enraged by the Okonjo-Iweala's evangelical style of implementing the reform programme, especially at the downstream sector of the economy.
For many observers, the two lady-ministers are representing two distinct elements in Jonathan Administration: the vultures and the hawks. The "Vultures" signify the money-bags and oil moguls that feed off the system, while the "Hawk" symbolizes the western-styled reformists.
The latest contentious issue is the non-payment of N1.13 trillion subsidy owed to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in which the Petroleum Minister dragged Okonjo-Iweala to the president's court, warning of a looming acute fuel shortage should the Federal Government to pay the subsidy fund.
The Petroleum Minister reportedly made this known to Jonathan when she led a delegation which included some top management staff of NNPC to Aso Rock for a meeting. She told the president the Finance Minister had failed to pay the debt, which has hindered its capacity to continue the importation of fuel until the payment of the debt that had accumulated over the months. The team advised that the president get Okonjo-Iweala to pay the debt to avoid serious fuel shortage in the country.
Even before her trip to the Presidential Villa, observers have noted a frosty relationship building around the duo of Diezani Allison-Madueke and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala over the fate of some indicted oil marketers. Diezani and some ministers seemed to be angry with Okonjo-Iweala following her insistence that the indicted oil marketers should be punished. It was gathered that Diezani and Co. prefer that the indicted oil marketers return the subsidy money while she, Okonjo-Iweala, wants full trial for the marketers.
Sunday Trust learnt that some ministers, who were said to have been secretly working to undercut Okonjo-Iweala, are asking for her withdrawal from the cabinet saying she knows too much.
Diezani's appeal to the president to caution the Finance Minister underscores the level of the division within Jonathan's cabinet. Some ministers are believed to be treating the matter like a personal issue.
Some of them including Diezani are dejected with the way the probe into the fuel subsidy scam was handled by Okonjo-Iweala. Their argument is that the process of investigation and trial could paralyse the oil sector, particularly the fuel supply system.
"There are handfuls who are engaging the Finance Minister in cold war.
They pretend to be tolerating her, but if they have their way, they would want the President to drop her," a source reportedly said,adding "All is not well between some ministers and Okonjo-Iweala for not protecting some interests. She stepped on powerful toes without looking back. That is why she has been receiving threats. My position is that it is normal in any Executive Council."
However, the dilemma for the president is whose side will he pitch his tent on? Unlike his predecessor, late Umaru Musa Yar'adua, who sacked two of his ministers when they quarreled over procedural issues, Jonathan would, almost certainly, dilly-dally on this matter.
Though, he has respect for Okonjo-Iweala because of her intelligence and ability. Her presence in his Administration bolsters its credibility in the eyes of global financial institutions. The president's reform programme, though half-heartedly implemented, has earned some level of global acceptability mainly due to the Finance Minister's presence.
However, Diezani seem indispensable and her closeness to Jonathan is absolute. The president cannot swap her for anything. And when faced with a critical choice, Jonathan would likely forego his Finance Minister even if it means hurting the neo-liberal capitalists and their Bretton Woods institutions.