When President Goodluck Jonathan appointed 14 women as ministers in a cabinet of 46 members, women activists and supporters of the president celebrated it. Indeed, in June this year, First Lady Patience Jonathan publicly attributed the success recorded by her husband to the performance of the women in his cabinet.
"Two days ago, the President read his mid-term report to Nigerians. He and his team have done very well. Women are the powerful people in that cabinet," she was reported as saying at a dinner she held for women at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in commemoration of Democracy Day.
Shortly after that revelation by the First Lady, President Goodluck Jonathan was celebrated through the presentation of a 320-page glossy book titled, "Goodluck Ebele Jonathan: Champion for Women." Jonathan was hailed for the opportunities his administration gave to women to serve Nigeria.
Indeed, less than two weeks ago, Chairman of Nigeria Social Insurance Fund (NSITF), Dr. Ngozi Olejeme, said as far as women representation in government was concerned, the womenfolk never had it so good in the history of Nigeria as they are currently doing in the Jonathan administration.
Olejeme, who was speaking at a fundraising dinner in honour of the wife of the Belizean Prime Minister, Kim Simplis Barrow, said apart from the 14 women ministers in Jonathan's government, many other women are holding sway as diplomats and or heads of several parastatals. Even President Jonathan himself has had reasons to boast about his 'women-friendly' administration.
Last Wednesday's sack of ministers has rubbished that 'colourful record'. President Jonathan decided to show five out of the 14 women in his cabinet the way out, in what was seen as a big blow to the much touted affirmative action. Those who were asked to go are Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, Minister of Education (Jigawa); Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafaya, Minister of Environment (Kaduna); Lady Amal Pepple, Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (Rivers); Olusola Obada, Minister of State for Defence (Osun) and Hajia Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi, Minister of State for Power (Niger).
Those who escaped the president's hammer are Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance; Diezani Alison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum Resources; Mrs. Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology; Hajia Zainab Maina, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development; Mrs. Sarah Reng Ochekpe, Minister of Water Resources; Princess Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation; Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide, Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory (FCT); and Professor Viola Onwuliri, Minister of State (1) for Foreign Affairs.
Many observers have also aired divergent views over the sacking of the five women ministers, with most insinuating political undertones.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), while condeming the sack of the five female ministers, said "this act contradicts President Jonathan's claim to 32 per cernt affirmative action for women, since about 70 per cent of the ministers sacked are women," adding that "the action did not only negate Mr. President's transformation agenda, but also makes mockery of our country's effort towards women empowerment, gender equality and inclusiveness in the national political arena."
Fateema Bello, a public affairs commentator based in Jimeta, Adamawa State, says "no doubt, the ministers sacked by the president, especially the women, couldn't have been shown the way out based on performance. It is instructive to note that the affected women are from states where the governors are seen as opposed to President Jonathan's ambition."
Also speaking, Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, says "I don't think they were sacked because they were women, I think they were sacked because they were unfortunate to have people who supported their entry to the ministerial positions."
He said when these ministers are being replaced, there should at least be the same number of women to be returned.
A member House of Representatives Nkoyo Toyo says "President Jonathan has been consistent with support for women and the removal of the women is not a failure on their part, but an indication of the fact that we have not reach a position in the country that we need to make this kind of change without rancour."
Michael Daelle, a women activist in Kaduna, said President Jonathan should look beyond politics when appointing replacements for those he sacked. "Some of us have not forgotten the promised made by the president that he was going to appoint many women to top government positions. He fulfilled that. Now that another chance has presented itself, the president must not go back on his words."
Brief on the casualties
Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa'i (Jigawa) was born in 1958. She is former Dean, Faculty of Education at the Bayero University. She was Commissioner for Health and Commissioner for Education and Science in Jigawa State before she was appointed as Minister of Education. Many said she was sacked because of her governor's (Sule Lamido's) seeming opposition to Jonathan's presidential ambition.
Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi (Niger), like Ruqayyatu, had to give way because she was nominated by Governor Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu, one of the 'rebel' governors behind the New PDP. Weekly Trust learnt from credible sources that Zainab, who is apolitical, had offered to broker peace between her governor and the president. However, the president wants someone who can tame the governor for him.
Hajia Hadiza Mailafiya (Kaduna), Minister of Environment, should have been spared since the governor, a protégé of Vice President Namadi Sambo, is not having any issues with President Jonathan and has always sided with the president's camp. But observers say the president is not leaving things to chances and is looking for an astute politician.
Amal Pepple (Rivers) was Head of Service of the Federation (HOSF) before she retired. When she was appointed as Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, many said it was a good choice. But coming from Rivers State, where Jonathan is locked in a battle of wits with Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the humble lady had to go to make room for someone in the class of Nysom Wike, now supervising Minister of Education that is openly fighting Amaechi. Pepple had also tried to broker peace between Jonathan and Amaechi, but did not succeed
For Olusola Obada, former deputy governor of her state (Osun), was sacked because she was nominated by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who is now the Secretary General of the New PDP faction. Obada had been an advertiser, lawyer and seasoned politician.