Following months of procrastination, President Goodluck Jonathan finally reset the tone of his presidency by sacking his Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, who had been indicted by the House of Representatives and a presidential panel for approving the procurement of two bulletproof BMW cars at the cost of N255 million for her personal use by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), a parastatal under her ministry.
Three other ministers, who were also relieved of their posts by the president yesterday, were the Minister of Police Affairs, Capt. Caleb Olubolade; Minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe; and Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama. Their sack from the cabinet was not unexpected as speculation had been rife since December that the president would shake up his cabinet.
The likelihood of changes in the cabinet was also heightened when the president on Monday relieved his Chief of Staff, Mike Ogiadomhe, of his post. Providing insight into the cabinet shake-up, a source in the presidency said the president finally did the "needful" as the country enters an election year by ridding his cabinet of those with credibility crisis and political ambitions. He said: "Recall that he had fired about 12 ministers in September and then fired Ogiadomhe and four more ministers this week. So the objective is to replace with those who can deliver and reset the tone of his presidency as the elections loom."
Also speaking on the cabinet shake-up yesterday, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maka, told State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting that the ministers were asked to go by the president so that they could pursue their political aspirations. Ngama, Olubolade and Orubebe have never hidden their desire to contest for the governorship post in their respective states of Yobe, Ekiti and Delta.
Maku said with their departure, the Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ms. Olajumoke Akinjide, would supervise the Police Affairs Ministry, while the Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, would oversee the Ministry of Aviation. He also clarified that contrary to reports in some newspapers linking Ogiadomhe to the kerosene subsidy scam in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the president had absolved his former chief of staff on the grounds that he was not a member of staff of the national oil company. According to Maku, Jonathan told his cabinet members that Ogiadomhe resigned to pursue his political ambition in Edo State. He said the president also thanked the ministers who were asked to step down yesterday.
On if the ministers would be asked to go in batches since many others in the cabinet still harbour political ambitions, Maku said: "That is left for the president to decide. I am not the president but I believe sincerely that it depends on what they have communicated to Mr. President. He does not just take those decisions in isolation." In a related development, despite efforts by senators of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to stall the confirmation of the president's ministerial nominees, the senate yesterday cleared six of them.
The APC senators were complying with the directive of their party to block executive bills and senate confirmation hearings. Accordingly, upon the preparedness of the senate to commence screening of the nominees, Senator Anthony Adeniyi (Ekiti South) had cited Orders 118, 119, 120, 121 and 122 of the Senate Standing Rules stating that 120(a) specifies that the "Senate shall not consider the nomination of any person who has held any public office... Unless there is a written evidence that he has declared his assets and liabilities as required by Section 11 (1) of Part l of the fifth schedule to the constitution."
In the same vein, he cited Order 120(b) which provides that "all nominees should also submit themselves to finger print clearance by the Force Criminal Investigations Department of the Nigeria Police Force." Adeniyi therefore argued that in-as-much as the documents stated in the orders had not been made available to the senators, the proper thing was for the senate to put the confirmation on hold. Earlier, Babafemi Ojudu (Ekiti Central) had cited Order 14 of the Senate Rules which states that as a matter of privilege, any senator may rise to raise any issue on the floor of the chamber.
According to him, the credentials of the nominees which had been circulated a few minutes to the commencement of the confirmation, did not present senators with enough time to scrutinise such credentials, adding that going ahead with the confirmation would therefore portray them as being unserious. But Mark while ruling on Ojudu's submission said it was not so difficult for any senator to go through the credentials right away and ask any affected nominee any questions he deemed fit.
He also told Adeniyi that it would not be the first time they would screen nominees without the attachment of those credentials, adding that the senator was free to ask nominees any questions bordering on such matters contained in the orders he cited. Having counselled them on what to do, he ruled both of them out of order and the confirmation commenced immediately. First to take the floor was Senator Musiliu Obanikoro (Lagos), who was not asked any question as a one-time senator. He was however given the opportunity to express himself on any issue he deemed fit.
Obanikoro therefore recalled how as a senator he had sponsored Anti-casualisation Bill which sought to stop the oppression of Nigerians by foreign employers, among others, and how he raised Nigeria's investment portfolio from N600 million to N4.6 billion as Nigeria's former High Commissioner to Ghana.
He was thereafter asked to "take a bow and go", just as Hon. Mohammed Wakil (Borno), a former Majority Leader in the House of Representatives was also accorded the similar privilege of the "bow and go procedure" without being subjected to any form of questioning.
In the same vein, former National Security Adviser, General Aliu Gusau (rtd.), was asked to bow and go without answering any question perhaps in recognition of his status as a retired general who had served in various capacities and notably because he was also Mark's senior in the military.
But there were some grumbling in the upper chamber that the senate lost a good opportunity to ask the retired general pertinent questions on the security challenges facing the country since he's expected to take over the portfolio of Defence Minister.
During his screening, Nigeria's High Commissioner to China, Ambassador Aminu Wali, noted that even though Nigeria had been supportive to many African countries, it had failed to exploit its benevolence to add value to its status as he argued that these countries hardly showed appreciation for such gestures. He also recalled that hundreds of Nigerians are in Chinese prisons because they are engaged in what he described as "bad business" in China.
Also cleared yesterday were Akom Eyakenyi (Akwa Ibom) and Lawrencia Mallam (Kaduna). Eyakenyi was once a Commissioner for Industry and Tourism in Akwa Ibom, while Mallam was a local government chairman and Special Adviser to former Governor Ahmed Makarfi.
The outstanding six nominees who may be screened and cleared today are Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Khaliru Alhassan (Sokoto), Jamilla Salik (Kano), Abdujelili Adesiyan (Osun), T. W. Danagogo and Asabe Ahmed (Niger).