13 February 2014

Nigeria: More Heads May Roll - Ministers, Aides Intensify Lobby

Photo: Daily Trust
Nigeria Aviation Minister Princess Stella Oduah

Following the sack of four ministers - Stella Oduah (aviation), Godsday Orubebe (Niger Delta), Yerima Ngama(state, finance) and Caleb Olubolade (police affairs) - yesterday in what appears to be a re-organisation of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Presidency, surviving ministers and presidential aides have intensified lobby to retain their jobs.

The sack of the ministers by President Goodluck Jonathan came barely 48 hours after Mike Oghiadomhe was relieved of his position as chief of staff and five months after the sack of nine ministers.

More heads may roll as the exercise appears to be unending.

LEADERSHIP gathered that as soon as the announcement of the ministers' sack became public knowledge, allies of some serving ministers and presidential aides took spontaneous steps by rushing to the residences of power brokers.

Similarly, others who were currently out of the country were said to have started making contingency arrangements to cut short their stay and return home for the lobby game.

According to a source close to one of the president's close associates, immediately after yesterday's FEC meeting, three ministers and two special advisers to the president attempted to know if his principal was at home or not.

This is even as LEADERSHIP gathered that a close aide of the president who was abroad when the ministers' sack was announced put a call through to the same person, promising to cut short his stay in the United States. He is billed to return today.

The source said, "We never knew of the sack of ministers before we started receiving some government officials; at first, we thought it was a meeting they came for, and because Papa was not around, we were not too sure of their mission.

"It was a few minutes after these people, three serving ministers - one is a woman, and the two SAs - left that we got to know that the president had sacked Orubebe and others from the cabinet."

The source said, shortly afterwards, there was an instruction from their principal who was away in his village in a state in the south-south that details of his movement should not be disclosed to anyone.

The president's action was akin to bowing to pressure as two of the sacked ministers - Oduah and Orubebe - have been most controversial owing to allegations of corruption.

For Oduah, her continued stay in his cabinet has been generating public disaffection against the current administration following corruption allegations dangling on her neck.

Minister of information Mr Labaran Maku, who confirmed the sack of the four ministers shortly after the FEC meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja, said the four ministers had indicated their interest to pursue further political ambitions in the country and were asked by the president to go and do so.

But the government's explanation is regarded as evasive of the real reasons, as there are other ministers with governorship ambitions who are still in the cabinet.

Following the allegations of fraud involving the purchase of bulletproof BMW cars at an alleged inflated price of N255million last year for Oduah by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), coupled with criticisms from organised private sector and the general public, President Jonathan had constituted a presidential committee which investigated the matter.

On arrival from London where he was treated for severe abdominal pains, Jonathan told journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, that he had already received the report from the presidential committee on the bulletproof cars scandal.

Even though the House of Representatives committee which investigated the matter had also indicted the minister, the presidential report was kept secret until yesterday when the president sacked her alongside three of her colleagues.

Oduah's subsequent sack by the president, LEADERSHIP gathered, is a subtle way by Jonathan to succumb to the wishes of Nigerians and save his government from a series of corruption allegations heaped on it ahead of the 2015 general allegation.

Sources at the presidency told our correspondent that the removal of the other three ministers was part of plans by the president to streamline his cabinet in a manner that would enable him boast of ministers with the political clout to push for his re-election bid in 2015.

In the case of police affairs minister Olubolade who is a close friend of the president, it was learnt that although he had since commenced his politicking for the governorship slot in Ekiti State, the president considered him as not well-grounded in the grassroots politics of his state to trust him enough in terms of mobilising the electorate in the favour of the ruling party.

That apart, Olubolade has been having it rough with major stakeholders in the Ekiti chapter of the PDP.

For Orubebe, LEADERSHIP learnt that his removal may not be unconnected with the feud between the former minister and elder statesman from his home state Chief Edwin Clark which has to do with the former's ambition to contest for the Delta State governorship poll in 2015.

Owing to the disagreement between the duo, the president was said to have advised Orubebe to tarry a while in his quest for the governorship.

LEADERSHIP gathered that Jonathan made up his mind to weed out Orubebe two weeks ago when he (Jonathan) learnt that the former minister had already opened a campaign office in the state against his advice.

It was also gathered that Orubebe's role leading to the exit of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as national chairman of the PDP did not go down well with the president.

The most glaring of the president's resolve to streamline his cabinet along political calculation in a way that would enable him mobilise support in 2015 is the sack of minister of state for finance Yerima Ngama.

Ngama, who stands alone in the political wilderness of his home state Yobe, LEADERSHIP gathered, is considered in Jonathan's political camp as lacking the political clout and stamina to withstand political hawks in the All Progressives Congress-dominated state like Yobe.

But far more important is the controversial statement credited to Ngama that the 2013 national budget was not implementable because of the over-bloated revenue estimates by the National Assembly.

But Maku noted yesterday that the former ministers were only asked by the president to step down to pursue further political and private interests.

Maku told newsmen: "Also today, the president announced further changes in the Federal Executive Council. He said a number of ministers have been asked to step out of the Federal Executive Council to further their own interests -- some in politics, others in their own private-focused.

"Clearly, what the president did today was to allow ministers who have indicated interest in pursuing further goals in the polity, in the economy and in the life of the country to be allowed to go. Those asked by the president to go include the following: the minister of state for finance, Dr Yerima Ngama; minister of police affairs Navy Capt. Caleb Olubolade (rtd), minister of Niger Delta affairs Elder Godsday Orubebe and minister of aviation Mrs Stella Oduah."

On those who will oversee the affairs in the portfolios of the sacked ministers, Maku said: "Today, the president asked the following ministers to take charge of the ministries. The Ministry of Aviation -- the minister of state for trade, industry and investment, Samuel Ortom, to supervise until the substantive appointment of a minister of aviation.

"The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs already has a minister of state, Darius Ishaku; in the Ministry of Finance, of course, the CME is already in charge. For the Ministry of Police Affairs, the president asked the minister of state for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Olajumoke Akinjide, to take charge of the ministry."

Asked whether the ministers would be asked to go in batches since many others in the cabinet have 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."

Asked to clarify if the ministers resigned or were asked to step down, he said, "The president said he has asked them to go because of their interests. They have indicated interest in pursuing higher and deeper interest in the polity and so he has decided to allow them to go and pursue those interests. You have to get that correctly so that you won't go and say something like it was said in the case of the former chief of staff."

On whether the president asked Oduah to go based on the report on the N255 million car scam of the committee he set up to investigate or not, Maku said, "I have just reported exactly what the president said. Also, don't forget that allegations don't necessarily mean guilty, and I think the press should always take some time to be patient. But the truth of the matter is that they left because they indicated interest in playing deeper roles in the politics of the country and the president has decided to let them go."

Senate Screens Gusau, Obanikoro, four other ministerial nominees

The Senate yesterday began the screening of President Goodluck Jonathan's ministerial nominees after attempts by some APC senators to stall the screening hit a brick wall.

Senate president David Mark said no matter how long it would take, the Senate would eventually screen the nominees and there was therefore no need for delay tactics.

Senator Babafemi Ojudu, (APC, Ekiti Central) through a point of order called for more time on the grounds that the Senate had been flooded by petitions from the nominees' states and their former places of work.

The APC lawmaker appealed to the Senate president for extension of the screening time to enable them study the reports on the nominees.

However, Senator David Mark said: "There is enough time for you to read the ones you can read today but if I know you well, I am sure that in a few minutes, you can read it and if there is any question that you will want to ask, you should also be free to ask. There is nothing in our rule to say that you must be given two days ahead of time. So it is not clearly your privilege. Again, I rule you out of order."

Another APC senator, Anthony Adeniyi (APC, Ekiti), referred to point of order 118,119,120 and 121 of the Senate Standing Rule which reads: " When nominations have been made by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the nominations shall be referred to appropriate committees or committee of the whole for consideration."

He cited Section 120 (a) of the constitution which requires that nominees must not only declare their assets but undergo security screening with the nation's relevant security agencies, but said such were not attached in the documents distributed to senators to prove they had done that and therefore demanded that the exercise be put on hold, but he could not succeed in his argument as the Senate president, again, ruled him out of order.

The Senate screened six out of the 12 ministerial nominees. Those screened were Senator Musiliu Obanikoro (Lagos), Hon. Mohammed Wakil (Borno), Amb. Aminu Wali (Kano), Mrs Akon Etim Eyakenyi (Akwa Ibom), Mrs Lawrencia Labaran Mallam (Kano), and Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd) from Zamfara State.

As is the Senate's tradition, Senator Obanikoro and Hon. Mohammed Wakili were not asked questions because they were former lawmakers. Also, former NSA Chief Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was asked to take a bow and go.

Fielding questions from the senators, former Nigerian ambassador to China Aminu Wali said tackling corruption in the country was a collective responsibility of all Nigerians, insisting that they were all guilty of the menace that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation at present.

The remaining six nominees -- Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Dr Khaliru Alhassan (Sokoto), Hajiya Jamilla Salik (Kano), Alhaji Abduljelili Oyewale Adesiyan (Osun), Dr T.W. Dangogo (Rivers) as well as Asabe Asmau Ahmed (Niger) -- will be screened today and confirmed by the Senate.

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