Defence minister, Aliyu Gusau, has denied widespread reports of his resignation Wednesday, in what has deflated concerns about the implication of such an exit on the Nigerian government's effort to curtail a bloody rampage by the extremist Boko Haram sect.
Mr. Gusau said reports of his leaving office were untrue. "No I did not," he said in a brief text message response to a PREMIUM TIMES' inquiry asking if he had resigned.
His response came as the Nigerian government scrambled to dispel the reports that the minister, who was appointed barely a week ago, stepped down after an altercation with military commanders.
A spokesperson for President Goodluck Jonathan, Reuben Abati, said reports that Mr. Gusau submitted his resignation were false.
"It is not true, Mr. Abati told PREMIUM TIMES during a brief telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
He said Mr. Gusau's absence at the weekly federal cabinet meeting, a development cited as the most ostensible indication the minister had quit the cabinet - was due to illness.
"He has flu," Mr. Abati said.
Mr. Gusau himself did not respond to our question on why he was absent at the Federal Executive Council, meeting.
All officials contacted offered to seek clarification from the relevant offices for confirmation. Only Mr. Abati returned his call. He said the minister remained at his post but did not give further details of an alleged row involving service chiefs.
Reports of Mr. Gusau's resignation sparked an online frenzy Wednesday after news website, Saharareporters, quoting unnamed administration officials, reported a row between Mr. Gusau and the defence chief of staff, Alex Badeh.
The report said the minister submitted his resignation citing insubordination from military officials, and refused to rescind same after the intervention of President Jonathan.
Air Chief Marshal Badeh was reported to have disparaged Mr. Gusau and the junior minister for defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, after he was criticized for failing to arrange a meeting between the new ministers and the chiefs of army, navy and the airforce.
The meeting, scheduled for last week after Mr. Gusau's swearing-in, had been repeatedly rescheduled. When one eventually held Tuesday, only Mr. Badeh showed up. He reportedly asked the ministers to proceed as he represented the service chiefs.
He later dismissed the concerns of the ministers and made clear the military would not be dictated to, the report claimed, in what would seem one of the most brazen confrontations between civilian and military authorities since the return of democracy in 1999.
A very top security official confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the altercation took place, but that it may have been a bit distorted by those who leaked it to the media.
The episode came as the government struggles to stem a deadly onslaught by the extremist Boko Haram sect.
The military has been blamed for failing to curtail several predictable attacks by the group, amongst many, the killing of dozens of school children in a federal school in Yobe State last month.
Mr. Gusau, a well-regarded retired general and former National Security Adviser, was drafted by Mr. Jonathan at one of Boko Haram's bloodiest phases.
With a vast experience in military intelligence, he was widely expected to check the deadly group responsible for thousands of deaths since 2009.