The recent sacking of cabinet members as well as new appointments made by President Goodluck Jonathan are seen as part of a larger scheme to position him for a yet-to-be-declared 2015 ambition, writes JOHN ALECHENU
The recent decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to ease out another set of five members of his cabinet has been long in coming. Political pundits argue that the sacking ritual, which began with the removal of the then Minister of Youth Development, Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir, on August 26, 2013, has almost run full cycle.
Permutations geared towards getting a headstart ahead of the 2015 elections blew open early last year when seven Peoples Democratic Party governors came out of the closet to demand reforms in the party. As it later turned out, their demand was primarily aimed at giving them a greater say in who emerges as the party’s presidential flagbearer.
The sacking of an additional nine ministers on September 14, 2013 and the recent removal of five others in February 2014 must have reinforced speculations that an election-minded cabinet is in the making.
At the heat of the face-off between Jonathan and the seven aggrieved PDP governors on September 14, 2013, the President announced the sacking of nine out of his 43 ministers. The timing and choice of those to go left very few Nigerians in doubt about the possible motive.
Most of those eased out either came from states whose governors had been involved in political skirmishes with the President or were nominees of those perceived to be his opponents.
They were Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai (Education), Hadiza Mailafia (Environment), Shamsudeen Usman (National Planning), Ama Pepple (Housing, Lands and Urban Development), and Zainab Kuchi (Minister of State for Power).
Others were Okon Ewa-Bassey (Science and Technology), Olugbenga Ashiru (Foreign Affairs), Olusola Obada (Minister of State for Defence), and Bukar Tijani (Minister of State for Agriculture).
Although it is more of a convention than a rule, most ministers are nominated by the governors of their states of origin.
However, some governors who fell apart with the President, not only walked out on the President during the August 31, 2013 special national convention of the ruling party, they went ahead to form a splinter group called the New PDP, which was later annulled by the court.
The aggrieved PDP governors, who fell out with the president, were Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto); Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano); Abdualfatah Ahmed (Kwara); Rotimi Ameachi (Rivers); Murtala Nyako (Adamawa); and Babangida Aliyu (Niger).
The picture became clearer when the erstwhile President’s Chief of Staff, Mike Oghiadomhe, suddenly resigned his appointment two weeks ago. Many believe the resignation was actually a soft-landing for a man the President was said to have been long under pressure to ease out.
While confirming Oghiadomhe’s departure, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said his former colleague resigned in response to the President’s earlier request to cabinet members and political appointees, who are interested in pursuing other political interests, to step aside.
What Abati did not say was what many have come to interpret as an indication that the President is simply out to remove persons who are likely to constitute a liability to his yet-to-be announced 2015 second term ambition.
Oghiadomhe’s resignation was followed by the resignation of four ministers.
The Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who announced the sacking of five of his erstwhile colleagues, explained that the President asked the affected ministers to step out to further their own interests, some in politics others in their private businesses.
He added, “Those asked by the President to go include the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama; Minister of Police Affairs, Navy Capt. Caleb Olukolade (retd.); Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, and Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah.”
While Olubolade, Orubebe, and Ngama are believed to have an ambition of seeking to govern their respective states, the same cannot be said of Oduah.
A more believable explanation appears to be that the removal of her three other colleagues provided an opportunity for the President to finally bow to public pressure to ease Oduah out after a series of allegations of scandals against her.
There had been an outcry over Jonathan’s decision to retain Oduah in his cabinet, despite her alleged involvement in the N255m scam for the purchase of two BMW bulletproof cars as well as a high-profile controversy on the ex-minister’s postgraduate certificate, which she allegedly claimed to have obtained from a United State’s college.
Maku’s explanation that the sacking was part of a systematic public administration strategy, which he believed the President did simply to address the issues of retuning his government to achieve service delivery, did not sound convincing.
It sounded more like a declaration by Abati, who, while announcing the removal of the then Minister of Youth Development, Mr. Inuwa Abdulkadir, said the minister was sacked for failing to give quality leadership to the National Youth Council of Nigeria.
Observers of the unfolding scenario posit that the nomination and confirmation of Jonathan’s nominees to replace some of the sacked ministers, could be the President’s way of sending a clear message to his opponents that he is preparing to take them on in 2015.
A list of the ministerial nominees so far confirmed by the Senate include former National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Gusau (retd.), a former Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Musiliu Obanikoro, and a former governor of Adamawa State, Mr. Boni Haruna, representing Zamfara, Lagos and Adamawa states respectively.
Others are a former Nigerian Ambassador to China, Aminu Wali; a former Majority Leader, House of Representatives, Mohammed Wakil; Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi; and Mrs. Lawrencia Mallam, representing Kaduna, Borno, Akwa Ibom and Kaduna states.
The list also has Dr. Khaliru Alhassan from Sokoto State; Alhaji Abduljelili Adesiyan from Osun State; Dr. T.W. Danagogo from Rivers State; and Mrs. Asabe Ahmed from Niger State.
Although the ministers-designate have yet to be assigned portfolios, speculations are rife that Gusau is likely to head the Ministry of Defence, with either Wali or Obanikoro going to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, their portfolios may not be much of an issue if 2015 calculations are brought to bear on the postings. What each of the ministers is expected to bring to the table in terms of political capital may be uppermost in the minds of those looking at a Jonathan Presidency beyond 2015.
Gusau’s vast experience in the intelligence community is expected to count for something in terms of bringing the Boko Haram insurgency under control. Gusau, who once made a bid for the Presidency himself, is expected to have also garnered some experience in the political terrain to be able to work towards assisting the President to secure at least 25 per cent of the votes in his native Zamfara State.
However, a member of the House of Representatives during the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, expressed fears over the possibility of giving Gusau the defence portfolio.
Mohammed said, “Soldiers, as professionals, always do better under civilians even when the current civilian government is irresponsible, with the idea of appointing one retired general as Defence Minister. If they go ahead with it, the morale in the military is gone.”
For experienced politicians like Wali, he is expected to bring together the growing army of PDP supporters, who fell out with Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who recently ditched the party to join the opposition All Progressives Congress.
He is expected to coordinate the resistance against Kwankwaso’s dominance of the political space in Kano. If things work according to some projections, he is likely to head Jonathan’s campaign organisation.
The PDP, and by extension, the President, will be expecting Obanikoro’s history of PDP activism to come in handy in Lagos State. His choice as minister is being considered by some as a calculated move to pave the way for another candidate, who will fly the party flag in the state governorship election as well as prepare him for the role of the President’s campaign coordinator not only in Lagos, but also in the neighbouring states.
Female nominees from Kaduna and Niger states are expected to galvanise the support from the womenfolk not only from their respective states, but also across the country through networking. The fact that their nominations enjoyed the backing of governors considered friendly, it is expected that the governors will also reciprocate by working for the President when the time comes.
What has remained unclear is the role expected to be played by the nominee from Osun State, Adesiyan.
Some, at least, all the three senators from the state, consider his choice as ill- advised considering his alleged involvement in the controversy surrounding the unresolved murder of the late Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige.
Some political commentators are already liking Jonathan’s moves, especially in states considered hostile to him, to what former President Shehu Shagari did in the Second Republic, when he appointed people who were then referred to as ‘Federal Liaison Officers’ to checkmate his opponents in the affected states.
Whether the performance of Jonathan’s new cabinet will translate into national development that will endear the President to the people is what remains to be seen.
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