Mixed Legacies of Jonathan Ministers

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As long as their tenure lasted they were the backbone of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration; their successes and their failures are what Nigerians are left with as they the new administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, president-elect takes over on May 29,  to improve on

By Olu Ojewale  | Jun 1, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IT IS not always easy to say goodbye, but one way or the other it must come in certain cases. So, the time has gradually come for the President Goodluck Jonathan and his ministers to say their goodbyes as the lifespan of the administration comes to an end on May 29. But for good or bad many of the ministers who held sway in the life of the Jonathan administration would continue to be remembered. Although the president has held the day to disperse the ministers, the valedictory federal executive council meeting was held on Wednesday, May 20. It must have, indeed, be an emotional event for the ministers. A lot of the ministers would be missed for one reason or the other. No doubt, some of them would be going home with their heads held up high in the skies, proud of their contributions to the Nigerian project, while others would either bow their heads in regret or simply be indifferent for their actions in the course of serving their father land. No matter how they may have rated themselves, Nigerians must have also formed their opinions about them. They have succeeded in leaving behind actions and inactions that would be called legacies of the Jonathan administration.

Ahead of their departure, the president himself has prepared them for what may be the lot of some of them. Speaking like an oracle, President Jonathan on Sunday, May 10, called on his ministers and other aides who served in his administration to be ready for persecution by the incoming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, president-elect. He said he and his ministers would have hard times because of some critical decisions they took while in office.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Okonjo-Iweala

Jonathan, who spoke at a thanksgiving and farewell service organised in his honour at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Life Camp, Gwarinpa, Abuja, said: “If you take certain decisions, it might be good for the generality of the people but it might affect people differently. So for ministers and aides who served with me, I sympathise with them, they will be persecuted. And they must be ready for that persecution. Rounding off his statement, the president paraphrasing quotes from one of the late Tai Solarin’s popular articles, said to the ministers: “May your ways be rough. To my ministers, I wish you what I wish myself. They will have hard times, we will all have hard times. Our ways will be rough.”

But in a swift reaction to the president’s statement, All Progressives Congress, APC, on Monday, May 11, said promised that the Buhari administration would not persecute anybody. A statement issued by Lai Mohammed, national publicity of the APC, while assuring the public that the Buhari administration would not persecute anyone, warned that those who had played poker with the nation’s destiny must be willing and eager to clear their conscience before man and God.

That notwithstanding, he said: “The hands of the incoming government will not be tied by those who have chosen to play the victim and exhibit a persecution mentality. Whoever has any reason to be afraid must lay bare such reason before Nigerians.”

He advised the guilty ones, especially those with guilty conscience, on account of their actions in the public sphere, to clear such so they could be at peace with themselves.

Indeed, some of the departing ministers already know how they are perceived by the Nigerian public. If there is any minister that has managed to put his name in the black book of Nigerians, the person was Aba Moro, minister of interior. The public outcry that followed the death of 18 job applicants at the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, recruitment centres across the country on March 15, last year, was generally regarded as enough reason for either Moro to resign or get the sack from President Jonathan. But none of these happened. So, for many, the anguish over the NIS recruitment tragedy would remain a major blight and pain, not only on account of the needless deaths of the young job applicants, but also the seeming nonchalance of the minister to the tragedy by remaining in office.

Aliyu Mohammed Gusau
Gusau

That was not all, the recruitment exercise was contracted to Axiel, a logistics company and job applicants were charged N1, 000 each for the registration process. Expectedly, there was ruckus. The public could not understand why the government would ask jobless persons to pay for a chance at jobs. A group of youth, known as the “Nigerian Unemployed Youth Vanguard” undertook a protest march to the ministry of Internal Affairs. But the minister’s office defended the monetary charges saying the money was charged by the consulting firm and meant to defray the cost of accessing the websites to fill forms.

The ministry also argued that the money was intended to save the applicants the cost of travelling to Abuja to submit their application forms, as well as avoid other inherent risks, including unauthorised middlemen activities and other abuses.

But the money was not enough to prevent the death of the 18 job applicants at the shoddily organised recruitment centres. As if that was not bad enough, the minister further enraged the country by his unguarded statements the incident. On March 16, 2014, Moro took to the airwaves to blame the applicants that they caused the tragedy by impatience and failure to follow instructions. The provocative statement led to a major uproar in which individuals, groups and organisations unanimous called for the minister’s head.

Thereafter, Moro appeared before a Senate Committee on interior for two days of public hearings. On March 27, he accepted responsibility for the events and expressed his grief. He said he was saddened that his effort to put an end to nepotism and favouritism in the recruitment process had turned out that way. President Jonathan then ordered that the exercise be cancelled. But the minister remained in his post.

For some observer, the fact that Moro was allowed to remain in office after the gruesome incident betrayed a deep seated sense of official impunity in Nigeria. A lot of Nigerians said it was a shame that Moro was allowed to remain in office until the end of the Jonathan administration despite the scandal. “In saner climes, even if the most senior person does not accept vicarious responsibility, someone or some persons who made the wrong decisions would have resigned his or their jobs and be punished appropriately,” Obed Awowede, journalist and publisher at the Creektown Books Limited, said.

Another minister that would be bowing out with her integrity being questioned is Diezani Alison-Madueke. The petroleum minister became infamous with Nigerians following plethora of allegations about her profligacy with government funds. Although most of them are yet to be proven, Alison-Madueke has never helped her cause by going to court to force the National Assembly from probing her activities.

Diezani Alison-Madueke
Alison-Madueke

Trouble started when a group of whistleblowers Alison-Madueke, of squandering millions of dollars of public funds to rent private jets for the conduct of her official activities. In a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the group, known as Crusader for Good Governance, demanded that the minister be investigated for her extravagant life-style and for spending huge sums of public funds to rent private jets for her official and non-official trips.

According to her accusers, Alison-Madueke was frequently travelling around the world in private jets since becoming a minister, first under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and later under President Jonathan.

The petitioners observed that since she was appointed minister of Petroleum in 2010 by President Jonathan, Alison-Madueke had become one of the most powerful Nigerian government officials. According to the petition, submitted to the EFCC by the “Crusader For Good Governance,” an organisation based in Enugu, the minister has spent some N2 billion on private jet rentals. The petition was signed by Okechukwu Obiora Nnamdi, the group’s leader.

The group accused Alison-Maduekwe of spending $300,000 on an average international trip outside of Nigeria. She reportedly spent as much as $500,000 on trips to such destinations as China, Malaysia and several North American countries, according to the petition. The petitioners listed some of the minister’s most lavish trips.

During the last Easter break, she allegedly flew a private jet to Dubai with members of her family at the cost of $300,000. During President Jonathan’s visit to South Africa, she allegedly flew in a private jet that cost Nigeria $300,000.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, a government parastatal under her watch, was alleged to have maintained a Challenger 850 Visa jet which served the minister’s needs as well as those of her family. The alleged cost of running the jet was put at $500,000 per month.

In addition, the petitioners alleged that, in the last two years, the minister did not attend any meeting outside Nigeria in a commercial jet or in any of the jets maintained by the Nigerian Presidency. They stated that she had wasted more than N2 billion on the maintenance of aircraft in the last two years. The petitioners accused her of being the only minister who consistently used private jets to arrive at destinations when the Nigerian president travelled abroad.

Akinwumi Adesina
Adesina

When the National Assembly wanted to probe the allegations against her last year, Alison-Madueke quickly went to court to get a permanent injunction on the excuse that she had had so many summons from the legislators that she could no longer concentrate at her job.

Based on the public perception of the minister, her recent trip abroad was interpreted to mean that she was seeking an asylum in foreign land to escape alleged corruption charges under the incoming Buhari government. But Alison-Madueke was defiant on Wednesday, April 22, dismissing the allegation as a ruse and that she had no plan to escape as she was not indicted for any offence.

Her meeting General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former head of state, was also misconstrued as a way of looking for a “soft landing” from the Buhari administration. “Over the last four years, I have been severally and unfortunately accused and labelled in so many malicious and vindictive ways. I have explained these things and pushed back robustly on these accusations and I have even gone to court on many of them. Yet they keep being regurgitated.

“I think it is unfortunate, particularly when we are moving into a transition period and looking forward to an incoming government which is coming to take over where we have ended,” she said. The minister blamed her problems on the cabals, whom she said she had stepped on their big toes in the oil and gas industry. “I have said severally said that we will open up the industry to all Nigerians, and we have, but that is not to the pleasure of certain cabals. And I have been continuously maligned because of this,” she said.

On the question of the alleged missing money $20 billion from the NNPC, the embattled minister debunked claims that the money was missing. According to her, forensic audit conducted by the PricewaterhouseCoopers on behalf of the federal government on the operations of the NNPC had shown that the management of the corporation engaged in many questionable deals and was asked to refund $1.48 billion. She disclosed the refund had commenced.

Whether anyone would still believe Alison-Madueke after the tenure of the current administration is anybody’s guess.

But one minister who elicits mixed reactions from Nigerians is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of economy. In her first appearance on the Nigeria scene, Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed the support of Nigerians across the country after her impressive performance in the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Her role in negotiating forgiveness of Nigeria’s foreign debt with the Paris Club, especially earned her a huge admiration even though there were also dissenting voices, who claimed she did not strike the best deal for Nigeria and that she used her consultancy firm for the project. Yet, Okonjo-Iweala was highly respected by Nigerians, not the least, because of her commitment to fiscal discipline and a strict functional bureaucracy, which made it difficult to divert public funds to personal pockets.

This was said to have encouraged President Jonathan to hire her in July 2011.

Stella Oduah
Oduah

But her good public image vanished when the president insisted on the removal of oil subsidy in January 2012 which was backed by Okonjo-Iweala. It was widely suspected that the international financial institutions were the forces engineering it and the minister was held responsible more so because of her connection with the World Bank. Hence, a lot of people believed the minister was pandering to the dictate of international monetary institutions, which are widely suspected of always working against the interest of Africa.

So, to stop marketers and profiteers from reaping off Nigerian consumers on the importation of fuel, it was agreed that the local production of refined products had to be boosted. It was also agreed that the Subsidy Reinvestment Program, SURE-P, be established to channel the removed subsidy to productive venture.

Following the tumbling oil prices in the international market, the minister told Nigerians that the economy was not in serious trouble and that there was enough safety valves in place to get it back on track. “I will like to say one thing: there has been some attempt to make people feel that there is no hope; that this situation is so difficult; there is hopelessness.  I said from the beginning when oil prices began to fall by 50 percent. I said that this will be a tough year; but there is hope.

There is light at the end of the tunnel and the reason is because we have worked so hard as a country under this administration to lay the basics for us to exit this situation and get back on a good path,” Okonjo-Iweala said in March this year. But on May 5, the same minister told the nation that the government had to borrow N473 billion for recurrent expenditure, especially payment of salaries and allowances of its staff.

According the Nigerian debt management office: “External Debt in Nigeria decreased to 9464.11 USD Million in the first quarter of 2015 from 9711.45 USD Million in the fourth quarter of 2014. External Debt in Nigeria averaged 5943.38 USD Million from 2008 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 9711.45 USD Million in the fourth quarter of 2014 and a record low of 3627.50 USD Million in the first quarter of 2009. External Debt in Nigeria is reported by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.”

All these have made some Nigerians to have mixed feelings with way the minister handled the nation’s economy. Austin Iweze, economist and university don, blamed the minister for the economic mess the nation has been experiencing. “She should have known better. But again, as an economist you can only advise. No matter how good you are if you advise, if the system on ground does not conform you are likely to fail.” Iweze said the sad thing about the Nigerian economy is that those put in charge are usually students of Brentwood institution. “We need to go to Austrian school of economy. We need to go Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and indigenise our economy. That is the only way to go and that is the only way to succeed,” he said.

Sharing the same view, Olugbenga Adesanya, energy economist, said he was disappointed by the minister’s economic programme and blamed it on the quality of leadership at the helm of affairs of the country. He, however, enjoined the incoming administration to learn from the mistakes of the Jonathan administration. “There is nothing bad in inheriting a bad economy, it is an opportunity for the incoming administration to bring back the economy to fruition and I expect the new administration to pick a good team that will bring the desired goals,” Adesanya said.

Another minister who almost brought the Jonathan administration to ridicule was Stella Oduah, former minister Aviation. President Jonathan eventually sacked her on February, 12, last year following public uproar over her controversial purchase of two bullet-proof cars for N255 million.

Abba Moro
Moro

The controversy over the car scandal lasted for about six months before the president summoned courage to dismiss her from office, even when a presidential committee indicted her a month before the sack.

In any case, the aviation industry received the sack with mixed feelings because of her efforts in repositioning the industry. Some stakeholders faulted the timing of her removal, arguing that she should have been allowed to complete the airport remodelling project being embarked upon by her administration in about 22 airports across the nation. The remodelling had the approval of a lot of stakeholders in the industry.

But the likes of Olayinka Abioye, deputy general secretary, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN, hailed President Jonathan claiming that the tenure of Oduah was full of irregularities and disrespect for the unions in the Aviation industry.

But the person of Adewunmi Adesina, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, does not need another political appointment to remain relevant in the scheme of things in Nigeria. Adesina appears to have written his name in the political consciousness of the country through his performances as minister of agriculture in the Jonathan administration.   

The minister has transformed the agricultural sector in Nigeria by commercialisation at the small, medium and large-scale enterprise levels with the introduction of Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA, an initiative of the ministry of agriculture aimed at revamping the sector. It also aimed at placing Nigeria as an agricultural giant in the world market as well boost the economy.

According to Tunde Onoeye, leader of the Nigeria Investment Group, NIG, who also represents Rice Importers Association, RIA, the government’s rice policy has made an indigenous first in rice farming in Nigeria. He said more than $1.6 billion had been invested in the rice sector in the last four years.

Adesina, while reeling out the achievements in the sector in January, during this year’s Agricultural Festival, AgriFest, the minister said it was a new dawn for agriculture in Nigeria under the watch and leadership of President Jonathan. He said top leaders of the business sector were now investing massively in agriculture, adding that with the fall in the price of crude oil, agriculture would soon become the new oil for Nigeria. The minister said more than 14.5 million farmers had access to farm inputs at subsidised rate under the ATA.

He said that the ATA is a flagship programme of the federal government aimed at repositioning the sector and to produce 20 million tonnes of additional food this year.

“We have today, over 25, 000 farmers and agrio-businesses across the 36 states and the FCT who have come to celebrate a new dawn in Nigeria’s agriculture. Over the last four years, over 14 million farmers have received subsidised seeds and fertilizer under the GES scheme, many of whom are women who never get fertilizer or seeds from government.

Nebo
Nebo

“ATA has turned around the destinies of millions of farmers across the country with the fall in price of crude oil, agriculture has become the new oil for Nigeria’’, he said. The minister said through the instrumentality of ATA, the federal government was able to effectively curb 40 years of corruption in the fertilizer subsector in 90 days. He said the introduction of dry season farming by the President had changed the face of agriculture in the country.

But Adamu Bello, minister of Agriculture under President Olusegun Obasanjo, is not impressed. He cast aspersion on the achievements being paraded by Adesina as a fluke. In a statement issued about a month ago, said the growth rate of the agricultural sector had been on the decline since Obasanjo left office.

On the issue of claims by Adesina that the present administration had end 40 years of corruption where about N870billion subsidy was frittered away in the procurement and distribution of fertilizers to farmers across the country, the former minister said: “It is only God the Almighty that will judge the unfair way past administrations are being portrayed.”

Olukayode Oyeleye, special assistant to minister of Agriculture on media, in a swift reaction, tasked Bello to account for his seven year stewardship to the nation as the former minister of Agriculture. “Adamu Bello was, for seven years, the minister of Agriculture in Nigeria. He is easily the longest-serving minister in any administration in contemporary times. He has not come out to categorically state or explain what he has made of the two terms he served as minister and what impact his ministerial appointment had on the country,” Oyeleye said.

In any case, Adesina’s achievement seems to be of interest to Buhari who has also supported his ambition to become the next president Africa Development Bank.

Be that as it may, the tenure of Chinedu Nebo as minister of power, could not have been an enviable one. This is because Nebo has been the one carrying the can for power outage and epileptic supply of electricity in the country. But he believed that the Jonathan government was right to have taken the privatisation option to solve the electricity problems in the country. Hence, he got advised the incoming Buhari administration not to depart from it. Nebo said the process had progressed to the point that only adequate gas supply remained the major stumbling block. He said reversing the privatisation of the power sector now would set the nation back to sev­eral decades and would not be in the national interest.

“The gains of privatisation are very obvi­ous. If we can solve the prob­lem of gas like we are talking about energy mix, we are not just going by gas we are do­ing hydros. It was this same administration that flagged off Zungeru hydro power plants for 750 megawatts and is in a bid to flag off Mambilla 3,050 megawatts, Shiroro has been improved and revamped, Kai­nji revamped and improved; the same goes for Jebba. So, there is a lot of work be­ing done by the government. But to turn back on privatisa­tion would mean stopping all of these companies and then reversing the massive inflow of investments coming into the power sector. Nigeria’s power consumption per cap­ita is one of the lowest in the world and that is part of the ef­forts of government to reverse that. So, I don’t think it is in the best interest of the country,” Nebo said.

But whether the new administration would like to buy into his idea is anyone’s guess for now. However, Nigerians who have not been enjoying regular supply would be quick to encourage the new administration to find any other alternative that would fast rack regular supply of electricity and engineer industrial growth of the country.

Can anyone blame Aliyu Gusau, a retired lieutenant general and minister of defence, for Boko Haram insurgence which has continued to linger and almost paralysed activities in the North-East? Boko Haram activity reached worsened under his tenure and it is still lingering despite gains in tackling them recently. What is obvious here is that Gusau preferred to work in the background and out of the view of the media, thereby making it look like as if the military generals had been the ones running the show.

Now that the military is winning the war with the cooperation of the regional countries, Gusau could be allowed to boast that he had done his best. Many other ministers in the Jonathan could so boast, especially silent achievers among them such as Mike Onolememen, minister of works, who has succeeded in rehabilitating the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway which for years was a nightmare for many road users among others.

Whichever way the ministers are assessed, one would not sight of the fact that the administration has left behind a huge debt of $60 billion and a weak economy to the booth. The mess, according Yemi Osinbajo, vice-president elect, has left the country in a precarious situation. “On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the states in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape.  Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure.

“The figure of extreme poverty in our society — 110 million by current estimates – makes it clear that our biggest national problem is the extreme poverty of the majority. Thus, no analysis is required to conclude that dealing with poverty and its implications is a priority,” Osinbajo said. In clearing the Augean stables left behind by the Jonathan administration, it means then that Nigerian would be able to actually know the roles played by each the minister. For now, one can only wish them well in their private life, while they hope that their ways would not be rough as the president has predicted.

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