Why Hammer Fell on Nine Ministers

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Maku

President Goodluck Jonathan jolted the nation when he announced the sacking of nine cabinet ministers whom he felt might jeopardise his political and developmental programmes

By Olu Ojewale  |  Sep. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan would want everyone to believe that the problem of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is a minor problem that can be resolved by the political family. “Everybody knows what happened on Saturday (August 31). In families we disagree. These are minor disagreements that can be resolved. The party is intact and will remain intact. We will continue to show leadership and do everything possible to ensure that the party grows stronger,’’ the president said on Monday, September 9.

Ashiru
Ashiru

At the PDP mini convention, a group led by Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president and seven state governors, had walked out of the event to found what is known as the New PDP. Since then, the division in the ranks has been widening. But who anyone who had expected that the president’s pronouncement would produce a quick fix to the crisis would have been disappointed by the turn of events since then. Rather than getting resolved, the crisis in the party seems to be escalating as interest groups continue to make moves to get vantage position over their real and perceived enemies.

It was President Jonathan’s move that would have sent jitters into the spine of his opponents on Wednesday, September 11. He practically caught everyone napping when he announced the sacking of nine ministers. While many Nigerians have been making excuses for the president’s action, no one would like to absolve it from the crisis rocking the ruling party.

Ruling out political consideration for the minister’s sack, Labaran Maku, minister of information, who has been mandated by the president to oversee the ministry of defence, said that the changes had been speculated in the press many times since last year. “In fact, some have been writing almost openly saying they want cabinet reshuffle. There is no government in the world where the leaders do not reshuffle their cabinets; there is none. And cabinet reshuffle is part of a systematic public administration and I believe what the president has done is simply to address the issues of re-tooling his government to achieve service delivery,” Maku said.

The sacked ministers are Ruqayyatu Rufai, a professor, (Education); Okon Ewa-Bassey (Science and Techology); Olugbenga Ashiru (Foreign Affairs); Hadiza Mailafia (Environment); Shamsudeen Usman, (National Planning); and Ama Pepple (Housing, Lands and Urban Development). Others are Olusola Obada, minister of state for defence; Bukar Tijani minister of state for agriculture and Zainab Kuchi, minister of state for power.

Rufai
Rufai

Many factors might have dictated the president’s action, but coming at the time that it did, it is very difficult to absolve the president of using it as a political cudgel to deal with his foes, especially since many of the ministers were nominated by their respective state governors. For instance, Rufai was a nominee of Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. Lamido is one of the seven governors who walked out of the PDP convention and kicked against the leadership of the PDP headed by Bamganga Tukur.

Rufai’s case was further complicated by her inability to resolve the three-month-old strike by university lecturers.

Kuchi became a minister through his nomination by Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, another strong opponent of Jonathan, who has insisted that the president had an agreement to run for only one term. Besides, the minister was said to have been acting as the substantive minister following the sack of Barth Nnaji in August last year. Even when Chinedu Nebo was appointed the substantive minister early this year, Kuchi allegedly hid some files from him and put her name in the presidential visit to China but was detected by the president who insisted that Nebo should be the one on the trip.

The presidency was said to have been unhappy for the role she played in the award of the $1.3billion (N212billion) Zungeru Hydro Project contract. The hydro project is said to be one of the most expensive in the world to generating one megawatt of electricity. “Although no corruption infraction was found against Zainab Kuchi, she was sacrificed for not being vigilant,” a source said.

Obada
Obada

Like Rufai and Kuchi, Obada was nominated to the cabinet by Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former governor of Osun State and one of the factional leaders. Obada was Oyinlola’s deputy until they were voted out of office about two years ago. Based on the former minister’s closeness with Oyinlola, it was apparent that the president would not feel safe having her in the cabinet. The sin of Tijjani, who is from Borno State, is perhaps because his state is now being controlled by the All Progressives Congress, APC. His presence in the cabinet probably made the president uneasy.

Usman had been in the cabinet from 2007 and not a nominee of Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State. But his alleged cold war with Kwankwaso was said to have led to the factionalisation of the PDP in the state. This was said to have worried the president who regarded him as a political risk in his cabinet. Although the former deputy governor of the Central Bank has been credited with designing the performance benchmark for the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the country’s planning system has not improved.

Like Usman, Pepple was not nominated by her state governor. But she is believed to have a soft spot for her governor, Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, and even tried to get him to reconcile with the president. This was said to have surprised the president and made him doubt her loyalty. Besides, Pepple was said to have been slow in getting a grip on her ministry. “Her innocent intervention in Rivers crisis and fact that she was also just waking up to make an impact at the ministry of housing and urban development cost her the job,” a source close to the presidency said.

The removal of Ashiru, according to analysts, has shown the degree of the president’s mistrust in former President Olusgun Obasanjo interest in the resolution of the crisis in the PDP. All along, Jonathan has not hidden his mistrust of the former president in the conflict, but dropping Ashiru, a nominee of Obasanjo both from Ogun State, is bound to send a strong signal to those in the conflict that he would not accommodate any potential threat to his cabinet. Besides, Obasanjo’s mediatory role in the crisis is being regarded as an effort to clear the mess he had created. “Ashiru might just be a scapegoat,” an analyst said.

The removal of Mailafia from ministry of environment is believed to have no serious political undertone except, perhaps, his loyalty was in doubt given the recent political situation. “But, contrary to political permutations, some ministers from the rebellious states, like Adamawa, Rivers and Kwara, are in the cabinet because of performance without anyone touching them,” a source said.

Pepple
Pepple

Solving the rebellion in the PDP was intensified on Tuesday, September 10, when President Jonathan held a one-hour meeting with General Ibrahim Babangida and Ahmadu Ali, a former national chairman of the party. There was no communiqué on what was discussed. But it was gathered that Babangida and Ali impressed it on Jonathan to ensure that peace returns to the PDP. They were said to have told him to consider the proposal by the party’s elders, as a way of ending the crisis. The party elders, including Obasanjo, had met and made some recommendations which included the reinstatement of the state executives of the PDP in Rivers and Adamawa states, brokering of peace in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, stoppage of operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from haunting the president’s opponents and for Jonathan to drop his second term ambition.

It is believed that Babangida and Ali asked the president to seriously consider the recommendations, especially those related to the PDP in Rivers and Adamawa states as well as the NGF issue which, they expressed the belief would help in getting the aggrieved PDP governors to renounce the faction they had formed. They promised to meet with the governors to also get them to make concession. But Jonathan was said to have made no commitment on Amaechi and the question of tenure.

Obasanjo and Babangida along with Ali and Barnabas Gemade, former national chairman of the PDP, as well as Tony Anenih, chairman of the Board of Trustees, BoT, had met with the leaders of the New PDP and the Tukur-led executive of the PDP on Friday, September 6, to discuss ways to restore peace to the party. But all these seemed to have failed to persuade the gladiators in the crisis to sheath their swords.

On Tuesday, September 10, the Bamanga Tukur-led PDP filed a contempt process before an Ikeja High Court, Lagos, against the leaders of the New PDP, asking for their imprisonment for allegedly violating an order made by Justice Ganiyu Safari. The party also filed an application at the Federal High Court, Abuja, urging the court to jail the alleged contemnors for “appointing” Olagunsoye Oyinlola as “national secretary” after the court had nullified his nomination by the PDP South-West zonal chapter.

In the motion filed by Ajibola Oluyede, on their behalf, Tukur, Uche Secondus, deputy national chairman, Kema Chikwe, national women leader, and Olisah Metuh, national publicity secretary, want the court to commit officers of the New PDP to jail. They named the contemnors to include  Abubakar Baraje, Sam Sam Jaja, Oyinlola, Maode Hiliya, Timi Frank, Binta Koje, Malam Nasir Issa, Chukwuemeka Eze, Aliyu Wadada and Tanko Gomna.

Usman
Usman

According to the suit, the applicants say the court should jail Baraje, Jaja and Oyinlola for a term of one year or as the court may otherwise determine for alleged criminal contempt which they committed “in their conspiracy and actions to flout the purpose and authority of the court.” The party argued that the named defendants obstructed the administration of justice by subverting the court’s processes and engaged in overt acts of defiance and violation of an order made on September 2.

Hence, they want the contemnors be jailed for “aiding and abetting the defiance and violation of the order of this honourable court through their appointment into various offices constituting the National Working Committee, NWC, of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, for the purpose of rendering the said orders of this honourable court nugatory and of no effect.”

Indeed, Safari had ordered in a ruling that “parties maintain the status quo ante pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed by the new PDP.” The judge restated his pronouncement on Monday, September 9. But the two groups have claimed the order to be in their respective favour.  This probably encouraged the New PDP to open a new office on September 3, and also appoint members to various offices to constitute its national working committee.

Two weeks ago, the Baraje-led faction had asked INEC to deregister the Tukur-led PDP on the basis that it failed to notify the electoral body of an amendment to the party’s constitution as required by the Nigerian constitution.

Section 222 (D) of the Nigerian Constitution stipulates: “Any alteration in its (political party) registered constitution shall also be registered in the principal office of the Independent National Electoral Commission within thirty days of the making of such alteration.” But INEC has told the two factions that it would not meddle in their affairs.

As the crisis appears to be defying solution, the president was said to have covertly raised three strategic committees to suggest how to contain the aggrieved governors, if the peace efforts fail. The committees, which were set up on Thursday, September 5, before the president flew out to Kenya, include political, legal and contact. It was not clear how far the groups have performed or those in the committees. But the president has been billed to meet with the PDP state governors including the aggrieved ones on Sunday, September 15. According to analysts, it would also be a good ground for the president to declare his intention about the 2015 presidential election.

Anenih had told the president at a dinner held on Sunday, September 8, that he should make public whether or not he would like to contest the 2015 poll. Anenih said: “I will appeal to our leader, the president of this country, that at the end of September or as we enter October, we should not tell anybody that the time is not right. I think the time is right. It is good that we tell our people where we are going to; what our journey will be like.”

But whether President Jonathan will accede to that advice is another thing. For a start, he has removed the nine ministers whom he considered to be a threat to his ambition, but how he intends achieve this without being the casualty remains unclear.

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