President Goodluck Jonathan’s shake-up of the cabinet further heightens the conflict in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, jeopardising reconciliation as well as dimming hopes of giving the nation some measure of good governance
By WOLA ADEYEMO From conspiratorial whispers to loud advice for President Goodluck Jonathan, the clamour for a surgical operation on the federal cabinet is as old as the administration itself. By the beginning of this year, when some presidency sources expressed confidence that it would happen within the first quarter, expectations were raised that he would bring on board credible candidates to drive his Transformation Agenda. But throughout the first and the second quarters, the helmsman kept everyone guessing about what he would do with the cabinet, generally considered to be performing well below average. Jonathan entered the third quarter without an inkling that there might be a shake-up. So when he did it last week, it came as a surprise to those affected, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the proponents of a cabinet shake-up. The irony of it all, however, is that those who campaigned for it were not excited by the outcome.
The suspicion was that the exercise was done more to settle political scores than to address the inadequacies in governance. In fact, the groundswell of opinion was that the President gave the nine ministers the boot because he needed to flex muscles with people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and seven governors also elected on the platform of his party, but who are currently in a tangle with him over the control of the PDP. Another reason, even close sources gave, is that the President’s strategists believe that a number of the affected ministers do not have the political wand to help him realise his ambition for a second term in 2015. Though Labaran Maku, minister of information and communication, insisted that the exercise was done to inject some new blood in the cabinet, the timing of the reshuffle makes the official reason a hard sell. There is widespread belief that some of those who have not been adding value to the Transformation Agenda of the administration are still sitting pretty in government, because they are considered to be blindly loyal to their principal. The general concern, last week, was that those who are power brokers within the cabinet, always flaunting their closeness to the President and sometimes taking actions that undermine his programmes or even cause national embarrassment, are left untouched. Prominent among people in this group are Dieziani Alison-Madueke, minister of petroleum resources; Stella Oduah, minister of aviation; Godsday Orubebe, minister of Niger Delta; and Nyesom Wike, minister of state in the Ministry of Education.
Alison-Madueke, one of the longest serving ministers in the cabinet, is believed to indulge in actions considered as deliberate attempt to flaunt her closeness to the President, to the extent of being contemptuous of her other colleagues in the Federal Executive Council. There is something about Alison-Madueke; it is either she is a victim of envy by her colleagues or she cuts controversy as a result of her attitude. For instance, she is said to attend the meeting of the Economic Team, of which she is a member, only when she wishes, and hardly stays till the end. It is said that she sometimes sends a civil servant, which invariably makes it difficult at times to furnishing the team with the statistics needed for economic planning. The same minister was believed to have sparred with Barth Nnaji, former minister of power, who reportedly complained to the President about her nonchalant attitude to the provision of natural gas for thermal power stations. Those who expected her ouster from the cabinet believe that the quantum of the petroleum subsidy scam allegedly committed under her watch stands as an indictment, weighty enough to warrant her resignation or removal.
As it has turned out, whatever yardstick critics use in measuring her performance, it is certainly not the same with that of the President, through whom she was first appointed into government since the days of late president Umaru Yar’Adua. The woman, whose profile has since risen after Jonathan became a substantive president, is believed to be a confidante of the commander-in-chief. An impeccable source confirmed that even the President so introduced her to the envoy of a Middle Eastern nation recently. The envoy had brought a message from his head of government, who wanted to give a critical report to Nigeria on how to track the Boko Haram insurgency in the country.
After a meeting with the President, the envoy was reportedly introduced to the minister for further discussion. Worried that the President might have committed an error, the envoy said he did not think it was appropriate for him to discuss security matters with a minister of petroleum since she was not handling a security portfolio. But Jonathan was said to have told the envoy that she was his confidante, adding that the envoy should feel free to discuss anything with her. Not convinced that such an attitude was complementary of efforts made by his government to support an ally, the envoy contacted his principal and eventually returned home without Nigeria availing itself of such help.
What the envoy did not know is that Alison-Madueke is one of the three persons who have the ears of the President. The second is also a cabinet member, while the third is a non-cabinet member who is an oil magnate. Those who claim to know say of the three, Alison-Madueke wields the greatest influence on the President. Part of the things she has contributed to government is the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which remains one of the most lobbied bill in the National Assembly. The bill seeks to, among other things, increase local content in the industry. In her tenure, the country has increased its oil export and, by implication, national revenue. Unfortunately though, that has been diminished by the spate of oil theft, thus making budget implementation a great challenge. That is despite the controversial appointment of Government Ekpumopolo, aka Tompolo, as security contractor for the Niger Delta area.
Those who feel that she should have been relieved of her position say that she had behaved, of recent, as if she too expected that the worse could come. She reportedly has not used her office since the second quarter, preferring to operate from her residence. But some of her colleagues see her action as a demonstration of impunity, since civil servants now have to take to her home files that she ordinarily would have treated in the office. Whether it was a demonstration of fatigue or impunity, colleagues still see her as untouchable. For instance, recently Oduah is said to have quipped to a friend that Alison-Madueke enjoys a monopoly in getting the ears of the President.
If that is true, then it shows the degree of influence the petroleum minister commands in government. This is because Oduah is in fact believed to be another influential minister, who has survived thus far because she is in the good books of the President. The woman, who had survived possible loss of her job in the past, is seen by those who had been at the receiving end of her actions as an abuser of due process, a development that may have contributed to the frustration in actualising the planned national carrier. Some major airlines are said to have rebuffed her offer of partnership for a national carrier. The airlines considered laughable the minister’s scuff at their suggestion that the government should rather support Arik Air to assume the status of a national carrier. Whether or not they believed her argument about the embattled DANA Air being the best airline in the country, it was apparent that they are afraid of falling victim of the kind of treatment that had been meted out to corporate bodies that had had agreements with the government in the past. A similar partnership with the Virgin Atlantic ended on a sad note, even though the company later got compensation from the federal government. At home the Bicourtney Aviation Services and Maevis Nigeria Limited are not telling good stories about the public private partnership, PPP they had with government in the aviation sector.
In fact, if other airlines contacted could still give the minister of aviation the benefit of the doubt, Lufthansa will not rush into any deal with the ministry under her, conscious of the experience it had over a part of the binational commission agreement between Nigeria and its home government, Germany. The Minister unilaterally cancelled the agreement leading to a protest from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel to the President and to the European Union, EU. Aside from the cancellation giving Nigeria a bad image abroad, particularly among EU nations, it also embarrassed Jonathan who had to personally apologize to Merkel.
In spite of her infractions, Oduah has recorded some achievements in the aviation sector. She has to her credit the complete remodeling of 11 airports and ongoing remodeling of another 11, in different parts of the country among other things. But the controversies she courts have put her on the list of ministers some people believe should be shown the way out. The concern is that some of the reversals she had done may come back to haunt Nigeria. That they survived this reshuffle gives credence to the hush-hush talk that the two female ministers are like cats with nine lives.
As a matter of fact when the duo of Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, former military head of state, visited Jonathan last year to suggest the replacement of the two female ministers, the President vehemently shunned the advice, complaining that he was the target of all those asking that his close confidants be fired. What the two former heads of state do not realise is that the support that Oduah gave Jonathan’s campaign in 2011, through the neighbour-to-neighbour campaign, is not something that the President is willing to do away with. He surely needs her again. The President also chose to delay the appointment of a substantive minister for the Ministry of Defence, contrary to the advice of the two retired generals. Notwithstanding the fact that they promised to help him shop for a strong and credible candidate, Jonathan probably thought the two men had some hidden agenda, and therefore decided to keep the job for a trusted associate.
Labaran Maku, one of the ministers said to be a strong ally of the President, may now step into that shoe. Though he may not be in the same league of those believed to have the ears of the President, Maku is one of the PDP leaders holding Nasarawa state now being governed by Tanko Al-Makura of the All Progressives Congress, APC. One of his colleagues who appears like a third force to the two amazons, in the ministries of petroleum and aviation, is Wike, the man who is leading the political battle for the first family in Rivers State, and now a major beneficiary of the cabinet shake-up. He appears to have more clout in the cabinet now than Orubebe, whose administration of the Niger Delta ministry is seen as uneventful. He too has been in the forefront of the battle with Amaechi. But he is not as involved as Wike, perhaps because he is not from Rivers. The latter now takes over the ministry of education, with the exit of his boss, Ruqquayat Rufai, a professor of Curriculum Studies. Insiders insist that his biggest qualification is his robust allegiance to the President and his family. The man who was originally nominated for the ministerial job by Governor Rotimi Amaechi is today the governor’s greatest political enemy, supposedly fighting the course of Patience, the wife of the President.
He too appears to be fighting to remain in the good books of the first family so he could in the future cash some political rewards. Wike is said to be a fighter for whatever he believes in. For instance, afraid that being number three on Amaechi’s list to the President after the 2011 election, he may not make the cabinet, he had ran to Tony Anenih, chairman of the Board of Trustees, BoT of the PDP. The latter reportedly visited Jonathan, whipped up sentiments and got Wike into the cabinet. He was said to have told the President that Tonye Cole, the number one man on the governor’s list, was the son of a political adversary and an itinerant pastor who had little or no political value. Instead, Anenih reportedly told the President that Wike, a grassroots politician had put his influence to use for the party’s victory in Rivers State. He remains in cabinet, with an enhanced status. Ama Pepple, erstwhile minister of Lands and Housing, who is from Rivers, was not that lucky. She reportedly lost out because of efforts she made to mediate between Jonathan and Amaechi. She had been appointed in the cabinet following the intervention of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clarke, to represent the South-south geopolitical zone. Some hawks in the presidency concluded that such move is indicative of sympathy for Governor Amaechi.
She went the way of Olusola Obada, formerly minister of state, defence; Rufai; Olugbenga Ashiru, foreign affairs; Shamsudeen Usman, national planning; Zainab Kuchi, minister of state, power; Ita Ewa, science and technology; Bukar Tijani, minister of state, agriculture; and Hadiza Mailafia, environment. Obada’s case is particularly peculiar. She is not seen as such a political weight in her home state of Osun to personally swing the votes for the President, without leaning on her benefactor, the former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, under who she served as deputy governor. Now, Oyinlola is secretary of the new PDP, an antagonist of the President’s camp. Worse still, Oyinlola himself carries the tag of an unrepentant loyalist of Obasanjo, whose frosty relationship with Jonathan both camps love to deny.
Rufai, an academic, is as well seen as not a political asset, who could rally support for the President. She has introduced reforms in education and the current industrial strike in the sector cannot be blamed on her, but on the inability of the federal government to fund the agreement it had with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU in 2009. But she was sponsored into government by Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, who is not only one of the ‘rebel’ governors, but also believed to nurse a presidential ambition. Rufai was even more endangered on account of the ambition of her benefactor, which is being spearheaded by Obasanjo. Jonathan had fallen out with the former president who is responsible for choosing him as running mate to the late Yar’Adua. The romance between Lamido and Obasanjo touched a raw nerve with the President last year when Obasanjo scorned an invitation to the independence anniversary at the Aso Rock Villa, only to grace a similar event in Dutse, Jigawa, where he said Lamido would make a better presidential material.
Ashiru is also said to have lost out because the presidency has to spite Obasanjo, his godfather, and then appointed a more loyal candidate for the job and a politician who will concentrate on rallying support for the President. In fact, Ashiru’s job had been threatened a few times in the past for the same reason of his ties with the former president. There was a time Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate inadvertently saved Ashiru’s job, with a favourable comment on Nigeria’s intervention in the Mali situation. The President was so glad to have received that commendation from Soyinka, whose criticism of government activities had been a source of concern in the villa. Jonathan was said to have celebrated the don’s comment. But that was not the only time that Ashiru’s tenure has restored Nigeria’s glory abroad, with nationals treated with respect unlike in the past. The promptness with which the country also recognised the National Transitional Council, the group that supplanted the government of late Moammer Gaddafi in Libya, ahead of other African countries, is also seen as a diplomatic masterstroke. Those who covet his achievements further commend the speed with which the country responded to the harassment of Nigerians in South Africa, to the extent that that country’s government had to send its deputy president to apologise to Jonathan.
It is said that he is seen as being aloof when politics is discussed in government circles, making it difficult for his employers to gauge his political preference. The problem is that the more he tries to distance himself from politics, the more presidency strategists suspect him of having allegiance to political adversaries of the President. Since the goal of the reshuffle is to bring about a cabinet that will return Jonathan, an apolitical minister like Ashiru will not be an asset. He had to go.
Usman, until last week, minister of national planning, is another person who got the boot. He has been a holdover from the Yar’Adua cabinet where he served as minister of finance. He had been one of the two oldest serving members, since 2007. While Usman may not be on record as peddling opposing political belief to that of the President, he is known to be more of a technocrat than a political heavyweight in Kano, where Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, the governor and an opponent of Jonathan, holds sway. Reports have it that there are some politicians from the state already lobbying to have the man’s job.
Kuchi may have survived the exercise, even with unclear report of her performance, but her benefactor, the vocal governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, has been told, in the calculation of presidency strategists, that somebody calls the shots at the centre. The achievements of Ewa in the ministry of science and technology is not enough consideration to retain him against the wish of Godswill Akpabio, governor of Akwa Ibom who is a strong supporter of the President. Bukar Tijani had to give way to a more politically savvy candidate, who may help the President in Borno. Sources also say that the replacement for Mailafia may be one of the politicians who has to be appeased for losing out in the recent power game in Kaduna.
Mike Onolememen, minister of works, had to continue to lean on Anenih, his benefactor, to ensure that he did not lose out in the ensuing power game. Caleb Olubolade, minster of police affairs, and Abba Moro of Interior Ministry were expected to come under the guillotine. This is because of the near helplessness of their ministries in the face of insurgency and kidnapping. Olusegun Aganga, minister of trade and investment, almost lost based on the argument that he is not a political asset. But the presidency could not take him out, since he is one of the few technocrats who have no renegade godfather.
Of the lot, there are those whose staying power in government is what they brought to the table. This group has Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy; Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture and mineral resources, and Bala Mohammed, minister of federal capital territory, FCT. The finance minister has been battling with efforts to bring the economy back on its feet. Her intervention brought some sanity at the nation’s ports, though the impunity that rules the place appears to be rearing its head again.
Adesina is a favourite because of the vigour with which he approaches his job and some of the achievements recorded in that sector. Indeed, with his sterling performance, he is one of the very few ministers giving the administration whatever little credibility it has. It is perhaps in recognition of that effort that the National Economic Summit Group decided to make agriculture the main theme of this year’s conference, the first time in 19 years that the confab will be sector-specific in its annual deliberation. Mohammed is said to be pursuing the master plan of Abuja, part of which is the introduction of the new transport system.
Those who were clamouring for cabinet a shake-up actually wanted the removal of those they believe were not pulling their weight, and have them replaced with strong and dedicated hands, so that they can complement the efforts of the few good ones.
That hope is dashed, as the man at the helm of affairs appears to be too fixated on the race for a second term of office to consider removal of ministers based only on lack of performance. Governance, hitherto considered drab, will now be relegated almost to the background. That would mean that much of the President’s Transformation Agenda may have to be done only on paper.
The danger in it for the President is that the main objective of getting a second term may be a mirage. That too may affect the fortunes of the party, believed to have done little to improve the lot of Nigerians, since it got into government 14 years ago. What is more, the steps taken by Jonathan have further frustrated efforts at resolving the crisis in the party, and further widened the gulf among the contending interests. Though Ahmed Gulak, an aide of the President, said that the party will, as it is the tradition, resolve the logjam, the outcome of various meetings last week and the cabinet shake-up appear to have put the final nail on any genuine reconciliation. The months ahead promise to be even more interesting.