Posted by EMMA AZIKEN, Abuja on
THE July breakfast meeting that President Olusegun Obasanjo traditionally holds with his cabinet every first Friday of the month will remain memorable for at least twelve of the former cabinet members.
THE July breakfast meeting that President Olusegun Obasanjo traditionally holds with his cabinet every first Friday of the month will remain memorable for at least twelve of the former cabinet members. With the palatable aroma of the Aso Rock cuisine melting into their gastric systems on that July 1, Obasanjo told his cabinet of his decision to drop some of them from their positions. After a prolonged period of speculations, the end, to wit, of the ministerial duties and privileges of at least twelve cabinet members was inching to an end.
As at weekend, the president was yet to name the ministers to be affected even though he alerted them that he would not habour two ministers from the same local government area of the same state. Last Monday afternoon, Prof. Clifford Ohiagu, a former member of the House of Representatives now serving as presidential assistant in the National Assembly, stepped into the office of the Senate president in the National Assembly with some white envelopes with a presidential seal containing the lists of the ministerial nominees.
Before then, some national newspapers, through contacts in the presidency and the security agencies, had already gone to town speculating who and who made the new ministerial list. Alongside the speculations on who and who made the list was the speculation on who and who would be leaving the cabinet. While a number of the guesses on who would be coming in went off target, several guesses on those leaving were right on target. Mrs. Rita Akpan, the minister of women affairs who has had a troubled time both with the president and with a former ministerial colleague, Princess Funke Adedoyin, was one of the most easy assumptions.
An example of Obasanjo’s perceived disinclination to Mrs. Akpan was manifested during the successful presidential tour of Akwa Ibom in August 2004. On that occasion and as he usually does during visits to states, the president had taken time to answer questions from a cross-section of citizens of the state. Asked a question on his administration’s efforts at ameliorating poverty especially among the women folks, he immediately launched a tirade against Mrs. Akpan whom he alleged was in the habit of regularly demanding and channeling money as a means of reducing poverty among women. In the full glare of the public and with Mrs. Akpan standing awkwardly under a tree in the lawn of the Government House at Uyo, Obasanjo expressed his deep disappointment with his senior minister on women and that, at Mrs. Akpan’s home base.
Compounding Mrs. Akpan’s woes is the president’s recent face off with Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State under whom she served as secretary to the state government before her ministerial appointment. As Attah’s nominee to the cabinet, Akpan’s affliction was compounded by the face off between the president and the governor over the hurried impeachment of the former deputy governor, Mr. Chris Ekpenyong. That bad blood would not have helped her cause.
Also marked down for ousting is Princess Adedoyin, the vivacious minister of state for health. A combination of brain and beauty, Princess Adedoyin’s first job as minister of state in the women and youth affairs ministry was a petulant affair with her senior minister. As the affair between the two women worsened, the line of demarcation between the two women was drawn by the authorities who gave her the youth portfolio job to handle. She then preferred to be addressed as minister of youths. But the ill-feelings between the two women worsened further till she was eventually transferred to the ministry of health as the junior minister. Princess Adedoyin’s fate in the cabinet was also jeopardized by the quarrelsome relationship she had with her state governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the mainstream of the Saraki political dynasty in her native Kwara State.
A scion of the wealthy Adedoyin clan, Princess Adedoyin had worked her political ladder independent of the Sarakis and expected as much to be given her due independent of the Sarakis. Having chased out a serving governor in the person of Alhaji Mohammed Lawal in 2003, cutting Adedoyin, a female single parent, would not have posed as much difficulty for the Oloye (Dr Olusola Saraki) and his son. Kwara’s loss in the intellectually gifted Adedoyin may well be compensated by her replacement in the person of the apolitical but equally resourceful Mrs Halima Tayo Alao, a permanent secretary in the state civil service.
Also marked for exit from the cabinet is Alhaji Mohammed Musa, the minister of state for transport. A native of Wase in Plateau State, the nomination of the Muslim "settler" was a persisting sore for the majority of the indigenes of Plateau State. To them, it was another example of how the Hausa Fulani-Muslim hegemony would go to ridicule the predominantly Christian non-Hausa population of the Plateau. Though the loss of Musa could be portrayed as a loss for the small but strong Hausa-Fulani Muslim community in Plateau as led by the deputy Senate president Ibrahim Mantu, the replacement is itself no gain for the Governor Joshua Dariye crooners.
In fact, it may be another political success for Mantu in his persisting battle to evaporate Dariye from national political relevance. Replacing Musa is Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun, the third republic governor of the old Plateau State and most recently, director-general of the Obasanjo-Atiku presidential re-election campaign organization. At his Senate screening last Wednesday, Tapgun made his preferences known as he gave a thump down to the administration of Dariye whom he accused of fanning the embers of disunity that helped to polarize the state.
The fate of the youthful minister of information, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu, in the federal cabinet was as at weekend dicey. The naming of Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili as a minister which has been enthusiastically welcomed by core elements of the Obasanjo administration makes it difficult for Chikelu unless the president decides to preserve him. Though likeable, it is the opinion of some that Chikelu has not been up and doing in the area of propaganda of government programmes. He is said to be a smooth operator more inclined to polishing the government’s image abroad and disinclined to the body moving enthusiasm of some past information ministers as Prof. Jerry Gana, Dapo Sarunmi and Uche Chukwumerije.
Besides perceived lack of performance and political intrigues, one crucial factor used in picking those to go was the perceived gubernatorial ambition of some of the ministers. This was the crucial factor that perhaps sent out Elder Odion Ugbesia. A protéégéé of Chief Tony Anenih, the out-going minister of solid minerals is said to have set his eyes firm on contesting the Edo State gubernatorial contest in 2007. Though the minister of transport, Dr. Precious Sekibo, has been speculated to be in the race to succeed Governor Peter Odili at the Port-Harcourt Brick House, he has been left out of those going.
When the names of the ministerial nominees were released by the Senate last Tuesday with Dr. Edmund Daukoru being cited to be from Rivers State, the impression was that he would be replacing Sekibo on the federal cabinet. Daukoru’s state of origin was subsequently corrected and listed as Bayelsa State during the Senate screening. If, however, The Presidency actually listed Daukoru as coming from Rivers State, it would mean that The Presidency actually meant to sack Sekibo, a situation that would put The Presidency in an awkward situation.
If on the other hand it was a typographical mistake that Daukoru was listed as coming from Rivers State, it would well mean that penultimate Friday’s breakfast meeting of the president with his cabinet was the last for Prof. Turner Isoun, the minister of science and technology. But definitely on his way out is Alhaji Saleh Shehu, the minister of state for works from Jigawa State who is leaving the cabinet on suspicion of habouring gubernatorial ambition. He is being replaced by Alhaji Ahmed Abdulhamid, a former member of the House of Representatives who at 39 would become one of the youngest members of the federal executive council.
Col. Bala Mande (rtd.) the minister of environment is also leaving for the twin reasons of nurturing a gubernatorial ambition and for purportedly moving away from the mainstream of the Zamfara State chapter of the PDP under the control of Lt. Gen. Mohammed Gusau, the national security adviser. To replace him on the state slot in the cabinet is Alhaji Yahaya Abdulkarim, the third republic governor of the old Sokoto State. Abdulkarim is seen as a more matured politician with grassroots support able to galvanise the populace more than the retired military officer.
Also leaving is Alhaji Bashir Awoteribo, the minister of state for water resources who is leaving also supposedly to pursue his gubernatorial ambition. Though the president did not as much tell the outgoing ministers about his vexation with their perceived gubernatorial pursuits, Aso Rock sources told Sunday Vanguard that Obasanjo was as much very disappointed.
Hajia Bintu Ibrahim Musa, the quiet talking minister of state (education) from Borno State is the third female minister on her way out. Though with no gubernatorial ambition, her exit one Presidency source told Sunday Vanguard could well be related to the political intrigues in Borno. Mrs. Musa, PDP aficionados complained, for most of her time in the cabinet, was originally a member of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) who was reaping what they, PDP, had laboured for.
She is giving way for Mrs. Maryam Ciroma, the wife of Mallam Adamu Ciroma, the immediate past minister of finance and chairman of the Obasanjo re-election campaign organization. One person who almost made the new cabinet list was Dr. Olugbemi Akinkoye from Ondo State who was the third nominee presented in the new cabinet list to replace Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo who was sacked from the federal cabinet few months ago. Earlier nominees were Mr. Kayode Tokunbo (SAN) and Ambassador Bayo Yusuf.
Tokunbo’s nomination was withdrawn following his prosecution and eventual acquittal in a corruption case. Yusuf failed a Senate screening which he capped with his failure to articulate the government’s economic programme, National Economic, Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS). Interestingly, no member of the president’s twelve disciples as the twelve men and women that comprise the Aso Rock economic team is negatively affected by the changes.
Indeed, one of them, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, has been lifted from her position as senior special assistant to the president to the rank of a minister. All the nominees were cleared by the Senate during a marathon screening exercise last Wednesday. Following the pledge by Senate president, Ken Nnamani that the screening of presidential nominees would no longer be the courteous banter it used to be, the Senate spent almost 10 hours drilling the ministerial nominees. Some of the nominees, nevertheless, attracted more questioning than the others. Among those that drew more serious questioning were Esuene, Ezekwesili, Itotoh, Tapgun and Daukoru.