Less than 48 hours after ordering his Chief of Staff, Chief Mike Oghiadomhe, to resign, President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday sacked four ministers from the Federal Executive Council.
The affected persons are the ministers of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah; Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godsday Orubebe; Police Affairs, Navy Cpt. Caleb Olubolade; and the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama.
All the ministers, except Oduah, attended the FEC meeting on Wednesday at which Jonathan announced their exit.
Oduah had been in the eye of the storm since last year over the purchase of two bulletproof BMW cars for N255m on her behalf by a parastatal under the ministry, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
Apart from the amount spent on the cars, which was found to be grossly above the market value, Nigerians also queried the propriety of the purchase by a parastatal that was finding it difficult to train key personnel responsible for aviation safety.
The House of Representatives, based on the report of a committee it set up to investigate the matter, had asked Jonathan to review Oduah’s appointment.
Following public outcry that greeted the news of the car purchase, Jonathan had set up a three-man administrative panel headed by a former Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello, to investigate the matter.
Although he had on November 24, 2013 publicly acknowledged receipt of the panel’s report, the President did not disclose the content of the report nor take any decision based on the report for many weeks.
Briefing State House correspondents on the outcome of the weekly FEC meeting on Wednesday, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, said the President informed the council that he had asked the affected ministers to step out of his cabinet to enable them to pursue other political and private interests.
He said, “Today, the President announced further changes in the Federal Executive Council. He said a number of ministers have been asked to step out of the council to further their own interests; some in politics, others in their own private focus.
“Clearly, what the President did today (Wednesday) was to allow the ministers who have indicated interest in pursuing further goals in the polity, in the economy and in the life of the country, to go.
“Those asked by the President to go include the following: Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama; Minister of Police Affairs, Navy-Capt. Caleb Olubolade (retd.); Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe; and Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah.”
Maku added, “In announcing the acceptance of their decision to participate in the polity, the President thanked them very sincerely for the great job they have done in helping the government realise the goals that have been achieved under the transformation agenda.
“The President believes that they have done so well for this administration and is generally happy with what they have done, particularly in their various sectors, to help the administration realise the goals we have seen today in the results we have arrived at under the transformation programme of the government.”
When asked to clarify if the ministers resigned their appointments or were asked to step down, Maku said, “The President said he had asked them to go because of their interests. They have indicated interests in pursuing higher and deeper interests in the polity; and so, he has decided to allow them to go and pursue those interests. You have to get that correctly so that you won’t go and say something like what was said in the case of the former Chief of Staff (to the President).”
When further asked whether the President, in sacking the ministers, made any reference to the report of the committee he set up to probe Oduah or preferred to confine the report to the dustbin of history, Maku paused for a few minutes before saying, “I have just reported exactly what the President said. Also, don’t forget that an allegation doesn’t necessarily mean guilt, and I think the press should always take some time to be patient.
“But the truth of the matter is that they left because they indicated interest in playing deeper roles in the politics of the country and the President has decided to let them go.”
Pending when substantive ministers would be named, Maku said the President had directed some members of his cabinet to take over at the affected ministries in acting capacity.
Under the arrangement, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Samuel Ortom, will be supervising the Aviation ministry; the Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory, Ms. Olajumoke Akinjide, will supervise the Police Affairs ministry; the Minister of State, Niger Delta, Mr. Dairus Ishaku, will assume control over the ministry; while the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will take over Ngama’s duties.
Olubolade and Orubebe left the Presidential Villa shortly after the FEC meeting before the news of their removal filtered to journalists.
Ngama, on his part, declined granting an interview to journalists covering the State House, insisting that he would only talk to Hausa correspondents, whom he engaged in discussion for several minutes before walking out of the Villa.
The last time Jonathan sacked ministers was on September 11, 2013 when he showed nine members of his cabinet the way out.
The ministers who were then affected included that of Education, Prof Ruqayyatu Rufai; Science and Technology, Prof. Ita Ewa; Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru; Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Mailafia; National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman; and Housing, Lands and Urban Development, Ms. Amal Pepple.
Others were the ministers of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada; Agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijani; and Power, Mrs. Zainab Kuchi.
Reacting to the sacking of Oduah, the President, Aviation Roundtable, Capt. Dele Ore, said, “Whether it is sacking or resignation is immaterial. The important thing is that she is off the back of the ministry; and now, the Ministry of Aviation can move forward. During her tenure, I would say the aviation industry was moved 60 years backwards.
“On the issue of whether she should be prosecuted or not, I can’t comment on that; I am only interested in aviation safety and things to do with the industry.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Security and Safety Consult, Group Captain John Ojikutu, said, “Well, I think the resignation or removal is long overdue. Her cup was full.
“I think she has given some of us in this industry the last laugh, which lent some credence to what we have been saying since; forget all the talk about remodelling, that one was just an ambience thing. I should have expected people to look beyond all that. In my opinion, she messed up the entire aviation ministry.”