In a move aimed at paving the way for the appointment of political loyalists that would help him secure victory in the 2015 presidential election, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday sacked nine ministers from his cabinet, in the first major cabinet shake-up since it was constituted in July 2011.
The ministers who were dispossessed of their portfolios are Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru, whose removal as the Minister of Foreign Affairs drew gasps from many who felt he was one of the few effective ministers in the cabinet; Dr. Shamsudeen Usman – National Planning Commission; Ms. Ama Pepple – Ministry of Lands and Housing; Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i – Ministry of Education; Hadiza Mailafiya – Ministry of Environment; and Prof. Ita Okon Bassey Ewa – Ministry of Science and Technology.
Others relieved of their appointments included the Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada; Minister of State for Power, Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi; and Minister of State for Agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijjani.
The announcement, which was made at the close of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting held at the Presidential Villa, took the cabinet by surprise as speculations had been rife early in the year about a cabinet shake-up, but it never took place until Wednesday.
In fact, some of the ex-ministers attended the cabinet meeting yesterday before their sack.
Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who has been given the additional responsibility of overseeing the Ministry of Defence, until new appointments are made, told State House correspondents that the sack was with immediate effect.
In a press briefing, Maku said their removal was done to infuse “fresh blood into the nation’s decision-making body and has no political undertone whatsoever.”
According to him, reshuffling a cabinet is standard global government practice and the prerogative of the president to carry out.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with any other factor other than having come two years into his administration in the last lap, the president is refocusing his government to inject fresh blood to achieve greater service delivery to the people of Nigeria.
“That is the only reason for it, any other thing had nothing to do with the decision of the president. I believe this must have been coming for some time. It cannot be something you do overnight,” Maku explained.
He added: “I believe as he explained to us, he had studied the way his government has worked, and had set targets for the next two years and what he is doing is to adjust his cabinet to realise the objectives of his transformation agenda. That is exactly the reason he came up with these changes at this time.
“If you know the president, he is not the kind of person that will take a decision at the spur of the moment. He is a highly studied person, highly focused leader, he is a patient person and he is someone that when you see him take any decision, he has thought about it over and over again.”
However, a review of those dropped from the cabinet showed that four of the former ministers hail from states whose governors have been engaged in a running battle with the president and the Peoples Democratic Party’s National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, leading to the factionalisation of the party.
The ex-ministers are: Rufa’i – Jigawa; Ms. Pepple – Rivers, who was her governor’s nominee to represent the South-south zone; Kuchi – Niger; and Shamsudeen Usman – Kano.
Governors Sule Lamido, Chibuike Amaechi, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Jigawa, Rivers, Niger and Kano respectively are among the seven governors that have been battling the presidency for the soul of the ruling PDP.
Other governors that make up the G7 are Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, AbdulFatah Ahmed of Kwara and Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto.
Sokoto’s representative in the cabinet, Mr. Inuwa Abdulkadir, was eased out on August 27.
Nonetheless, Jigawa and Rivers still have representatives in the cabinet. They are Minister of State for Education, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, who has been involved in a war of attrition with Amaechi, and Minister of State (II) for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed.
Wike has now been given the additional responsibility of running the Ministry of Education.
Although Usman is from Kano, he is not considered to be a close associate of Kwankwaso, but it is believed he was removed to make way for a “political minister” with the clout and popularity to subdue the governor and divide the votes in a state considered very important for anyone contesting the presidential election.
Usman was the classmate of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but was retained by Jonathan when he took over in 2010 and was one of the longest-serving ministers in the cabinet.
Following the cabinet shake-up, the substantive Ministers of Power and Agriculture, Prof. Chinedu Nebo and Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, have been given the additional responsibility of overseeing the portfolios of their junior ministers who have been sacked.
The junior ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (State I), Prof. Viola Onwuliri and Ministry of the Niger Delta, Darius Ishaku, will retain their portfolios, in addition to running the Foreign Affairs and Environment Ministries respectively.
The Ministries of Science and Technology, Lands and Housing and National Planning will for the time being be under the purview of Mrs. Omobolaji Johnson, Mr. Musa Sada and Ambassador Bashir Yuguda respectively.
Expectedly, the sack of the nine ministers elicited reactions, chief of which was Mailafiya who could barely conceal her shock yesterday when she walked out of the council chambers.
She hails from Kaduna, Vice-President Namadi Sambo’s home state.
Although she refused to admit that the news of the sack was devastating, Mailafiya could barely conceal her emotions as tears flowed freely from her eyes.
Speaking to journalists who clustered around her, she said: “If you are wise enough, life is a cycle where from the day you come in, you should know there is an exit, isn’t it?”
She added: “Every Wednesday I came in here hoping one day there will be a cabinet reshuffle. I am grateful to all of you; I have enjoyed working with all of you. And please support government programmes, the Great Green Wall in particular, the new map and so on.”
She said she had been honoured to serve the administration and was moving out honourably, which she pointed out was important, adding, “Many have come and gone without honour.”
Also, the staff of the Minstry of Defence expressed shock over the sack of Obada, who was considered a stabilising force since she assumed office two years ago. Some blamed the deep-seated divisions within the PDP for her ouster.