By Rotimi Fasan
It’s been many weeks in speculation that President Goodluck Jonathan intended to effect a change in the roll call of his ministers. During these weeks of speculation every other meeting of the ministers with the President presented the press another opportunity to speculate on which of the ministers would not make it back into the President’s cabinet.
Yet nothing happened to the ministers in this period of anxiety but there can be no doubt that life must have been quite enervating for those among the President’s men and women not sure of their standing with the man whose present hold on the levers of his own party, the PDP, couldn’t have been more tenuous. But in what must amount to their own 9/11 attack, President Jonathan finally chose to put the anxious public officers out of their misery and sent nine of them back to where they came from- hopefully far richer and better connected than they were before they got their own invitation to join the Abuja gravy train ‘to come and chop’.
Of course the ‘discharged’ members of the Jonathan administration must have more to their profile than merely adding to the forbidding cost of the President’s bloated bureaucracy of 43 ministers to say nothing of special advisers and assistants with their own hangers-on. But they won’t be Nigerian politicians if they didn’t do their own damage to the country’s purse in this regard. The true technocrats among them with jobs to return to should have nothing to worry about. Only the professional politicians would see this order to return home as something of a personal affront that should cost the President their support of his administration.
In this time of intra-party squabbles, a time when the PDP falcon can no longer hear the falconer, the President could do with fewer enemies. It’s by no means certain indeed, how much of the President’s decision to shake up his cabinet so suddenly had to do with the skirmishes among members of his party. It’s not impossible, in fact probable, that some of the newly-sacked ministers belong in the wrong faction of the riven PDP or are persons whose loyalty the President could no longer count on. This would have strengthened the President’s resolve and steeled him in his move against them.
Which is also a way of saying some of the sacked ministers might have been no more than victims of circumstance. In other words, their position in the current crisis rocking the PDP rather than failure to effectively discharge their ministerial remit could have led to the determination of their membership of Jonathan’s government. It’s curious most of the sacked ministers are from one or two major regions in the West and North with politicians opposed to the President or perceived as such and thus not in his good book.
Whatever the reasons are for the presidential headbutt, the next few weeks would only be period of more jostling, horse trading and conspiracies in the PDP. Beyond any intra-party bickering, the change in ministerial guard should be opportunity for President Jonathan to breathe life into his administration and show himself a better politician than one fixated on prosecuting closet battles with real and imagined enemies of his wife whose input in the crisis that has engulfed his party, one that is proving beyond his ability to manage, cannot be underestimated. At the best of times Nigeria has more ministers than it genuinely needs. Many of these ministers with known, even cloned designations, but no more responsibility than one would expect of court jesters are persons in government for no greater reason than the wish of political godfathers who needed godchildren to serve as their ‘eyes’ in government.
Although Labaran Maku, the Information Minister who now oversees the Defence Ministry, wants Nigerians to believe that Jonathan’s cabinet shake-up was not a witch-hunt but a move to energise his administration but many would beg to disagree. Some of the ministers spared the axe can hardly justify their retention. The likes of Nyesom Wike who takes control of the Education Ministry now probably has new responsibilities to justify his inclusion in the Executive Council. But there is little to look forward to from Mr. Wike if his recent occupation as the Jonathan family’s warrior-in-chief in Rivers State is anything to consider.
It’s a matter of mystery what this man’s contribution has been to resolving the strike embarked upon by university teachers in the last two months. He was the ‘junior minister’ in the Education Ministry under Ruquayat Rufai and all through the Governor Suswan-led botched negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Wike’s voice was only to be heard in Port Harcourt even when his supporters told Nigerians he was part of the Federal Government negotiating team.
If Rufai got the boot, Wike deserves the boot with a presidential reprimand for dereliction of duty. But rather than such reprimand what the aspiring governor got is ‘elevation’. It remains to be seen what confidence his appointment would inspire in the restive education sector. Perhaps to deflect attention from his erstwhile task of presidential agent provocateur, Jonathan would accede to the demands of ASUU or show himself more attentive to the teachers’ grievances.
The bottom line of this is that President Jonathan needs to show beyond mere claims that his sack of nine ministers and the elevation of Wike and Co has greater motive than the need to settle scores with perceived or real trouble makers in his party. Nigeria deserves more from her public officers than blind allegiance to presidential whim and/or execution of extra-ministerial duties.