By Soni Daniel AND BEN AGANDE
Dogged by challenges capable of denying him re-election in 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan has taken the battle to the doorsteps of his known and perceived political opponents, using the carrot and stick approach. Last Wednesday morning, he shocked members of the Federal Executive Council when he fired nine ministers, who are believed to be irrelevant to his second term bid and are more loyal to their governors. Will the ouster of the ministers remove the mounting roadblocks to his re-election? There seems to be more questions than answers.
The sack of nine ministers was something that had long been predicted. The announcement in the middle of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, on Wednesday, did not take many by surprise. What, however, bothered the Exco members and many Nigerians was the way it was carried out by President Goodluck Jonathan.
For real, those who had really been pencilled down for offloading by the President were those who were known to be nursing gubernatorial ambition and had been somewhat distracted from office by their political fixation. In that category were Bala Muhammed, the Federal Capital Territory Minister, who is reported to be eying the seat currently occupied by Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State; the Minister of State for Education, Nyesome Wike, from Rivers State; Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, from Nasarawa; and the Minister of Police Affairs, Capt Olubolade Caleb, from Ondo..
But all that was torpedoed by the soaring tide of dirty politics, which almost swallowed the players and grounded their game plan. Jonathan was suddenly taken aback by the split of the once united People’s Democratic Party (PDP) into two camps on August 31, when they had assembled at a high-profile ceremony at the Eagle Square to anoint some national officers loyal to him.
It was an assault that hit the President and his men below the belt and left them with a sour taste. Since that affront by the Abubakar Baraje faction, which has come to be dubbed as the New PDP, nPDP, for short, the ‘largest party in Africa’ has never been the same. From all indications, the umbrella (PDP), which symbolises accommodation and resilience, has virtually been shattered by turbulent winds from several fronts. While Jonathan and his men are battling to secure a second term in office, the nPDP is seen as the opposition, working to install former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the next vote.
Thus, what the President did on that Wednesday morning was nothing but a ‘coup’ against the former members of the cabinet, whose only ‘offence’ was that they were and are still close to the seven PDP governors, popularly referred to as G-7, who have an axe to grind with the President.,
By all standards, the retention of the ‘offending ministers’ for about two years by Jonathan his strategists reasoned, was like putting salt on festering sore largely because they were portrayed as political liabilities, who neither aided Jonathan’s sagging political profile nor added value to the new battle he is waging against their political benefactors.
Those who are strategising for Jonathan ahead of his re-election in 2015 had been tinkering with the idea that it would be suicidal for him to first edge out ministers who have gubernatorial ambition while those who do not love him are retained. They, therefore, asked him to flush them out of the system and pave the way for the appointment of ‘politically relevant’ hawks or bullies, who are capable of taking on ‘recalcitrant governors’ in their respective states and clear the way for his seamless re-election.
An analysis of those sent packing reveals that 99 percent of them were seen as ‘apologists’ of the ‘rebel’ governors’ in the cabinet.
The nine sacked ministers were nominees of former President Obasanjo and the seven governors, who are currently embroiled in a political face-off with Jonathan and the leadership of the PDP.
The list shows that, apart from the former Minister of Science and Technology, Prof Okon Ita Ewa, who was personally nominated by Jonathan in 2011, most of the axed men and women, were seen as sympathisers of Obasanjo and the PDP ‘rebel’ governors.
Analysts find the removal of Ewa puzzling to pave the way for Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to name a more politically-relevant minister, who would be able to work with the President and win more support for Jonathan in the next elections.
Ewa, a nuclear physicist, who had known Jonathan for several years, was brought directly into the cabinet without the input of political stakeholders in Akwa Ibom State and is said to be almost apolitical.
A reliable source told Sunday Vanguard that the President moved against the ministers following intelligence reports, which indicated that most of them were loyal to their governors rather than being loyal to him.
The sacked Foreign Affairs Minister, Amb Gbenga Ashiru, and Minister of State for Defence, Olusola Obada, were probably fired because of the perception in the Presidency that they were serving as spies for Obasanjo and the former PDP National Secretary, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
It will be recalled that Ashiru served as ambassador under Obasanjo for several years while Obada was Oyinlola’s deputy while he was governor in Osun State. Because of disagreements since the emergence of Jonathan on the block, his relationship with Obasanjo has not been smooth, leading to the removal of Oyinlola as the National Secretary of the PDP because of the suspicion by the President’s men that he is a stooge of the former President.
Similarly, the former Minister of Education, Professor Ruqqayat Rufai, was swept off because she was nominated by Governor Sule Lamido, who is one of the G-7 governors and is suspected of nursing a presidential ambition in 2015.
Rugguyat Rufai’s removal may pave the way for the promotion of Chief Nyesome Wike, a lawyer and strong ally of Jonathan, to senior Education Minister and pave the way for him to play a more visible political role for the President in the build up to the 2015 presidential election.
Although Governor Amaechi of Rivers State has insisted that he nominated Wike for the post of minister, the former Obio Akpor Local Government Chairman and Chief of Staff to Amaechi claimed that it was Jonathan who made him a FEC member. Wike fell out with Amaechi on account of politics. The minister, who hails from the same Ikwerre ethnic nationality with the Rivers governor, is said to be working round the clock to succeed Amaechi in 2015. Even if he may not be doing so, the factional chairman of the PDP in Rivers State, Brother Obuah, insists he (Wike) is the next governor and leader of the party in the state.
On the other hand, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, a long standing minister, who was inherited from the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adau and hails from Kano, might have been given the boot because of his closeness to his governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who is one of the G-7 governors fighting the Presidency.
The same fate befell Amal Pepple, from Rivers State, and Zainab Kuchi, from Niger, who were seen as loyalists of Governor Amaechi and Governor Babangida Aliyu (members of G7 governors) respectively.
Although it is clear to all that the ‘war’ currently raging in the ruling party is responsible for the ousting of the ministers, what remains a puzzle to PDP keen watchers is the removal of the former Minister of Environment, Hadiza Mailafia, a close ally of Vice President Namadi Sambo, who is, at least, perceived to be in the good goods of Jonathan. The sacked minister was brought into the cabinet largely on account of her closeness to the wife of the VP and the family.
Her sack merely added to the suspicion that Sambo, who is usually is said to be referred to by the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, as ‘my husband’s junior brother and friend’ may not be in the right political frame with his boss.
Despite the ministers’ ouster and the desperate attempt to replace them with bully-politicians, the crisis in the party remains almost intractable and is likely to consume more politicians while eating deeper into the soul of the party.
Those angling for the umbrella are aware that the party has a bigger fight to contend with in the next elections, given the emergence of the All Progressive Congress, an amalgam of three former parties and a faction of the APGA headed by Imo Governor, Rochas Okorocha.
The President himself appears to have been hit by a rough political tide, having attempted to hide his political interest in the 2015 presidential race while pursuing suspected contenders with a sledgehammer to clear the way for him to be adopted as the sole candidate of the PDP at the appointed time. That will still happen given the type of ‘special convention’ that the Bamanga Tukur-led PDP organised the other day to ‘select’ preferred National Working Committee (NWC) members for the party.
The chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, is one of the party elders, who is not amused by the hide-and-seek game being played by the man he is trying to bail out of the political deep waters and was, last week, forced to warn Jonathan to declare his interest in the election without further delay. Anenih is right. The time is no longer on anybody’s side and the game plan needs to be better than what his adversaries within the PDP and outside have already drawn up.
One thing is, however, clear from all that has been happening in the PDP lately: President Jonathan and his faction of the PDP will dash him the ticket for the 2015 contest but that will not guarantee him the kind of massive votes he garnered in 2011. The PDP infighting, if not resolved and in good time, has the potency to swing a significant support to the opposition and tilt popular support in the favour of Jonathan’s challenger in 2015.
But the political gladiators still have some time left to bury their pride, negotiate with the dissenting voices within their fold and halt the drift that is looming to swallow the leaking PDP umbrella. Will they read the handwriting on the wall before the eclipse? If Jonathan continues to treat Obasanjo with disdain despite his strident effort to unify the party, and keeps the G-7 at bay while putting all his eggs in one basket overseen by Tukur and his loyalists, will that give him the needed political leverage to swim through the 2015 political hurdle? That question needs an answer.