Some of the ministers sacked Wednesday have corruption allegations hanging on their necks
President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday summoned uncommon courage, firing four of his ministers – three of which have been enmeshed in controversies and corruption allegations.
The sack of the four ministers is the second major overhaul of the lacklustre federal cabinet undertaken by President Jonathan in the last seven months.
The ministers relieved of their appointments are Stella Oduah (Aviation), Godsday Orubebe (Niger Delta Affairs), Caleb Olubolade (Police Affairs) and Yerima Ngama (Finance).
Briefing journalists after the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting at the Presidential Villa, Information Minister, Labaran Maku, said the president announced the removal of the ministers during the meeting.
“The President announced further changes in the Federal Executive Council,” Mr. Maku said. “He said a number of ministers had been asked to step out from the council to pursue their own interests, some in politics and others in their own private focus. Mainly what the President did today was to allow the Ministers that have indicated interest in pursuing further growth in the economy to be allowed to go.”
Mr. Maku said the Aviation ministry would now be supervised by the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Samuel Ortom. While the Ministry of Niger Delta would be supervised by its Minister of State, Gauis Ishaku , the Ministry of Police Affairs would be supervised by the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide. The Ministry of Finance would continue to be manned by its minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Showing them the door
While Ms. Oduah was sacked in absentia as she was not at the cabinet meeting, the other affected ministers were in attendance at what turned out their last FEC meeting.
The ministers of police affairs and Niger Delta affairs however left before the end of the meeting.
The sack of the cabinet members came barely seven months after nine of their colleagues were dropped and two weeks after the president sent 12 ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
The ministers sacked last September were Shamsuddeen Usman (Minister of National Planning), Olugbenga Ashiru (Foreign Affairs), Hadiza Mailiafia (Environment), Ruqqayat Ahmed (Education), Ita Ewa (Science and Technology) and Ama Pepple (Housing and Urban Development).
Others were Bukar Tijani (Minister of State for Agriculture), Zainab Kuchi (Power), and Olusola Obada (Defence).
The new ministerial nominees the president sent to the Senate on January 21 for confirmation are Aliyu Gusau (Zamfara), Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Musiliu Obanikoro (Lagos), Akon Eyakeni (Akwa Ibom), Mohammed Wakil (Borno), Lawrencia Mallam (Kaduna), Aminu Wali (Kano) and Jumilia Salik (Kano).
Asabe Ahmed (Niger), Abduljelili Oyewale (Osun), T.W. Danagogo (Rivers) and Khaliru Alhassan (Sokoto) were also nominated.
Before the removal of the nine ministers nine months ago, two others — Haliru Mohammed (Defence), and Inuwa Abdul-kadir (Youth Affairs) — were dropped while Ali Pate (Minister of State for Health) resigned to take up a teaching appointment in the United States.
Although, Messrs Orubebe and Olubolade are believed to have been fired to enable them pursue their gubernatorial interests in Delta and Ekiti States, respectively, that cannot be possibly be said of Ms Oduah and Mr. Ngama.
Oduah’s bagful of scandals
It is believed that Ms. Oduah was forced to resign because of the various controversies and scandals trailing her.
The former aviation minister was found guilty by two panels, which probed the purchase of two bullet-proofs cars by an agency under her supervision, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for N255 million in violation of Nigeria’s public procurement and appropriation laws.
The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, which held an investigative hearing on the matter, said in its report that the money used in purchasing the vehicles was not covered by the 2013 budget. It also said Ms. Oduah breached Nigerian laws by exceeding her approval limit and signing off over N634 million for the agency to buy 54 vehicles.
The Committee, headed by Nkiru Onyejiocha, then advised President Jonathan to review Mrs. Oduah’s appointment as minister.
“The House urges the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to review the continued engagement of the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, for having contravened the Appropriation Act 2013 and the approved, revised thresholds by exceeding the Ministry of Aviation’s approval limit of N100 million by the purchase of 54 vehicles valued at N643 million,” the report said in part.
The President panel set up by the Federal Government on the matter equally found Mrs. Oduah guilty for breaching the laws of the land.
The panel was headed by the immediate past Head of Service of the Federation, Bello Isa and had as members the National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki and Dick Iruenebere, a retired Air Vice Marshall.
Apart from the scandal, Ms. Oduah was also involved in a certificate forgery scandal. The former minister was alleged to have claimed in the resume she submitted to the Senate for her confirmation hearing that a university, which was later found to be non-existent, awarded her a phantom honorary doctorate degree.
She also falsely claimed on the website of the Ministry of Aviation that she bagged a Masters degree from St. Paul College, Lawrenceville, Virginia, United States.
However, checks at the institution revealed that it did not award her the degree as it does not run graduate programmes.
Neighbour to Neighbour illegality
Also, the former aviation minister, alongside Mr. Orubebe and others had floated the “Neigbhbour 2 Neigbhour” organisation which campaigned for Mr. Jonathan during the 2011 presidential election, but which was later found to be involved in illegal activities.
The organisation, PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed, was registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission as an NGO and was not supposed to be involved in any political campaign for any candidate or political party.
The organisation was registered as an ‘incorporated trustee’ on April 14, 2011, and has as trustees Ms. Oduah, who gave her occupation as businesswoman; Mr. Orubebe, a public servant; and Amalate Johnic Turner, a traditional ruler in Ijaw land, who gave his occupation as a businessman.
“We don’t register organisations that have political motives. It is INEC that does that,” Garba Abubakar, Special Adviser to the Registrar-General of the Commission, had told this newspaper.
Orubebe’s corruption headache
In 2012, a group, Anti-Corruption Network, ACN, headed by a former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, accused Mr. Orubebe of corruption and abuse of office.
In a petition to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the group accused the former minister of accepting gratification of a palatial mansion in Abuja, contrary to Section 12 of the Act.
The group said, “We write this Petition in the interest of our nascent democracy and the entire citizenry at large. It has become an adverse trend in our polity where public office holders under the guise of administrative functions illegally divert funds, contracts and even take benefits/gratifications in the award of contracts to companies whose promise of a reward is highest contrary to Sections 12,13,14, 20,22 and 25 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, Cap. C31, LFN 2010(hereinafter referred to as the Act).
“A classic example inter alia is that of Elder Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA). By virtue of his standing to influence the award of Contracts, Elder Godsday Orubebe abused his office by accepting a gratification of a palatial mansion on the property allocated to him in Abuja, FCT contrary to Section 12 of the Act.
“As it is from the above Elder Godsday Orubebe has patently abused the use of his office under Section 22 of the Act, Section 13 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. C15 2010, and he is also guilty of an offence of corruption and abuse of office pursuant to Section 98 of the Criminal Code Act.”
The former minister was also variously tongue-lashed by the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, for poor performance, especially for failing to complete the East-West Road, which is vital to the economy of the Niger Delta region.
Mr. Ngama and his Malabu fraud
Mr. Ngama, on his part was fingered in the messy but famous Malabu scandal as he, alongside the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, allegedly ignored petitions, a court case, and anti-corruption investigations, to hurriedly authorize the transfer of N155billion into accounts controlled by Dan Etete, a former Petroleum Minister, who claimed ownership of Malabu.
The former Minister of State for finance, who hails from Yobe State, connived with Mr. Adoke to move the funds, paid by Shell and Agip for the disputed oil bloc 245, into Malabu’s account controlled by Mr. Etete.
Before his sack, Mr. Ngama, who is believed to be eyeing the governorship seat of Yobe State, had had a running battle with members of the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC.
The Commissioners of Finance and Accountants-General of the 36 states and the FCT, who are members of the Committee had repeatedly protested to President Jonathan over alleged poor management of the affairs of the Committee.
Mr. Ngama also authored the controversial letter from the Ministry of Finance authorising the Nigerian Custom Service, NCS, to widen the scope of beneficiaries of the Export Expansion Grant. That letter is believed to have opened a floodgate of abuse of the customs duties waiver regime.