Fellow ministers worked hard to convince President Jonathan to sack Stella Oduah.
President Goodluck Jonathan fired Nigeria’s former aviation minister, Stella Oduah, indicted in multiple corruption cases, in response to an overwhelming local and international pressure, spiced by an unprecedented campaign by fellow cabinet members, PREMIUM TIMES has reliably learnt.
The former minister was sacked Wednesday alongside her counterparts in the ministry of police affairs, Caleb Olubolade, and Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe in a surprise cabinet shake-up. The minister of state for finance, Yerima Ngama, was also fired.
Multiple government officials and security sources said the decision to fire the aviation minister, Mrs. Oduah, whose tenure turned out the most controversial with serious cases of corruption and breach of public trust, was taken by Mr. Jonathan weekend, after reviewing extensive local and foreign concerns on the implication of retaining her.
Officials said the minister was considered so much of a liability on the administration that beyond external pressure, colleague ministers and members of a presidential panel that investigated her for corruption led the effort to convince Mr. Jonathan to fire her.
The cabinet members argued that Mrs. Oduah’s continued stay in office, despite a groundswell of evidence of corruption against her, was inflicting further damage on an administration widely accused of undermining Nigeria’s relative gains in the war against corruption.
At the forefront of that effort, our sources said were ministers, led by one from the South-East and another from the South-West, who considered Mrs. Oduah’s continuous presence in cabinet as a slight on their integrity and international profiles.
The ministers led an internal pressure group which persistently pressured Mr. Jonathan to demand Mrs. Oduah’s resignation.
Members of the presidential panel that indicted her formed the second pressure group that called for her removal. Members of the committee include former head of service of the federation, Sali Bello, National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and Air Vice-Marshal Dick Iruenabhere.
The final influence, our source said, came mainly from local and international media that consistently projected Mrs. Oduah as the face of corruption in the Jonathan administration.
“The pressure was too much on Oga,” a close aide of President Jonathan told PREMIUM TIMES. “He had thought about ignoring the pressure and possibly keep her till December but the pressure group kept pushing. Some ministers even started signalling that they would quit the administration if Stella was allowed to remain. The president had no choice than to act. He didn’t want any more embarrassment.”
Our sources said the President had planned to fire the controversial minister in January but later developed cold feet, triggering a new wave of pressure from officials who wanted her removed.
Mrs. Oduah’s troubled tenure hit notoriety last year after it became public she compelled a government agency under her watch to purchase two armoured cars for her use at an inflated cost of N255 million. The contract was neither budgeted for by government nor advertised publicly as required by the public procurement law.
Mrs. Oduah has consistently denied any wrongdoing, claiming the identified infringements were committed by her subordinates at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, whom she directed to “do the needful”- a phrase she implied as a directive that officials should follow the law in any transaction.
An investigation by the House of Representatives found the former minister culpable in the car deal and urged Mr. Jonathan to remove her from office.
The president refused to act, as he did on similar recommendations concerning other ministers considered corrupt, including the petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The presidential panel Mr. Jonathan tasked to conduct a separate investigation into the car purchase also indicted Ms. Oduah, accusing her of approving a contract that exceeded the threshold of her authority as a minister.
“The panel laid the fact before the president, it was his call to take action,” a source familiar with the work of the presidential panel told PREMIUM TIMES. “The panel members kept pushing that action should be taken even though they did not explicitly recommend Oduah’s sack in their report.”
While he confirmed receipt of the report of the presidential panel, Mr. Jonathan failed to make the document public amid intense widespread call for the removal of the minister, his close political ally.
Our sources said the administration came under even more intense pressure after separate investigations by PREMIUM TIMES, and news website, Saharareporters, established that Mrs Oduah falsified her qualifications.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation found her to have lied about her qualifications in the resume she presented to the Nigerian senate for her confirmation hearing. She claimed a non-existent university awarded her an honorary doctorate.
The government did not comment or act on the finding.
But as the burden of retaining her in government grew, colleague ministers and members of the panel pushed hard to have Mrs. Oduah sacked, intensifying their lobby mid-January, our sources said.
The effort was however countered by another lobby group which succeeded in buying more time for the embattled minister.
The group reportedly advised the president that should he decide to drop her, she should be fired with the minimum humiliation possible.
It is based on that counsel that she was asked to resign alongside three other colleagues, our sources said.