Jonathan sacks aviation minister, others in new shake-up

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Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday sacked four cabinet members including aviation minister Stella Oduah, a close ally, in the latest of a wave of government changes ahead of elections next year.

Jonathan also dismissed minister of police affairs Caleb Olubolade, minister of the Niger Delta Godsday Orubebe and deputy finance minister Yerima Ngama, Information Minister Labaran Maku said, hinting that some of them may have been removed because they want to seek other political posts.

“He (Jonathan) said the ministers have been asked by him to step out to further their own interests in their own political or private purposes,” Maku told reporters.

President Jonathan directed Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Olajumoke Akinjide, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Samuel Ortom to oversee the Ministries of Police Affairs and Aviation respectively, while the Minister of State for Niger Delta, Gayius Ishaku, was asked to take over the affairs of the Ministry.

Africa’s second largest economy and biggest oil producer is advancing as an investment destination but political instability is a concern for investors, especially as wasteful government spending tends to spike ahead of elections.

Former aviation minister, Stella Oduah

Former aviation minister, Stella Oduah

Jonathan is trying to temper a bitter divide within his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over his assumed intention to run for another term in the 2015 election, Reuters reports. He has yet to say whether he will, Reuters reports.

Jonathan dismissed his chief of staff on Monday, after overhauling his military high command last month as it struggled to cope with bloody Islamist militant insurgency in the country’s remote northeast.

He has been defending his record on corruption this week after a series of graft allegations in recent months.

Oduah stirred public outcry last year after her ministry spent $1.4 million on two bullet-proof limousines, far more than their market value. Opponents have been calling on Jonathan to remove her.

The aviation ministry is one of the most senior cabinet posts and manages large amounts of government revenue.

“I think many changes recently show Jonathan is repositioning government to make himself saleable for elections,” said Clement Nwankwo, a political analyst at the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre.

“Some of these changes could reflect positively on the perception that he is willing to bring about change.”

Five powerful state governors and dozens of lawmakers have defected to the recently formed coalition All Progressives Congress in the last year. Last month Bamanga Tukur, a Jonathan ally, resigned as chairman of the PDP under a wave of pressure from party members.

Political wrangling is eroding the will needed to push through a number of much-needed reforms, including to Africa’s biggest energy industry, analysts say.

The presidential, parliamentary and governorship votes next year are expected to be the most closely fought since the PDP swept to power at the end of military rule in 1998. Analysts say Jonathan is still favourite to win a second term, if he runs, in a country where incumbents rarely lose.

Jonathan in January nominated 12 ministerial appointees to be screened by the National Assembly, some of whom are expected to fill vacant positions left by nine cabinet members who were dismissed in September last year.

He has launched an “Industrial Revolution Plan” which would enable the manufacturing sector to grow to 10 percent of GDP over the next five years, from four percent currently, the trade an investment ministry said on Wednesday. It gave few details about how his ambitious goals would be met.

Speaking on Oduah’s removal, Musa Auwal Rafsanjani, Director, Civil society legislative Advocacy centre told BusinessDay, “There is nothing to celebrate because she wasn’t sacked as demanded by Nigerians for her corrupt practices but resigned to pursue her political ambition. This clearly shows that the government is not decisive and can’t take action against corrupt public officials”.

Joel Madaki, PDP chairman, Adamawa, said in a telephone interview with our reporter: “In every situation, a leader must consider the gains and losses in losing or retaining a minister. He will consider whether retaining or removing a minister will give him more support or not. I believe the president must have considered it before taking the action and I don’t think it will tamper with his support, considering the feeling of the masses.

He added “Yes, there have been complaints all along about the minister but when people are complaining, you don’t just jump and act. You have to prove that the complaints are right. I see the president as someone who is very careful in taking decisions. If he had taken the action before now, it would mean he did not look into the complaints properly”.

Yesterday the aviation industry unions asked President Jonathan to appoint an aviation professional to the position.

“With the exit of Stella Oduah, another opportunity has arisen yet again for the country to have a new aviation minister. The three aviation unions would like to urge Mr President to seize this opportunity to right the wrongs of the past by appointing a seasoned professional as Minister of Aviation”, the unions said in a statement.

They added,“While we give kudos to Ms Oduah for her significant strides, we hasten to point out that her shortcomings, and those of her predecessors are easily traceable to their not having personal knowledge about aviation. “The fact remains that aviation is just too technical and complex for a non professional to manage. This is the reason the previous Ministers of Aviation, being non professionals, have been unable to fully come to terms to managing the industry seamlessly”.

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