Against the backdrop of expectations that President Muhammadu Buhari would rejig his cabinet any time soon, intense lobbying and high wire intrigues may have put him at the crossroads, New Telegraph gathered over the weekend.
A reliable source at the Presidency confided in our correspondent that reports about an impending cabinet reshuffle was true. Another source, who is a minister, confirmed that the president will drop some of his ministers and aides, especially “those who have been found wanting.”
The source disclosed that the level of power play and lobby amongst serving and potential ministers appear to have created more power cartels within the seat of power.
Powerful northern traditional rulers are said to have been enlisted in the lobby game.
Apart from filling the vacancy created by the death of Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Barr. James Ocholi, and the impending exit of Minister of Environment, Ms Amina Mohammed, who has been appointed as Deputy General Secretary of the United Nations, some ministers are expected to be dropped from the cabinet.
“Maybe, the story was not well timed. Soon after it broke that the president was considering replacing some ministers, the lobby commenced, but it got intensified between Christmas and the New Year period with a lot of powerful forces putting in a word or two for their preferred choices.
“This has actually created some hurdles for the man (president) because who do you please and reject in the process? You can imagine an influential traditional ruler from the North approaching you on behalf of a loyal All Progressives Congress (APC) man, not an outsider, and there are other contending political forces too.
“The man is bound to be more careful and may delay whatever he wants to do under the prevailing circumstances so that it could come as a surprise and taken away from the current lobby tide,” he said.
Reports gathered that retired diplomat and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ambassador Babagana Kingibe was being considered to return to the Presidency.
Curiously, Kingibe is among those secretly saddled with the responsibility of ‘suggesting possible inputs’ into the cabinet.
In his new discrete role, Kingibe has reportedly suggested that immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole be drafted in just as he tipped former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Timi Alaibe to come board.
It is yet to be officially confirmed, but while Oshiomhole is being tipped to man an envisioned Works and Housing Ministry, Alaibe’s possible inclusion is coming on the heels of his strong ties with stakeholders in the troubled Niger Delta. Both Kingibe and Alaibe have been close allies since the days of the late president, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua while the former SGF supervised the NDDC under Alaibe.
Alaibe’s inroad is also being propelled by the Transportation Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. The former NDDC boss and pioneer head of the Presidential Amnesty Programme is likely to contend with the former governor of Bayelsa State, Mr.
Timipre Sylva, whose nominee, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri is also being considered to move to the Niger Delta Ministry from Agriculture as minister of state.
The current occupier, Pastor Usani Uguru may be saddled with the Labour and Productivity Ministry if the new arrangement is accepted by the president.
By implication, Mr. Babatunde Fashola may be left with the Power Ministry. Sources said that Fashola has, of recent, come under heavy scrutiny by some close allies of the president, who believed that the three ministries tucked under his arm were too much for one man.
It was also learnt that some forces within the APC believe that Fashola has not delivered on any of the fronts in any of the ministries. Senator Hadi Sirika, current Minister of State for Aviation, may emerge as substantive minister as it has been proposed that the sector stands distinct from Transportation.
It could, however, not be confirmed if Sirika’s constant rift with Transportation Minister, Amaechi, is responsible for the new thinking. But far more interesting is the reported move by the president’s unofficial handlers to ensure that the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is shifted from the North-East to the South-East.
An unnamed governor from the North-West is the arrowhead of this plot to what a source called ”the need to placate the Igbo ahead of 2019.” It was further learnt that the move to take the SGF to the South-East is also aimed at galvanising some support for the APC in the zone.
An APC chieftain in the South-East said: “You know that the South-West, for obvious reasons, might not be game for the APC in 2019. The party might need to move into another area to exert influence if it must remain in power.”
Buoyed by this calculation, Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and his Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige are lobbying to clinch the position.
But also in contention for the same position, although not from the South-East, is Chief Audu Ogbeh, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister. But a serving minister in the Buhari cabinet said that Buhari has a mind of his own and is not usually influenced by sentiments.
According to him, “You will be shocked at what he will do this year. Just watch and see. It might be sooner than you think.”