Ministers were caught napping yesterday shortly before the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.
This follows President Muhammadu Buhari’s bombshell that ministers eyeing political offices, who have obtained nomination forms, must resign.
Speaking calmly, the President did not mince words. He showed a bit of anger.
What followed was pin-drop silence before Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha rounded off the meeting.
No fewer than 10 ministers are affected by the directive to resign latest on Monday.
These are ministers of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio; Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva; and Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, who have joined the presidential race on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Others are the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and Minister of State, Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah, who are running for governor in Kebbi and Abia states respectively.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, declared her ambition to contest for a senatorial seat in Plateau State.
Minister of State Niger for Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Tayo Alasoadura, is running for Senate in Ondo State.
Minister of State (Education) Emeka Nwajiuba, who is also eying the presidential ticket, resigned before the directive.
It was learnt that the President took the action to forestall what a source called “possible abuse of office due to reckless ambition”.
President Buhari was said to be uncomfortable with the accusations of conflict of interest levelled against the ministers by notable and well-meaning Nigerians.
It was gathered last night that the decision by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele to go to court over his presidential aspiration fueled the President’s anger.
He, however, singled out Nwajiuba for braving the odds to quit to avoid being accused of conflict of interest.
Nwajiuba reportedly incurred the wrath of other ministers vying for offices for provoking the President to ask them to resign.
They accused him of sending his resignation letter directly to the President instead of through the SGF.
They felt Nwajiuba’s letter might have triggered the action of the President who felt the former Minister of State for Education was “forthright and bold enough to do the right thing.”
According to a top source, the President had been angry since Tuesday when he read about Emefiele’s court action.
The President was said to make his feelings known to SGF Mustapha on Tuesday.
He was also reportedly upset at the way ministers were sourcing N100million to buy the Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms of the APC.
Although he did not tell Mustapha his next line of action, the SGF was terrified that Buhari might wield the big stick.
The source said: “Some of us suspected that something was in the offing because Mustapha compared notes with some cabinet members before the commencement of the FEC meeting.
“The SGF did not mince words that the President was unhappy with Emefiele and he has reservations on some presidential aspirants.
“Without any tone of finality from the SGF, we went into the meeting with the President in his best element at the session.”
How the President dropped the bombshell
Another cabinet source gave insights into how the President announced his decision to FEC members.
The source added: “We were about to conclude the meeting when the President spoke. The SGF was reading the notice, usually at the tail end of the meeting, when Buhari interjected. He then said: ‘Before you conclude, I have something to say.’
“The President said he had received the resignation of Nwajiuba seeking to be President. ‘I expect other members of this council seeking to be President to resign with immediate effect’.”
The source said: “There was a pin drop silence because most cabinet members felt the affected colleagues were untouchable.
“There was also a fresh confusion among ministers. They were not clear or sure if this directive will affect other ministers aspiring to be governors, Senators and House of Representatives members.
“We have been expecting more clarifications. A minister later brought news that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu may clarify the status of ministers aspiring to be governors, Senators and House of Representatives members.”
Asked to capture the drama, a third source said: “The ministers were all transfixed with attention shifting to Malami, Onu and Ngige who were physically present at the meeting.
“With the SGF helpless, ministers formed clusters to discuss the decision of the President. No one could be of assistance to another other than to review the situation.”
A minister’s confession
A minister said: “The conclusion of most of us was that Nwajiuba must have provoked the President to act because he took his resignation letter directly to him instead of sending it through the SGF.
“The reality is that some ministers had gone to the SGF to intimate him of plans to resign but he said they should wait for the directive of the President. The latest twist was beyond what the SGF could handle.”
Confusion over May 16 resignation date
As of press time, there was confusion over the May 16th deadline given to ministers to resign as announced by the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed.
A highly-placed source said: “At the meeting, the President did not mention May 16 but he said aspiring ministers for the presidency should resign.
“We did not know how and where our colleague got the date. Other ministers seeking to be governors, Senators and House of Representatives were still busy trying to seek clarifications last night if they were affected or not.”
The directive affects all, says official
A senior government official, who spoke with our correspondent yesterday, said: “When cabinet members were confused, the Minister of Information and Culture went to seek clarification from the President. This was how he came about May 16.
“Mohammed was not on a self-seeking mission. He said what he was directed to say.
“The truth is that the directive applies to all ministers and appointees who want to contest for any elective office in 2023. It is not only presidential aspirants.”