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Real reasons ministers backed down on political ambitions

After some of the political appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari, who earlier indicated their intention to contest for offices in the 2023 general elections dropped…

After some of the political appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari, who earlier indicated their intention to contest for offices in the 2023 general elections dropped their ambitions to retain their appointments, many Nigerians are still in doubt over the real motives for their volte-face.

The sudden change of mind of political appointees of the current administration who had earlier announced their resignation from their positions to advance their political ambitions, have shocked many observers. 

The observers identified selfish interest, greed and disrespect to laws as the driving factors in their dilly-dallying on their ambitions.

The politicians who had earlier picked their forms to seek political offices amidst fanfare and later withdrew are: Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, who are seeking presidential seat; Minister of Women Affairs, Paullen Tallen; and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who are interested in Plateau Senatorial seat and Kebbi State governorship office respectively.

Their withdrawals came few hours after President Muhammadu Buhari on May 13 organized a send forth for 10 aspirants of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to enable them pursue their political ambitions as a precaution over the provision of Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act, 2022. 

This had compelled the president to order all apppintees with political ambition to resignation on or before May 16.

The section provides that, “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.”

Ministers whom Mr President bade farewell after they reportedly tendered their resignations include Rotimi Amaechi (Transport); Godswill Akpabio (Niger Delta Affairs); Ogbonnaya Onu (Science, Technology and Innovation); Uche Ogah (Mines and Steel); Tayo Alasoadura (Niger Delta); Emeka Nwajiuba (Education); Ngige (Labour and Employment); Tallen (Women Affairs); Malami (Justice); and Sylva (Petroleum) 

Amidst the public inquisition over the sources of the N100 million each of the ministers paid to purchase the expression of interest and nomination forms for their aspirations, their withdrawals from their ambitions attracted even more controversy.

Explaining the reason for his withdrawal, Ngige said he abandoned his presidential ambition, which he declared on April 19 following pressures by family, friends, and constituents, for the overall interest of the nation, and to concentrate on his job of assisting President Buhari. 

“Today, 13th May, 2022, I had an audience with the President, Muhammadu Buhari as a follow up to the one I earlier had with him on 11th May, 2022.

“Having also consulted widely with my family, constituents, supporters and well-wishers, it is my pleasure to announce the withdrawal of my interest and earlier decision to contest the office of the president in the 2023 general elections.

“As a result of this, I will not be participating in any of the internal party processes of the said election, starting with the primary.

“I took this momentous decision firstly in the overall interest of the nation, in order to enable me concentrate on my job, and assist the president and the government, whether the difficult last lap, in the life of the administration and secondly for other family reasons.”

Giving reasons for her withdrawal from the Plateau South Senatorial race, which she announced on May 8, Tallen said it came on the heels of consulting with family, stakeholders and well-wishers, to still be a voice for the Nigerian women.

“I remain resolute as I continue to relish the opportunity to serve Nigerian women in my capacity as Minister of Women Affairs under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.

“Consequently, I wish to inform you that following broad-based consultations and interventions from critical stakeholders, I have decided to withdraw from running for the senatorial seat mindful of our accomplishments and the notable progress we have recorded under my stewardship at the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs,” she said.

For his part, Malami said his withdrawal was an act of patriotism, including “contentment, self-control, placidity and decisiveness.”

“Malami has the right to choose to voluntarily shelve his gubernatorial ambition. It is a matter of personal conviction and individual right which didn’t violate any law,” Malami said through his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu.

“Right thinking members of the society accord respect to individual’s right to freedom of choice in matters relating to his.”

Explaining why he withdrew from the presidential race and returned to work, Sylva said it was a support to the president’s quest to achieve a robust oil sector.

A staff, who craved anonymity, told journalists that, “He believes that concentrating on his work will attract more investments for the oil and gas sector.

“He has consulted and he believes that the challenges at the ministry and oil and gas sector are enough issues for him to begin to deal with now than going to pursue presidential ambition at the expense of the nation.”

The choices of the ministers have attracted criticisms with human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) warning that it was too late for them to withdraw from the political race after earlier resignation from office.

He said their volte face was a contravention Section 306 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution, which stipulates that “The resignation of any person from any office established by this constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that authority or person to receive it.”

Falana, therefore, submitted that “if the former ministers are going to be reappointed the president is required by Section 147 of the constitution to submit names to the Senate for fresh screening and confirmation.”

Reacting, the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Rafsanjani said it’s borne out of their desire to remain relevant in the political and financial scheme of things, and not because of national interest.

“Otherwise, one cannot understand why you have expressed interest to resign, and you don’t want to go,” he said.

“Even when it is very clear you have purchased the expression of interest and nomination forms, not only that, you have also told the whole world that you have resigned. 

“That will bring a serious constitutional breach because, if you have resigned, you cannot continue as a minister, because the president has done farewell for them.

“So, you cannot continue to be a minister until when the president resubmits your name to the National Assembly for clearance, and any attempt not to resubmit the names of the people who have already resigned and fare well already done for them, is unconstitutional and unacceptable.” 

Similarly, a director in the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Barrister Kelvin Mejulu said there is no national interest in the change of mind by the ministers but purely personal interest.

The managing partner at Nextier SPD, an international development consultant, Dr Ndu Nwokolo, said their decisions were selfish and may have been influenced a wrong reading of Mr President’s body language about his preference for the 2023 election.

“They go tell him that they want to run for the president and he was giving almost the same answers to all of them,” he said.

“And then, even where the president didn’t say anything, his aides were selling that narrative to loads of ministers, that ‘hei, the president thinks you are a nice person, that you are the type of person he would like to take over from him’, so most of them bought the dummy, and till date nobody knows who the president wants, and by the time they started realizing it, it was already done, so some of them started reversing.

“And because of the way the president worded his directive that they should resign before 16th of May, so even if they had shown an interest but it was not before the 16th.

“Secondly, the case of Malami was that the president didn’t want him out and so reversing his ambition to give way to others. 

“So, now that Malami and Emefiele had stayed behind, it was not surprising that many more ministers would stay.”

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