• 10 ministers may be moved as Buhari quietly shops for Lawal’s replacement as SGF
By Olawale Olaleye in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The presidency has reached out to the Senate informing it of its intention to carry out a cabinet shake up that may affect no fewer than 10 ministers in the federal cabinet early next year, THISDAY learnt last night.
An impeccable source told THISDAY that the presidency had decided to give the Senate the heads up on the imminent sack of some ministers and their replacement with new nominees in the spirit of the recent rapprochement reached between the Senate leadership and the presidency.
The objective on the part of the presidency is to avert a volatile screening process.
THISDAY further learnt that other than the changes to the cabinet, it has become compelling for Buhari to fill the two existing vacancies created by the demise of Mr. James Ocholi, former Minister of
State for Labour and Productivity, in March this year and the imminent exit of the Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, following her appointment as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN).
Ocholi, before his unfortunate demise in a car accident, represented Kogi State in the cabinet while Mrs. Mohammed represents Kaduna State.
A source close to the presidency, said the presidency was disturbed by the series of conflicts between it and the Senate in recent times, resulting in the rejection of various presidential requests.
THISDAY also learnt that some of the 10 ministers to be affected by the exercise would be dropped while others would swap portfolios.
It was also learnt that having worked with the ministers for 14 months, Buhari now has the opportunity to put things in order in his cabinet.
“There is an understanding that in the new year, one of the key
assignments the Senate will undertake, aside from the consideration of the 2017 budget, is the screening of new ministerial nominees who will
be replacing some of the ministers that will soon be asked to leave
the cabinet,” the source said.
It was also learnt that the Buhari administration was prepared to effect changes, following the criticism that it had put round pegs in square holes. So he wants to ensure that come next year, ministers are rightly placed while those considered to be under-performing are shown the exit.
It was also learnt that the exercise would affect appointees from the various geopolitical zones, just as THISDAY learnt that both the presidency and the Senate had rubbed minds on the issue in their renewed resolve to work together in the interest of the nation.
The presidency was said to have opted to carry the Senate along in its subsequent plans because it was said to have been taken aback by some of the parliament’s recent decisions.
For instance, only last Thursday, the Senate rejected the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.
Earlier, it had rejected the president’s request for approval of a $30 billion external borrowing plan. It also returned the non-career ambassadorial list and dropped some nominees of National Communications Commission (NCC).
In addition, it returned the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) before re-considering it stance.
A source told THISDAY in the Senate that despite the presidency’s search, the forthcoming screening of ministerial nominees would not be a walkover for anyone.
“The senate will set a high standard. Security reports will be taken seriously. There will be thorough screening. It will not be a tea party,” he added.
Buhari Shops for Lawal’s Replacement
In a related development, Buhari may have begun to quietly shop for a replacement for the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, who is currently facing corruption allegations, THISDAY has learnt.
Sources in the presidency who hinted at the development, said the recent allegations that a company, Rholavision Engineering Limited, which Lawal owns, corruptly accepted payments from another company, Josmon Technologies, exceeding N270 million, was just the breaking point for the president, thus prompting the need for his removal about three weeks ago.
Bank statements and other documents exclusively obtained by THISDAY from the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), whose budget is managed by the Office of the SGF, showed that Josmon and Rholavision were awarded contracts early this year to remove plant species (removal of weeds) that had invaded Komadugu water channels in Yobe State as well as the irrigation of the water dams in the same area for almost N300 million.
The payments that were made to Josmon were subsequently transferred in several tranches of N10 million to Rholavision’s account with Ecobank International Plc on March 30, 31 and April 1, 2016, contrary to civil service rules and laws barring public sector workers and appointees from awarding contracts to themselves or companies linked to them.
Even more damning was the fact that Lawal, who claimed that he relinquished his shares in Rholavision on September 16, 2016, was the sole signatory of the account of the company, as his personal Bank Verification Number (BVN), was linked to the company.
It was on the basis of this incriminating evidence that the Senate last week called for his resignation and probe.
In his reaction, Lawal, however, dismissed the report of the Senate that indicted him, stating that the senators were “talking balderdash”.
Following the indictment, one of those being touted as a likely successor to Lawal is the current Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who was originally penciled down for the post but was edged out due to a report which claimed he had huge unsettled debts.
Presidency sources informed THISDAY that those who wanted Lawal in place of Ogbeh had cooked up the debt report to discredit him for the office, but that the president has since discovered that the report was actually doctored to disqualify him.
With Lawal now considered damaged goods, Ogbeh’s name has resurfaced and may come up again for the post of SGF, if the president finds a better replacement for him in the agriculture ministry.
Lawal was also said to have been marked down for replacement some three weeks ago because of his alleged meddling in the Ondo governorship election considered to have been inimical to the interest of the president, especially now that there appears to be cracks within the ranks of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Lawal was believed to have done himself in when the deployment of security personnel relevant to the Ondo election were effected.
Specifically, a certain Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of Police, who was deployed to oversee the exercise with clear instructions from his principal, the Inspector-General of Police, on how to go about his assignment, was said to have complained to someone close to the president that he received a call from Lawal with a contrary order.
According to the source, Lawal had asked the DIG to report to Chief Pius Akinyelure, APC chairman in the South-west, and brief him on developments.
But Akinyelure, a very close ally of Senator Bola Tinubu, though an APC chieftain, was believed to have worked for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and its candidate, Olusola Oke in the Ondo election.
Ironically, this fact was unknown to the DIG, the implication of which was that he would have inadvertently played into the hands of the opposition on account of the order handed to him by Lawal.
When the matter was eventually brought to the notice of the president, he was said to have been very livid and called Lawal immediately with a strong warning that the next time he found him meddling in the Ondo election matter or any matter not assigned to him, it would be his last assignment as SGF.
It was on this basis that Lawal was said to have backtracked on the election that was eventually won by Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) who had the blessing of Buhari.
Those around the president, when he spoke to Lawal, were said to have been worried for the SGF, saying they had never seen or heard the president speak to anyone with such anger, adding that from the demeanor of the president, “we knew Lawal was in trouble and it was only a matter of time before he was relieved of his job”.
A source added: “With the PINE contract, which clearly borders on corruption, there is no doubting the fact that he is a goner. There is no way he or the president can defend this.
“However, one would have expected that as a decent person, he would have sent in his letter of resignation and not wait until he is shown the way out.
“But whether or not he likes it, the allegations are too weighty for the president to ignore,” the source said.
He explained that “what they actually wanted to do was to fund the Ondo election with N1.3 billion Ecology Funds to be done in somewhere in Ogun State.
“But neither Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo nor Governor Ibikunle Amosun of the state was aware. And when they started touting the VP’s name, he quickly wrote a formal letter and washed his hands off the deal.”
The source said practically all members of the Buhari cabinet were happy about the development, as Lawal seemed to have no friends amongst them, because he wields so much powers they cannot explain.
Even more worrisome for him, the source added, is that those who actually run the show in the government are also no longer comfortable with him and had been looking for a way to edge him out.
Unfortunately for them, Lawal is said to have been lucky all along because the president had personally watched his back and dismissed every attempt to advance his removal.
But with the Senate report clearly indicting him, they are happy and confident that he would not survive it since it is against everything that the Buhari’s government stands for.