Controversies over claims that Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, blew a whooping N10 billion on a chartered jet provided by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) appear to be spiraling out of control with the topmost figures managing the nation’s oil industry at each other’s throats.
Disturbed by leakage of information on alleged N10 billion expended on the chartered jet, Mrs. Alison-Madueke is poised to sack two of her Special Assistants. The aides on the firing line were after being linked with the leakage of information on the chartered jet.
The Minister has also vented her anger at a former Minister, who was recently sacked from the cabinet and some top officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the leaks and the management of the fallout.
A source within the ministry said: “There was disquiet in the Minister’s office on Wednesday when some aides were threatened with sack by the Minister. In fact, one of the affected assistants is in charge of a sensitive unit.
“But at the close of work on Thursday, I saw the affected aides in office. No one was sure whether they came to clear their desks or someone from the top has acceded on their behalf. The true picture will emerge on Tuesday when we resume work.”
The development has resulted in a cold war between pitching the Petroleum Minister against the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu.
But for the intervention of the presidency which feared it would lose the support of the people of Southern Kaduna for President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid in 2015, Yakubu was set to be ousted from his position last week.
The President is banking on Northern minorities and Christians to win his re-election bid against the backdrop of perceived hostility of the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy in the North against his ambition.
In spite of the intrigues, the House of Representatives has drawn a battle line over its intention to proceed with the probe of the alleged scandal on April 28.
The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts already has in its possession documents including the movement log of Challenger 850 jet in question.
Investigations by our correspondent revealed that the chartered jet scandal has caused considerable disquiet in the presidency leading to a major split in the seat of power.
While some forces are supporting the minister to confront the House Committee by challenging its powers to investigate in court, some friends and associates of the President Goodluck Jonathan are pleading with him to allow the minister bear her cross.
It was, however, learnt that the division has put the minister in a difficult position leading to a desperate moves to reorganise her office and deployment of propaganda by her supporters through the organization of a pocket of pro-Diezani rallies in Abuja.
A top source said: “The chartered jet allegation has put the presidency under undue pressure on whether the Minister should face the probe or not. Although some forces believe that the presidency should live up to its avowed commitment to the fight against corruption, others feel the House should be checked following suspicion that it is using the investigation to undermine the presidency.
“This explains why some people in the presidency are backing Diezani to go to court to obtain injunction to restrain the House Committee on Public Accounts. There is a plan to hang on to legal technicalities to stall the probe.
“Despite plans to frustrate the probe, all is not well in Diezani’s office on how the leakage came about leading to threats to sack two Special Assistants to the Minister during the week. She was said to be uncomfortable with the roles of the SAs on her travel logs with the jet.
“There is so much anger everywhere from the Minister because she has never been under heat like in the past few weeks. During the week, the blame game continued culminating in a cold war between the Minister and some NNPC officials. It got to a stage when she was almost sacking the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu.
“A major source of the war borders on the alleged refusal of the NNPC to pay the outstanding N1.56billion debt on the Challenger 850 jet.
“About 500,000 Euros (aboutN130 million) was paid monthly to hire the jet. The company managing the lease of the aircraft is being owed for 12 months which amounted to about N1.56 billion. The NNPC management was said to be reluctant to pay the debt.
“It is also suspected that some NNPC officials might have contributed to the leakage of information on the chartered jet causing some friction between the Minister and the GMD.
“Also, the GMD was said to be unhappy at being sidelined in decision-making process by the Minister. If she had her way, the GMD would have gone by now.”
It was, however, feared that Yakubu’s sack might trigger political backlash and that “the President would lose the sympathy of Northern minorities who are mostly in the North-Central and some parts of the North-East. The President might lose the support of Northern minority, especially the people of Southern Kaduna, who have been complaining of marginalisation.”
Responding to a question, the source said: “Concerning the GMD’s fate, I am aware that he was in London for a greater part of the week for a meeting of the NLNG. Whatever happened must have been at the top.”
Meanwhile, as the House Committee prepares for its inquiry, more documents and fact-sheets on the chartered Challenger jet have been submitted by firms and individuals connected with the transactions.
One source on the committee said: “We are set for the inquiry although the Minister has refused to respond to queries from the committee. Instead, there was a plot to distract the House by casting aspersions on Speaker Aminu Tambuwal.
“We will not join issues with anybody or group on this probe. Rather, we will ensure that we are fair and objective as possible to the Minister and whoever may appear before us.
“So far, we have got relevant information to set the stage for our probe. The Minister appears indisposed to our summons, we will go ahead. No amount of propaganda by media consultants can stop us.
“The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts is already in possession of the manifest of the Minister’s trips. We have also received a fact-sheet indicating that the aircraft lease firm, Vista Jet is being owed N1.56 billion for 12 months at 500,000 Euros (aboutN130 million) per month.
“We now have response from Evergreen, which has provided records of the movement of the jet in question. They, however, did not include the manifest. We understand that they are claiming that officially the other agencies in the aviation sector are to provide manifests for the House Committee.”