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The minister of state for agriculture and rural development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri over the weekend, ignored President Muhammadu Buhari and traveled out of the country without presidential approval.
All ministers, presidential aides and top officials of the federal government have been mandated to seek approval from the president through the chief of staff, Mr Abba Kyari for trips outside the country.
But rather than wait for approval, Lokpobiri who is said to be having a running battle with the substantive minister, Mr Audu Ogbeh over schedule of duties, rushed out of the country in company of two of his aides, Mr Amber Enene and Mrs Eniye Ambakederimo to China.
The president was reportedly briefed and he instructed the chief of staff to ascertain whether or not Lokpobiri actually traveled without a written permission. Two undercover agents were said to have been sent to the ministry after which the president directed Kyari to response to Lokpobiri’s request to travel on Monday, January 9, 2017, knowing that the minister was already in China. The response asked Lokpobiri to ‘step down’ the trip.
A copy of the letter from the chief of staff which is in possession of our correspondent with reference number SH/COS/63/1/A/3310 and titled ”Re: Permission to travel to the Peoples Republic of China ”, read in part: ”With reference to your letter Ref.No FMIC/PRPU/597/59, dated 28th December on the above subject matter, I write to inform that Mr President has directed that the trip be stepped down”.
According to a top presidency official, the minister had written a letter dated December 28, 2016, to the president through Kyari but had yet to receive a response before jetting out to China with the aides.
Curiously, while the presidency source said the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr Shehu Ahmed gave away the minister as having travelled since saturday, a top director in the ministry came to the defence of Ahmed, saying it was the permanent secretary who actually alerted the junior minister about the brewing development.
”The man in actual fact, wrote to this office but we were yet to reply before he travelled, may be he took it for granted before we got to know from the Permanent Secretary on Monday evening that the minister left Nigeria twenty four hours ago and this was disrespectful to the office of president. The minister knows the rules, the guidelines are clear but may be he took such lightly”, the source said.
But a director blamed the development on the rivalry between Ogbeh and Lokpobiri and not Ahmed. ”These politicians should find a way of sorting out their issues, they should leave the civil servants out of their troubles. Why the PS? Why not the senior minister who had complained to all the directors that his colleague was not cooperating with him and that their inability to sort out schedules is creating problems.
”Ogbeh had complained to most of us and was already threatening to report the junior minister before the two guys quietly came to the ministry to secret verify Lokpobiri’s absence.
The ugly development might not be unconnected with the cold war among President Buhari’s cabinet members most of whom belong to different cartels in the Presidential Villa.
Lokpobiri, a close associate of former Bayelsa state governor, Timipre Sylva who escaped corruption trial in mysterious circumstances belong to the camp of the embattled secretary to the government of the federation, Mr David Babachir Lawal who leads a syndicate in Aso Rock.
While Lawal and Sylva are friends in the villa chess game, Kyari and the DG, DSS, Mr Lawal Daura are leading lights in another opposite camp that is said to be working for the ouster of the SGF. The chief of staff and Daura are allegedly working on the president to name Ogbeh as SGF.