In what may look like the first major test about who really is in charge in Abuja, following President Umaru Yar’Adua’s continued absence, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, on Thursday defied Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan’s no-Christmas holiday order on him and three other ministers by travelling to Vienna, Austria.
Jonathan had on Wednesday given an order that Lukman; the Minister of State in the Ministry of Petroleum, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia; the Minister of Power, Mr. Lanre Babalola; and the Minister of State in the Power ministry, Alhaji Nuhu Wya, should stay back in Abuja during the Christmas holidays for a series of meetings aimed at finding a lasting solution to the lingering fuel scarcity in the country.
The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had told journalists after the Federal Executive meeting on Wednesday that the “mini-FEC meetings” between the vice-president and the four ministers would hold on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
However, a source in the Presidency told journalists that Lukman told his close aides immediately after the FEC meeting that he had already planned to travel to Austria, the seat of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The source claimed that the minister travelled on Thursday morning on a British Airways flight through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The source, who asked not to be named, described Jonathan’s action as an embarrassment to President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration. The source, a highly-placed official in Abuja, disclosed that the consequence of Lukman’s conduct might be calls for his resignation or outright removal for disobeying Jonathan and abandoning his duties.
He said, “It is sad that Lukman had to travel out of the country despite the order of the vice-president that he should not travel.
“He was supposed to be in charge of the petroleum crisis but the man chose to defy the directive of the vice-president and abandon his official responsibilities and travelled.
“As I am talking to you now, the minister is already in Vienna. He travelled on a British Airways flight. This is a clear demonstration of lack of respect for the office of the vice-president.
“It is unfortunate that a man who is supposed to be handling a major national issue such as the fuel crisis in the country chose to disobey the vice-president and went in pursuit of personal pleasure.
“It is a great embarrassment to this government and he must be asked to leave this government. The minister’s action is a clear demonstration of the way they look down on the Nigerian people.
“How then can one justify why a serving minister, who is supposed to be responsible to the Nigerian people, decided to abandon his mandate and travelled for personal pleasure? It is indeed very sad.”
The source added that there were indications that Lukman may not return to Nigeria until the New Year.
Our correspondent learnt that Lukman’s trip to Vienna was not for an official function.
Information on the OPEC website (www.opec.org) showed that it would hold its 156th (ordinary) meeting on March 17, 2010 in Vienna.
The organisation’s 155th (Extraordinary) meeting was held in Luanda, Angola on December 22, 2009.
However, efforts to reach Lukman did not yield results.
Also, telephone calls to his Chief Press Secretary, Mrs. Florence Boloko, did not go through.
A text message to Akunyili by our correspondent for her comments on the petroleum minister’s action was not replied.
Akunyili had, while addressing journalists on Wednesday, said that “the vice-president directed that some ministers are not going on holiday because of the issue of fuel (scarcity) and power.
“The vice-president has openly told them that there is no holiday for them because they cannot afford to go on holiday when the people are suffering.
“They must stay back with him and find out ways of easing the problems of Nigerians, because Nigerians are suffering; we know that.”