Ministers were troubled yesterday following the leakage of a video footage showing Minister of Women Affairs Aisha Alhassan endorsing former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar for president in 2019.
She also told the BBC Hausa Service yesterday that should Atiku join the presidential race, she would support him instead of President Muhammadu Buhari.
She does not mind leaving the cabinet because of her preference for Atiku, Mrs Alhassan said.
Leading an All Progressives Congress (APC) delegation from Taraba State to Atiku, the minister was shown in the video as saying: “Mr President, our father, Nigeria’s president for 2019, God willing, in your presence today are your people who have been placed under your care for forever.”
Most cabinet members were shocked by their colleague’s stance.
There were fears that the minister’s comments might hasten changes in the cabinet.
Some ministers said the comments smacked of disloyalty; others said it was typical of Senator Alhassan.
A minister said: “Some of us called her when the video went viral and she confirmed the comments attributed to her.
“To me, I think it is like passing a vote of no confidence on your boss. I think it is untidy to write off your boss as incompetent to continue in office.”
Another source in the cabinet said: “I am not surprised; it is typical of the Minister of Women Affairs. But the ideal thing is to leave and pursue your career. This development might affect our unity in the cabinet. Some will certainly not trust her again.”
Another minister said: “She shocked me because I used to think she is closer to the President. What you cannot dispute is that the President has never hidden his respect for her. She was away from the cabinet for months when she was ill and the President tolerated her absence. She should have chosen a different approach to it because one good turn deserves another.”
A government official said he suspected “a script”. It might not be only her. Maybe she is flying a kite,” he said, pleading not to be named.
An APC stalwart, who also spoke in confidence, said: “I think she is kick-starting 2019 politics. I could see cracks in the coalition which formed the APC.”
The presidency has not commented on the video clip.
A source in the Presidency said: “The President has just come back from Daura and he is just settling down. Actually, there is nothing to say.
“The Minister of Women Affairs has confirmed to BBC that she made the comments. What else do you want the presidency to say?”
In an interview with the BBC, the minister said: “Atiku is my godfather even before I joined politics.” She spoke in Hausa. “And again, Baba Buhari did not tell us that he is going to run in 2019.
“Let me tell you today that if Baba said he is going to contest in 2019, I swear to Allah, I will go before him and kneel down and tell him that ‘Baba I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve your government as a minister but Baba just like you know I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather. If Atiku said he is going to contest.”
“If because of what I said I am sacked, it will not bother me because I believe in Allah that my time has elapsed, that is why…
“Baba is not a mad man like those calling for my sack. They have been sending it and spreading that if Baba sees this I will be sacked.”
A pro-democracy group, the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution (CDNDC) yesterday said the minister’s comments was at variance with the position of APC National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun.
The group in a statement by its Co-Convener, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “The comment by Mama Taraba is contrary to the obscure claim by the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), John Oyegun that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock in 2019.
“Everything that has happened has now confirmed that bombshell of an interview by the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, when she warned she might not campaign for her husband in 2019.
“She knew there was a plan to take advantage of her husband for 2019 and this much is known to Alhassan through her latest comment…”