In the past weeks, events around the anti-graft crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari threw the presidency on the roughest terrain of the country’s polity. But with the hindsight of a true leader, the president bounces back with a tempo that has left his critics at bay. JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH writes.
The decision taken by former president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, on Syria in 2013 was defined as the turning point in his presidency, both for his foreign policy and for his own self-definition as a president.
According to a report prior to that, the nation had struggled to come up with the right definition for Obama and get the right answers to the cacophony of questions seeking clarifications. Was he a dove (Iraq) or a hawk (surge in Afghanistan, drones)? Was he an idealist (speeches in Cairo and Prague in 2009, Arab Spring of 2011) or a cold realist (Iran in 2009, Egypt in 2013)? How much did he really value the goals of democratic change, or of stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction?
In the Nigerian situation, last week tended to a defining moment for the President Muhammadu Buhari presidency. It posed as the climax of the anti- corruption war of the president, which had been dismissed as losing steam. Certain actions or inactions of the presidency betrayed the anti-graft posture of the administration. At a point, it seemed as if the Buhari government had lost out in the fight.
The most intriguing of such corruption cases is that of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and erstwhile Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke over allegations of financial impropriety. Six months after the president ordered the suspension and probe of the duo, nothing was heard about the outcome of the matter.
Critics, particularly those of the opposition, spoke with shrill voices, accusing the president of looking the other way when corruption allegations are leveled against his associates and cabinet members.
In the heat of that, the biggest scandal of all broke out last week when an online newspaper reported that Mr Abdullahi Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, who was declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was back to the country. It was not just that ‘fugitive’ Maina returned to Nigeria; he staged a come back to the country’s public space by meandering his way back to the civil service, with a double promotion.
Maina was appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan as chairman of the task force in 2010 to check corrupt practices in the country’s pension system. In 2012, he was accused by the police of misappropriating N100 billion pension funds in connivance with others. Maina was arraigned in absentia by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which declared him wanted in 2015. The commission, two weeks ago, insisted that Maina is still on the wanted list of the commission.
Sensing the collateral damage the Maina saga could cause his administration’s anti-graft crusade; President Buhari decided to act fast. He immediately ordered the sack of Maina from the civil service. Not satisfied, the president ordered a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to the reinstatement of Maina, with a view to bringing those involved to book.
But keen observers said that was not enough. They called for the arrest and prosecution of all the key actors in the Mainagate, including Minister of Interior, Abdurrahaman Dambazau, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo- Ita.
In the raging controversy, political observers urged the president to rejig his cabinet and inject new blood, as the present crop of ministers cannot deliver the much-needed change promised Nigerians. In the mix of all these was the president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which was tethering on the edge. Pundits said APC was on the brink of implosion. The different factions that formed the party were all complaining of the same issue- marginalisation. It was reported that national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, was not happy with the turn of events in the party. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, publicly lashed out at the party, lamenting that he had been sidelined in the scheme of things. Most of the party faithful complained bitterly that they have not been compensated for their role in the emergence of President Buhari. As at last count, over 500 board appointments were still pending, while some agencies are still being populated by appointees of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
There was also the claim about a cabal in the presidency, which has hijacked the reigns of government from Buhari. Any action or inaction of the government was blamed on the cabal in the presidency. But on Monday, when Bola Tinubu visited Aso Rock, he denied suggestions that Buhari’s government is under the control of a cabal.
He said: “I just met with the president. Our discussion was fruitful, productive and it was about the country and leadership as a whole and that got him excited and happy. I have confidence in this president; there is no doubt about that. We worked hard to bring about the government; there are certain things that are unpredictable and those are things that can lend themselves to gossips, insinuations and all of that.
“But once you create leadership and it is functioning, you don’t have to babysit that leadership unless there is a loss of confidence and I don’t have that. You know me. I’m not known to shy away from talking my mind and rebelling if it is necessary and taking charge of things that I believe are necessary. What is the myth in this leadership thing? What is cabal? It’s a myth. We are the party of the people for the people and by the people and this is democratic environment.
“Each of us have our roles to play and that is why we are playing it. I don’t believe in the myth, I believe in confidence building, the trust that we have in the president. In the journey of democracy, you are going to have twists and turns; you are going to have conflicts. Conflict resolution mechanism is inbuilt on how you handle your party and the governance and the party are joined by the hips”.
The Turning Point
Just when the critics thought President Buhari was losing grip of his presidency, he proved them wrong. It is just like former American president, George Washington said: “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph”. President Buhari, this week, changed the narrative of his anti-graft war. At a time political observers thought the president had given a clean bill of health to Babachir Lawal and Ayo One, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, released a tweet on Monday, announcing their ouster.
“PMB terminates appointments of Babachir Lawal, suspended SGF, and Amb Ayo Oke, former DG, NIA. Mr Boss Mustapha, is new SGF”, Adesina tweeted. He followed it up with a statement later in the day. The statement noted: “President Muhammadu Buhari has studied the report of the panel headed by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, which investigated allegations against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir David Lawal, and the Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke.
“The President accepted the recommendation of the panel to terminate the appointment of Mr Lawal, and has appointed Mr Boss Mustapha as the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The appointment takes immediate effect.
“President Buhari also approved the recommendation to terminate the appointment of Ambassador Oke, and has further approved the setting up of a three-member panel to, among other things, look into the operational, technical and administrative structure of the Agency and make appropriate recommendations”.
While political observers hailed the president for striking a the right moment, the opposition contended that the president is being clever by half by not announcing whether or not the duo will be handed over to EFCC and be prosecuted. But the presidency quickly clarified on that, saying President Buhari is committed to the rule of law and will not shield anyone from investigation.
In a statement by the senior special assistant on media and publicity to the president, Mallam Garba Shehu, the presidency said for those who ask the question of what next after the sack of Babachir Lawal and Ambassador Ayo Oke, the president has taken the administrative action. “All other actions will be taken by relevant government agencies”, he added.
He said the position of the president is that investigation agencies, which have already commenced the investigation of the two officers removed from office, will go on with their work of investigation without any interference or hindrance.
According to him, the president, who is fully conversant with the provisions of the constitution, will not stop the investigation of anyone because he has no such power under our laws, pointing out that this is a decision of the Supreme Court.
He said, “The President, under our laws can, through the Attorney General, enter a nolle prosequi to stop an on-going trial. He may, upon conviction, order a pardon. Beyond these, the president cannot order investigation agencies to not investigate anyone and does not intend to do in this, or any other circumstance.
“Based on his wish and desire for a strict observance of the law, the President expects the EFCC, ICPC and such agencies to proceed with ongoing investigations. When and where they have reasonable grounds to charge former or serving officers to court under our laws, they do not require the permission of the President to do so”.
Also, in a bid to calm frayed nerves in the party, President Buhari, on Monday met with the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, chairman of APC, John Odigie-Oyegun and chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, prior to the meeting of the national caucus of the party that same night.
In the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the party on Tuesday, the president indicated that he had heeded the call to weed out nonperforming members of his cabinet when he hinted that plans are underway for a cabinet reshuffle.
Specifically, the president declared that there was the need to inject new blood into his administration. Buhari hinted of the need to inject new blood in his government, just as he enumerated the achievements of his administration so far.
He said, “We can be proud of our achievements in the last two years: Boko Haram, Niger Delta, regular fuel, improved power, TSA, agriculture, fertilizer and, above all, the knowledge that corruption will not be tolerated in this government. We all know there is change.
“By the same token the compressed Federal Executive Council will be expanded to bring in more supporters at federal level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government.”
On board appointments, President Buhari said, “I am keenly aware that our supporters are very eager for these appointments to be announced. By the Grace of God, these appointments will be announced soon, especially now that the economy is improving. We will have the resources to cater for the appointees”.
The president also had dinner with the leadership of the National Assembly on Tuesday night to smoothen the relationship between the executive and legislature prior to the submission of the 2018 budget. The federal government had promised returning the budget cycle from January to December, a promise it kept by approving the budget estimates last week during the Federal Executive Council meeting.
There is no doubt that it has not been easy for the presidency, which had been receiving some hard knocks over what critics describe as flip-flops of the Buhari administration. But the event of the past week indicates that the president is poised to put the pestle wielding critics and doomsday slayers to shame by showing that he is in charge.
With the APC passing a vote of confidence on President Buhari and governors elected on the party’s platform insisting that he remains the most credible candidate ahead of 2019, it is ominous that the president is not in the shadow of his own goal post as the critics claim.
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