In recent months, we have seen concerted efforts to redefine the cabal as political concept and to give it a palatable connotation. In spirited pronouncements on popular television talk shows we have been told that there is actually a cabal in the presidency but that it is not made up of mean people. The public has been told that ‘members of the ‘cabal’ in the presidency are not hungry individuals and do not deserve the public criticism they get,’’ a presidential aide said.’ In other words, they are doing us a hell lot of good. The only problem is that we do not know this fact.
While stating that the cabal does not have undue influence on the president, a spokesperson decried the attitude of Nigerians to persons who have the president’s ears without occupying public offices. He said: ‘‘Nigerians have formed the practice of labeling people that are in some advisable positions of the president as a cabal. People (cabals) should not be labelled negatively simply because they have offered themselves to support the president of this country.’’
The spin train went as far as saying that there are cabals in every government but that on other shores, they are daintily called kitchen cabinets. ‘‘Elsewhere, they call it “kitchen cabinet,” but in our own country, we are being derogatory, and we term them cabals so that it will tarnish their own good standing.’’
It does appear, however, that the so-called kitchen cabinets in some countries are an inner circle of staff or other officials. In other words, such kitchen cabinets are made up of officials. However, in some countries like the USA, the term is used for unofficial advisers. A dictionary defines such a kitchen cabinet as a ‘group of unofficial advisers to a political leader, especially when considered to be more influential than the official cabinet.’
When a political leader heavily relies on an unofficial circle of advisers to the detriment of the officially appointed ones, we can be certain that this has an effect on the contributions of the real cabinet to governance in any country. Citizens of such countries have every cause to worry because the official advisers and ministers are accountable to the people whereas the kitchen cabinet is not. While the official advisers would be expected to operate within the framework of the government’s agenda and within the confines of codes regulating their activities, the kitchen cabinet has no such restraints.
There have been stories of governors who have commissioners as mere sounding boards, or rather, as mere acoustic boards set up to absorb sounds. When they are assembled in executive meetings all they have to do is to sit and endure hours of drivels by the emperors or governors. Some are said to spend hours sleeping in the hallowed executive chambers while the emperor is fiddling somewhere while the states burn. Official advisers whose wisdom is needed by no one are as disempowered as you can imagine and are forced to continuously guard their pronouncements or steps as they could easily go on the path that the kitchen cabinet would frown on. In such situations, the states have been said to be blatantly run by cabals or delicately put, kitchen cabinets.
Cabals turn official advisers into puppets or dummies who have little or no authority. However, you can be sure that this is not what the defenders of the cabal are saying.
A look at various dictionaries consistently yield rather uncomfortable depictions of what and who the cabal is. Calling them kitchen cabinets is a huge leap in branding. One depiction is that a cabal ‘is a group of people united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, state, or other community, often by intrigue and usually unbeknownst to those outside their group.’ There you are. A cabal promotes its private views, desires and designs. Private views. They are neither elected nor representing the people. By official definitions they are said to be purveyors of intrigues. That excludes the interests of the citizenry.
The first use of the word is said to have been in 17th Century England where it described any secret or extralegal council of the king. The Merriam-Webster dictionary captures the cabal as ‘the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government); also: a group engaged in such schemes.
Mnguember Vicky Sylvester portrays the cabal in her book of short stories, ‘The Cabals and the Naked Dance,’ as a clique said to be running government and the country’s resources. That is a hot combination in the Nigerian context. The fictional cabal would not only be whispering into the ears of the helmsmen in power, they would also be grasping at the nation’s natural resources. When that is done without popular accountability ecological damage of horrendous proportions must ensue.
It is indeed a tough job branding the cabal as a kitchen cabinet. The two are best kept apart as the genetic makeup of the cabal is stronger than any hardwood that may be utilised in fabricating a kitchen cabinet.
Where a cabal thrives, mistrust spreads like a cancer. Their presence places political spokespersons in very difficult situations and can seriously hamper their performance, effectiveness and public perceptions. This situation confers sinister implication to every action or events, including for example the overturning of Imo State’s gubernatorial election result by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A panel of seven judges made that decision, but while the nation waits to hear the reasoning behind the disruptive decision, the story in town is that a cabal is at work, pushing an agenda that is a prelude to something more ominous. This is one reason why no one needs a cabal in the corridors of power.