Monday, April 24, 2017 5:35 pm
We want to try to answer the million-dollar question posed by the suspended (?) Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, when journalists accosted him over the said suspension last week at the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had announced the suspension of the SGF as well as the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke. While Lawal bagged his suspension over grass-cutting contracts allegedly awarded or influenced by him to companies said to belong to him or in which he had interests, Oke’s suspension reportedly emanated from his laying claim to the humongous amount of money in many currencies said to have been unearthed from a private residence in Lagos by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Expectedly, State House correspondents wanted to have Lawal’s reaction to his suspension but rather than answer them in a straight-forward manner, the interdicted SGF, known for his sometimes costly jokes, fired several broadsides and innuendoes, one of which was: “Who is the Presidency?”(that suspended him). This question is loaded, in view of what we have already known about the rumblings and vicious power-play in the Presidency of President Muhammadu Buhari.
There is an elected President, Muhammadu Buhari, who is supposed to symbolize and appropriate the Presidency. He has a Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, who should step into his shoes in case of any eventualities. This was what happened a few weeks ago when the President travelled to London on medical vacation and Osinbajo acted as President for a little less than two months. Whereas this fact ought to have been axiomatic, we have heard rumours of a consortium of presidencies within the Presidency in Abuja. We have heard of cabals jostling for relevance and control in the seat of power. We have heard of nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends of President Buhari wielding awesome powers in his Presidency. We have also heard stories of divisions within the powerful men holding positions of authority within the government. They say there are cliques and that these cliques jostle for relevance and control. In so doing, they undo or outdo one another. In such power-play, power changes hands always and rapidly, too. The man or group in control today may be overthrown by another power-monger or group the next moment.
To be sure, cabals or kitchen cabinets are a feature of every government. Leaders often abdicate or delegate powers to trusted friends or relatives. I witnessed how the late Ondo state Gov. Segun Agagu vested his brother, Femi Agagu, with absolute power. I also saw how embattled Chief Servant of Niger State, Aliyu Babangida Muazu, relied heavily on Prof. Yahaya Kuta, as SSG and Chief of Staff, before Kuta’s enemies “got him” as the Americans would say and he fell out of favour. Since 1999 when we started the Presidential experiment which loads the President with awesome powers while the Vice-President is left virtually with nothing, efforts have been made to present a semblance of oneness and all-is-well within the Presidency. This was why the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency made “One Presidency” a swan-song. Perhaps, it was so during OBJ’s first term when he vested immense authority on his Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar. Things, however, changed during the second term when Obasanjo hunted, haunted, harried, and vilified Atiku. But for Atiku’s political versatility, he would not have seen out the second term as Obasanjo tried every trick in the books to offload him.
In the Presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan was treated with utmost contempt by the cabals that surrounded Yar’Adua. The late president’s illness did not help matters as the cabals cashed in on it to fence out Jonathan and freeze him completely from power. As it was with Yar’Adua, so also, we have heard, it is with the current president, whose illness has provided the cabal around him ample opportunities to amass immense power and influence to themselves. It happened also during the time of the late Gen. Sani Abacha as military president, when Ministers could not see him due to his illness but would be asked by the all-powerful cabals to just drop the files and come back later for the president’s comments. Whose comments found its way into those files, your guess is as good as mine. We saw a similar shenanigan during the presidency of Yar’Adua. Long after the president had become incapacitated; he was still purportedly signing budgets and other documents on his sick bed. At a lower level, we saw the same wonderment in Taraba state where a governor, Suntai Dambaba, who was brain dead, was being propped up and presented by the cabals around him as capable to govern. Thanks for social media, the photographs of the same man trended recently where he was seen on wheel chair playing with toys like a baby.
Jonathan’s presidency is, perhaps, the best example so far of a presidency that worked harmoniously. The Vice-President, Namadi Sambo, had no public issues with Jonathan and both operated without hiccups and controversies. Two years’ into the Buhari presidency, it is difficult to say that Vice-President Osinbajo has been of great influence within the Buhari Presidency. Until circumstances forced it on Buhari for Osinbajo to act as President, Osinbajo was largely ignored by the Buhari Presidency. Many important appointments were reportedly made without his input. He reportedly heard of many vital decisions taken just like every other ordinary Nigerian. A more forceful Vice-President would have protested; just like Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, as Chief of General Staff or Vice-President to military President Ibrahim Babangida, did when the likes of Abacha refused to recognise and respect him as the Number Two. Of course, he lost out and was replaced with the pliant Admiral Augustus Aikhomu but Ukiwu had made his point and defended his dignity.
So, who, then, is the “presidency” that ordered the suspension of SGF David Babachir Lawal? Is it the Presidency of Buhari or the “presidency” of the other cabals jostling for power within the Presidency? Which of the “presidents” ordered the suspension: Is it President Buhari or one or more of the other “presidents” ruling the country without the mandate of the people? We saw a little of that during Buhari’s medical vacation in London when it was the friends, relatives, and cabals around him that took full control of happenings around Mr. President. They were the ones calling officials of the government and giving them instructions on what to say or write about the president. Now again that Buhari is said to be sick and had not been seen in public for weeks, who do we know gave the order for the suspension of the persons suspended? Buhari has skipped two Federal Executive Council meetings in quick succession but presidential spin doctors would have us believe it has nothing to do with ill-health! There we go again!! Can Femi Adesina, the presidential aide who issued the suspension order, tell us if he received the instruction live and direct from Buhari or he was directed by someone who was reportedly directed by Mr. President to issue the suspension order?
The suspension order on the SGF is confusing indeed, in that the issues over which he has now been suspended had been investigated by the President himself. When the grass-cutting in the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp broke, Buhari himself ordered the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to investigate. The man investigated and turned in his report to the President; the President studied the report by himself or by proxy and came out with the verdict that the SGF was not guilty as charged. So, he was discharged and acquitted and was asked to continue his good works. That was many months ago. So, how can the same man be now suspended and be turned over to be investigated anew over the same allegations? It must mean that new facts have emerged. Or that one of the many cabals has gained the upper hand now and is angling to deal with the cabal of the SGF. If the cabal or “presidency” that has influenced the suspension of the SGF succeeds, then, the SGF will be thrown out and will lose relevance, just like the cabal of Kaduna state Gov. Nasir el-Rufai, which rode high early in the tenure of the Buhari Presidency, lost relevance and was cut to size. Another school of thought is to balance the equation and give a semblance of North-South parity. Unfortunately, this leaves a yawning gap on the religion front as both the SGF and Ayo Oke are Christians. In fact, the SGF is, perhaps, the most high-ranking and influential Christian in the Presidency.
Why were the suspended men not handed over to the EFCC for investigation and possible prosecution? Here, there are many suppositions: If the SGF and the EFCC boss belong in the same cabal or “presidency”, you already know the outcome. In case they belong to different cabals or “presidencies”, it will amount to throwing a rat at a cat. Trying to avoid this pitfall, the Buhari Presidency – we must begin from now on to differentiate the many “presidencies” within the Presidency – decided to set up a “neutral” committee to handle the job. But how neutral the Osinbajo committee is remains to be seen. In the committee is the Attorney-General who had earlier investigated the case involving the SGF on Buhari’s directives. While we may not be able to say what his findings are, the President exonerated the SGF after the investigation. Unless new facts have emerged, it is not likely that the Attorney-General’s views will change radically. Then, of course, the VP who heads the Presidential committee and the SGF are said to belong in the same cabal. I once read that it was APC leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the erstwhile interim National Chairman, Baba Bisi Akande, who convinced Buhari to make Lawal the SGF. The same Tinubu put forward Osinbajo as VP. But, then, loyalty and alliances are quicksand and, who knows, men may, for once, decide to be men? After all, didn’t the APC National Chairman, John Oyegun-Odigie, and the Ondo state Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, turn on the same Tinubu, their erstwhile godfather?
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