By Ochereome Nnanna
WHENPresident Muhammadu Buhari started crowding his government with his kinsmen, townsmen, clansmen and people of his ethnic, sectional and religious backgrounds, I was shocked that many otherwise respected opinion leaders did not see what was wrong with it. I recall that Professor Pat Okechukwu Utomi responded to our loudly-expressed outrage saying that it did not matter if Buhari composed his entire government with people from one village! Those were the days when the Daura military politician’s arrival on the stage was like the second coming of Jesus Christ to naïve Nigerians.
I have long discovered that naiveté is an attribute of character, not necessarily lack of knowledge. A naïve person may have all the degrees in the world; he might move mountains with his power of oratory and project raw charisma. But if he does not understand the contexts, the mindsets and the peculiarities of the people and situations he is involved in, he will be effortlessly routed by less-fancied mortals.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, General Johnson-Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, Chief Moshood Abiola, retired Major-General Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were outstanding for their naiveté. On the African continent, Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Simon Kapwepwe of Zambia and E. M. L. Endeley of the Southern Cameroons who pulled his region out of Nigeria during the 1962 Plebiscite, were classic examples of naïve leaders who got dealt out.
Naiveté is the worst enemy of peoples of Southern Nigeria. It was a disease that seemed to acquire acute proportions when retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was handed the presidential flag of the (then new) All Progressives Congress, APC, at their Lagos convention in December 2014. While political leaders from the South-West and Rivers State packaged and funded his presidential campaign, Northern members of the Buhari cabal who are now running rampant in Aso Villa were pussyfooting in the shadows. I had warned in one of my articles that they would crawl into view as soon as Buhari mounted the throne, and reduce the reign-by-cabal of the Yar’Adua era to a child’s play. Fast-forward to today and see for yourself.
President Buhari was the first in Nigeria’s history to announce that he would make nepotism an official policy of his government (refer to his 97%/5% formula). He declared that far away in Washington DC when he made his first post-victory trip to America. He has followed his word to the letter. He loaded both his “kitchen cabinet” and various “juicy” agencies and departments of the Federal Government disproportionately with Muslim Northerners, especially people from his close circuit.
Three such appointments caught my attention specially. The first was the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, where he initially positioned his family member, Hajiya Amina Zakari as Acting Chairman in June 2015, before bringing in his close associate, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to take over as substantive National Chairman. With the way the INEC is currently composed, it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Buhari to lose any election, particularly the 2019 election. Yes, he will contest.
Next, he turned to the Army where he chose Lt-General Tukur Buratai as an active operational Chief. No one is arguing about Buratai’s military skills, but no one can also say he is the only one with military skills in the Army. In spite of question-marks over some Dubai properties, Buratai remains in the saddle, in a regime in which the military has become more visible in civilian roles than the Police. It is left to be seen what an Army that was ruthlessly deployed against unarmed Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky’s Shiite Muslim sect and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, will do if the Nigerian people decide to vote out the President in 2019.
Buhari also eyed the Judiciary as his next trophy. The tenure of Justice Mohammed Mahmood was nearing its end, and a new Chief Justice of Nigeria who would key into Buhari’s long-term political interests would come in handy. But, the next in line to succeed Mahmood was Justice Walter Onnoghen, an unblemished, independent-minded Southerner. Buhari chose to keep Onnoghen in acting capacity. But nature went against whatever plans he had. While he was away on one of his medical vacations, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, yielded to hot-button public outcry and submitted Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation in March this year after his four months of uncertainty as Acting CJN. If Buhari had succeeded in retiring Onnoghen and bringing in a touted favourite Northerner to replace him, then the Judiciary would also be in his bag, in case his re-election and other elections are challenged at the Supreme Court.
The most interesting (and predictable) personal acquisition for the President was the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the nation’s cash- cow. When eventually Buhari appointed Ministers in November 2015, he announced himself as the Minister in charge of that portfolio, with Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, a seasoned oil sector technocrat, as the Minister of State and Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. But a few months later, the President removed Kachikwu as NNPC GMD and replaced him with Dr. Maikanti Kacalla Baru. The chicken had come home to roost because Kachikwu was effectively sidelined.
Our leaders who fought during the civil war have tended to take over the Petroleum Ministry as President. They see that Ministry and the NNPC as their share of the war booty for their role in defeating Biafra. They also use it to shore up their political positions. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had held the position of Petroleum Minister for over six years, during which he did not render accounts of his stewardship to anyone. In his second term and even when he sponsored Umaru Yar’Adua to replace him as president, he never had to depend on anyone for financial assistance for his political projects as in his first term.
Now, as the substantive Minister of Petroleum and with Baru in the NNPC reporting directly to him, Buhari will no longer depend on Lagos and Rivers peoples’ money for his re-election and other elections under his watch.
I am, therefore, not surprised at the bombshell of the $25 billion (nine trillion Naira) contract scam which Kachikwu’s leaked letter alleges. Baru’s staff redeployments and appointments in the NNPC, which completely left out the South-East in flagrant violation of the constitution, were done without following due process. But they closely followed Buhari’s policy of governance by nepotism and exclusion.
Nigerians are much blest to have a very proactive and responsive National Assembly, especially Dr. Bukola Saraki’s Senate. I am not (and can never be) one of the flagellators of the National Assembly, because it is a dependable bulwark to blunt the bite of civilian dictatorship. The outcome of the investigation which the Senate has ordered into this monster of alleged corruption perpetrated by Baru right under the watch of President Buhari, alias “Mr Integrity,” will surely define this regime for what it has always been from Day One, even for Doubting Thomases to see.
Nepotism is the worst form of corruption. It is the mother of all corruption. That was probably why the framers of our constitution stood firmly against it, by enshrining the most-maligned Federal Character provisions at both Federal and State levels. By the time we lift the lid off the other federal agencies populated by the President’s kinsmen, townsmen and clansmen; more stench is likely to come out.
Whoever leaked Kachikwu’s letter (like Governor Nasir El Rufai’s before it) is a great patriot. More will come, you just wait.