By Rotimi Fasan
AS the so-called anti-corruption fight of the Buhari government continues to unravel and is exposed for the sham it’s been turned into by the president, his men and associates, there are still many questions begging for answers if the general impression of President Muhammadu Buhari as a man of integrity is to be salvaged and not permanently sullied. Claims of integrity and talk of anti-corruption fight increasingly exist mostly at the rhetorical level. Nigerians right now think very poorly of the current government’s pretensions to integrity. The aura of nepotism surrounding the president already looks like a permanent stain, one that is now near-impossible to shake off given the close and extended family relationship that exists between him and many of his personal staff. His insistence to toe this line of conduct, a case of political corruption that could also have a financial dimension, is confirmed by his appointment of Boss Mustapha as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
While Mustapha may possess the requisite qualification and experience to hold that office, the fact that he is a cousin of Babachir Lawal, the disgraced former SGF, underlines Buhari’s reluctance to send Lawal home and his natural bent not to look beyond familial consideration in matters requiring merit. How come the president could not find anyone other than someone from Lawal’s own extended family to replace him as SGF? Was that position tailor-made for people of same ancestry as Lawal? Or is this Buhari’s own way of paying back Mustapha, the man former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed to investigate Buhari’s tenure as Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund? Mustapha’s investigation turned up nothing, not even the fact that many Nigerians from other parts of the country felt that Buhari’s PTF was unduly favourable to the north in the location of projects, same thing his government is again being accused of in its choice of location for World Bank projects in the last two and half years.
But the unfolding saga of Abdulrahman Maina’s dramatic return from exile and latest disappearance is what is taking the bottom off Buhari’s anti-corruption fight. The circumstances in which a wanted man, a pension fund fraudster to the tune of billions of naira, returned to the country, got absorbed into his former establishment with double promotion even when there is an active order for his arrest, is the mystery that has got Nigerians agitated in the last couple of weeks. After the whistle was blown on Maina and the bluff to reinstate him into the civil service failed to work, the man suddenly disappeared in the same manner he had appeared. Abubakar Mallami, the increasingly infamous Attorney General and Minister of Justice who apparently got his AGF position on account of his position as Buhari’s personal lawyer, triggered the process of Maina’s reinstatement with his claim that the court order to arrest him upon his escape in 2013 had been voided. Together with Abdulrahman Dambazzau, the Interior Affairs Minister, he pulled through the move to get Maina back into office. Until the entire charade was exposed and Buhari was forced to step in and order the sack of Maina.
Up till the point Buhari ordered Maina’s sack, the assumption was that the president knew nothing of the matter. But a leaked memo has shown that the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita had verbally warned the president against approving Maina’s reinstatement. This goes to show that the president probably knows more than he and his ever ready mouthpieces, so-called media assistants, care to admit to about the many cases he chooses not to talk about. The president’s silence whenever he is taken to task on issues is informed by his awareness of the opacity of his actions, it would appear. It was this revelation of the president’s complicity in the Maina case that got Abbah Kyari, his Chief of Staff, fuming against Oyo-Ita, threatening to query her, reports say. But neither Kyari nor his uncle, President Buhari, has disproved the HoS’s claim. Rather, Kyari chose the path of a bully.
It may be interesting to know from what source other than his family relationship to the president Kyari derives the power to query Oyo-Ita. As Chief of Staff to the president his authority ends with the president’s personal staff. Nobody else is answerable to him. Otherwise, all members of the executive arm of government including the service chiefs, CBN Governor, IG of Police, the Accountant-General of the Federation should be at his beck and call. Kyari seems to misjudge his powers, confusing himself for the president who has chosen to look on while his CoS executes the authority of his office. Let Kyari know that his role on the board of the NNPC is an anomaly that happened because Buhari wanted it so. He should keep within his brief as he is unknown to Nigerian electorate.
Even the president ordinarily does not have the power to sack Maina. That is the job of his bosses like Oyo-Ita following due process and it was in consideration of this that the woman cautioned the president and declined to join Malami and Danbazzau’s mago-mago. The questions the Buhari government must now answer are many. First, where is Maina? Since they organised his return and provided him police protection, they should produce him now he has again escaped. They should in a related vein explain why another team of so-called crack detective has to be raised to interrogate Babachir Lawal while Ayo Oke and his wife are sent to the EFCC. Is this a reprise of how Alex Ekwueme found himself in detention while Shehu Shagari had his freedom in the immediate aftermath of Buhari’s emergence as head of state in 1983?
This is not just a ‘tribal’ issue and if it is let Buhari be the first to explain why it should not be seen as such. Nigerians must not be shy to ask questions just so that somebody does not misperceive their concerns. There is a streak of arrogance based on primordial considerations like ethnicity, religion and kinship ties in the way the Buhari government has gone about its activities. No, it is this government that has ethnicised governance not those groups or individuals that are asking questions and insisting that what is sauce for Oke should be sauce for Lawal. The impunity with which Buhari’ and his sidekicks have gone about their activities has done considerable damage to the president’s credibility. His hitherto celebrated image of incorruptibility has been rubbished. The Maina saga has shown the president’s duplicity and henceforth he has a responsibility to prove his bonafides. His words can no longer be taken at face value. He is like any other politician: devious!