For a man whose persona was generally hailed as representing the highest degree of discipline, it is an irony that the administration headed by President Muhammadu Buhari is almost everywhere rocked by internal discord, and even among his closest aides, acrimony has turned into an everyday occurrence.
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The animated visage of the minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun was a sight to behold last Tuesday. While describing herself as the chief promoter of Nigeria’s financial system, the minister suppressed the urge to verbally hit at Munir Gwarzo, the suspended director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC.
“You have no power to suspend me,” Gwarzo had taunted Adeosun during the hearing presided over by the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Markets on the faceoff between him and the minister.
Before the hearing commenced, Saturday Vanguard gathered that the pair of Gwarzo and Adeosun who had been fighting dirty in the media were both compelled by the House Committee to ensure that they were civil in their utterances.
So, while Mrs. Adeosun tried to suppress her grunts at the taunt by Gwarzo over her perceived incapacity to discipline him, he, however, was not able to hold her outside the premises of the National Assembly.
Indeed once the minister left the National Assembly premises the classified report on the investigations ordered by the minister into Gwarzo’s activities as director-general of SEC surfaced in the media.
The leaked report among others recommended that Gwarzo be dismissed from the public service, be made to refund the sum of N104 million which he reportedly paid himself as severance allowance after he was lifted from commissioner in SEC to director general, and to butt, that he be prosecuted by the Independent Corrupt Practises and other related offences Commission, ICPC.
The faceoff between Mrs. Adeosun and Mallam Gwarzo is indeed not an exception in the Muhammadu Buhari administration. It has indeed become the norm in several sectors with public officials and institutions virtually at war with one another over perceived and sometimes undefined personal interests.
The wars have even sometimes led to armed stand offs between institutions of government as happened last November when agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC tried to effect the arrest of the immediate past directors-general of the Department of State Services, DSS, Mr. Ita Ekpeyong and that of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, NIA, Ambassador Ayodele Oke.
That Tuesday morning, November 21 EFCC agents reportedly took position around Ekpeyong’s house to effect his arrest and were immediately countered by DSS operatives guarding him. Indeed, a reinforcement of about 30 heavily armed DSS operatives not too long after arrived to fend off the EFCC operatives.
A similar scenario also played out in the bid by the EFCC operatives to arrest Oke as DSS operatives were also said to have blocked the EFCC operatives from spiriting Oke away.
Indeed, that was not the first time that the EFCC had sought to breach the territory of rival security agencies.
On April 12, 2017, EFCC agents supposedly acting on a tip-off invaded what later came to be revealed as a safe-house of the NIA in the Ikoyi area of Lagos where cash in several currencies estimated at N13 billion were discovered.
Before the raid, the then director-general of the NIA, Oke reportedly intimated Magu that the flat was a safe-house of the NIA and that it should not be raided. However, Magu was said not to have heeded the caution.
Remarkably, despite reports that Oke at the inception of the present administration intimated the National Security Adviser, NSA of the existence of the fund, he was still removed from office leaving gaping holes as to the coordination of the affairs of the government. It was perhaps the success of the EFCC in getting at Oke that emboldened the agency to move for Ekpeyong and Oke, moves that led to the November 2017 armed stand-off.
However, before then, the leaderships of the EFCC and the DSS had been on war path with the two agencies sometimes working at cross purposes. Indeed, when the Senate last Thursday vowed to freeze President Buhari’s nominations, the legislative body acted on the basis of a face-off that had its origins in the problem between the EFCC and the DSS.
After Magu was nominated by Buhari as head of the EFCC, the DSS had as expected with such presidential nominations authored two separate reports that concluded to the effect that Mr. Magu was not a fit and proper person to preside over the affairs of the EFCC.
The DSS security report on Magu authored by one Folashade Bello had after articulating allegations supposedly committed by Magu had ended thus: “In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.”
For a Senate that had itself been on edge over the nomination of Magu, the DSS report was a relief, and it had no problem tossing the nomination away on at least two occasions.
Whether it is because of the level of corruption in the country or among his contemporaries in government, Magu has inevitably become one of the most divisive public faces of the Buhari administration.
Besides the DSS and the NIA, Magu and the EFCC have also had brushes with the attorney general of the government, Mr. Abubakar Malami leading to several leaked memos bordering on territorial conflicts.
The fights got so dirty that Malami once described Magu as playing an ignoble role in the fight against corruption.
When Nigeria was suspended from the Egmont Group, a global anti-corruption body, Malami seized the opportunity to publicly upbraid the EFCC and its leadership. In a statement issued by his media adviser, Salihu Isah, entitled ‘EFCC’s ignoble role that led to Nigeria’s Egmont suspension’ stated in part:
“It is a sad tale to tell how the Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC has frustrated these efforts and even had to resort to blackmail in some instances oftentimes, alleging that the AGF and the ministry were all out to impede the government’s anti-corruption drive.”
When in early September 2017 there were leaks that the EFCC was investigating some senior government officials including the newly appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Minister of Justice was quick to separate his office from such investigations as he threw innuendo towards the EFCC.
A statement by Malami’s Media Adviser, Isah said the AGF “strongly frowns at any unsavoury attempt or conspiracy to drag his office and that of the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria into petty squabbles in the midst of burning national issues.
The beef between Magu and Malami became so embarrassing that the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed had to confess on national television that it had gotten to the president who he said was then addressing it.
Speaking on a Channels Television morning programme, Mohammed when asked his comments on the issue said:
“There are divergent views between the AGF and the EFCC chairman and the appropriate authorities will look into it.
“The fact that the AGF and the EFCC chairman do not see eye to eye on the methods or the approach does not mean that both of them do not believe in the ultimate which is that corruption must be addressed.
“If they disagree on approach, then the president will look into the matter and make his pronouncement. He will ask why the AGF is taking such a position and why the EFCC chairman is taking another position.
“This, to me, is a purely administrative matter and if it is not, Mr. President will take appropriate action. The President is aware and is investigating it. He is the employer of both of them,” he said.
Another engaging public spat was the one last September between the minister of state (petroleum) Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and the Group Managing Director, GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr. Maikanti Baru over allegations of fraudulent award of contracts and other financial misdeeds.
The face-off between both men led to open exchange of missives between the two men and institutions. Both men it subsequently emerged, had been relating as cat and mouse with Baru reportedly refusing to be subservient to Kachikwu, the minister. Baru’s strength apparently was the direct access he had as GMD to the president which Kachikwu as the junior minister did not have.
It got to a climax after the president returned from his third medical vacation last August that after waiting, albeit without success to book an appointment with the president that Kachikwu fired his memo dated August 30, 2017.
The memo eventually mysteriously leaked out in the media forcing Baru to also respond in kind detailing his responses to the allegations raised against him by Kachikwu.
Another minister that has openly fought with a subordinate chief executive of a parastatal is the minister of health, Prof. Isaac Adewole who last year became embroiled with the director-general of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, Prof. Usman Yusuf over allegations of fraud and insubordination.
The platform for the discord was again a public hearing conducted by the House of Representatives Committee on Health where Yusuf regaled the public and the legislators with allegations of corruption in the scheme before his appointment in 2016.
However, Yusuf was himself gripped with allegations of corruption on his part with the allegation that he misused N292 million within one year of his appointment.
The allegations of corruption and highhandedness against Yusuf were fired in a petition to the minister.
Yusuf, it was learned, however, refused cautions from the minister who was then compelled to constitute an administrative panel of inquiry. With the constitution of the panel, the minister on July 6, 2017, ordered Yusuf to go on suspension, an order Yusuf seemed to have initially disparaged.
On July 12, 2017, Yusuf, replied the minister’s letter giving five reasons why according to him he would not heed the minister’s order to go on suspension.
He nevertheless, succumbed and has been on suspension since the incident.
However, none of the wars among Buhari’s men has been played over public television as the public spat between the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, and Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, on November 1, 2017.
The bone of contention was the blame game over the recall of the sacked head of the Pension Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina. Maina who had been declared wanted over alleged multibillion fraud in the public pension sector was secreted back into the service and paid an estimated N20 million in back pay allegedly on the orders of some members of Buhari’s cabinet. Oyo-Ita it was learned had opposed the recall on the claim that Maina had been dismissed by the Jonathan regime.
So on November 1 as the public backlash projected the Buhari administration in very bad light, administration officials traded the blames with officials of the ministry of interior saying that Maina was recalled on the approval of the Head of Service.
The chamber of the Federal Executive Council, FEC in the Presidential Villa was turned into a drama hall with Oyo-Ita and the Kyari as lead actors that day before the commencement of the FEC meeting.
Television replays of the animated discussion between Oyo-Ita and Kyari seemed to show the former vigorously demonstrating in a way to show her innocence in the recall of Maina.
A source said:
“When the HoS entered the chamber, venue of the FEC meeting, she greeted the Chief of Staff to the President where he was seated. But he said he would query her and that she must reply the query with photographic evidence of her meeting with the President over the Maina issue that same day.
“At this point, the HoS asked the Chief of Staff if he sees the President with a photographer to take pictures, so she could have photo evidence and write so that memos would be flying everywhere. In a fit of anger, the HoS wanted to know why the Chief of Staff was always picking on her, asking him what she did to him.
“She angrily proceeded to where the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, was seated, to complain to him about what the Chief of Staff was doing to her.”
It was at that stage with the unusually agitated Oyo-Ita drawing attention that the deputy chief of staff, Mr. Femi Ipaye asked her to go and sit down.
With the news of the faceoff between Oyo-Ita and Kyari front page news, the next meeting of the FEC on November 8, turned into another drama as the feuding pair reconciled that day after Head of Service reached out to Kyari who seats next to her in the council chamber.
Following that, Kyari got up to embrace her to the admiration of others present in the council chambers.
However, the public reconciliation that followed the public spat is an exception to the public wars of the Buhari administration.
Indeed, so commonplace are reports of fights in the administration that errors of omission have grown into lives of their own.
One of the famous “wars” was that allegedly between the minister of transportation Chibuke Amaechi and the minister of state, aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
The spat between both men had been envisaged by some given the fact that Sirika is believed to be the president’s god son posted as junior minister to work under Amaechi, arguably, the most powerful minister from the South.
The ‘war’ between both men got tongues wagging after Sirika’s portraits were removed from the nation’s airports.
Sirika was, however, forced to speak on the imaginary war during an interactive session with news reporters, saying:
“The social media said that I and the minister are fighting, but that is not true. The fact that there are no pictures of me at airports, offices, and agencies under aviation is based on my personal choice.
“I believe that my photo will not give Nigerians anything, rather, it is my actions that will. I don’t need my pictures on walls, they were there before, but I ordered that they be removed. Photo will not give us good airports and runways, rather good governance and that is my challenge and target.
“Having pictures everywhere as far as I am concerned is very trivial, unnecessary and it is not my style,” he said.
“My pictures should be put on walls when I have worked. Having my pictures on walls is not the major reason why I was appointed to serve, my dream is to change the industry for better, and when that is done, then my pictures can be put everywhere.”
The wars in the Buhari administration indeed have been mostly fuelled by the seeming lack of coordination and sometimes, by perceived impunity. The NIA is the latest agency to have received the attention of the House of Representatives with the news this week of its investigation of a petition filed by disgruntled directors in the spy agency over the appointment of a new substantive head outside due process.
The wars within the top enclaves of the administration have also been replicated in the political structures that support the administration. The ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC is in chaos and has been the butt of jokes over its failure to hold statutory meetings and not even able to constitute its Board of Trustees, BoT.
Though the APC controls the presidency and the National Assembly, the party’s voice has turned into a whisper in the legislative branch. Last Thursday the Senate resolved to sustain indefinitely its suspension of the confirmation of presidential nominees until Magu is sacked from office. The effect of the decision is that many executive positions could remain vacant.
One of the most serious consequences is that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Monetary Policy Committee, MPC could continue to fail to hold regular meetings given the lack of requisite quorum.
At the back rooms of the power centres within and outside the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the different factions of the famed Cabal plot and back stab one another bringing the country’s well-wishers to their wits end.
With the administration apparently not able to quash internal squabbles among its senior officials, Nigerians are perhaps not shocked with the seeming inability of the government to effectively prosecute its mission against corruption and insecurity. It is indeed a remarkable turnaround for Buhari who had been elected on the premise that his mere body language would foist a culture of order in the polity and if not, among his senior officials!