By Ochereome Nnanna
Who is the Presidency?” Remember that arrogant retort which the disgraced former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, fired back at reporters when they informed him that his suspension had just been announced by the Presidency back in April 2017?
To understand this question better you need to know that the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is equivalent to the Cabinet Office in the Parliamentary system. It is the engine room of the Federal Government. It is sometimes called The Presidency.
Babachir was not a figurehead occupant of that office. He was deeply entrenched in the Buhari system (still is, evidence of which will be shown shortly). Perhaps, that question meant: if I am suspended should I not know before you?
The suspension came after the Senate implicated Babachir of awarding his private company contract worth N200m to clear grass from funds meant to provide succour to the victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East under the Presidential Initiative for the North East, PINE. I am sure you remember the “Grass cutter” scandal.
It took prolonged, intense pressures from the National Assembly and the Nigerian public before Buhari reluctantly let Babachir go on October 30, 2017. Boss Mustapha was announced as his successor. Junaid Mohammed, a notable critic of President Buhari, later said in an interview: “Before you begin to celebrate the appointment of Boss Mustapha as SGF, do you know that he is, in fact, Babachir Lawal’s first cousin?”
So the punishment meted out to Babachir was done in a way to deceive Nigerians. The Presidency is still very much within his household, even during this second term. Though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, made a big public show of detaining Babachir, not much has been heard of that case since. The once agitated public has since shifted attention to other new thrills, and Babachir Lawal has gotten away with it.
Boss Mustapha has been in office for three years without drawing much negative attention to himself the way other Buhari cabinet members such as the late Abba Kyari, Babachir Lawal, Abubakar Malami and others have done. He has carried on rather well. Until recently.
Following the entry of Coronavirus into Nigeria through Lagos on February 24, 2020, President Buhari who has been playing coy behind the walls of Aso Villa, appointed Boss Mustapha as the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
Boss and members of the Task Force have been conducting daily briefings and updates to Nigerians. The Task Force which also consists of relevant ministers and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, set the national standards and rules of engagement for the fight against COVID-19.
Everyday, Boss Mustapha preaches the gospel of social distancing and the need to avoid public crowding. On April 17, 2020, Mallam Abba Kyari’s death was announced. Kyari had also broken all the rules of the anti-COVID-19 war. He was the one who brought the infection to our seat of power. The following day Boss Mustapha and many top officials in the Presidency (including Garba Shehu) were seen among the crowds that graced Kyari’s rites of passage in total disregard of the social distance policy.
Nigerians were outraged! The man who preaches social distancing to us everyday is not only mixing freely with crowds, he is part of a burial programme that encouraged hundreds to congregate and get exposed to infection!
We expected the President to withdraw Boss Mustapha from the PTF and appoint another frontman. He never did. Rather, he came to the briefing the following day, after the burial, apologised and went on with business as usual! Since that day, Boss Mustapha lost public credibility as part of the Task Force. But he got away with it, anyway.
Buhari’s government makes governance seem like a joke or child’s play. Let’s see how some state governors reacted to irresponsible conducts by those who should know better in their states. In Lagos, actress Funke Akindele and her husband were arraigned before a court, fined and sentenced to community service for partying in their home during the lockdown. Her COVID-19 ambassadorship was withdrawn. Yet, she still apologised.
In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike personally led security agents to arrest pilots of Caverton Helicopters who flouted his executive orders meant to safeguard Rivers people, even though the pilots were authorised by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika to fly into Port Harcourt International Airport. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State rewarded a man who publicly disciplined his son for flouting the rules and putting himself and others at risk.
These sent clear signals to the public about the danger posed by the pandemic and government’s seriousness to enforce the rules irrespective of who is involved. This is what leadership is all about. This is what we expect, even from our President. Leadership is not about enjoying the luxuries and powers of high office and reading prepared speeches while pushing the actual hard work to others. It is not about failing to act when action is required. It is not about waiting to be shoved about before doing the needful.
Sadly, infections are flaring in the North, Buhari’s “primary” constituency. Perhaps many have not seen enough example to copy from their idol.