One year of bumps in Buhari’s presidency

President Muhammadu Buhari, During his swearing - in last year May 29, 2015.

President Muhammadu Buhari, During his swearing – in last year May 29, 2015.

It is not just the paucity of ideas and policy options, or sluggish mandate execution, but personnel quality and distribution that have turned out to hamper early harvest of change in General Muhamadu Buhari’s presidency. Within two weeks it would be one year after Nigerians embraced the new lease of hope offered by Buhari’s inauguration as the country’s fifth democratic president. But there are perceived bumps strewn along the way that seem to be slowing down the government from its stated mission.

In the first few months of the administration, the president explained through his spokespersons that he was taking time to clear the mess left behind by the defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), administration. Again during his visit to South Africa, President Buhari lamented that he wished he was president at a younger age, adding that he has to make haste slowly so as to avoid mistakes.

Of all the many bumps in the presidency, it appears that choosing his cabinet and settling down for governance proved most worrisome. The president had to admit that it was not easy to nominate ministers, pointing out that he wanted to ensure that he did not appoint a minister that could be caught in the web of the monumental corruption that had eaten deep into the nation’s polity in the past sixteen years.

Just last week the Federal Executive Council (FEC) laid out its strategic design to tackle the nation’s challenges from the standpoints of 34 priority programmes. But most Nigerians believe that such strategic input should have come before now to show how prepared the government was to deliver on its mandate.

Investigations have shown that the perceived lethargy of the Buhari administration flows from the politics of the seat of power and the antics of ambitious politicians. It was obvious from the way and manner the appointments into the federal cabinet were made, that priority consideration was given to loyalty over competence.

For the fact that the North angled for the presidency, with the feeling of abnormal alienation caused by the sudden demise of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, midway into his first four years term, efforts were being made to ensure that the North sat on the driving wheel of the administration.

And given the conglomeration of political interests that bolstered support for Buhari, the challenge of inclusion set in, thus raising the initial bumps for the take-off of the government. But perhaps, based on the recollections of what led to the Yar’Adua presidency and its aftermath, members of Buhari’s inner caucus was particular about how to rebuild the North’s political unity, as well as, consolidating the hold on federal power.

Bubble Around Mr. President:

THE first set of appointments made by President Buhari was actually three months in coming. Sources disclosed that the time lag was caused by internal schemes by the new president’s club of loyalists and long time friends.

At the end of it all, by August 27, 2015, the president injected life into his administration by releasing these names: Mr. Babachir David Lawal, (Secretary to the Government of the Federation); Alhaji Abba Kyari, (Chief of Staff to the President); Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd.), (Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service); Mr. Kure Martin Abeshi, (Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service); Senator Ita Solomon Enang, (Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) and Hon. Suleiman A. Kawu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives).

Of those appointments, apart from Enang and Kawu, the other appointees, particularly Alhaji Abba Kyari, had other special roles to play in the administration. Incidentally having innocuously appointed those loyalists into his cabinet, a network began to weave around the officials.

Signs that a political bubble has been built around the president emerged during the nomination of ministers. Apart from well known APC bigwigs like former Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola, former Ekiti, Anambra and Rivers Governors, Kayode Fayemi, Senator Chris Ngige and Rotimi Amaechi respectively, it was discovered that strangers were thrust upon the president, without any input from the political party that produced him.

It did not take long before recriminations set in, leading to the withdrawal of the nominee from Niger State, Ahmed Ibeto, by Mr. President. Sources disclosed that shortly after the August 27 appointment, a meeting was held where it was resolved to shield the president from the rigours of the presidency and avert collateral consequences on his health.

“During that initial meeting, it was resolved that the Chief of Staff, Abba, should liaise with the Malam El Rufai, to ensure that the administration reflects the mind of the president as much as possible,” the source disclosed.

He noted that observations by top leaders of APC that the government was derailing because it was not listening was correct, pointing out that the inability of the president to assemble a good team to help it govern should be blamed on those who decided to carry out their own designs based on the president’s trust.

The source added: “It would not be charitable to say that the president has been held hostage because being a former military head of state, PMB knows what he wants. But the truth of the matter is that those who wanted to insulate him from the shenanigans of some political kingmakers from the South, ended up becoming the defacto president.”

The fact of the subtle hijack of the presidency by the unnamed influential four member kitchen cabinet led by the Chief of Staff, could be traced to the call by Save Democracy Contingent, a group that urged the president to save APC from imminent catastrophe following the lopsided nomination of ministers, which it said did not reflect the interest of the party.

In a statement signed by its president, secretary and zonal coordinators, Ade Ibitutu, Ahmed Jibrin, Chijioke Nkwocha and Okon Eta, Save Democracy Contingent of APC alleged that some of those nominated for appointment as ministers “were not members of the APC, but got their appointments because they have relationships with a “cabal” within the Presidency and therefore do not merit their appointments.”

SDC had also faulted the nomination of Zainab Ahmed from Kaduna, remarking that her nomination was not based on contributions to the success of the party at the polls, but merely on account of being a cousin to Governor Nasir El- Rufai.

The group also remonstrated against the nomination from the South, where it alleged that a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Isaac Adewole, came on to ensure that “the imprimatur of the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is absent, despite the gentleman agreement reached with the governor of Osun State before Colonel Olagunsoye Oyilola (rtd), who decamped to APC.”

It would also be recalled that SDC alleged that Claudius Daramola was chosen to diminish the hold of a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, in the South West. Other areas the group picked holes in the appointment of Buhari ministers, include Imo, where it claimed that Anthony Anwuka, was chosen because of being an in-law to Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and “in spite of the fact that he was indicted by a White Paper of Visitation Panel led by S.A. Nsofor, JCA, which investigated the affairs of Imo State University.”

On the choice of Geoffrey Onyeama from Enugu State, SDC noted that his nomination was principally “because he was a class mate and friend of Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the President”, even as it added that Okechukwu Enelama from Abia State was nominated merely for being the Deputy Pastor to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

“Unfolding events have shown that our great Party the APC is dangerously sliding into crisis of unimaginable dimension. Our genuine fear is that if APC implodes or runs into the palpable crisis being brewed wittingly or unwittingly by a cabal around Mr. President, it will definitely impact negatively on the country’s democratic landscape.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we are not making this statement because no youth made his ministerial list; but genuine concern to say capital NO to the deceit making rounds that the cabal, which hijacked power from President Buhari is Kaduna Mafia…,” the group had declared.

Nearly one year in office, citizens have instead of sighs of relief have been nursing apprehensions not only about whether Buhari is in charge, but also whether APC is playing as a team in the governance of the country.

Not quite long ago former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had to come out in the open to upbraid a member of the president’s cabinet for carrying on as if he does not care about the image and good name of the APC platform upon which the government was catapulted to the pinnacle of political power.

Though various commentators and interpretations were given to Tinubu’s tirade, as the government clocks one year in office there is no doubt that many a citizen might latch onto that vocal censure as evidence of division within the ruling party and by extension, the presidency. The federal cabinet has been holding town hall meetings, but the question on the lips of most Nigerians is how much of internal self-examination it has been doing.

Between governance and its politics, where is the APC failing itself in its avowals to deliver change and move this country forward together in peace and prosperity? Who are those distracting or diverting the president’s attention? How come the president has become powerless to engage Nigerians and show that the mandate, though given to him, requires collective contributions of all Nigerians and not just a few?

Last week, workers in Abuja pointed to another anomalous development in  the area of personnel selection. Making his remarks during the May Day celebration with the theme; The Working Class and Quest for Socio-Economic Revival, President of Nigeria Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobbio Kaigama, decried the idea of appointing permanent secretaries from outside the civil service. Kaigama noted that “the recent appointment of permanent secretaries from outside the civil service contravened the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

The TUC president observed that the measure was “capable of doing collateral damage to the system,” pointing out that if not stopped now it was capable of killing the morale of senior civil servants who have served their fatherland meritoriously for decades.

He said it was common knowledge that the civil service is the engine room that oils the wheels of government to ensure efficient and effective service delivery to the people.

“So, it is very important that the service is equipped with requisite tools to enhance productivity, in addition to providing welfare packages to boost the morale of Civil Servants.

“That is why we are also calling on the Federal Government to ensure that illegal extension of the tenure of permanent secretaries is also addressed.”

The question as to whether President Buhari is aware of some of the curious goings on in his presidency does not arise given the nature of his first appointments. This is not the first time in Nigeria when an appointee with perceived inferior status, not having been engaged with recourse to legislative involvement via screening, has become too powerful.

That the Chief of Staff to the president seems to hold the final say in most things, especially in the area of appointments could be traced to the politics of APC. Furthermore, the politics of APC and that could not be wholly divorced from the politics of 2019 presidency.

APC Politics Versus NASS Reality

ANOTHER bumpy area in Buhari’s presidency was presented by the arithmetic of National Assembly composition, especially that of the Senate. Out of the 109 senators elected into the Eighth Senate, 60 were elected on the platform of the ruling party, while the rest came from PDP. That dicey arithmetic was compounded when Dr. Bukola Saraki emerged President on June 9, 2015 against the designs of some leaders of his party, APC. Unless the ruling party adopted bullying tactics, there was no way it could have enforced its will on the Red chamber without a bipartisan understanding.

This was the first test the presidency handlers flunked. In a bid to run away from the halo of his image as a dictator, President Buhari declared his indifference to the nature of leadership that could emerge from the National Assembly. Perhaps, choosing to brighten his democratic credentials, the president announced his readiness to work collaboratively with whoever emerged as the leader of the bi-cameral federal legislature.

Unknown to Buhari, that decision was to stand out as the major road block to his presidency. Providentially, Saraki, who was part of the PDP defectors that joined APC shortly after its regularization became the beautiful bride to the majority, which included Senators from the opposition.

Instead of eating the humble pie and recognizing the trick played by their ineffectual majority, APC kicked. And its beef, the party got distracted and the presidency became nonplussed. Further amplification of the fact that Saraki was the choice of the majority came nearly two months after as on July 29, 2015, 81 Senators endorsed a vote of confidence on the leadership.

It was clearly a demonstration of bi-partisan relationship, which the presidency ought to have harvested as a low hanging fruit to propel the new administration. But bickering over the loss of the position of Senate President to a member of the ruling party was allowed to slow down the effective take-off of the government.

In the National Assembly, both the presidency and APC lost the wisdom in the political saying that you can sacrifice a council ward to gain a federal constituency, because at the Green Chambers, the leadership bent backwards to accommodate Femi Gbajabiamila as Majority Leader.

By insisting on having it all, the presidency and APC tipped the near harmony in both chambers away from the cordial bi-partisanship of 8th plenary. That climate of variety in oneness seemed to be what Nigerians that voted for change expected after the bitter acrimony and political division that characterized the 2015 election.

As things gradually unfolded, the political capital, which the APC harvested from Buhari’s integrity was frittered away by rejecting the synergy which an energetic and supportive National Assembly would have brought to the table.

The lost opportunity played out in the 2016 appropriation conundrum. Apart from ensuring that he presented a budget or executive bill that conforms to the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as contained in the 1999 Constitution, Buhari was not cut out like former President Olusegun Obasanjo to offer ‘perks’ to the lawmakers in order to quicken the passage of the executive bill.

Did Buhari fail to communicate his ideas and plans to the lawmakers? Against the background of the saying that communication is part of leadership, could it be said that the inability of Mr. President to engage with the lawmakers dropped a nervous hint that he would be outsourcing his presidency?

However, while most commentators decry the insistence of a major bloc within the APC did not realize the advantages that could flow from a cordial bi-partisan understanding thrown up albeit unconsciously, by Senate President Saraki and Speaker Dogara, it is left to be explained why they chose to ignore the president’s decision to respect the separate of powers?

In his inaugural remarks at the Eagle Square on May 29, 2015; and later at the G7 meeting, Mr. President stated that the Federal Executive Council under his watch will not intrude on the legislature and the judiciary, stressing that he was prepared to work with anybody elected by the Senators and members of HoR. Yet by persisting in their clamour for party supremacy, the so-called major bloc in APC unwittingly raised a road block to the smooth flow of governance under President Buhari.

Forgetting that they came to power via the Change mantra, the party supremacists wanted a rehash of subtle imposition perfected by PDP through zoning of floor functionaries by initiating a straw poll outside the chambers of the National Assembly. This attempt to serve new wine in old wineskin defeated the sense of purpose and urgency the APC communicated to Nigerians.

APC, 2019 And Northern Solidarity

FROM the APC politics in the NASS, arose new considerations, basically an attempt to divest the president from the leadership and inherent control of the party structure. To date APC has not come out to disclose who actually summoned or conceived the idea of a meeting of APC legislators on the same date and at about the same time with the Presidential Proclamation Order.

Rather being reticent and given to the military discipline, Buhari has not spoken on the matter even as the battle of wits raged within the party and in the precincts of the National Assembly. Various accounts of what transpired during the early days of the administration circulated in the country.

But sources within the Presidency disclosed that the ‘national leader’ of APC Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had waited patiently for Buhari to arrive from the G7 meeting that morning and persuaded him on the need for a meeting to co-opt APC lawmakers-elect that failed to attend the straw poll to support Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila as Senate President and Speaker respectively.

It was disclosed that having succeeded in intimating Mr. President and receiving his blessing for the plot, Tinubu went straight to the APC national chairman’s house. At Chief John Odigie Oyegun’s house, the national leader was said to have coaxed the national chairman that the president was acquiescent to the plan for the meeting to hold and bring recalcitrant legislators to agree with the party’s list. The source said Oyegun was asked to use his capacity as chairman to send text messages to the lawmakers-elect.

But, while the major bloc of APC legislators honoured the invitation, others who were guided by the proclamation order, and persuaded that there was no counter directive from the presidency, headed to the twin chambers of NASS. It was the attempt by these lawmakers to get into the NASS premises that blew the plan to the wind.

One question that the security personnel at the NASS entrance gate could not answer was who gave the order from above that legislators-elect should gain entrance. Calls were made and it was discovered that the Commander-in-Chief, who proclaimed the 8th NASS did not renounce the order.

Presidency sources noted that it was that event at the NASS inauguration that the so called powerful figures around Mr. President used to entrench themselves. “No sooner were the August 27 appointments made than few of the appointees that were actually running certain errands for PMB began to weave the notion that there was an attempt to split the presidential powers,” one of the sources said.

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