‘Unfaithful’ Men in Buhari’s Government
President Muhammadu Buhari is reported to have complained that some people in his government are not “100 per cent loyal.” This was part of the news items distilled by the home-based media from his recent interview with Al Jazeera, during his visit to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
It is not exactly clear, which category of persons in his government the president is referring to, whether he meant civil servants, who worked specifically on the troubled 2016 budget or the general bureaucracy that he inherited from the previous administration. It is not also clear if he meant to add members of his political party, All Progressives Congress (APC), the same persons who helped him procure the office of president that had eluded him for decades.
As it is with reported speech, a little dissonance here and there could tamper with the original meaning, but that did not stop the local media from reproducing parts of the Al Jazeera interview, in order to update Nigerians on what their president had again said of them in the foreign media. It has become a trend now that PMB chooses the occasion of his foreign travels to make far-reaching statements more than he does at home. Maybe the local media have not shown 100 percent loyalty to earn the confidence for firsthand disclosure. Maybe the foreign appeal Buhari garnered on the way to 2015 have held him hostage and he thinks he must explain every headache at home to them, whereas, a Jacob Zuma will not come here to lament and bore you about South Africa’s many domestic issues. But that is by the way.
What is far more important here is to attempt an understanding of why PMB and those working with him cannot achieve 100 per cent mutual loyalty; or a substantial cohesion to get the work done fast and for the people to begin to enjoy the promises of democracy, which are legion. The situation now is too critical for the President and his party to carry on as if the campaigns are not yet over, still looking for places to hang the blame.
When the President announced on May 29, 2015 that he would be for all and for no one, many heaved a sigh of relief, that an inclusive government was born, one where no one would be vanquished, but all citizens would work together to lift the country from the morass she had been ditched. The President gave the impression that past sins had been forgiven and a new slate had opened for all citizens to surrender their loyalties, 100 per cent.
But citizens, some, were amazed when PMB himself began to manifest signs of sectionalism, picking and choosing persons in his ‘kitchen’ cabinet, in a manner that could narrow his sphere of concerns and the accruing loyalty. He even said he was more comfortable working with old allies, majority of whom he sourced from the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and later, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). Buhari did not receive national appeal in that first instance of appointments. And that could cost a government some degree of loyalty.
Even if that were not the intention, at the end of the day, majority of those who got on board the larger Buhari cabinet were still traced to the concentric circle of old political allies. Beginning with an SGF (Secretary to Government of the Federation) Babachir David Lawal, who is gifted with the art of headhunting for allies, the immediate Buhari political family within the APC has gained some momentum on the road to 2019. That could upset the forecast as the party journeys into the future, and could tamper with the loyalty Buhari is complaining about.
Already, there are scenarios in the party that could make 100 per cent loyalty difficult for some APC members to surrender to government going forward. Some are asking for compensation for the one they had already surrendered. The National Assembly controlled by the party lacks cohesion and loyalty here is 50/50. Some stakeholders in states like Kano are already losing temper for investing so much and getting little. Those who didn’t invest much, like those in Southeast are whining. Market women are also complaining.
To achieve absolute loyalty, the kind Buhari hankers after, in a democratic setting like Nigeria might be difficult, except he tries countries like Equatorial Guinea, where president Francisco Macias Nguema rules by the whip. The party does not belong to him; it belongs to a number of stakeholders who have to be carried along in a consensual manner. The President needs to play politics; use the stick a little and carrot generously to get this complex system going. We need to pass this curve and start coasting home with achievements.
As for civil servants, those alleged to have introduced the strange word ‘padding’ to the 2016 budget, the President must know that they belong to no one and to everybody. When this government came on board and it took so long to get loyal and honest men to enlist in the Cabinet, it was civil servants who assisted the President in managing the transition from May 29 to somewhere around November 2015. They (permanent secretaries) worked so hard and conscientiously that Buhari himself testified to their goodness. He wished he could continue with them, instead of having to appoint politicians who are, by the way, noisemakers into his government.
After that good recommendation, the President was to send 21 of them home on retirement and appointed new ones who, we were told, will even do better than the previous ones. But now, we have issues with budget padding and it is the same civil servants who are taking the blame. How come? How dare they add to budget 2016 without the knowledge of the ministers? Was it ever possible that ministers will not have a faint idea of what the package for their ministries were before the budget is unveiled? But they (ministers) all denied knowledge of what transpired and the President believed them. I’m surprised people are not asking too many questions; or don’t they know that ministers (politicians) and civil servants have been in this business for a long time, and that, perhaps, the only one who should be surprised is the President, who claims to be oblivious of the tricks politicians employ to finance their parties. It is strange too that nobody has wondered from whence come this thoroughness in the National Assembly that led to the discovery of the padded budget. If this is real, then we must applaud our lawmakers, but let it not be that some persons who have withdrawn their 100 per cent loyalty are the ones spilling the beans?
I demand that for the sake of Budget 2017, there should be an independent investigation of what really happened to Budget 2016. It is not enough to sack the entire civil service; we need to get to the bottom of it and learn some lessons. The civil servants are alleging that some ‘experts’ in zero budgeting were brought in to work on the budget; and that the errors may have occurred at their end. I urge the President to unravel this blight on our collective integrity. He should also know that civil servants belong to Any Government In Power (AGIP) and they can be extremely loyal if you manage them. But it is really strange that in all his years in government our President has not heard of ‘budget padding’.
I went to do my hair last Thursday and there was no light anywhere. The owners of the salon managed to procure petrol from the black market to power the appliances. The illumination brought a collection of young people who soon ignited some debate. They were full of anger over government’s failure to address routine issues of electricity and fuel supply. I tried to intervene, asking them to wait for passage of the budget. They did not understand and were not interested. I asked if they still have their PVCs and begged them to please endure. I think our President should work for 100 per cent loyalty from ordinary Nigerians outside his government. In the final analysis, perhaps, that’s what will count.