Buhari’s House Of Commotion, As We Chronicle Some Of Endless Battles Among His Appointees

The recurring open disagreement between some appointees of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is one of the issues that have dotted the Buhari regime. TUNDE AJAJA looks at the implication of this on the polity and the solution

The silent war between the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), brings to the fore the many theatrics that characterise governance in Nigeria.

Normally, government appointees are expected to work together to actualise the programmes of their principal – in this case the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) – but it becomes a matter of serious concern when such appointees are now at each other’s throats, in what often seems like supremacy battle.

While both Malami and Magu have been less vocal about the conflict between them, reports have it that the ongoing investigation of Magu by a presidential panel was at the behest of Malami, having in a memo to the President accused Magu of diverting recovered loot among other accusations.

In retaliation, Magu had through his counsel accused the AGF of interfering in the activities of the commission, like his involvement in the auctioning of seized assets.

To many, the conflict between the two officials was a simple issue that the President’s minimal intervention could have resolved. But as it has turned out, it thus seems like a plague that may not go away.

However, as Nigerians were gradually coming to terms with the drama surrounding Magu’s probe, a louder, dramatic altercation ensued between two other appointees of the President.

This time, it was between the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mrs Joy Nunieh, over the affairs of the NDDC.

The matter took over the media space, with allegations like sexual harassment, coercion and name-calling being the part of the game.

One thing is central to these two scenarios, however; the quarrelling officials were all appointed by the President. Thus, to some observers, for these top appointees to be fighting brazenly in public without noticeable rebuke from their principal seems to lend credence to a statement made by the revered Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, on February 12, 2020.

In his long but lucid address at the funeral mass for a seminarian, Michael Nnadi, who was killed when he and some others were kidnapped from a seminary in Kaduna State, Kukah said, “Our nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids.”

This belief, shared by some others, has been emboldened by the recurring infighting at that top level of government, and it’s arguably unprecedented in recent history.

Sadly, such internal rife does not only question the firmness of their principal, it sometimes pushes good governance to the back seat as is the case in NDDC, where despite the billions of naira released to the commission over the years, the degraded South-South region the commission was set up to salvage is still grossly underdeveloped.

To chronicle all the infighting that has characterised Buhari’s government won’t be a five-finger exercise, but below are some of the prominent ones:

Minister of Communications and Digital Economy vs CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission

Just less than two months ago, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, and the Chief Executive Officer, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, – both direct appointees of the President – engaged each other in a verbal war over issues of office space. NIDCOM, an agency of the Federal Government, established by an Act of the National Assembly, lacked office space for about a year but was offered a space by the Nigerian Communications Commission, an agency under Pantami’s  ministry.

Conflict however started on Twitter on May 24, 2020 when Dabiri-Erewa accused the Minister of ordering armed men to chase away her staff from the office, an allegation Pantami denied.

The matter soon degenerated with the NIDCOM CEO accusing the Minister of being disrespectful to women, while the minister called the NIDCOM boss a liar.

She wrote, “An Islamic scholar should not lie. Hon minister (Phd), you did that to me because I am a woman. Your disrespect for women is legendary. Left the ugly incident behind me since February. But please, release all our office equipment. Public office is transient.”

In response, Pantami wrote, “This is a fat lie from her. The owner of the building @NgComCommission has faulted her lies on their social media platforms. The minister has never given that directive to any gunman. We need to be very objective in reporting. I have never sent any gunmen there, and I have no one.”

While these altercations lasted and in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic, Dabiri-Erewa lamented that the working tools of her staff had been locked up in the office they were forcibly evicted from.

In the midst of this, no word came from the President. But to save the day, the Nigerian Ports Authority, about one week after, donated office equipment to NIDCOM to aid its work.

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs vs former MD, Niger Delta Development Commission

The quarrel between Akpabio and Nunieh is the newest episode in the infighting in the President’s regime, this time bordering on the management of the NDDC. While investigations into the activities of the NDDC are ongoing by both chambers of the National Assembly in addition to the forensic audit of the commission ordered by the President, some persons are of the view that even if Nunieh is no longer in office, the involvement of a serving minister should arouse the interest of the President. In the midst of the accusations from both sides, Nunieh said, “Why did he not tell Nigerians that I slapped him in his guest house at Apo? I am the only woman that slapped Akpabio. He thought he could come up on me. He tried to harass me sexually.” When asked, Akpabio said it was unnecessary focusing on sensationalism and pull-him down syndrome. But earlier, he had said, “I wish she (Nunieh) can go to hospital, see a doctor, take some injections and relax. I’m not saying that there is something wrong with her, but I’m saying there is something wrong with her temperament. Remember she had about four other husbands that she married. You also need to bring all the other former husbands to the studio so that you ask them questions one after the other because it looks like character (issues).”

Inspector-General of Police vs Chairman, Police Service Commission

Towards the last quarter of 2019, Nigerians were greeted with the open disagreement between the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Chairman of PSC, Musiliu Smith, who is also a former IG. Both are also appointees of the President. The bone of contention was who among them would handle the recruitment of 10,000 constables into the police force, as approved by the President. After the applicants had taken tests, the PSC suspended the exercise to finalise the remaining stages. But the IGP went ahead with the exercise, releasing the list of successful applicants and inviting them for screening. The PSC later alleged that the list had been padded and issued a query to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police who supervised the exercise. In response, the IG reportedly asked the DIG not to respond to the query and ordered that some sport utility vehicles given to the PSC be withdrawn. Thankfully, the President’s intervention a few weeks after put the matter to rest as he asked the Police Force and the PSC to work together. “By the mandate of the commission (PSC), the task of appointment, promotion and disciplinary control of officers of the Nigerian Police Force, except the Inspector General, fall under it,” he said.

National Security Adviser vs the then Chief of Staff to the President

Sometime in February 2020, there was another row at the top level of government when the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, took issues with the then Chief of Staff to the President, late Abba Kyari, accusing him of “dangerous interference” with national security matters. Premium Times had reported that the NSA in a warning memo to the service chiefs, comprising Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Chief of Army Staff, Lt,-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, asked them not to take directives from Kyari. This was in the midst of the raging insecurity in the country. The NSA wrote, “Such acts and continued meddlesomeness by the chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr President has sought to achieve.”

Although the late Chief of Staff did not openly comment on the issue – as he never did on any issue – the row was rife. At a meeting with the service chiefs and the police IG at a later date, February 25 precisely, the NSA was absent. The President and his aides kept mute on the reported rift throughout. But more importantly, as the power play festered, the insecurity continued to worsen.

Kyari vs Head of Service

The genesis of the row between Kyari and the then Head of Civil Service of the Federation Ms Winifred Oyo-Ita, in 2017 was the controversial reinstatement of the former Chairman of the Presidential task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina. Shortly before the Federal Executive Council meeting inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa on November 1, 2017, the world saw it live on television the fierce crossfire between Kyari and Oyo-Ita. In the video, Kyari and Oyo-Ita were seen explaining themselves to the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, while the NSA, folding his hands, stood by and watched them. It was later learnt that the quarrel was how Oyo-Ita’s memo to Kyari, warning the President against Maina’s reinstatement, got leaked. The memo was exclusively published by The PUNCH. Kyari and Oyo-Ita accused each other of being the brains behind the leakage. While the back and forth lasted, many Nigerians described Maina’s reinstatement as embarrasing, especially for a government that promised to fight corruption.

Former Minister of Health and Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme

The popular phrase, ‘f*ck you, f*ck the minister’ is one that people who followed the brawl between the Minister of Health during Buhari’s first term, Prof Isaac Adewole, and the then NHIS boss, Prof Usman Yusuf, won’t forget quickly. The crisis started in July 2017 and lasted till July 2019. This was one unforgettable episode in the President’s first term in office. Adewole and the Governing Council of the NHIS had suspended Yusuf over an alleged N919m fraud, but Yusuf ignored the suspension, saying only the President had the power to remove him from office. Indeed, the President reinstated him, adding that he (Yusuf) had been “admonished to work harmoniously with the minister.” The council insisted on his suspension, but on October 22, 2018, armed policemen escorted the NHIS boss to his office, forcing their way through in the process. While all these lasted, presidential spokesperson, Mr Garba Shehu, said on a programme that Yusuf should be commended for curbing corruption in the NHIS and that the matter had assumed ethnic and political dimensions. Notably, when The PUNCH contacted the NHIS boss on February 7, 2018 to respond to the allegations against him, he said, “F*ck you, and f*ck the minister.” While Adewole left office in May 2019, Buhari eventually sacked the NHIS boss in two months after.

Former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources vs former Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

Both the former minister, Ibe Kachikwu, and the then NNPC GMD, late Maikanti Baru, served during the President’s first term. But what happened between them was at best a supremacy battle. In October 2017, Kachikwu in a leaked petition to the President accused the NNPC GMD of humiliating him and the NNPC board, which he (Kachikwu) also chaired. He itemised the various infractions of Baru, who had at his inauguration applauded Kachikwu for recommending him for the job. But over time, things changed as the minister accused him of insubordination and total disregard for him and the board. In response, the NNPC accused the minister of lying, exaggeration and concocting figures. Kachikwu left office in May 2019 at the expiration of the President’s first term while Baru was later replaced in June of same year. Even though Kachikwu openly mourned Baru’s death on May 29, 2020, some people believe their disagreement in office was never fully resolved.

Minister of Foreign Affairs vs Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Matters

This happened in 2017 when the United States President, Donald Trump, introduced a new visa policy. In advising Nigerians on what to do, the minister, The minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, and the then presidential adviser, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, opposed each other in public. They didn’t confront each other, but their conflicting advice to Nigerians gave them away eventually. Dabiri-Erewa had said she got reports that some Nigerians were being turned away despite having valid visas, thus, she advised that people should only travel to the US if it was very important.

The following day, however, the minister dismissed Dabiri-Erewa’s counsel, saying, “On the issue of Nigerians being turned back from the US, this is not the case. If the Nigerian government is speaking on any external relations, you will hear it from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Office of the President. I’m in touch with the US Embassy and the ambassador said there was nothing of such nature. I can tell you to ignore any call or advice to reconsider travelling to the US because there is no basis for that.” While this back and forth lasted, many Nigerians were left in utter confusion over which of the directives to follow.

Adams Oshiomhole vs Chris Ngige

The former National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, also had their brawl sometime in 2018. Oshiomhole may not have served in the President’s cabinet but he admitted a few weeks ago that the President was the one who invited him to lead the party. After his emergence as the party chairman in June 2018, Oshiomhole in July threatened to sack Ngige if he failed to inaugurate the boards of the parastatals under his ministry. While speaking with State House correspondents on July 23, he also made a statement believed to have maligned the office of the President.

He said, “If the minister refuses, we will suspend him from the party. For me, it is the height of mischief for any minister, you cannot purport to be a honourable minister and you act dishonourably and nobody is greater than the party. If the President condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party.”

He further said, “When we expel them, we will find out how a government can keep a rebel in the cabinet. There is no question about that.”

But in his response, Ngige said Oshiomhole was talking out of ignorance. “The man is talking out of ignorance. I’m not afraid of suspension,” he added.

Former Minister of Finance vs Comptroller General of Customs

The disagreement between former Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, and the CG of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (retd.) dates back to 2016. The conflict did not fester, but the substance of their disagreement was noteworthy. The two appointees of the President appeared before the Senate Committee on Finance for budget defence, and then there was an argument. Even though Customs as a revenue-generation agency is under the finance ministry, Ali maintained that she was not answerable to the minister but the president alone. This did not go down well with the minister, but did not make a fuss about it in public.

Department of State Services vs Magu

The open disagreement between the Department of State Services and the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, took many by surprise in the early days of the President’s first term. Many people found it surprising that the (then) Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, and Magu were both direct appointees of the President and that the infighting was abnormal as it smacked of lack of coordination within the Presidency. This was in 2016. The Senate, relying on the DSS report that accused Magu of corruption, refused to confirm his appointment. While the dust raised by that had yet to settle, the DSS released another report in 2017. The upper chamber of the National Assembly therefore requested the President to send another nominee to replace Magu. Even though the President insisted on retaining Magu in office, the DSS report marred his confirmation throughout the eighth Assembly, which made him to remain in acting capacity for five years, till his suspension about a week ago. However, when he appeared before the Senate on March 12, 2017, Magu declined speaking on the allegations in public so as not to malign a sister agency in public, but he eventually faulted the report that he was staying in a house bought for him by a man under DSS investigation. “This is not true; I’m staying in the house rented by the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory and I don’t even know when the rent starts,” he told the senators.

The Presidency vs Buhari

This is perhaps the most troubling of all the infighting under the President. This is because it involves people who are very close to him, some of whom even live in the Presidential Villa with him. There have been several crises at that level, some including family members like his wife, Aisha vs his nephew and confidant, Mamman Daura. Another one involved Aisha and Buhari’s personal assistant and nephew, Sabiu Yusuf, popularly known as Tunde, and presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu. In one instance in December 2019, Aisha attacked Daura for allegedly directing Shehu not to recognise her office, while accusing Shehu of going beyond his boundaries. Shehu declined commenting on the issue, but Daura’s daughter, Fatima, accused the first lady of attacking her and her sibling in the Villa, alleging that the President’s wife went violent against them by throwing a chair that broke through their door and almost hit her sister.

In yet another instance, there was a fight between Tunde and the ADC to the President’s wife, Usman Shugaba, when Aisha insisted that Tunde could not enter the villa having violated COVID-19 safety protocols and exposed himself. During the crisis, there was a reported  gunshot in the villa, prompting the President to order an investigation into the crisis. Many people are of the view that the infighting in the State House is one that should have happened, and if it did, it should never have made it to the public space.

Experts speak

To a political scientist at the University of Lagos, Dr Isiaka Adams, the recurring infighting in the Buhari administration is an indication that there is no proper coordination, which, according to him, stifles development across the affected sectors. He therefore charged the President to take charge of his government.

Adams said, “We have said it several times that it appears the President has abdicated his supervisory responsibility, because he appointed these people and he’s responsible for their actions, inaction, commissions and omissions in the discharge of their duties.”

Speaking on the impact of the lack of coordination on governance, Adams noted, “There is no gainsaying the fact that governance suffers. For example, the issue at the NDDC is ridiculous and nauseating. There is infighting and we are talking about N40bn that could not be accounted for, yet this region is suffering, in terms of development. This obviously stifles the development of that region, which bears the oil that is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.

“It’s very clear that these things affect the livelihood of the people. While this back and forth is on, the youth remain unemployed, insecurity is festering and tensions are high. These are a product of the inefficiency and lack of proper coordination from the President and I hope something urgent is done.”

Also, a lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), described the infighting as an example of when things fall apart and the centre could not hold, adding that it had also shown that the President was not in charge of his government.

He added, “I believe the death of Abba Kyari has opened a can of worms about issues that were ordinarily swept under the carpet. The various divisions you see within the ministries, departments and agencies is a signpost of the kind of strange bedfellows that constitute the APC.

“Looking at what is playing out between the Minister of State for Labour and Employment (Festus Keyamo), and National Assembly; the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC and NASS and what you have between the Minister of Labour and Employment and the erstwhile MD of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, and several other agencies, these pockets of general confusion are prevalent virtually in all sectors of the civil service structure but are being covered up from public notice.”

“This, to me, is a signpost that the President is not in charge; this government is more or less that of cabals and once there is a disagreement between them, it will play out. It is also playing out in the states, where the incumbent governor of Edo State (Godwin Obaseki) under the platform of the party defected to another party.”

He said if the APC had stuck to the manifesto it sold to Nigerians, some of the issues would have been addressed instead of the crisis in the party spreading to governance. He argued that things were degenerating because self interest prevailed.

“No nationalistic agenda (is) being pursued by any of the various tendencies that are up in arms against themselves at the expense of the people. That is why Magu reportedly said on Thursday that his travail was simply a matter of ‘dog eat dog’. I believe Nigerians can now see the tendencies of this government that we pointed out. We told Nigerians these things and what would happen, but see what is happening now.”

“However, the solution is very simple; Nigerians should insist on an alternative platform, like devolution of power,” he added.