Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Buhari And His Divided Government

By Rotimi Fasan
President Muhammadu Buhari sits atop a government that is very divided. The administration is apparently in confusion with close members at war with one another. The confusion that has resulted in Buhari’s warring and, one might say, fumbling administration began, it can now be said with insight, when the president decided to form a so-called kitchen cabinet of close associates and relatives, persons directly or indirectly connected to him by marriage, blood or religion.
These people feel answerable only to the president and exploit their closeness to the president to wrongfoot his policies including his arrowhead anti-corruption war. The president’s self-inflicted injury was exacerbated by a National Assembly that was dominated by a divided All Progressives Congress, APC, whose members elected a leadership that has enjoyed neither the support nor trust of the party leaders.

The frosty relationship that this would engender between the legislators and the executive arm of the administration (particularly the presidency and anyone thought to be connected to it) can be seen in the fate that has befallen Ibrahim Magu in his failed bid to be confirmed as chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

But I’m a bit ahead of my explanation. So let me return to how President Buhari brought all this upon himself and what this now implicates for his government. Muhammadu Buhari The first appointments made by Buhari were of a nature that got many Nigerians complaining given its lopsided arrangement. The appointments, mostly of his immediate minders, were almost to the last person made up of Muslim men of northern extraction. It both reflected as well as demonstrated a tendency for mind-closure and parochialism.

But this was apparently lost on the president who couldn’t be bothered about it, not even the fact that the Igbo presence in the government is almost of cipher value. He ignored all questions raised about this and, when he chose to respond, simply went ahead to defend the appointments, explaining it all in terms of the pattern of votes that got him elected.

He went on to consolidate the skewed pattern of appointments even as he impressed it on Nigerians he was out looking for men and women of impeccable credentials to work with. The question he couldn’t be bothered to answer was if such people of character could only be found in one part of the country if not one family and its extended networks. It was in this rigid spirit that admits of no error that the president appointed Hameed Ali, a retired army colonel, to the post of comptroller-general of the Nigeria Customs Service. Yet, communication matters.

Nigerians were expected to either accept it or deal with their rejection of the appointment on their own. There were other similar appointments that pointed at the president’s nepotism whether intended or not. In the end, the likes of Abba Kyari, Mamman Daura and Babachir Lawal emerged top players in the administration and the same truculent display of arrogant power would appear to have so far characterised their conduct in the public space.

Aisha, the president’s wife, would later lend voice to the exasperation of many Nigerians to the frustrating antics of these men in an outburst that saw her questioning the hold these men had on the president. She vowed not to vote for the president in a re-election if this continued. All of this was before the president took ill and had to spend many weeks receiving treatment and recuperating in the United Kingdom.

Even here these men’s touch could not be missed in the manner they managed the controversy that followed their mishandling of the president’s health issue. As facts are now showing, the president’s men have not altogether been above board in their ways. The corruption allegation against Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, proves this among other things. But it is not just the allegation but the manner Lawal has chosen to respond to it that has been cause for concern.

He refused to respond to the summons of the Senate which, in spite of its self-serving bent and the disrespect into which it has fallen on account of its lack of moral fibre, has constitutional mandate to demand answers of the SGF. Lawal chose to respond to the Senate on his own terms in the same way that Hameed Ali has largely behaved in his ongoing tango with this chamber of questionable characters. Both men no doubt took their cue from President Buhari and his tendency to ignore his critics however constructive their criticism.

Let’s be clear about this though: except for its tantrum value, there was no basis in the first place for the insistence by the Senate that Ali must appear before it in uniform. He had not been wearing uniform before now and his appointment was of an extraordinary nature and apparently prompted by the rot in the NCS. A simple explanation which the presidency failed to give would have cleared this way back in July 2015 when Ali was appointed.

That’s what I meant by communication. But the Senate of any polity is an august body that should at all times be sobre, clear-eyed and not be easily swayed or excited by extraneous considerations. Neither should it be susceptible to baiting. Given the animosity between it and the executive, and certainly aware of the arrogance with which members of the Buhari’s inner circle carry themselves, the Senate simply wanted to embarrass Ali by insisting he appears before it in uniform.

Ali could see this, as should many Nigerians, and so threw the insult back at the senators. Otherwise there is no reason why a request that Ali, as head of the NCS, justify an obnoxious policy should become an occasion for bitter muscle-flexing. One could connect this all with the travails of Ibrahim Magu who may have his own shortcomings but which have not yet been clearly defined. He is for now a victim of circumstance, of the sibling rivalry among the president’s men including Kyari, Daura and company.

If President Muhammadu Buhari appears helpless to turn the tide in Magu’s favour even after taking the extraordinary step of re-nominating him a second time, it is because Buhari’s ‘children’ do not want him. Only they are close enough to the president and privy to the inner workings of his administration.

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