by Simon Kolawole
Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, I come to you in peace. Nevertheless, I do not have a nicer way of putting this to you: your government is falling apart. I do not know how to make it sound less brutal. That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — at least judging from where I stand. I have not seen a government so openly at war with itself like the one you have been heading since 2015. I will be honest and say when you were being inaugurated on May 29, 2015, I expected a lot of negative things to be said about your stewardship, but I never for one moment thought you would be accused of heading a government devilled by chaos, indiscipline and corruption.
Where do I start from? Is it the 2017 spectacle when you nominated Mallam Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Mallam Lawal Daura, your appointee as the DG of the Department of State Services (DSS), wrote to the senate to counter your choice? Or the latest episode of indiscipline when police officers were deployed to the house of Mrs Joi Nunieh, former MD of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to intimidate her on a day she was supposed to testify about the massive corruption in the agency? I never knew it would come to this and it breaks my heart to be discussing these curious anomalies with you this morning.
To be sure, Mr President, I do not discount the progress you are making in several areas of our national life. I will be the first to applaud you on the infrastructural projects across the country despite the paucity of funds. I usually tell people that if you were president when crude oil was selling for $100, Nigeria would be one huge construction site. I am definitely impressed with the progress on road construction, the second Niger Bridge, railways and, to some extent, power. I am also very happy that in agriculture, you have taken concrete steps to lift us out of dependency on certain food imports. That you are also pursuing more key reforms is something I appreciate.
However, Your Excellency, you would also agree with me that Nigerians expected more from you in terms of security of life and property. We thought Boko Haram was our biggest headache when you came to office, but we have witnessed an explosion in farmers/herders clashes and your body language has made many conclude, even if unfairly, that you are treating the herdsmen with kid gloves. Banditry is overrunning the north-west and kidnapping appears intractable. We can argue from today till tomorrow on the remote and immediate causes of the insecurity, but the long and short of it is that you were not elected to give excuses. All that Nigerians want is result.
Most disturbing, Mr President, is that even your unique selling point — the war against indiscipline and corruption — is becoming a subject of public ridicule. There are a million examples I can cite as proof of evidence but I will limit myself to a few today. Just a couple of weeks ago, Dr Chris Ngige, the minister of labour and productivity, said he had your approval to suspend the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). The management wrote back to reject, as it were, your directive. Some of them even reported for work the following day. This is anarchy, Mr President. You would agree with me that this is far below our expectations of you.
The civil wars in your government are an open sore. A few weeks ago, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy, and Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), were at each other’s throat on Twitter over the forceful ejection of NIDCOM staff and property from the building of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). That a government agency will eject another government agency should be enough embarrassment; that you did not take any step to address this (well, maybe you did secretly) is even more disturbing. Things continued thereafter as if the incident was just a rude interruption.
Your Excellency, should we talk about the glaring lack of co-ordination in your government? On June 16, 2020, Mr Sale Mamman, the minister of power, said he had approval from you to ask Ms Marilyn Amobi, the MD of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET), to proceed on terminal leave. Same day, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, said she also had approval from you to ask Amobi to serve out her tenure till July 24. Mamman even had an approval from you to appoint a new MD for a company that is under the supervision another ministry! And, by the way, Usman is the chairman of the NBET board. This is nothing both unprecedented chaos, Mr President.
The power-drunk minister of power had, in December 2019, also suspended the same NBET MD (Good grief! There must be a lot of ogbono soup in this NBET) and the MD of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). Security agencies were immediately deployed in their offices to ensure compliance. A few days later, the decisions were reversed. This was clear dissonance. When the perpetually power-drunk minister sacked Usman Gur Mohammed as the MD of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) in May, Mr Boss Mustapha, the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), issued a statement that smelt of exasperation. What’s going on in your government, Mr President?
Your Excellency, by far the most distressing development is that the anti-grant war, which used to be your major feat, is now all over the place. Magu, the anti-graft Czar, has himself been accused of various infractions — some of them contained reports submitted to you as far back as many years ago. Why did it take you so long to act? If indeed those allegations are true, it should be a major indictment on you, Mr President, that right under your nose, all these things were happening and you did not act swiftly. Magu has vehemently denied the allegations, but the way the whole thing has been handled is damaging to the anti-graft war and hurtful to the EFCC as an institution.
Mr President, are you monitoring the developments in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)? Did you hear Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, the acting MD, tell a senate panel that he spent N1.5 billion as COVID-19 relief on the staff? Did you hear him brazenly tell the committee that “we took care of ourselves”, Mr President? Did you hear him? And he is still in office, Mr President? That any of your appointees could make such a reckless statement on record shows how low they rate your anti-graft war. If anybody ever told me, Your Excellency, that you would head a government in which such shenanigans are not instantly punished, I would have laughed maniacally. Thank
Senator Godswill Akpabio remains a minister in your cabinet despite his reckless denigration of a woman’s marital status on TV! Grievous allegations were levelled against him and instead of him to go straight to the point, he said the woman had four husbands — pretending to be discussing anger issues when indeed he was denigrating her person in a clear case of sexism. I doubt he would have said such about a fellow man who had gone through divorces. That Akpabio even took the allegations lightly, turning them into a joke, is also a serious indictment on your government, Mr President. It is very clear that even among your cabinet members, there is no sense of responsibility.
No, Mr President, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I expected you to stamp out corruption in five years. That would be magic. In my article of July 5, 2015 titled “The One Thing President Buhari Must Do” (five weeks after your government was inaugurated), my key argument was that while you cannot eliminate corruption 100 percent, you can deal with the impunity. I wrote: “If President Muhammadu Buhari would have just a one-point agenda, it should be an all-out war against impunity. In place of War against Corruption, I would propose War against Impunity… There is no corruption-free country in the world. However, what gives Nigeria the gold medal is the impunity.”
I’m afraid to say, Mr President, that the impunity has continued nonstop. The persona you brought into office in 2015 as “Mr No-nonsense” is disappearing. “If Buhari catches you” no longer scares anybody, as we all can see. The fear factor is gone. Every day, we hear mind-boggling allegations of financial recklessness, corruption and impunity. We are back to “normal service”. Dear Mr President, you came to office reputed as a president who would act decisively, firmly and swiftly. Where did the rain begin to beat you, Mr President? It’s time to take back your government, rid your cabinet of dubious characters and restore your reputation. We can do with some leadership at this stage.
I will tell you two things, Mr President. If things continue like this, we can only move from bad to worse. One, more ministers and more agency heads will lose control and we will continue to try and settle the matter week in, week out. Also, Your Excellency, remember that you effectively have only two years before 2023 politicking takes over the landscape completely. Those two critical years will likely be wasted if this drift continues, especially as political forces interested in 2023 will use the cover to try to cancel out one another. That is why you have to take control now, halt the civil wars in your government and come out of your shell to stir the Nigerian ship firmly before it is too late.
Please accept, Your Excellency, assurances of my highest consideration.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile, Nigeria’s first female combat helicopter pilot, died in a reported “freak car accident” on Tuesday, bringing a blossoming career to an abrupt end. She was flying high, helping her fatherland combat banditry in the north-west and doing the womenfolk proud in a field where they have to be thrice as good as men to be considered good enough. Sadly, the 24-year-old soldier did not fall to enemy fire. She died in cheap and bizarre circumstances. It is comforting, though, that she lived her dreams. Her father, Akintunde, said when she was little, she pointed to a small aircraft and said, “Dad, one day, I am going to fly that aircraft”. What a loss. Devastating.
KEEN ON VACCINE
It was double good news on Wednesday: it emerged that two vaccine trials are showing good prospects in the race against time to contain the novel coronavirus. The trials in the UK and US indicate that the volunteers developed immunity against the virus, which has sent our world on a downward spiral. UK scientists are so confident that by September, the jab will be ready. AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, is on standby to roll out two billion doses. With over 14 million cases and 600,000 deaths worldwide, we can definitely do with the vaccine or cure now. The world needs to go back to as normal as possible in the meantime. Hopeful.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has been complaining publicly about the disgraceful conduct of some Nigerian “big men” and their aides at the airports, where they are refusing to use hand sanitisers and are also not allowing their body temperature to be taken in line with the established protocols. They claim to be VIPs. That’s a big shame. VIP could also stand for “Very Important Patient”, in case they don’t know. With the number of high-profile Nigerians that have been felled by the coronavirus, you would expect normal human beings to respect themselves as well as other people by obeying the simple protocols for the sake of health and safety. Disgusting.
The Nigerian civil service rules are so clear — you retire when you clock 60 years of age or on the 35th anniversary of your appointment, except for specialists such as lecturers and judges who are allowed to stay a bit longer because of skill scarcity. But the national assembly would have none of this. Through some unbelievable amendment, it raised its own threshold to 40 years of service without due process — allegedly to reward Mr Mohammed Sani-Omolori, the clerk, for whatever reason. Sani-Omolori has been fighting tooth and nail to sit tight till he spends 40 years, but even if he spends 50 years, he will still have to retire one day and leave the “ogbono” soup behind. Myopic.