Between the message and the messenger

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s missive to President Muhammadu Buhari is one bombshell that was long expected. The wordings were deliberately chosen to make it as damning and provocative as possible. And Obasanjo was, perhaps, hoping for a repeat of what transpired between him and former President Goodluck Jonathan, after his similarly critical comments about his regime in the run-up to the 2015 election.
Not a few watchers of events in Nigeria since May 2015, when President Buhari assumed office are agreed that things are not right. But many also appreciate the fact that the president came to power at a time things had gone very awry and had hoped his rescue mission was timely. But nearly three years on, many are still very unhappy.

Many of the problems the Buhari regime is struggling with were inherited, which was why many Nigerians were willing to excuse its shortcomings. But some of the problems have arisen as a result of the president’s indecisiveness. For example, it took him nearly seven months to form a cabinet which was eventually populated with the usual acquaintances. And he has continued keep the same team despite the glaring incompetence of some members.

Due to the conduct of some of his ministers and top officials one could be forgiven to think they run a parallel government. Justice Minister Abubakar Malami, for instance, has handled too many cases too badly, including the corruption cases that were thrown out of court when the president was away in London for treatment. Most of the cases, apart from handing corruption an easy victory, are yet to be resuscitated.

Convinced he could not be reined in, the minister took a further step to score an own goal when he ordered the EFCC to hand over all files of people under investigation to his ministry. Before such files are sent to the ministry of justice, it is expected that the EFCC investigators working on them have completed their work and are ready to release or prosecute the suspects. But the instruction clearly overrode this process, again appearing to create a leeway for the some of the suspects.

But the biggest of these possible acts of dereliction is the minister’s handling of the Abdulrasheed Maina reabsorption into civil service. It was this case that forced many of the president’s once ardent supporters to rethink their support. The scandal that came to be known as Mainagate was so notoriously indefensible that even the presidency chose to wish it away in the face of mounting evidence of complicity. But what the president and his team fail to realise is that by ignoring the matter they are only procrastinating the crisis. So, it did not come as a surprise that it was one of the issues Obasanjo cited in his criticism of Buhari’s stewardship.

Although many are still wont to believe President Buhari’s integrity is intact, by saying nothing in the hope that such scandals would vanish on their own, the president sends the wrong message. He should, at least, offer some excuses and or apologies. He should have, in the case of Maina, penalised the officials involved, including Malami, and that would have weakened the efficacy of his detractors’ weapons and strengthened the resolve of this supporters.

The SSS director general, Lawal Daura, is another principal officer of the regime that should have been called to order. He often acts as if his agenda is at a parallel with the government’s plans. On the two occasions the president sent the name of the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, to the Senate for confirmation as substantive head of the anti-corruption agency the Senators relied wholly on the intelligence the DSS sent to decline.

Their action, based on Daura’s failure to operate in sync with the regime he is part of, was clearly embarrassing to the president, who is now forced to retain Magu in an acting capacity. If Daura felt so strongly about the intelligence why did he not share it with the president beforehand? Why did he wait to embarrass the president at the Senate?

Like the minister of justice the SSS DG is relentless in his strive to make the regime look like a joke. Recently, he reportedly sent his men to bungle EFCC’s attempts to arrest some suspects, almost causing devastating inter-agency clashes. But Daura got away with all this, which suggests that it is either the president is unaware of this serious abuse of office or he is aware but unable to do anything about it.

Until the arrest of former SGF Babachir David Lawal in the middle of the week he seemed to be one of the sacred cows of the regime whose big and small sins are overlooked and they are allowed to go and sin again and again. Sadly, many of these officials are directly responsible for diverting money and relief materials meant for the millions of Nigerians displaced from their homes by the Boko Haram violence.

One scandal that has surprisingly vanished into thin air is the one involving the diversion of several tonnes of palm dates the Saudi government donated for the use of IDPs during the last Ramadan. The office of the minister of state for foreign affairs, Hajiya Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim, admitted receiving the consignment, but claimed passing it over to the government agency responsible for distributing to the IDPs. The IDPs did not receive the dates. No one has been questioned or indicted. The case has since been forgotten. But, like Mainagate, it would be resuscitated when the campaign for 2019 election begins.

The Obasanjo missive, rather than viewing it as a fuel for adversary, should be taken as a wake-up call. The government could use it a pivot to do a thorough and sincere appraisal of its performance since May 2015. The ruling APC’s response is a step in the right direction, but beyond overwhelming Nigerians with statistics there should be a genuine effort to make the ordinary people feel the impacts of these success stories the statistics supposedly represent.

While Obasanjo, presently, could either be hailed as a hero or dismissed as a villain, depending on the perspective from which he is viewed, we must acknowledge the fact that the message is more important than the messenger. The messenger was, himself, anything but a saint when he had the opportunity to inscribe his name in gold. If in his time he understood the dicey domestic politics of the country he would not have authorised the November 1999 Odi invasion, in which an entire community was run over by soldiers. Nor would he have allowed the October 2001 repeat of Odi in Zaki Biam, where soldiers massacred more than 200 villagers.

It’s just so easy and comfortable to perfect things from outside. And Nigerians’ propensity for forgetfulness is unparalleled.

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