By Ibraheem Musa, Eleojo Idachaba and Benjamin Samson
The era of Cabals
Since 1999, every civilian administration has had a coterie of inner circle members, be they ministers, aides or private citizens, who wield enormous influence on the president. Specifically, during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Malam Nasir El Rufai, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Minister of Finance and Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) as well as retired General Abdullahi Mohammed, the unobtrusive Chief of Staff, were among the kitchen cabinet of the government.
Significantly, they were part of the Economic Team and in general, they incubate policies before they are tabled before the Federal Economic Council.
Similarly, the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration had its cabal, a loose word for powerbrokers who dictated the pace and direction of government. In that group were Dr Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, the Economic Adviser, Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr Abba Sayyadi Ruma and First Lady, Hajiya Turai Yar’adua.
Also, President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded Yar’adua had Mrs Dieziani Alison Maduekwe, the untouchable Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Stella Odua, the powerful Aviation Minister and Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the burly Secretary to the Government of the Federation as well as Chief Edwin Clark. Virtually, they ran the Jonathan administration.
Right now, there is Alhaji Mamman Daura, President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew, Malam Abba Kyari, the ubiquitous Chief of Staff and Alhaji Samaila Isa Funtua, Buhari’s father-in-law, including Alhaji Lawal Daura, Director General of State Security Service as the cabal of the present administration.
In fact, the quartet determines who sees the president, which document goes to him and the general direction of government. According to reports, they have erected a Jericho-like wall between Buhari, his ministers and top party officials. Rightly or wrongly, all that is wrong with the administration, including its slow pace, lack of coordination and the bickering within, is attributed to the cabal. The group, according to insiders, have allegedly held Buhari hostage and the administration seems to be suffering as a result. Significantly, government officials have now found a way of reaching the president, by writing him personal memoranda, which somehow get leaked to the media. Ironically, such leaks have become one of the defining features of this administration
Genesis of current leak
In 2010, when former President Goodluck Jonathan drafted Maina to clean up the corruption in pension system. In 2012 , the tables turned against Maina, when he was accused of embezzling pension funds. Vehemently, he had denied the allegation but the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had dragged him to court on alleged Procurement Fraud and Obtaining by False Pretence. Maina, according to the charges, is allegedly complicit in the over N 2 billion Pensions Biometric Scam in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
Significantly, the pension Task Force boss became elusive as he never appeared in court to defend himself. In a bid to stop his arrest, Maina had approached the court, seeking an order perpetual injunction, restraining the EFCC from inviting, arresting or prosecuting him through a exparte motion dated February 14, 2013, pursuant to the fundamental human right enforcement rules 2009 and section 42 sub 3 of the 1999 constitution. Simultaneously, Maina was being chauffeur-driven with police escorts and was allegedly holing up in the presidential villa.
Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered disciplinary action to be taken against Maina, following pressures from the National Assembly. Subsequently, he was dismissed from service for absconding from duty.
In 2015, the anti graft agency had had declared Maina wanted and even secured an arrest warrant against him. Subsequently, the pension boss sneaked out of the country to the United Arab Emirate (UAE). Thereafter, nothing was heard about Maina until recently, when news broke that he had returned into the country, reinstated into service, deployed to the Ministry of Interior and even promoted to acting Director of Human Resources on October 23.
Claims and counter claims
After the expose, Nigerians were outraged by the brazen illegality of his return and the impunity of his reinstatement to service. Almost immediately, the Minister of Interior, Lt -Gen Abdulrahman Danbazau confirmed the resumption of Maina as an Acting Director, two days after the news broke out.
However, he washed his hands off the entire process that led to his reinstatement . According to him, “Maina was posted few days ago to the Ministry of Interior by the Office of the Head Of Service, on an acting capacity to fill a vacancy created following the retirement of the Director heading the Human Resources Department in the ministry”. He added that ” for the avoidance of doubt, issues relating to discipline, employment, re- engagement ,posting, promotion and retirements of federal civil servants are the responsibility of the Federal Civil Service Commission and Office of Head of Service of the Federation”.
Significantly, the Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Eyo-Ita, denied the minister’s claim which linked her to Maina’s reinstatement. Speaking through her Assistant Director, Media Relations, Alhaji Mohammed Monga, she informed “the public that the reinstatement and posting of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Abdulahahi Maina never emanated from the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation “. According to the statement, ‘’the purported reinstatement and posting by the office of the head of civil service of the federation is totally erroneous and misleading “.
Rather than shed light on the issue, the claim and counter-claim added fire to the anger of Nigerians.
Buhari weighs in
Probably concerned by the level of criticisms that greeted Maina’s reinstatement and the embarrassment that trailed the action, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the immediate sack of Maina from the federal civil service on October 23.
Simultaneously, he directed the Head of Service of the Federation to submit a full report surrounding Maina’s reinstatement, promotion and posting to the Ministry of Interior, to the office of his Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari that same day. Promptly, Mrs Eyo-Ita complied and since then, the matter put in the cooler.
Eyo-Ita’s memo leaks
A week later, the memorandum which the Head of Service wrote to Buhari, on October 23, was leaked by an online news portal. In summary, Oyo-Ita said that the president is aware of Maina’s reinstatement and that she had warned him against it. According to her, she had warned Buhari on the implications th reinstatement, especially on the administration’s anti-corruption war.
The memo, which has reference number HSCSF/HCSF/LU/COR/FCSC/750/T, was dated October 23, 2017 and titled, “Re: Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina,” was received in the office of the Chief of Staff on the same day. Explaining further, the HoS said she met the President after the Federal Executive Council meeting of Wednesday, October 11, where she verbally warned him against bringing Maina back to the service.
However, the memo did not say what the response of the President was after the briefing. According to the document, Oyo-Ita ‘’was never in agreement with the reinstatement and consequently never conveyed the approval of the FCPC to Mr. A. A. Maina, nor approved his posting to the Ministry of Interior or any other MDA
The exchange at FEC
Last Wednesday, before the Federal Executive Council meeting, Kyari had tackled the Head of Service over the leaked memo. According to reports, the woman came into the chamber and sat next to the Chief of Staff and immediately, Kyari took her up on the leak. Angrily, Oyo-Ita talked back to Kyari and according to reports, she was overheard saying that she has reached the peak of her career and she is not a politician.
The incident occurred at 10.30 am, moments before the president came in and Vice president Yemi Osinbajo waded in to avert a shouting match. Specifically, the council chamber was full as other dignitaries, apart from ministers, were there to witness the swearing in of Mr Boss Mustapha, the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
In particular, Senate President Bukola Saraki, House Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Chief John Oyegun, National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), heads of military and paramilitary agencies attended last Wednesday’s FEC meeting.
Similarly, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu’s memorandum to Buhari had leaked to the media on October 5. Dated August 30, the memo leaked six days later and basically, Kachikwu had accused the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC), Dr Maikanti Kachallah Baru, of corruption.
In a letter to the president, Kachikwu had accused the GMD of awarding $25 billion worth of contract without following due process, in addition to making major appointments and deployments without consulting with either the Minister or the NNPC Board. Also, the Minister accused Baru of insubordination and making changes in NNPC without consulting him.
Specifically, Kachikwu told the president that the August 29 changes within the corporation was not the first time that he was kept in the dark over such deployments. ‘’Like previous reorganizations and posting done since Dr Baru resumed as GMD, I was never given the opportunity before the announcements to discuss these appointments. This is so despite being Minister of State, Petroleum and Chairman of NNPC Board,’’ Kachikwu pointed out.
Like the Minister, members of the Board also learnt of the appointments, according to Kachikwu, on the pages of the newspaper. The memo became necessary, the Minister further said, because of his inability to have audience with the president after so many attempts.
NNPC debunks claims
A week later, NNPC responded to Kachikwu’s allegations, following Buhari’s order to Baru. In a statement issued by the Corporation’s Spokesman, Mr Ndu Ughamadu, NNPC said that the Minister’s allegations against Baru are baseless.
Citing the Procurement law and civil service circular, the statement said that the GMD is not required to review or even discuss contractual matters with the Minister of State or NNPC Board. The statement said that ‘’what is required is the processing and approval of contracts by the NNPC Tenders Board , the president in his executive capacity or Minister of Petroleum, or the Federal Executive Council(FEC), as the case may be.’’
According to the statement, there are some cases ‘’where all that is required is the approval of the NNPC Tenders Board while, in other cases, based on the thresh hold, the award must be submitted for presidential approval. Likewise, in some instances, it is FEC approval that is required.’’
In addition, the corporation debunked the Kachikwu’s allegation that $10 billion Crude Term Contract and $5 billion Direct Sales and Direct Purchase contracts were awarded. According to the corporation, the two were not contracts for any procurement of goods, works or services but were simply the short listing of off takers of crude oil and suppliers of products. In any case, both transactions didn’t have specific values attached to them and that ‘’it is therefore inappropriate to attach arbitrary values to the shortlists with the aim of classifying the transactions as contracts above NNPC Tenders Board limit. ‘’
Similarly, the statement further punctured Kachikwu’s feigned ignorance. As GMD, he had sought clarifications from Bureau For Public Procurement (BPP) as to the composition of the NNPC Tenders Board and the approving authority. As at August, 2015, when Kachikwu was GMD, the BPP had stated that NNPC Tenders Board comprised the GMD as Chairman and other NNPC Heads as members. In addition BPP had stated that approvals reside within the Tenders Board, However, where thresh holds are exceeded, ‘’the NNPC refers to FEC for approval. Therefore NNPC Board has no role in contracts approval process as advised by BPP,’’ the statement said. Specially, Baru’s defence was silent on his alleged insubordination, especially major deployment in the NNPC without reverting to the Minister.
El Rufai’s opening salvo
El Rufai, on the president’s request, had written a detailed memo to Buhari, decrying the state of the nation in September 2016. However, the memo was leaked on March 16, 2017 but in the missive, the Kaduna state governor admitted that APC has made the situation in Nigeria worse than it met it. “In very blunt terms, Mr. President, our APC administration has not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance outside of our successes in fighting BH insurgency and corruption,” he had said in the 30-page memo.
In addition, the governor did an analysis of the problems bedeviling the administration and proffered solution in the areas of politics, the economy and governance.
Similarly, El Rufai had said that President Buhari’s relationship with the national leadership of the party, both the formal and informal, as well as with former governors of ANPP and PDP which joined, and the ACN, is seen as frosty. According to him, many party members are aggrieved with what they consider as total absence of consultations by the president and those he has assigned such duties. In addition, the governor pointed accusing fingers at the cabal, arguing that ‘’ some officials around you seem to believe and may have persuaded you that current APC state governors must have no say and must also be totally excluded from political consultations, key appointments and decision-making at the federal level’’.
Significantly, the governor of Kaduna state pointed out that ‘’these politically-naive ‘advisers’ fail to realize that it is the current and former state governors that may, as members of NEC of the APC, serve as an alternative locus of power to check the excesses of the currently lopsided and perhaps ambivalent NWC.’’
In particular, he dismissed the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir David Lawal ‘’ as not only inexperienced in public service but lacking in humility, in addition to being insensitive and rude to virtually most of the party leaders, ministers and governors.’’ Similarly, he said that ‘’the Chief of Staff is totally clueless about the APC and its internal politics at best as he was neither part of its formation nor a participant in the primaries, campaign, and elections,” El-Rufai further said that “in summary, neither of them has the personality, experience, and the reach to manage your politics nationally or even regionally.’’
Reactions to leaks
Significantly, all three leaked memoranda, from El Rufai’s to Kachikwu’s, including the latest one, caused consternation across the country. In particular, the authors were accused of leaking sensitive government documents to the media, a charge that all have denied.
However, some analysts had rationalized the leaks as a last resort to a desperate situation, where the president has been made inaccessible. In other words, the authors are responsible for the leaks.
Conversely, other commentators have accused the presidency of the series of leaks. By so doing, they have argued, the cabal will further portray the authors in bad light, further alienating the writers from the president.
Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, former House of Representatives member in the second republic, Dr Junaid Mohammed said ‘’who is responsible for what is beside the point.’’ Mohammed, public affairs commentator, further said that the leaks collectively ‘’points out to the disarray within the government; between government officials and the party, as well as other arms of government and the presidency.’’
According to him, the leaks occur because ‘’for whatever reason, it is clear that the president is not available to a substantial number of the people who he either appointed or who are holding their jobs at his pleasure. This drives them to frustration to do things that are unbecoming of their status in the government or the party.’’ The medical doctor-turned politician further said that the series of leaks point to the low morale in the country at large.
In addition, he pointed out that ‘’there is an inbuilt contradiction for a government that believes it is transparent and has gone ahead to encourage whistle blowers and it is now being constantly embarrassed by people within the system.’’ According to him, ‘’this clearly shows that there is something missing and the whole anti corruption war is just a phony.’’
However, Barrister Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, thinks ‘’the memos are leaking out because the question of integrity is at the front burner of this administration. So, all officials of government are so anxious to answer to this government with their integrity still intact. So, it is part of an effort to remain upright in the eyes of the public that is why they are attractive. I think its just a question of officials struggling to protect their integrity.’’
In his opinion, leaking such documents does not constitute a crime and at best, it can ‘’only attract administrative sanctions.’’
Leaking official secrets
Opinions are divided whether the in-house whistle blowers have violated the Official Secrets Law in the light of the Freedom of Information Law.
Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, Barrister Festus Okoye explained that the official secrets act states ‘’that anyone who transmits any classified matter to a person to whom he is not authorised on behalf of the government to transmit it or obtains, reproduces or retains any classified matter which he is not authorized on behalf of the government to obtain, reproduce or retain, as the case may be is guilty of an offence.’’
Similarly, a ‘’ public officer who fails to comply with any instructions given to him on behalf of the government as to the safeguarding of any classified matter which by virtue of his office is obtained by him or under his control is guilty of an offence.’’
Significantly, Barrister Okoye said that the two laws are not inconsistent with each other because even the Freedom of Information law recognizes that information relating to national security should not be divulged.
However, the question is, do political and governance issues like what El Rufai raised in his memo constitute national security? Or is Kachikwu’s memo or Oyo-Ita’s explanation issues of national security? According to Malam Ibrahim Mohammed, a Kaduna-based public analyst, national security is a nebulous term which governments use to hide information from the governed.
As for Dr. Ken Njoku, a lecturer in the department of History, University of Nigeria Nsukka, “the disclosure of confidential communication to the public may have a significant negative impact on the government’s reputation, especially its ability to manage its affairs”. According to him, the leaks also suggest a division within the government.
On her part, Mrs Maimuna Samaila, a retired civil servant wants government to sanction those who are responsible for the leaks. The culprits, according to her, ‘’are already aware that classified documents, as the name implies, graded as restricted, confidential and contain information that are not meant for public consumption “. Leaking such information to the public, has adverse effect on the government, she said and that ‘’any public officer in the presidency found to have contravened should be made to face disciplinary action accordingly ” .
In addition, Dr. Nwanchukwu Emmanuel, a lecturer at UNN, advised “the president to administer an oath of secrecy to his close aides as part of efforts to control the flow of information within the presidency”.
After all said and done the Buhari administration has whistle blowers within, comprising government officials, who leak documents to the press, just as it encourages citizens to blow the whistle on suspected corrupt officials to EFCC and relevant security agencies.