Mr. Labaran Maku
Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Labaran Maku, seems to enjoy controversy as his reactions to public discourse often pitch him against other stakeholders. Omololu Ogunmade looks at a couple of such instances
Information Minister, Mr. Labaran Maku, was on the spot recently. Maku, because of his position as the Federal Government’s spokesman, is always fighting one battle or the other in defence of his principal.
But his disposition appears to be getting more and more controversial such that many now regard him to be combative just like erstwhile Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa. Maku shocked the nation in June when he reiterated Aondoakaa’s position at the height of the crisis generated by the failure of former President Umaru Yar’Adua to hand over power to his then deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, when he proceeded on a trip in 2009 for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia.
In his bid to frustrate agitation for the emergence of Jonathan as Acting President, Aondoakaa had said with somewhat sense of impunity that the late Yar’Adua was not necessarily bound to be present in Nigeria before he could discharge the functions of his office. “The president can rule from anywhere in the world.” This expression earned Aondoakaa huge criticisms and condemnations as he was viewed as unpatriotic, insensitive and unfit to be entrusted with the nation’s affairs.
It was, therefore, shocking when Maku repeated the same statement in defence of Jonathan when as president, the latter embarked on a trip to Brazil to attend the United Nations Earth Summit Rio + 20 at Rio de Janeiro on June 18, 2012 at the height of terrorist attacks on Damaturu, the Yobe State capital as well as Kaduna. Maku’s expression was viewed as a dramatic irony; for he seemed to have forgotten the scurrilous attack on Aondoakaa when he made a similar gaffe. That Maku also repeated such a comment, also in defence of Jonathan, has been viewed as portraying political office holders in Nigeria as pursuing only issues that are consistent with their selfish objectives.
While Jonathan’s trip at the time innocent Nigerians were being hacked down in Yobe and Kaduna States by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, was described as unstatesmanlike and insensitive, Maku hurriedly called a press conference in Abuja where he declared that Jonathan’s absence from the country had not in anyway affected government’s business. He told journalists without any fear of equivocation that “the President can rule from anywhere in the world.”
He also added that government had everything in relation to the state of insecurity in some parts of the country under its control and was doing all it could to stop the killings. His comment was in reaction to criticisms from both the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and some notable Nigerians who said the president’s trip to Brazil was ill-timed and a demonstration of a high degree of insensitivity.
“The decision by the president to travel two days after dozens of innocent Nigerians, including women and children, were killed or maimed by suicide bombers in Kaduna State, is a sign of insensitive and confused leadership,” ACN had said in a statement.
But provoked by the criticisms, Maku fired back: “The president can take decisions from anywhere in the world. His absence will not hamper his power to act. The vice-president effectively takes charge of affairs once the president is out of Nigeria and he is in touch with the president on hourly basis.
“Those who think because the president is out of the country, he cannot make decision for the country; it is not true. Today, with advances in information technology, every president in the world, anywhere he is – even from the skies – can give directive to any defence chief to act on any matter in the country.”
While many were still struggling to put the disappointment resulting from Maku’s earlier comment behind them, he slipped again when recently, he disparaged the National Assembly whose resolutions, even on sensitive issues of national importance, he described as merely advisory.
Maku’s expression was in reaction to the resolution by the legislature about a fortnight ago, asking Jonathan to halt the planned introduction of N5,000 note by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). His comment infuriated the lawmakers, including Senate President David Mark, who described Maku as “a careless talker” that will be handsomely dealt with whenever he repeats his vituperations against the institution.
“I think the Minister of Information is a careless talker. He talks very carelessly. He did not think properly. He is not an educator and we need to educate him. I hope the president cautions him and calls him to order. And I think next time he does that, we will take a resolution here that any minister who talks carelessly be removed because there was really no need for that,” Mark said.
Sensing the danger in the words of the Senate President, Maku quickly swallowed his words and said his comment was rather misconstrued. He praised the lawmakers before he went ahead to apologise to them.
“I have no reason to denigrate the authority of the highest legislative body. The Senate, being the highest legislative body, has played very constructive role in the stabilisation of Nigeria’s democracy. I have no reason personally or individually to disparage the Senate. If that comment has been misinterpreted to mean that the Federal Government does not respect resolutions of the Senate, I tender my apology,” he said.
But Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal however reiterated Mark’s position at the 2013 budget presentation when he drew the President’s attention to such tactical undermining of the legislative institution by his aides. Tambuwal asked that the views of the legislature be respected by the executive and its agents.
Nevertheless, the legislature’s decision to call Maku to order has been described as timely by some Nigerians who said it would serve as a deterrent to other ministers and would also guide them to “thinking properly” before making comments in the nearest future.