Season of Firefights

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ENGAGEMENTS: With Chidi Amuta
ENGAGEMENTS with Chidi Amuta, e-mail: chidi.amuta@gmail.com

In the clear absence of a grand vision, big issues or any inspirational undertakings, President Buhari may be condemned to spending the remaining part of his tenure supervising sporadic firefights among his cast. Family members, regime pontiffs, political devotees and highly privileged officials of state are all likely to get embroiled in imminent fights over influence and treasure. The presidential ears may in the next two years be occasionally deafened by the cacophony of either domestic quarrels or loud noises among squabbling big hirelings at the corridors of power who seek to magnify their importance or announce their sheer presence.

An ancient law of primitive courtly power may be unfolding in Abuja. When disparate interests and persons are brought together in a place of power merely to indulge in its opiate or satiate in its narcotic trappings, they usually have a tendency to break out in occasional loud disagreements and foolish turf fights. Similarly, if a sovereign fails to create active engagements for his followers and prefects, he may find out that his power and authority are cannibalized among feuding ambitious lieutenants. The public gets engrossed in the drama of these fights and soon forgets that there was ever a king on the throne. The regime degenerates into a chronicle of rivalries and avoidable firefights. Going by the number and frequency of recent firefights in and around the Buhari presidency, we may well be in a season of defining engagements and terminal ambushes.

In the domestic front, the Buhari clan may have already set a national record in the frequency of its open altercations, rancorous exchanges and unguarded utterances. Several open quarrels in the precincts of the Presidential mansion itself have been reported and dramatized in the social media. Villa spinners are yet to deny any one of these uproars. As a matter of fact, the social media has in the recent past captured open shouts, name calling and domestic turf wars inside the private confines of the First Residence. A few weeks back and again for the first time in our national history, differences between the First Lady’s security staff and sundry officials of the presidency degenerated into an open exchange of gunfire between factions of security personal deployed to guard the presidential villa and its inhabitants. Wild media reports on this worrisome episode were casually confirmed by Aso Rock spokespersons with hardly any room for respectable spin add-ons. As a consequence, the police had to intervene and arrest the errant highly placed miscreants. Subsequently, there was a mass reorganization of the security personal in the Villa.

It was hard to hide the overwhelming national security concerns over this incident. The concerns ranged from the personal security of the president to the safety of the inhabitants of the nation’s pre-eminent and most strategic real estate. The complex that houses the residence and offices of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria is not exactly the best location for undisciplined and poorly trained security personnel to practice their weapons skills. (Imagine factions of the US Secret Service exchanging gunfire in the precincts of the White House!) Not to talk of the unflattering testimonial of a first family that cannot muster the restraint to manage their differences and curb the excesses of their handlers. The nation expects that the President should minimally be able to manage his household to avoid such ugly incidents. His predecessors did so without embarrassing the nation.

At the level of the machinery of government, some tension is becoming noticeable between the executive and the legislature. The presumed amity and accord between the two branches since the advent of the president’s second term would seem to be coming under some stress. The preponderance of the ruling APC in the two houses of the legislature may not help much in the months running up to the 2023 succession political battles. As the succession time frame gets shorter, the financial stakes of political positions will get higher. The fights will become more fierce and party loyalty will take a back seat. The banners are already up.

In the last couple of days, for instance, the Minster of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo, has been locked in a public relations firefight with the National Assembly. At issue is the implementation of a token 774,000 jobs meant as Covid-19 employment palliative for 1000 unemployed youth in each of our 774 local governments. Ostensibly, Mr. Keyamo, a known lover of publicist noise making and grand standing wants to protect the public works programme from the usual influence peddling of politicians. The legislators want to hide under their oversight cloak to insist that the programme is best handled by a statutory agency of government, namely the National Directorate of Employment (NDE). The issue remains unresolved up to this moment.

The question of right and wrong on this matter is only a moot point. What seems to be happening is a clash of bloated egos and political self interests. Mr. Keyamo has no right to treat the public works programme as a personal platform for sanctimonious posturing in derogation of the National Assembly in its normal order of duty. Similarly, the National Assembly should not hold the junior minister to ransom on a matter of wide national interest with direct implications for the livelihood of many desperate Nigerian youth. All the National Assembly is required to do is to insist that the Ministry of Labour adheres to due process in filling the positions. So, here is one needless turf war which seems to have raged because the warring parties may be blinded by narrow interests. While it rages, the senior Minister of Labour, Mr. Chris Ngige, is himself embroiled in another fight over his handling of the budget of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

At the level of the ruling party, there is a smouldering cauldron of subdued firefights. Almost caught in a cross fire between Mr. Oshiomole and his multiple traducers, the president was pressured into hosting the National Executive Committee meeting of the battle torn party in the council chambers of the presidential Villa. To wit, he got the Attorney General of the federation to swear in the Caretaker Committee of a party on the excuse that he won an election and therefore is entitled to use the resources and facilities of the nation to advance his narrow partisan interests.

Even then, his intervention which was designed to restore unity and sanity to the party has merely driven the revolt and its foot soldiers underground. Soon after the Edo and Ondo elections, the dogs of war will spring back into an active open confrontation mode. The fights for the soul of a post Buhari APC will resume in the various states where the president and his Abuja politicians remain light on the ground. In the political battles that lie ahead, the Buhari influence will increasingly become less consequential as 2023 gets nearer. The party will likely splinter into vicious warring tribes and antagonistic factions under the command and control of the many political war lords in waiting. This stage of the skirmish has vicariously fingered Mr. Bola Tinubu as the first target of the post Buhari cavalry. Others will follow shortly.

At the national geo political level, a most unexpected fight has recently reared its head from a most unexpected quarter. A few weeks back, there was an incendiary verbal exchange between Aso Rock presidential spokes persons and various Northern interest groups. Specifically, the Northern Elders Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum respectively had issued statements declaring increasing loss of confidence in the Buhari administration as well as the various governors of northern states over the worsening insecurity in the region as well as sundry issues like youth unemployment. Aso Rock retorted by questioning the status of the leaders of these groups. The North is after all the president’s presumed core political base. The conundrum is that among the southern elite, the Buhari administration is seen as divisive and parochial on account of the excessive lopsidedness of its appointments and projects patronage in favour of the northern half of the coutry. As the politics of Buhari’s succession gathers steam, we should expect greater pressure from northern groups who already have begun to argue that Buhari may not have been the best news for the northern interest. When this line of argument intensifies, it will be hard to distil its altruism from its hidden political intent.

By far the most strategic firefight in the life of the Buhari administration may be the one currently raging around the leadership of the EFCC. The former chairman of the agency, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, has been undergoing interrogations before a presidential investigation panel right in Aso Villa. The speculative allegations schedule reads more like a telephone directory indicating that Mr. Magu may have commandeered some of the proceeds of his anti corruption war for himself. An unimaginable quantum of cash and serial properties are also alleged to have changed illegal hands with Magu’s knowledge. No one knows the boundary line between fact and fiction in these wild speculations. Until the exact charges are made public or adduced in an anticipated court outing, the allegations against Mr. Magu will remain conjectural. What is indisputable however is that there must be something to warrant the drama of an elaborate presidential inquiry.

In the interim, it is only proper that Mr. Magu has been made to step aside in order that the investigation proceeds unfettered. The president can only spare himself the nasty politics of this affair by a strict adherence to the rule of law. Of course it will remain a matter of grave concern that a public officer on whose shoulder a major plank of the president’s mandate hangs should be the subject of an elaborate criminal investigation in the first place. What remains hard to understand is how a president who made anti corruption the major pillar of his campaign from 2015 should allow an officer with Magu’s alleged character defects to preside over the EFCC in the first place.

However, we need to locate the curiosity of the EFCC as an agency of government in some historical perspective in order to determine the altruism of the present drama. From inception, the EFCC has been used as an instrument of political odd jobs by incumbent presidents. Obasanjo deployed it against state governors who did not align with his political machinations including the third term infamy. People like Mike Adenuga, Peter Odili, Rotimi Amaechi, Fayose, Ibrahim Babangida, the late Alamieseigha and others were victims of a politically weaponized EFCC.

Similarly, the late president Yar’dua used the EFCC to advance his cause. Former EFCC chairman Nuhu Ribadu was demoted, harassed and haunted until he went into self exile after what was obviously an illustrious career. Thereafter, regime friends like James Ibori and Bukola Saraki who were close to Mr. Yar’dua became the undertakers of the EFCC and had a hand in the appointment of Farida Waziri as Chairperson.

In similar vein, when Farida Waziri would not play ball with President Jonathan, she was eased out to be replaced by Lamorde who had been Nuhu Ribadu’s Director of Operations in Lagos. Lamorde became chairman and subsequently left in circumstances similar to what is happening to Mr. Magu now. An unprintable catalogue of corrupt events was leveled against him. Not much was heard of Lamorde and the corruption charges against him afterwards. I understand he is currently at the very top of the police hierarchy in Abuja.

In all of this, it is clear that the EFCC has been left as a hybrid government agency, something to be cited in search of transparency and also to be deployed against political adversaries by an incumbent president as occasion demands. At no time has the Act establishing the EFCC been implemented fully. The agency is supposed to have a governing board that ought to authorize the actions of the chairman. Membership of the board includes the Governor of the CBN, the Inspector General of the Police, an official of the Ministry of Finance etc. Nigerians may need to ask why this board has never been inaugurated from President Obasanjo till today. It has only been convenient for successive presidents to appoint the EFCC chairman and leave him without a board to be used for political ends or fired when those ends change.

In fairness to the embattled Magu, he had a mixture of a dramatic and public relations approach to the anti corruption crusade. He may not have been the most intellectually inclined or the most articulate public officer in these parts. But he had the training of an accountant who also happened to be an effective police officer. He had a nose for sniffing out big criminals with dodgy book keeping records and cooked up figures.

In the immediate post election campaigns in 2015-16, Mr. Magu’s EFCC regaled the public with dossiers of the corrupt activities of mostly the leadership of the just defeated PDP, A number of them were named, shamed, investigated, charged to court and even tried. An avalanche of convictions and plea bargains followed. Troves of cash and a long list of properties were reportedly recovered. Gradually the steam went out of the EFCC crusade. Thereafter, Mr. Magu began a series of trials of and convictions of those accused of corruption in the media.

In the chamber schemes that built up to the present travail of Mr. Magu, the Attorney General has featured as an arrow head who is officially positioned to cast the lethal death stone. But we need to watch out for where Malami is coming from politically. I smell political bad manners in this whole thing going by the configuration of political interests in the Villa. . It may be that Mr. Magu cannot be relied upon to nail whoever the commanding faction has identified as the imminent political threat to their scheme in the post Buhari equation. I would have a champagne just to be proved wrong on this speculation.

Certainly, the end season firefights will not end with the stampede around Mr. Magu’s rowdy goodbye. The stakes are rather high. The contradictions inside the Buhari administration are far too many to guarantee a quiet end of tenure season. In addition, the collective is too disparate and devoid of a unifying agenda. Even worse, the president himself is too remote and distant to be perceived as being in charge. His presence is defined mostly by a certain absence, a worrying vacancy in a place of great power. As the public keeps asking ‘Who is in charge here?”, the likelihood of even more severe firefights increases by the day. A cult with many devotees and no creed is bound to explode into a diversity of denominations with multiple tongues.