The suspension from office last week of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, by President Bola Tinubu has created a significant shift from the old lethargic way of running government business to a responsive, swift and effective governance. The move by the President is therefore commendable for its significance.
Now, anyone in office knows that the era of becoming an ancestor with or without performance is gone forever.
Significantly, apart from bringing back discipline into the ranks of office holders, it has sent the message that no post is hereditary and there is nothing like sacred cows anywhere anymore.
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The response of the Presidency to the public outrage that followed the suspended Minister’s alleged lodgement of public funds in a private bank account is a great departure from what obtained, especially during the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. In that infamous era, any office holder was authority unto themselves whether they performed or not. In fact, as a minister then, anybody that attempted to shout to the world about any act of malfeasance was just wasting their time.
Very early in his first tenure, when Buhari’s first Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, was caught in the now infamous “grass cutting contract”, Buhari fought tooth and nail to protect him even in the face of overwhelming evidence of infraction. Then, a Senate ad hoc committee on the mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East found the SGF guilty of compromising his office by awarding a contract to a firm in which he has interest.
So the Senate then under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki asked Buhari to suspend and ensure the prosecution of Lawal for alleged contravention of the Nigerian constitution. The President refused.
The Shehu Sani-led committee revealed that Lawal’s company, Global Vision Limited, was one of the firms that benefited from inflated and phantom contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East. His company was awarded over N200 million contract to clear “invasive plant species” in Yobe State.
The committee found that as at the time the contract was awarded in March 2016, Lawal was still a Director of the firm. Although he resigned in September 2015 after his appointment, he was still a signatory to the company’s account, thus contravening Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
But in a letter to the Senate read by Senate President Saraki on January 22, President Buhari said he had no reasons to suspend or prosecute Lawal. He said his SGF was not given fair hearing by the Senate, stressing that neither Lawal nor the company said to have been used to perpetrate the alleged illegality was invited by the Senate ad hoc committee. Moreover, the President said the report of the committee was signed by three of the nine members of the ad hoc committee, thus making it a minority report.
But in a swift reaction to the President’s letter, Sani said Buhari lied, stressing that the letter contained “dis-information and distortion of facts”. The senator said the committee invited Lawal through a letter that was acknowledged by the Permanent Secretary of the office of the SGF. He displayed the acknowledged copy of the letter and promised to hand it over to the Clerk of the Senate.
Sani added that the committee also placed adverts in three national dailies listing names of those invited, including the SGF, and that seven members of the committee, not three, as claimed by the former president, signed the report. He said Buhari was mis-informed to sign the letter and he concluded that the letter “is a funeral service for anti-corruption in Nigeria.”
The senator explained that the Presidency was fighting corruption in the National Assembly, the judiciary and the wider Nigerian society with “insecticides, and when it comes to fighting corruption within the presidency, it uses deodorant.” But at the end of the day, Lawal kissed the dust when the dust raised by his inglorious action would not settle down.
Nigerians were provided with the rare inner workings of the past government by no other person than one of them, Adebayo Shittu, the Oke Ogun, Oyo State born lawyer, who was made the Minister of Communications by the Buhari government. Shittu told Nigerians that Buhari would not ask after his appointees in four years unless they met him. According to the former minister, Buhari did not ask his ministers to account for how they ran their ministries.
The lawyer said: “Buhari did not give anybody any threat. What I know of Buhari, with all due respect to him, is that he is a more reserved person. When he gives a job to somebody, he will never ask how they go about it. I have to say this for the national interest so that the government who comes after him should do something about it. In the Buhari government, if you don’t go and meet him, probably in the next four years, he will not ask about you. People bring their memos, but in terms of supervision, we really did not have such things.”
Any wonder then that for the two terms that the former military general spent, Nigerians suffered a colourless cabinet in terms of appointment and performance. Look at the way that Shittu got the appointment. He didn’t get to be made minister as a result of any other thing than pure patronage. He happened to be an old acquaintance of Buhari during their Congress for Progressive Change days. That is all. If you were a barber and you happened to know Buhari in the past as an acquaintance, you were sure of being given a carpenter’s job or any job at all that was at variance with your area of competence in his government. In Shittu’s case, a lawyer, he was given the portfolio of the Ministry of Communications.
Apart from having an unfamiliar portfolio thrown on your laps, the person that gave you the post would just go to sleep and whether you even knew what you were supposed to do and or how you went about doing it was never his headache. That was the case with Buhari and many of his appointees
The longest serving Minister of Education in Nigeria was Professor Adamu Adamu. Buhari appointed him and for the entire eight years that the former president spent in office, Adamu was the man in charge of such an important ministry. During his valedictory, he provided a clue to what Nigerians had been suspecting ever since the colourless man took reins of the ministry. He shocked not a few Nigerians when he revealed that by the time Buhari appointed him, he knew next to nothing about the education ministry, nay the entire sector.
Hear the man: “I didn’t know anything about the education sector when I was appointed Minister except superficially. But when Buhari decided to make me Minister of Education, I called some people to assist me to work on a policy document on education because I was a novice in the sector. I shared my idea with them and they assisted me greatly, and I remain grateful to them for these years.”
The Minister appreciated the president who found him worthy and trusted him with such a responsibility, “even when I was apparently not ready and unprepared for such a task. I was busy making recommendations and suggestions to the President on who to appoint into his cabinet in 2015. All of a sudden, he announced my name to my surprise and that was it. We worked together till 2019.”
Perhaps he was moved by guilt, he approached Buhari after spending four years in the office and suggested that the president reshuffle his cabinet in 2019 “because, in the eyes of many, it was unusual in our society for a President to work with the same Ministers for four years. Buhari had graciously allowed his Ministers to stay in office for four years. Ordinarily, Ministers stay in office for two years before they are reshuffled. But I know him very well and I knew it would be difficult for him to do that. But I decided to make it easy for him by promising to bring people that would do the job better for me and others who served as Ministers in the first tenure. I promised him that I will give him names of competent people from at least 19 northern states. So, I suggested to him to drop all the Ministers that worked with him in the first tenure, including me, but I knew it would be difficult for him. But to confirm that I can do the job, I gave him a name from Bauchi state, whom I had expected to replace me within the cabinet. That was how Maryam Katagun became Minister of the Federal Republic.”
Do we need any witchdoctor to find out what went down with the educational sector in the past eight years when we had the longest strikes, worst industrial disputes, policy summersaults, in fact so many strange developments? And this is a sector with the largest collection of professors being led by a novice!
Just on Tuesday during the launch of books about the Buhari years in Abuja, Buhari again gave Nigerians the clue about the inner workings of his administration that lacked discipline. He said he did not see any reason to sack the erstwhile governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele. Apart from all his strange economic and monetary policies that destroyed the naira, Buhari said he could not succumb to the outcry of Nigerians who wanted the man sacked when he said he too wanted to succeed him Aso Rock.
Of course, as a Nigerian, Emefiele was free and had the right to aspire to the highest office in the land, but Nigerians decried the way and manner he wanted to dive into the political arena even with his tailored suit on as the man in charge of the apex bank in the country. And since he remained stubborn with the inordinate ambition, Buhari refused to bulge and on Tuesday, he disclosed his reason for not listening to Nigerians.
Buhari disclosed that he did not remove Emefiele because of the absence of firm evidence that he was indeed pursuing a presidential ambition. Buhari was quoted to have said: “When he (Emefiele) was linked with the campaign for the 2023 presidency, I did not ask him, because he told nobody he was getting involved. Otherwise, I would have removed him and told the nation why.”
Buhari stated that “unless there was firm evidence against him,” it would be “unfair” and “an act of injustice to remove him, acting on hearsay.” The former president added: “If you punish a man unjustly, it could dog his footsteps throughout life, so if you would punish, you must have evidence and you should know that yourself wouldn’t be there forever. You would leave one day. I’m very conscious about the morale of people who serve with me. I also expect whoever succeeds me to be fair to me. I have family, friends, who will feel it. I’m very conscious of fairness.”
So, Shittu was right that Buhari would never bother his appointees and they were free to do whatever they liked, he would not know so far as they didn’t have to tell him. Despite all the moves Emefiele made then by going to his village to confirm his name in his party register, approaching the court to assert his right as a citizen of Nigeria to aspire to the highest office and some phantom group of farmers who came together to “gather” N100 million to buy him the nomination form, Buhari said he didn’t see any reason to move against his CBN governor because “he did not tell him he was running for president”.
As president, do you have to wait till your chief financial adviser tells you that he is neck deep in politics before you know what he is doing? If not that the level of indiscipline had become so ridiculous, would the CBN governor dabble into politics under your nose if he had not sized you up as someone that condoned anything just as you were satisfied that you are called the president?
So it is against this background that Nigerians would appreciate what President Tinubu has done with the suspension and the resultant probe of the minister and her ministry. It would restore discipline which is the most important.
Political appointees would know that they are chosen to be in office for a purpose which must be pursued with heart, body and soul and as soon as they appear to have other things up their sleeves, they would have to go because for every office that you are occupying, there are millions capable and willing hands waiting in the wing.