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Again, power without responsibility

On Monday, a memo purportedly written by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, to the service chiefs to desist from taking further directives from President Buhari’s Chief of Staff became public further drawing attention to the dysfunction, power struggle and the existence of a powerful cabal that has captured and exercises presidential powers without taking responsibility for any of their actions.

Monguno, who was clearly irked by what he saw as undue and dangerous interference and meddlesomeness of Abba Kyari on matters of national security, accused the Chief of Staff of “issuing directives to the service chiefs without the knowledge much less approval of the president”, a practice he said has added to the government’s inability to contain insecurity.

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The “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country,” Monguno warned in the December 9, 2019 memo.

“As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President.”

For avoidance of doubt, Monguno Monguno went ahead to define the Chief of Staff’s role in national security matters: “his job as it relates to security stops at conveying Mr President’s written directives.”

The existence of this cabal around President Buhari has been an open secret since 2016.  Indeed, as the initial appointments of the president showed, virtually all members of this cabal are from just one section of the country. The president justified this by saying they are people who have been with him through “trying times”, and were being rewarded for their “dedication and suffering”. Again, he said they are people that will work closely with him. But even more unfortunate is the existence of a more powerful individual(s) who holds no formal office but wields perhaps even greater powers than the president himself. These buccaneers, it is claimed with good evidence, have completely walled the President and serve as “gate-keepers” between the president and the country.

But there should be no mistake about it; our democracy or whatever remains of it, has been captured by an amorphous group who exercise untrammelled powers but with zero responsibility for the powers they wield

President Buhari empowered this group early in his administration to be the clearing house and policy centre of his government. If there was any doubt as to the role of this powerful group, the President himself cleared that doubt during a retreat organised by the Presidency for the then Ministers-designates. The President ordered that “all communications and appointments from you (ministers) to the Presidency should be routed through the office of the Chief of Staff as it is the normal (procedure) in this presidential system.” In effect, ministers are not allowed access to the President and must pass any communications through his Chief of Staff and also receive instructions through that same medium. One can only imagine how powerful Abba Kyari has become since then. Naturally, and as is usual in our climes, this untrammelled and extreme power without accountability breeds corruption.

There was a strong allegation that Abba Kyari demanded and collected N500 million as part of a deal to reduce the hefty fine of over $5 billion imposed on MTN by the NCC for contravention of a SIM registration directive. Despite being cleared by the Presidency, MTN got the fine reduced and the issue has long been settled with the Nigerian authorities.

So complete is the takeover of the government by this shadowy group that even Buhari’s wife felt completely side-lined and left out of the scheme of things that she was forced to take the unprecedented step of going public with her discontent when she accused a powerful cabal of hijacking her husband’s government.

But if she was expecting her outburst to change anything, it achieved the exact opposite as her husband firmly reminded her, in Germany, that she “belongs to his kitchen, his living room and the other room” and should have no business with or role in governance.

But despite this take-over, no one is effectively and totally in charge of the country meaning constant clashes among and between these shadowy figures has continued to define this administration. The war between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Directorate of State Security, DSS, formerly headed by his kinsman, Lawan Daura, is well known. Twice the president sent the name of Ibrahim Magu as substantive Chairman of the EFCC to the Senate and twice, on the advice of the DSS, the Senate rejected his nomination. Buhari had tried but failed to mediate in the war and hasn’t been able to rein them in.

In January 2018 when Benue state was under the sustain siege of herdsmen, President Buhari directed the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate to Benue to stop the killings. But in March of that year when he finally visited Benue, the president learnt for the first time that the IG disobeyed his orders and spent only a day in Benue and left for Nasarawa subsequently.  “It is only now that I am hearing this. But I know that I sent him here,” Buhari retorted in shock to General Atom Kpera (rtd) who pointedly challenged him that the IG did “not do the work you sent him. He stayed for less than 24 hours in Benue and relocated to Nasarawa, and then said what he saw was a mere communal clash…” This is despite the fact the news has been public knowledge for two months.

With this knowledge, it should naturally be expected that the president will discipline the IG for disobeying his orders. But nothing happened to the IG. In fact, while the President’s media team were trying to impress the public that disciplinary actions were being taken against the IG, the IG issued a statement rubbishing that claim. Till he retired with much thanks from the President – and even enjoying an extension of tenure – the IG was not disciplined or even reprimanded by the president, at least not publicly or officially.

But there should be no mistake about it; our democracy or whatever remains of it, has been captured by an amorphous group who exercise untrammelled powers but with zero responsibility for the powers they wield. Prior to elections, they are always very quiet and invisible and only spring to life after the elections, grabbing and exercising powers they did not legitimately receive from the electorate and alienating both the people and those who had electoral mandate of the people in the process. Perhaps, the service chiefs truly know where real power lies and have decided to play the game to remain in office indefinitely.

Even the rubber-stamp National Assembly has realised the dangers we are in and although they have passed a resolution calling on the president to sack the service chiefs, whose tenures have long expired and are being kept in office illegally, nothing of such will happen – and they have been told in clear terms.

Perhaps, when next we have the opportunity to truly elect our leaders, we’ll ensure we elect leaders that will exercise the powers given them and not hand it over to some shadowy group no one knows about.

Christopher Akor

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