By Dr Olu Agunloye, former Minster of Power and Steel
In August 2022, Mr Simon Kolawole first released his widely circulated contract-statement: “Who will Love this Country?” as front page of the ThisDay Newspapers of 21 August 2022 and again in August 2023, acting on the instructions of a former Minister of Power. The contract-statement is misleading, false, and malicious. It is calculated to divert attention from the wrongdoings of some former Power Ministers and other Government officials in respect of the Mambilla Power Project. In 2022, I ignored the write-up but now that the former President has reacted to the same article that he appeared not to have seen in 2022, I will give a measured response.
THE CABLE NEWS STORY
The Cable News story credited to Pa Obasanjo about the Mambilla Power Project gave me much concern not because they were incorrect, but because they were attributed to our Baba Agbalagba, broadly revered in Yorubaland and a former President of Nigeria. For me, as a thoroughbred Omoluabi of Yorubaland, I can only politely say with all due respect: Baba, ko ri be, sa.(meaning, Baba, that is not correct, sir) That’s so much response to our revered Baba Agbalagba.
But to Pa Obasanjo as the former president, I will give fuller response here, albeit politely and in a measured dose. I served under this great former President for four years (1999 – 2003) first, as Special Assistant to the Minister of Power and Steel, then to the Minister of Justice and Honourable Attorney General of the Federation (Uncle Bola Ige) and later, as Honourable Minister of Defence (Navy), then Honourable Minister of Power and Steel. I also worked closely under him from 2003 to 2007 as the Head of the National eGovernment Strategies, mainstreaming e-enabled techniques, and applications to tiers of Government at the Federal and State levels.
Let me start by reacting to Pa Obasanjo as former President who told the story to The Cable News of how a shrewd Animal Farm Manager General (AFMG) set an elaborate system in the farm under his watch to ensure that only rats, mice, and small rodents could wander past the robust farm fence, but rabbits, antelopes, and other bigger animals needed the AFMG to open special gates for them to go out. The story explained how the AFMG ran the farm with iron hands for eight years that all and sundry applauded him. Then, after twenty years, the AFMG realised that six big elephants had, without his knowing, passed through the rodent holes that he installed to block bigger animals. Pa Obasanjo also narrated how the AFMG, now in his retirement, became furious and desperately wished he had found out this negligence during his stewardship so that he could sack the Farm Assistant who let elephants escape through the rodent holes. I felt disappointed and ashamed to find that the Animal Farm Manager General was, indeed, our most revered Baba Agbalagba, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President himself. I still wonder if The Cable News reported him correctly.
In fact, I wish to say with all humility and respect that all the things credited to the former President in the extensive interview in The Cable News are not correct. Take for instance, The Cable News quoted Pa Obasanjo as saying: “…When I was in office, Leno Adesanya, the promoter of Sunrise Power, ran away from Nigeria. I would have jailed him.” This is far from being correct because Mr. Leno Adesanya was virtually always in the Aso Rock Villa during Chief Obasanjo’s presidency. As a matter of fact, the same president and Mr. Adesanya sat together on the high table in Aso Rock as Baba Oko and Baba Iyawo respectively at the wedding of the president’s son and Mr. Adesanya’s niece in 2002.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MAMBILLA
Let me briefly put the records straight on the Mambilla Power Project.
- When the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, sent an emissary, in person of his close young associate who is a Labour Party (LP) Chieftain to me on 26 August 2023 to discuss the Mambilla Power Project, I knew the former president was getting pretty anxious. My last encounter with the former President was in late last year, 2022 and early this year (2023) when the former President was frantically persuading leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), of which I am the National Secretary, to team up with and support the then Presidential Candidate Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP). We declined and turned down the entreaties of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on behalf of the Labour Party, LP.
- Seven days later, on the 3 September 2023, The Cable News reported an extensive interview, https://www.thecable.ng/obasanjo-i-knew-buhari-didnt-understand-economics-but-didnt-know-he-was-a-reckless-spender/amp, granted by the former President titled: “I knew Buhari didn’t understand economics but didn’t know he was so reckless.” In this interview, the former president made misleading and incorrect statements on the Mambilla Power Project.
- I have submitted a 53 paragraph, 14-page Statement backed with 15 Attachments in 82-page document as an affidavit to the courts in Nigeria and France in respect of the Mambilla Power Project to clear my name. In deference to Pa Obasanjo and as a mark of great respect to the former President, I have sent a copy of these documents through my lawyers to him to refreshen his memory.
- The former president was not correct when he referred to the award to Sunrise simply as a $6 billion contract (that is, N800 billion in 2003) under his watch. In truth, it was a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) contract in which the FGN did not need to pay any amount to the contractor, Messrs Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited (Sunrise). As a matter of fact, Sunrise has not been paid a single Naira or Dollar by the FGN from 2000 till date (14/9/23). Sunrise was to source for funds and execute the project with own funds. The investment of Sunrise to construct the Mambilla hydroelectric project up to completion stage to deliver electricity was adjudged at a maximum of $6 billion by four Ministers of Power and the former president (Chief Obasanjo) before I became Minister of Power. Sunrise was to recoup his investment from the sale of the generated electricity over a 30- to 40-year period at pre-determined tariffs, also agreed with FGN before May 2003.
- I followed due process and got all necessary approvals for the BOT contract award to Sunrise on 22 May 2003 and there are records to show that the former President Obasanjo propelled the processes from the beginning in 2000 to the end in May 2003. In fact, Sunrise started Mambilla project three years before I became Minister of Power and had arranged meetings with Chinese Companies and Chinese President in China in which three Power Ministers and the then President Obasanjo attended between 2000 and 2002 before I was appointed Minister of Power. On the very day (28 Nov 2002), that I resumed office as Minister of Power, Pa Obasanjo himself, in a formal letter, handed me his presidential approval on the Sunrise proposal with an instruction that Sunrise be invited “for the final negotiations for the execution of the Mambilla Power Project.”
NO ONE QUERIED ME FOR 20 YEARS
The following played out after I had ceased to be a minister from 29 May 2003. It turned out that (a) Between 2003 to 2007, President Obasanjo was attempting to invalidate the Sunrise May 2003 BOT contract on Mambilla Project; and (b) Between 2007 to 2015, the Yar’Adua and Jonathan presidencies recognised the Mambilla Project as a BOT contract validly awarded in May 2003, cancelled the component of it awarded as a procurement contract by President Obasanjo on the 28 May 2007 at $1.46 billion, and signed a fresh agreement on the Mambilla Hydropower Project in 2012 with Sunrise and (c) Between 2015 to 2023, the then President Buhari cancelled and re-awarded the Mambilla Power Project, and was making and breaching own Agreements with Sunrise. In all of these, spanning 20 (twenty) years, none of the Presidents (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Malam Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan or Gen. Muhammadu Buhari) asked me or questioned me about issuing any unauthorised Mambilla contract. This is because all the Nigerian Presidents, including Chief Obasanjo, were aware that I did nothing wrong.
BOT versus PROCUREMENT CONTRACT
However, at a time after May 2003, the then President Obasanjo appeared to have changed his mind on the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model in which the private investor would provide own funds, a path that President Obasanjo and six Ministers of Power, three Ministers of Finance, two Ministers of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, and the Debt Management Office had pursued for four years. The former President then chose to embark on a new pathway in which Nigeria would execute the Mambilla Power Project *by paying from Government own funds.
The former President decided, therefore, to break the Mambilla Hydropower Project into smaller components, like civil engineering works, hydraulic works, structural works etc. with the intention to award them as separate multiple contracts as Government procurements, on cash and carry basis, for which Nigerian Government would pay mobilisation fees and make other payments in stages to contractors. When one of the contractors, which got a component of the Mambilla project awarded by President Obasanjo as $1.46 billion procurement contract, presented its *request for a $400 million mobilisation fees, President Yar’Adua scrutinised the contract and cancelled it in 2008 because of proven corruption on the part of officials who served under President Obasanjo between 2003 to 2007.
THE CRUX OF THE CASE
Dr. Agunloye awarded the Mambilla Power Project as a BOT at no cost to FGN,* while the former President Obasanjo started to re-award the project as multiple procurement contracts at humongous costs to FGN and with associated corrupt practices which were uncovered by succeeding Presidents.
WHO WILL LOVE NIGERIA?
I awarded Mambilla Power Project as BOT at no cost to Nigeria. Former President Obasanjo awarded one component part of the same Mambilla project for $1.46 billion as procurement contract, former President Jonathan signed a 2012 General Project Execution Agreement and former President Buhari and his then Minister of Power, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola awarded another component of the Mambilla Project at a whopping $5.8 billion payable by FGN in cash. The FGN awarded, re-awarded and cancelled contracts and Agreements at will and now must face the consequences at International Arbitration Courts. The result is that the Mambilla Hydropower Project has been stalled for yet another twenty years, and the former President (Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) and others are feeling greatly uneasy about the consequences. This is why the Simon Kolawole’s question, “Who will Love the Country?” should have been addressed to his (Kolawole’s) sponsors, not me.
Currently, some former and serving FGN officials are desperately attempting to “criminalise” the Mambilla Power Project by trying to make me the scapegoat with the sole aim to avoid consequent legal contractual obligations of the Government arising from breaches of agreements with Sunrise. This “criminalisation strategy” was inadvertently exposed by Mr Simon Kolawole. The Government officials are using State Apparatus to intimidate, harass and threaten me. The EFCC invited me on 16 May 2023, 20 (twenty) years after I had ceased to be Minister of Power and grilled me for over eight hours. The Investigating Officer confronted me with “issuing a contract of $6 billion to Sunrise without authority”. That was the very first time ever that anyone had questioned me* about the Mambilla Power Project, and it was because of the criminalisation conspiracy by those who actually have committed against Nigeria. The EFCC threatened that they were in possession of my Bank Statements for the last 25 (twenty-five) years. I explained my innocence and made formal statements to the EFCC. I had also sent more documents and materials to the Commission and the court after. My lawyers have sued EFCC to stop harassing me and have challenged EFCC to make public my bank accounts and charged the commission to go to court if they have any case against me.
We see that as the FGN faces the resultant consequences of breaching agreements and cancelling contracts with impunity, some former and serving Government officials, perhaps including former President Obasanjo, now want to use me as a scapegoat-victim to cover up their inappropriate practices and to evade looming fines and damages at international arbitrations.
Dr. Olu Agunloye,
Former Minster of Power and Steel.
Abuja. Nigeria. 14 September 2023
Communicating the President
By Tunde Olusunle
I was opportuned to serve in the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar administration at the beginning of our Fourth Republic. Obasanjo was a rather controversial personality. The media had stereotyped him as unfriendly and adversarial over time. The very fact that he opted for a medical doctor in Doyin Okupe as his very first spokesperson, broadened the hiatus between Obasanjo and the press. Okupe cut his dentition as public communicator, when he was the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Republican Convention, (NRC), one of the two political parties established by the regime of former military President, Ibrahim Babangida in 1991, in the run up to the actualization of Nigeria’s botched Third Republic. He was a good communicator in his own way. Fortuitously, a critical core of Obasanjo’s appointees were tested and respected journalists who added steel and spine to presidential communication in the nation’s nascent democracy.
There were Onyema Ugochukwu, Emeritus Editor of Business Times, West Africa and Daily Times newspapers and Stanley Macebuh, (of evergreen memory) whose footprints straddled several publications, including The Sentinel, The Guardian and Post Express. Haroun Adamu, former university scholar and proprietor of the rested The Nigerian Economist magazine and Ad’Obe Obe who succeeded Ugochukwu in West Africa in London, were also in the loop. Younger elements like Steve Itugbu and yours sincerely contributed to making up for observed lacunae in the management and communication of the voice of the president. I was in my 30s. We made friends for him. Tunji Oseni and Remi Oyo both accomplished professionals, (both sadly transited), occupied Okupe’s position at various times during the Obasanjo presidency, adding perspectives to presidential communication.
The preceding parade of presidential communicators was consistent, actually upgrades in instances, on the qualities of previous holders of the office. They were hitherto referred to as “Chief Press Secretary” to the Head of State, or the President, as the case might have been. Alex Nwokedi who was spokesman for the defunct National Electricity Power Authority, (NEPA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), was Obasanjo’s spokesman in 1976. He was succeeded by Charles Igoh who was once Sports Editor of the Daily Times, upon the ascent of President Shehu Shagari in 1979. Wada Maida who later became chief executive of the News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN), was appointed into the position when Muhammadu Buhari became military ruler in 1984.
Duro Onabule had served as Editor of the now rested National Concord one of Nigeria’s best selling dailies in its time, before he was appointed to the same office by Babangida. Sola Atere who retired a few years ago from the Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA) as Executive Director, occupied the position during the brief stint of Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government, (ING). David Attah a former federal parliamentarian who also had editorial and management stints in the Daily Times, Standard and The Voice newspapers variously was appointed to the position by Abacha in 1993. Haruna Mohammed, a former managing director of New Nigerian Newspapers served in the position during the 11-month transitional rule of Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State.
Equally vibrant and respected professionals like Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman of the Editorial Board of Thisday and Reuben Abati, former Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian were spokesmen for former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, respectively. Femi Adesina was Editor-in-chief of Sun newspapers after working with the Vanguard and Concord newspapers before becoming spokesman to Muhammadu Buhari. Garba Shehu was managing director of Triumph newspapers at 37. Adesina and Garba were both Presidents of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), the umbrella body of Nigeria’s topmost media professionals.
It is compelling, even impelling to establish the foregoing trajectory to properly situate the professional quality, cognate experience and broad network expected of a potential presidential spokesman. Bola Tinubu, present occupant of Nigeria’s topmost political office desires to be seen as very pan-Nigerian in the complexion of his administrative apparachik. He also wants to be portrayed as a believer in the capacity of the youth as important contributors to the Nigerian project. These considerations must, however, not be sacrificed for merit and experience. While attorneys may be assigned to administer the nation’s capital, or a seasoned journalist deployed to the solid minerals schedule, presidential communication requires a lot, lot more. It is neither for greenhorns nor for apprentices. The output of the current holder of the office thus far is at best amateurish, randomly unprofessional and notably un-presidential. The margins of error in this job are thin and minimal.
On two occasions in less than two weeks, Ajuri Ngelale, Tinubu’s spokesman has played the ultimate propagandist. He dished out false narratives and had the unpleasant task of doing a recant on both occasions. While reporting the highlights of Tinubu’s engagements with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) about a fortnight ago, Ngelale told the world that the subsisting visa ban on Nigerians travelling to the UAE had been lifted! It turned out to be embarrassingly false. Officials of the country put out a disclaimer. A few days ago, the overly excitable Ngelale told us that Tinubu was the first African leader to ring the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, (NASDAQ) bell in New York. This again turned out a hoax. Jakaya Kiwete a former president of Tanzania rang the NASDAQ closing bell in 2011. Fact-checking has long been simplified by information technology.
Presidential communication is beyond press statements which seem to be Ngelale’s forte. Even here, he is not in the least impressive. His releases are wordy and characteristically riddled with grammatical errors. Sentences wriggle and wind around and about in serpentine motions. Writing is a very intricate vocation guided by strict rules and regulations. Press statements are all about keeping it tight, sticking specifically and holistically to the facts without unnecessary embellishments and gerrymandering. Leave that to us creative writers and essayists. I should know having written quite a handful in my communication handling career on behalf of Abubakar Audu, Paul Omeruo, Bzigu Afakirya all former chief executives of Kogi State for whom I was spokesman at various times. Not forgetting my years with Obasanjo in Aso Villa.
Sentences are best kept laconic, at manageable lengths not exceeding three dozen words. There must be symmetry between the sound and semantics of the written word. Reclining into the big-manism of having press officers generate drafts for his blind endorsement is unacceptable and dangerous. Ngelale needs to get off his buttocks and face the job very squarely. He must forget the fawning aides around him opening his car door and making his coffee. That is if he’s convinced he truly has quality to offer. With every alacrity, he needs to mitigate his wobbling and waffling which are anathema to information dissemination at the highest levels.
Ngelale comes from the background of the electronic segment of the media. He launched out from the African Independent Television, (AIT) and crossed over to Channels Television. He was on the media team of Buhari in 2019 and was rewarded with an appointment as a presidential aide on public affairs. He also functioned on the Tinubu presidential organisation which culminated in his current recognition. At 37, he must be the youngest occupant of the Office of Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, if I’m correct. If he desires to retain his brief and flourish in it, he must deliberately avail himself of the quantum residual wisdoms of previous handlers of the schedule. Growth and perfection come by deliberate humility and diligent questing. Can Ngelale turn a good patch after his initial stumbles and adjust to the responsibilities of his seat? Tinubu by the way has never been in short supply of savvy associates at the topmost pedestal of the media. Where are they?
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)
Time to serve God of big things…
By Martins Oloja
It is quite clear that indeed power has changed from the hand of the lanky, foxy, and taciturn one to the hand of a very artful dodger who actually prepared for a strategic state capture.
Yes, it is no longer in doubt that our country’s architecture of governance has been disrupted for another long walk to freedom. I can see that a great deal of feckless arm-twisting is going on in our national capital. Besides, it is getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’ that the governors we want to be the brand ambassadors of federalism, the paradise we often claim we lost and would like to regain for sustainable development are becoming more and more tyrannical. In some southern states, where the poor are agitated, even some deputy governors also cry. One of them has been locked out of the government house the organic law of the land allocates to him. He is now begging his principal to allow him to work in his office. And sadly, no one cares a hoot about the plight of that deputy governor who now walks alone. So it is with another victim of political recklessness in another state where the deputy governor has been put on a slab for impeachment by his ailing principal who has curiously relocated the capital of his state to his personal residence in a neighbouring state capital. And no one is asking for the action photographs of governance (as a process) of the recuperating governor who should be asking for the mercy of the God that can heal him. Not even a correspondent in the southwest state has contextually reported what that governor who fought his first-term deputy till their last day in office has been hiding in the old capital of the Western Nigeria. A lot of news treasures and sorry features are hidden in the pacesetter state capital. No word yet from the civil society organisations, including the classic ones that fought for the birth of this democracy that is being demonised by democrats. A great deal has happened to democracy via a strange electoral justice system that has redefined sovereignty in Africa’s most populous nation. In Nigeria, our Nigeria, a new elective principle, is fast emerging, and it is growing luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the rainy season. Now, our political leaders need the courts more than the electorate to be in power. In our dear country, you can’t get to any elective offices except you have the war chest to fight through the labyrinth of the electoral justice system. Here is the new thing, unless most of the big twelve (Justices) cast their ballot for you in their electoral judicial college, the votes of the millions of voters for you will amount to what Shakespeare describes as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. I hope Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about some of our today’s men whom he described as “greater talkers, little doers”.
Our country is transiting really from darkness to uncertainty as our currency, the symbol of our economic freedom is gravitating towards a precipice that is getting more of our children out of school, signalling another voyage from darkness to darkness. And sadly our state actors who should stay at home to examine the state of their wastefulness and bloated bureaucracy are gallivanting around Asia and Europe to lobby to be part of building bricks of BRICs and G-20 that South Africa joined more than a decade ago. I hope they are re-reading a significant bureaucrat’s recent piece, a warning signal, which sets the tone for more questions, which are pointing to a construct that one hopes it is not “too early to say we are losing it” already after a recent euphoria of the first few weeks after taking oath of office. What can be more concerning than consistent gaffes from the office of the chief executive of the federation from United Arabs Emirate through the state house to the economic capital of America, their America where a mere bell ringing at a stock exchange was inaccurately contextualised by a carelessly exuberant spokesperson. Even as we see hope that the presidential gaffes will be taken care of as soon as possible, what the office of the citizen should be concerned with is this: how to stop our leaders from serving the ‘God of Small Things’. The ancient words have taught us to note that ‘there is a time for everything…’And so, we, the enthusiastic believers in a new Nigeria should begin to inspire our leaders with critical words of hope and encouragement that they should stop serving the ‘God of Small Things’ and begin to learn how to serve the ‘God of Big Things’ immediately. There is nothing esoteric about serving the ‘God of Small and Big Things’. It is simple. I mean here that we have dwelt for so long on this side of the mountain where we serve the God of Small Things that have diminished our stature as the organic giant of Africa and leader of the back race. We have been reported for so long as work in progress. But now we as pilgrims aren’t making steady progress as John Bunyan would have reported.
Let’s explore this construct through The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Published in 1997, ‘The God of Small Things’ is Roy’s debut novel and was awarded the 1997 Booker Prize. The novel has been banned, being considered “obscene” due to the sexual relationship between people of different castes. There are a few things to consider when discussing the novel’s title. On one hand, we can concentrate on the main portion of the title and think about the specific individual it may be referring to – the God of Small Things. All things considered, from Ammu’s fantasy, we get the possibility that the ‘God of Small Things’ speaks to Velutha, the man whom she cherishes, regardless of the way that society will never accept them being together. In her fantasy (which happens in Chapter 11 and happens to be entitled “The God of Small Things”), Ammu dreams of a man with one arm who holds her near him: He could only do one thing at a time. “If he held her, he couldn’t kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn’t see her. If he saw her, he couldn’t feel her.” (205).
When Ammu wakes from her dream, Rahel and Estha are there with her. Ammu notices a curl of shaved wood in Rahel’s hair and knows that the kids have been to see Velutha. She knows even more, “She knew who he was – the God of Loss, the ‘God of Small Things’. Of course she did.” (206) Velutha’s identity as the God of Small Things is fortified toward the end of the book when we find out about Ammu and Velutha’s first romantic encounters. Since they know it’s impossible for their love to exist, they never talk or consider the future, or what one may consider to be the “big things”; they just adhere to the present. Just as we hardly dream of big things here.
Here is the take-away from this story: Most of us, including our leaders don’t have any problem imagining a big God who does big things. In fact, we prefer it that way. Our problem seems to be believing in a big God who does big things for us. In Nigeria, our leaders seem to believe only in the Gods of small things. We are a big country always planning small things, dreaming small dreams, thinking only of small things. What is worse, we rake in small revenue and use the proceeds to buy big things for public officers who are less than three percent of the population. Our leaders don’t study Israel, a small start-up country that serves the God of Big Things. Our leaders visit United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, small countries with leaders who believe in the God of Big Things. They dream big and the world can not ignore them. They have invested their oil and gas resources in big businesses across the world. Qatar, a small country of about 2.6 million people, just played host to a $220 billion worth of Soccer World Cup without borrowing a dime. They have mostly gas resources. They also have their Almighty Aljazeera, a world-class cable news channel. They serve the God of big things.
Sadly, when you try to pass through our local and so-called international airports Nigeria, we see clear manifestation of serving the God of small things. First, you see shameful, tiny restrooms accommodating sometimes only two passengers. Most times, wash-hand basins are leaking, and ropes are used to tie some components. When you want to clean your hands, you see cleaners handing miserable toilet rolls to passengers, as no tissue papers will be found where they are to be fixed for use. In the entire North of 19 states, there is just one railway line from Abuja to Kaduna. When you disembark in Kaduna, how do you go from there to capitals of the rest 18 states? There is another magic railway line from Lagos to Ibadan. When you alight from Ibadan, how do you connect other state capitals in the southwest? There is none connecting anyone from South East to South South. We are an oil producing country, but because we serve the God of small things, we import refined products because all our four refineries have for years been unserviceable. Even the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos can’t boast of a mass transit system beyond meretricious BRT system and a Blue-line light rail system being tested in one unnoticeable axis. Only people who serve the God of small things talk about these small things as achievements in this time and age. Let’s continue this story of the God of small and big things next week.
Tinubu’s Cabinet Of Controversy
By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In all ramifications, it appears the euphoria and excitement that greeted President Bola Tinubu’s assumption of office are gradually ebbing away. Quite expectedly, having started with the tough decisions of fuel subsidy removal and floating of the forex, the President now needs to do more and urgently too.
Both policies have since worsened the woes of the Naira and Nigerians. From accusation of being surrounded by “Lagos boys”, (his cabinet as Lagos State Governor between 1999 to 2003), to policy somersaults to somehow nepotistic appointments (and vengeful dismissal of some CEOs), questions are being asked about Tinubu’s pro-people and pan-Nigerian credentials.
He started with politically correct appointments. The geographical spread of his service chiefs was received positively. His swift policy statements, though criticized, were timely, compared with the sordid silence of his predecessor.
The misnomer became apparent during ministerial nominations flip-flopping into high-wire politics that led to a ministerial nominee in person of former Governor Nasir El-Rufai being dropped at the last minute over a so-called security report after screening. We also witnessed how a nominee from Kano State, Maryam Shetty was refused screening by the senators after she was already seated at the National Assembly lobby, which showed clearly a scene from the playbook of Ganduje’s dirty politics under Tinubu’s government.
Two former governors were appointed to man the Ministry of Defence; former Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, was downgraded to serve as a junior minister under his colleague, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, former governor of Jigawa state. Looks so incongruous. Some MDAs were “reorganized”, and we expected a more compact arrangement. But what did we get? Some ministries were boosted and some downgraded. To which end, except to favour some ministers and appoint others to less juicy or relegated ministries, just to satisfy constitutional provision. Tokenism? Maybe.
The result was a boosted aviation sector renamed Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development under the supervision of an equally controversial figure, Festus Keyamo, while the Ministry of Transportation was debased and can safely be called ministry of railway, after the removal of everything maritime like NIMASA, NPA, Shippers’ Council etc now under the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.
Indeed, inconsistency in pronouncements came too early in this administration. Tinubu made history when he reshuffled a cabinet that was yet to be inaugurated. Engineer Abubakar Momoh was redeployed from Ministry of Youth to Ministry of Niger Delta that the president hitherto ignored.
Imagine the embarrassment that followed the declaration by the UAE government, that they are yet to resolve and reverse their visa ban on Nigerians, after the President’s spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale went to town to announce same. Propaganda should have limits. Why the hurry? To impress who? The disinformation has since taken the shine off the president’s diplomatic engagement with his UAE counterpart. So, after the UAE denunciation, where exactly are we now?
Tinubu does not seem bothered about over-bloated personnel costs or reducing the cost of governance. For the first time, Nigeria now has almost 50 ministers under its low per capital income of 5,200 PPP dollars in 2021 compared to USA’s 25 ministers and per capita income of 70,480 PPP dollars as at 2021.
Consequently, Nigerians have resigned to fate that they may never have pro-people government in their lifetime, since most of the policy initiatives of the new government favour only the rich, the haves, high-end businesses and high class of people and interests. It is obvious that the president must have made many commitments to friends and associates, who in his own estimation must be fixed, regardless of an ailing economy like ours.
Still smarting from all these came the issue of lopsided appointments, which we thought we had seen the last of after Buhari. The protests over Tinubu’s skewed appointments started from “home”, when a group from the Southwest accused him of appointing only people from Lagos contrary to the notion that Yorubas had an edge in his government.
Last weekend, evidence of such slanted appointments went viral. Critics reeled out at least 20 consequential appointments from the Southwest including MDAs like Justice, Finance, Customs, Police, FIRS, Immigration, NIMC, CBN, Power, Digital Economy, COAS, Maritime, Interior and Communications in the president’s kitchen cabinet. Muslim groups like MURIC have also cried out complaining that Christians hold key economic positions. The cry of marginalization has always been part of governance and politics in our clime, and Tinubu is not in a hurry to end it.
In addition to his hard-to-swallow economic direction, Tinubu’s choice of appointees is somehow causing concerns among the elite too. Without a semblance of inclusion and symbolism, the people feel let down by a president they thought was going to be pan-Nigerian, gradually becoming provincial, in deeds, even though appointments only enrich the beneficiaries while the conditions of ordinary people remain unchanged.
I believe competence and capacity should be uppermost in considering people for appointments, but I also know that all regions or ethnic groups harbour such competent people among them. Going forward, the president should be more circumspect, and look elsewhere instead of his “household” in a delicate balancing act that Nigeria needs, and which will surely give him (Tinubu) more support and goodwill. No matter how inconsequential he thinks these issues are, they have already got tongues wagging. As a minority myself, I can’t help but notice this potentially damaging and divisive subject in our polity.
Already an internal revolt is brewing in APC over Tinubu’s style of leadership and appointments. In what a group called “yorubanization of the current APC government”, the “APC members in Coalition for a United Nigeria (CUN)”, said “86% of the critical appointments made so far have been people from your (Tinubu) geopolitical zone, the Southwest.
Moreso, to our greater bewilderment is the fact that 90% of these people are your “Lagos boys”, imploring the president to “drastically balance this prejudice by giving attention to other regions outside the Southwest”. If members of the party are disappointed in their government, what do you expect from the rest of the country?
Okino, is the chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE), her syndicated column appears on News Point Nigeria newspaper on Thursdays. She can be reached via: email@example.com.
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