The most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency. ~Somerset Maugham
I may not rightly guess what was going through the mind of the famous British playwright when he made the above quote but it appears in almost every collection of his favourite quotes. Realistically, when a principle is stubbornly held on to the detriment of progress it loses its character, becomes conceited and more often than not ultimately ends in regret.
Perhaps President Buhari’s advisors had told him the opposite to inform his decision to sign the now controversial letter sent to the Senate recently.
In the run-up to naming his cabinet, Buhari had made some key appointments including that of Babachir Lawal as Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Prior to this, unverified reports had made the rounds that current Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu would be given that position.
Though an engineer just like Lawal Dr. Onu has a better resume as an administrator having been a former governor. Similarly, he has equally been a steadfast party loyalist who has stood with Buhari since the days of ANPP. A calm achiever that is unlike your usual boisterous Nigerian politician, I have no doubt that Onu would not have been enmeshed in this controversy, however, considering that Pius Anyim, an Igbo man was the last person to hold that position those of us who understood the dynamics of Nigerian political power play had our doubts.
And that was how we got Lawal, a Christian from Adamawa whom I initially suspected may be among those recommended by the “few people” who have hijacked the presidency as Aisha Buhari suggested in her explosive interview. My suspicion then was predicated on the fact that Lawal specially listed Tinubu, Akande and Aregbesola as those instrumental to his appointment during a thanksgiving service held in Abuja shortly after that. I was to learn later on that the SGF had been the President’s staunch ally right from their days in the defunct APP.
However, it didn’t take long for negative stories to trail our new SGF. There were allegations of arrogance and high-handedness, he was even accused of holding our almighty lawmakers in contempt.
His first altercation with Senators came in June 2016, after he cast doubt on the federal government’s ability or should I say willingness to fund constituency projects. Many of us know that is one issue that unites our lawmakers more than any other because it is ‘so close to their hearts’. Like we have come to expect, our Senators swiftly condemned his remarks and Senator Matthew Uroghide (PDP-Edo State) who brought the matter to the Red Chamber’s attention lamented that the “SGF has dashed the hopes of our people”.
A temporary truce was reached when he appeared before the Senate ad-hoc committee and explained that his comments were misconstrued and that he only meant the dwindling economic fortune could affect many projects.
Months later he was to be mentioned in a scandal involving Rholavision Engineering ltd, a company he had substantial interests in which was awarded a consultancy contract for the removal of the invasive plant species in Yobe state.
As if that was not enough, a Civil Society Group, Network Against Impunity (NAI) alleged that he had manipulated the nomination of the Auditor General. In a petition sent to the Senate, they accused the SGF of substituting the shortlisted candidates for the position with his preferred candidate. More troubles for the big man.
Conceivably, rumours filtered in that he had been relieved of his position but he came out to debunk the stories and issued a robust and somewhat offensive statement part of which read thus: “The Senate is talking balderdash; it has developed the habit of the ‘bring him down syndrome’. Nigerians have decided that we should destroy our best; we should all destroy the promising and best among us by bringing people down without a cause”.
But Nigerians were already crying foul with widespread calls for his sack all over the media. The Senate once again set up a committee that indicted him after a probe and demanded his suspension. Their position was supported by many including yours truly as the matter was beginning to cast doubts on the sincerity of our war against corruption.
Suddenly, just before he left on vacation the President sent a letter to the Senate asking them to review their position on Lawal, he faulted the procedure of the ad hoc committee and added that having concluded his own investigation the SGF was denied a fair hearing. Shehu Sani who is the committee chairman fired back immediately, he accused Buhari of double standards and punctured his arguments in many ways describing the President’s letter as “a funeral service for the anti-corruption fight”. Sani may be right but there is no doubt in my mind that there is more to the issue than meets the eye.
Our National Assembly is populated by money bags, ex-govt officials who have amassed ill-gotten wealth to last for decades. The Senate is chaired by a man who is facing trial at the ICPC, so many Senators have pending corruption cases with various agencies, it is therefore not surprising that they are also battling hard to remove Magu.
Well, since we are in a democracy, these 2 arms of govt must function in tandem for governance to run smoothly. However, given that Buhari is not the kind that will dole out ‘Ghana Must Go’ bags to have the way, one should expect the fractious relationship with our lawmakers to continue unfortunately to the detriment of the masses.
In his statement of defence, the SGF did not deny having stakes in the mentioned company, rather he stated that he resigned as a director when he joined the govt. Fair enough sir but definitely not good enough.
I was a student in Cardiff when news of the UK Parliamentary expenses scandal broke in 2009, it was followed by a gale of resignations. It was as if the affected MPs were competing to resign and one particular case had Jacqui Smith who was then the Home Secretary not just resigning, she also offered to refund £5 claimed by her husband as expenses for watching adult movies!
Does either of Buhari or Lawal believe he would have lasted a day with this kind of allegation in the UK? Much less when the scandal is related to IDPs? the answer is NO! While we may not have the infrastructure and technology to match saner climes in many aspects, I believe we can at least emulate their positive characteristics more especially when our public officials frequently travel and observe the workings of government in these civilised societies.
For even having links with a company that benefitted from govt contract, if the SGF loves Buhari and the country as we have been impressed upon then he should have long resigned to spare us this rubbish drama. By now he should be negotiating a soft landing to avoid prosecution if eventually he is found to have committed a crime. But then ours is a funny nation, I will not be surprised if the Senators make a u-turn after all the tough talk or the story disappears entirely from the media.
The SGF is a powerful position, it is even more powerful than most high-ranking elected government positions. Those who were recruited when the federal government created five new directorate positions in 2013 for indigenes of Ebonyi and Bayelsa states to address the imbalance in federal appointments can attest to this fact. Combined figures for both states hitherto constituted less than 7% and 3% of our federal civil service manpower above grade level 08 and 15 respectively. The story is different today.
Maybe Lawal is clinging on to his seat so that he can address similar imbalance against his native North East region. But given his preference for ‘grass cutting’ which allegedly denied his displaced kinsmen their entitlement one is forced to wonder if he will not further impoverish the afflicted region by the time he leaves office.
Buhari has shown that he is a stubborn man and the national assembly is aware of this, he is also not a politician, and to many, that is his strongest point. Paradoxically that may prove to be his greatest undoing. For me this matter is simple, his SGF wants to be ‘chopping’ while stopping our lawmakers from doing the same. He should know that the Nigerian way is ‘chop I chop’, that is how our democracy works and any attempt to stop it will be stiffly opposed.
Alternatively, he should ensure the executive must never be found wanting.
So since Lawal has been caught hand in the cookie jar, in order to be seen as using insecticides, Mr President’s principle of standing by his loyal friends should be trashed for expediency if he doesn’t want to strike a deal with the Senators. That will go a long way to show that truly, he belongs to nobody.