By Bamidele Salako
A house divided against itself cannot stand. So says the holy book. However, the reality of presiding over a divided house is what President Muhammadu Buhari has found himself having to grapple with. Some have described his presidency as an edifice twirling with divisions and wrangling. Cracks and fault lines have become recurring decimals in working relationships between the president’s principal appointees.
Big egos, blurred chains of command and allegations of outright disregard for clearly stipulated operational procedures continue to breed personality clashes and infightings within the administration.
These frequent face-offs – some playing out embarrassingly on the pages of national dailies – have hung a dark shadow over the credibility and surefootedness of the presidency, particularly as the spectre of the 2019 presidential election already hovers above the country’s political horizon.
TheBoss casts the spotlight on some of the unsavoury scenarios that have threatened to send President Buhari’s much touted anticorruption structure tumbling.
Ibe Kachikwu vs Maikanti Baru
The most recent case of “two fighting” in the Buhari administration was the public spat between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and his successor as Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru. The brouhaha erupted with a leaked letter from Kachikwu to the President accusing Baru of insubordination, sidestepping the NNPC Board and violating due process in allegedly awarding contracts worth $25 billion. In the letter, Kachikwu stated that his working relationship with Baru had been “fraught with humiliation, side-lining and campaigns of character defamation against me.” He also complained about a dearth of collaborative meetings between them as Baru ignored several invitations for meetings.
Baru in his response to the letter, waved off the allegations, asserting that he did not require the approval of the board, as all awarded contracts were vetted by the NNPC Tenders Board, had the consent of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), and got the president’s imprimatur. He however stopped short of addressing the concerns raised by Kachikwu over his appointment of senior executives for the corporation without the nod of the NNPC board. President Buhari waded into the matter by demanding a public response from Baru to Kachikwu’s accusations subsequently leading to a meeting by the two feuding parties.
However, not even that could stop the Senate from setting up a committee chaired by former Sokoto State Governor, Senator Aliyu Wamakko to look into the allegations levelled against Baru by the junior petroleum minister. In an astonishing turn of events, reports in the media on Wednesday suggested that the presidency had since been engaging in frantic efforts to prevent the nine-man Senate committee from indicting Baru. ThisDay newspaper reported that President Buhari met with committee leader Wamakko Tuesday evening with the sole objective of “ensuring that Baru is not indicted by the committee and to prevent a recommendation for his removal from office.” What is more, on Wednesday, a Second Republic political adviser, Tanko Yakasai, berated Kachikwu on the suspicion that he deliberately leaked his memo to President Buhari in order to embarrass Buhari and portray him as being weak and easy to fool.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the Senate Committee’s inquiry into the imbroglio, the optics certainly do not look sparkly for a president with a reputation for integrity and a touted zero tolerance for corruption.
Isaac Adewole vs Usman Yusuf
The clash of these two titans within the health sector unearthed some putrid cans of worms that called the integrity of all parties involved into question. Professor Usman Yusuf is a kinsman of President Buhari from Katsina State. He had been invited by the president from the United States where he was a Professor of Paediatrics at St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, to head the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) as Executive Secretary with an executive mandate to transform the fortunes of the flailing government agency and to weed out corruption.
The honeymoon period was soon over and roses quickly turned to thorns as Yusuf was himself soon mired in allegations of “monumental fraud, gross abuse of office and nepotism.”
Late June this year, Yusuf appeared before an Hon. Chike Okafor-led House of Representatives Committee on Health Services for a public hearing to look into the activities of Health Management Organisations (HMOs) in the country. At the hearing, he gave earthshattering revelations of how even though the HMOs had been paid N351 billion since inception in 2005 and had also been paid administrative fees to the tune of N60 billion, only 450, 000 Nigerians in a country with an estimated population of 180million people had received health insurance coverage. Meanwhile, he also disclosed that the HMOs were owing debts to the tune of N2.276 billion to hospitals across the country. The revelations were damning.
In a sudden turn of events however, several petitions, reports and allegations of corruption and abuse of office against Yusuf soon landed on the table of the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, who wasted no time in sending Yusuf on a three month suspension while directing an investigative panel of inquiry to look into the matter – reportedly at the instance of Vice President (then Acting President) Yemi Osinbajo. Adewole also ordered the embattled NHIS boss to hand over to the most senior executive at the agency with immediate effect. Yusuf however rebuffed the suspension order with a letter to his boss, the Minister, citing sections of the NHIS Act which he claimed stipulates that he could only receive marching orders from the President and not from the Minister whom he said was overreaching by suspending him. The House of Representatives also sprung to Yusuf’s defence alleging that the suspended NHIS boss was been witch-hunted for his revelations of corruption within the health sector the previous month while demanding that he be reinstated to his position by the Minister.
Yusuf’s suspension stood however and by September, the investigative panel indicted him of N919 million fraud in a report it submitted to the Presidency. The panel, in the report said that Yusuf “portrayed a holier-than-thou attitude but in the background, milked the agency dry” by conniving with others to defraud the agency of the sum of N919 million as dubious payments to consultants for staff training and for staff allowances. Consequently, the health minister extended Yusuf’s suspension indefinitely pending President Buhari’s decision on the matter.
Kemi Adeosun vs Hameed Ali
For well over a year, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Ibrahim Hameed Ali have been at daggers drawn. The Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) puts the customs parastatal under the Ministry of Finance and makes its board subject to the general control of the Minister of Finance thus making Ali answerable to Adeosun. However, in an apparent disregard for statutory requirements, the customs boss has insisted on several occasions and through different actions that he is answerable only to the president. A number of such defiant actions included the retirement of several senior officers of the NCS, the sack of several others and the promotion of 1, 561 junior officers without the approval of Adeosun – his supervising minister.
The duo’s frosty relationship became all the more conspicuous when they appeared before Senator John Owan Enoh-led Senate Committee on Finance to defend their 2016 budgets in February, 2016. The tussling duo presented conflicting figures and took opposing positions on items in the customs budget reportedly leading to an exchange of words in which Ali reiterated to the minister that he reports only to the president.
Earlier this year, Ali was invited by the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise to explain his actions but he maintained at the Senate that the powers he had been exercising in the NCS without recourse to Adeosun were derived from the appointment letter given to him personally by President Buhari.
Rotimi Amaechi vs Hadi Sirika
When in 2015, President Buhari decided to subsume the aviation ministry under the ministry of transport in fulfilment of his campaign promise to reduce the humongous cost of governance in Nigeria and aid administrative efficiency, what he certainly did not foresee were the supremacy battles that such a move would elicit. Those who know the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, say that he is a hard-hitting, tough-as-nails administrator who shoots from the hip without a thought for whose ox gets gored in the process of achieving his objectives and delivering on the expectations of whatever political or elective office he holds. This hard-line approach, reportedly, did not sit well with the Minister of State for Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, who allegedly perceived his boss’s firm and obdurate disposition as overbearing and encroaching. A reported battle for supremacy ensued between the two Buhari associates: one – a staunch financial backer during the 2015 presidential campaign and the other – the president’s kinsman who had served as a senator of the Katsina North Senatorial District under the platform of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 7th National Assembly.
Earlier in the year, reports of a near-public fistfight surfaced in the media which allegedly resulted in the removal of Sirika’s portrait on walls at the airport and buildings of agencies under the aviation sector. Sirika however, denied the allegations of a rift saying that the absence of his pictures at airports, offices and agencies was based on his personal choice. “Having pictures everywhere as far as I am concerned is very trivial, unnecessary and it is not my style. My pictures should be put on walls when I have worked. Having my pictures on walls is not the major reason why I was appointed to serve. My dream is to change the industry for better and when that is done, then my pictures can be put everywhere,” Sirika said. The rowing colleagues were however, eventually able to circumspectly call a truce before their differences degenerated into a full blown crisis situation, especially as calls became rife for Amaechi’s dismissal as Transport Minister.