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A curious cabal in government

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In apparent confirmation of the fears expressed at different levels and fora by Nigerians, the presidency has at last confirmed that the Buhari administration is curiously run with the assistance of a cabal. Mallam Garba Shehu, a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, asserted the other day that there indeed had been a group of unofficial advisers working with the president whom he called ‘‘kitchen cabinet,’’ branded by the Nigerian media as a cabal. He justified the practice and virtually berated the media for being sensational in reporting the cabal matter. No matter how nicely the presidency wants to express the sad situation, there is something sinister, even ominous about a cabal running a government that was supposedly brought to power through a democratic mandate. The phenomenon of unelected persons running a democratic government through backhand channels is antithetical to the tenets and practice of democracy.

On the face of it, one would be tempted to dismiss the issue as a matter of semantics. However, Nigerians are getting worried about the contradictions in the actions and policy trajectory of the President who now sits in Abuja and the man whom they massively voted for in 2015. Buhari then was an embodiment of firm resolve, impartial judgment, pan-Nigeriana, anti-corruption persona and decisive leadership. What went wrong after the elections? How come Nigerians now perceive Buhari as a sectional leader who has concentrated all the important and strategic appointments on persons from one (his) section of the country? Is this the work of the cabal, a few unelected men whose interests are essentially primordial? Is there an abdication of responsibility on Buhari’s part? Has the infirmity of old age, which he once accepted would be an impediment to efficient performance, finally caught up with Buhari? Has the presidency been hijacked by self-serving aides who through long association and kinship, enjoy the confidence of an aging president? Has the philosophical question – To be or not to be? – asked by Shakespeare’s aging King Lear come to debilitate the mental and physical prowess of the President? These and many more are questions on the lips of bewildered Nigerians.

All over the world, the convention of a ‘‘kitchen cabinet’’ is an open secret. It is usually a group of knowledgeable persons whom the leader has invited to think policies through before presentation and implementation. A ‘‘kitchen cabinet’’ could also conduct a review of policies with a view to refining them for the benefit of the nation. Such persons are expected to have a deep understanding of the polity. They are often drawn from diverse backgrounds in career and expertise. In a polity as diverse as ours, such a kitchen cabinet would be expected to reflect the multiethnic and religious dimensions of the country. However, if a leader ensconces himself in the State House and allows anonymous surrogates to direct state affairs, then democracy as we know and accept it is imperilled! This then is the concrete fear of the citizenry: enunciating policies that are detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the nation, without regard for the sensibilities and concerns of the constituent parts of the federation.

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Without mincing words, the point must be made that the people elected Muhammadu Buhari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The buck stops at his desk. There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. The truth is that if the affairs of the nation or if governance were on a solid ground with all interests being fully represented and catered for, the worry would not have arisen. Sadly, we are faced with a government that is at odds with commonsense and reason in simple matters such as national security, nature and appointments, economic policies, the very structure of the country and the need to tinker with it.

Discordant tunes have emanated from different arms of government and even the office of the First Lady, who has poignantly made the point that the presidency has been seized by persons unknown to officialdom or the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Besides, the government has shown imperial disdain for the rule of law by ignoring court judgments, intimidating and/or locking up persons who as much as raise a critical voice against the government. This is not what Nigerians bargained for when they elected Buhari, a ‘‘converted democrat,’’ into office. Personal loyalty is not equivalent to national interest. Indeed, personal loyalty could and often subverts the national interest or the common good. The common good is severely under attack in the current dispensation.

At the state level, the menace of ‘‘godfatherism’’ is highly pervasive. It has led to friction between sitting governors and their ‘mentors’, paralysed governance and shot up the cost of doing government business. These are official parasites, politicians and local chieftains who control the reins of power from behind the scenes. The constitution does not recognise persons who are not elected or appointed as the main drivers of government policy. Having a cabal run government or godfathers dictate the trajectory of governance is corruption at its highest peak. And this has stifled our development.

The dissonance between the elected officials of state and the people has been further worsened by the abdication of the principle of separation of powers by the National Assembly. Nobody wants an unduly combative legislature in the polity. Nobody also wants a legislative assembly that carries on like a lapdog. It offends the letter and spirit of the constitution. If we had a National Assembly that is conscious of its constitutional duties, the apparent ascendancy of a cabal in a democracy would be challenged through appropriate sanctions and legislative instruments.

It does bear reiteration to state that a cabal or a kitchen cabinet running a duly elected government is an anomaly. We expect a synergy between the three arms of government, all arms constitutionally carrying out their responsibilities in the interest of the nation. The president should take charge of his government and avoid a situation in which his appointed aides seem to kowtow to some power blocks within the government. No nation which wishes to grow deserves or should tolerate a cabal that is clannish in its approach, nepotistic in appointments and inefficient in policy implementation.

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