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Embarrassing crack in the presidency

By Editorial Board
26 February 2020   |   3:43 am
Signs of deep-seated cracks in Muhammadu Buhari’s already chaotic presidency again came to the fore recently in a manner that would seem to dim any glimmer of hope for a safe nation.


Signs of deep-seated cracks in Muhammadu Buhari’s already chaotic presidency again came to the fore recently in a manner that would seem to dim any glimmer of hope for a safe nation. The president has, in his characteristic style, kept mum, but the danger is that the house risks falling apart without a sense of urgency to mend the cracks.

Indeed, the jury is still out there on the real motive behind a leaked memo from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). But from all indications, it was a bad exposé on Buhari in particular, his presidency, and the image of the country in general. The crux of the matter was that the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, had in a letter to service chiefs exposed a curious festering rivalry, acrimony and power-play among the president’s men. Specifically, the NSA accused the Chief of Staff to the President (COS-P), Abba Kyari, of undue and dangerous interference in matters bordering on national security, among others. Besides, Kyari was accused of holding meetings with diplomats, security chiefs and heads of agencies without the knowledge of the NSA or the Minister of Defence.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was not the first sign of a deep gash in Buhari’s presidency and worrisome symptoms of a divided house. The first indication of inherent disharmony showed up when the same presidency submitted to the Senate two damning reports from the State Security Service, which scuttled the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2017. Magu has continued in an acting capacity to show that he remains the choice of the commander-in-chief despite the equally powerful camp of naysayers within the same presidency.

Lest we forget, the first lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, in a manner not known of most First Ladies, once courageously spoke up on a certain cabal and their overbearing influence on her husband’s presidency. She had literally told the nation that her husband was not in charge, but a powerful clique of few running rings around him. Just last year, another leaked video clip showed Aisha losing her cool to wrestle a portion of the Aso Villa from some extraneous tenants known in the first family but unknown to the law. She openly fought a powerful uncle of the president’s and his family members resident in the presidential household as part of the clique she alleged had been interfering in the nation’s affairs.

If those signs of a presidency in chaos were bad, the latest coming from the NSA is worse. For a fact, Monguno by rank and appointment presides over an apex intelligence community that naturally forbids such openness or showmanship. By tradition, the intelligence pinnacle of a country is hardly seen but heard clearly, leaving no one in doubt of who is in charge. In the United States, for instance, the national security adviser is more preoccupied with foreign relations than meddling in matters of internal dynamics. Both in western democracies and Nigeria, the NSA directly reports to the president and advises the commander-in-chief as the eye, ear and nose of his security intelligence.

Therefore, something is fundamentally amiss when the chief-of-staff to the President, who may not sometimes even have the security clearance to be privy to conversation between the president and NSA, now starts coming in-between the two and issuing directives to service chiefs without the knowledge of the NSA or the president. Recall that the president had in 2015 and 2019 directed the ministers to deal with him only through the chief-of-staff. To what extent does this outsourcing of responsibility include the NSA?

More questions: Could the leaked memo have been written without the fore knowledge of the president? Did the NSA write the letter just to get to the president through the public? Was the president so sclerotic that he would not bulge or be bothered by complaints to have warranted the leaked memo two months after? Did the president himself instigate the letter just to break free from the shackles of his own tolerance and monster of his own creation? There are certainly more questions than immediate answers just because the silence of the president is no longer golden.

Whatever may have happened, the infighting is a mundane triviality quite unbefitting of leaders and leadership circles. Power scavenging and in-house battle for supremacy rubbish the majesty of any presidency and depress the citizenry. In the light of these cracks, it is appropriate to ask: what manner of person is Buhari and how is his presidency going to be remembered some years from now? Granted that no two presidents are the same and would have handled such matters differently. How well one handles it will determine his level of respect and perhaps his legacy. But for the person of Buhari to have allowed these rivalries to fester for too long and infect the security arm is most shocking and unacceptable.

In case the president has forgotten, the vehicle upon which he rode into office in 2015 after three successive failures at the polls was made of his appearance of integrity, Spartan discipline, military know-how and experience – as the most qualified to end insecurity, inefficient and dysfunctional leadership. Five years down the line, nothing has improved but worsened with the entire country living in paroxysm of fear.

How much of this is due to a divided and destabilised presidency?
Clearly, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The ongoing fight against insurgency and other enemies of the state is only as formidable as the cracks permissible in the ranks. And this acrimony is one, both for the armed forces and the presidency. Aggressors of all kinds peep through the gaps to measure Nigeria’s strength and explore the weakness to their advantage. As the leaked memo indicates, the NSA wanted security of lives and property to move from what is to what ought to be. The chief-of-staff or any ally of the president should on no account stand in the way of strategic change for the sake of public good.

The president is at liberty to keep his friends and confidants. But, it is not a leeway for freeloaders and hangers-on to invade Aso Rock, interfering in assigned constitutional roles and offices. Some of the most remarkable world leaders are known to have kept alter egos that positively defined their tenures without necessarily occupying an office. John F. Kennedy, for instance, had his younger brother, Robert Kennedy, who was his Attorney General. For Bill Clinton, it was his wife, Hillary. In Ronald Reagan’s case, it was Nancy. They all added unsung values to leadership without rubbing the relation in the faces of the office holders. Buhari’s presidency should not be different. In as much as we live in an obnoxious era of mediocre preference for godsons and daughters that know everybody but nothing, the presidency is too revered or even sacred a place for meddlesome interlopers.

As a matter of urgency and in public interest, the onus is on Buhari to show more emotional intelligence in statesmanship and put his house in order. As a president who means well, he must allow the offices and their holders to operate constitutionally, without hindrance albeit with accountability. As the classical Western philosopher, Plato, once stated, a state cannot be just and justice does not prevail until state’s components find their rightful roles according to natural abilities.

As it is, a man is at peace when the stomach sticks to its appetite and nourishes the body, the heart engages in courageous acts, and the head through reasoning guides the whole aright. The corollary is that order and peace are farfetched in a state where the artisans assume the roles of the soldiers or the military interferes in the affairs of the guardian class, and vice versa. The point is that it must be unto everyone according to his or her ability and constitutional mandate.

For emphasis, Nigerians today live in the most trying times. There is no doubt that the government is divided and the country and her people are suffering. This is indeed a major problem for a country at war with insurrectionists and external aggression. Ideally, such hard times should have no margin for in-house bickering and disharmony, but to have all hands on the plow and eyes on the goal. As the Commander-In-Chief, Buhari must indeed act as one, and rally all to the common purpose of general well-being for all Nigerians. He cannot be outsourcing the presidency or its powers and expect the centre to hold and things not to fall apart.

There is, indeed, no better time than now for Muhammadu Leko Buhari to assert his imprimatur on his presidency.