It is not unusual for government anywhere in the world to run into storms. What matters is the ability to weather such. The outcome always exposes the latent strength or weakness of those in charge. Government can fall or emerge stronger. But in many, if not most, cases of survival, it is not without bloodletting. The experience of former Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, should be a stern reminder.
The latest political storm in the Muhammadu Buhari presidency is the reported showdown between Chief of Staff Abba Kyari and National Security Adviser, Major-General Monguno. The row is on to whom, between the two, Service Chiefs should report or, worse still, from whom to take orders. As exclusively reported in sections of the press, General Monguno fired the alert to the Service Chiefs on line of authority if, or as if, at their level, they did not know.
Over the ages and all over the world, reputation of being the most powerful or influential in any administration or political party would not go without envy, at the best, or resentment, at the worst. But it is the height of naivety not to recognise that reality. In the politics of the colonial era, Chief Bode Thomas was the most powerful and influential in the Action Group. Following his death in 1953, the honour fell to Samuel Sonibare. When he too died in 1964, Alfred Rewane bagged that status around Chief Awolowo. The most powerful man in Obasanjo’s military administration was Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua.
In President Shehu Shagari’s administration, who was as powerful and influential as transport minister, Umaru Dikko? Who rivalled Major-General Tunde Idiagbon in General Buhari’s military administration? Whether as Chief of Army Staff, Defence Minister, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or ordinary member the Armed Forces Ruling Council, who was as powerful and influential as General Sani Abacha? And then Major Al-Mustafa, Chief Security Officer to General Abacha. Who was as powerful and influential in General Abacha’s administration? All of these powerful figures emerged not on their own but because their boss(es) aquiesced and, albeit indirectly, ceded power to them.
In his first term, the same President Muhammadu Buhari saddled ex-Lagos State governor with three powerful ministries, Works, Housing and Power. Four years later, each of these ministries has a cabinet minister, with Fashola retaining only Works. In the past two decades, despite existing statutory regulations, administration of Customs Department had been shifted from Ministry of Finance to Interior Ministry and now back in Finance Ministry. Police Affairs is even worse in being subordinated under Interior Ministry only to be resuscitated as a full-fledged ministry. All these were strictly under the directive of the (various) most powerful president in the world, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
That should not suggest remotely that existence of powerful figures or specifically very influential Chiefs of Staff in government is peculiar to Nigeria. Former British Prime Minister Theresa May had a deputy prime minister who was more a decorative figure compared to Chief of Staff Garvin Laurence Bowel, the most influential in that administration. When the road to Britain’s exit from Europe became very rough and uncharted, Chief of Staff Bowel virtually all alone convinced Prime Minister May to go for a snap election, with the hope of returning with unprecedented massive majority. The gamble proved disastrous as even the prime minister’s erstwhile tiny majority before the election was wiped out. It was the beginning of the end of her tenure as prime minister and the chief of staff had to resign.
When new Prime Minister Boris Johnson took office in July 2019, he appointed Dominic Cummings as chief of staff. Without a deputy, Boris Johnson has made his chief of staff the most powerful and most influential in moderrn British politics. Cummings almost single-handedly wrote the script for Prime Minister Johnson on how to overcome the obstructionist attitude of British parliament through the Supreme Court in a vain attempt to stop Britain’s withdrawal from Europe. When the effort failed, the chief of staff boldly suggested another general election, the second in less than three years. The result? Largest majority of over 100 seats, the biggest since Labour’s Harold Wilson in 1966.
At that stage, who could stop or dare or even limit the power of Dominic Cummings in British government? Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s next door neighbour in Downing Street, Chancellor of Exchequer Sajid Javid resisted de facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings’ order to sack his advisers to be replaced by new ones to be appointed by him (Cummings) and would be reporting to him. Chancellor of Exchequer without advisers? Unprecedented in British politics. But the prime minister approved. The minister had to resign barely three weeks to his first budget. That is the power of Chief Special Adviser to Britain’s prime minister. Call him Chief of Staff and you won’t be wrong. No Chief of Staff anywhere in the world can excercise power or authority not devolved to him by the boss, whether such devolution is sustainable or not. It all depends on the boss. These bosses with their peculiar styles.
Service chiefs are unenviable in the present controversy. Could the service chiefs have been responding to the summons of Chief of Staff Abba Kyari unilaterally? Answer to this question is very vital. Whichever is the case, what if the service chiefs continue to report to the chief of staff in defiance of NSA General Monguno’s order? NSA could (or should) not have issued his alert to service chiefs without Commander-in-Chief Muhammadu Buhari’s knowledge. Equally, Chief of Staff Kyari could not be holding meetings with service chiefs unless authorised or at least approved by Buhari. Amid that uncertainty, service chiefs are helpless and are at the mercy of C-in-C Buhari.
In these matters, leaks to the press can eventually harm the source. But the media must not relent in informing the public.
Blind auditor at UI
In the year 2020, not many would expect the grotesque shock of Nigerian media (and of course editors) in spreading superstition on a tragic event at University of Ibadan. An auditor was at the institution to examine their books, but suddenly, in the process, lost his sight. That was a serious event, which offered very rare opportunity for the media to discharge main responsibility of informing (educating) society.
Instead, the press turned the tragedy into a disgraceful carnival with the insinuation that the victim was turned blind by those who might have tampered with the university’s funds. Pure superstition. Nobody on such national assignment could ever have been rendered blind by any other person through unnatural means.
The alert, which the media missed but still exists, is that, suddenly, blindness is on the prowl, an otherwise frightening development about which Nigerians, even the elite, must take note. The truth is that, these days, blindness is spreading like an epidemic. Ironically, those ignorant about this development are the elite and supposedly educated ones. How many of them bother about eye tests? Living habits render victims vulnerable.
Too much sugar intake, excess carbohydrate, pressure on eyeballs from many hours of continuous viewing of television, voracious intake of sweet soft drinks, surfing of mobile telephones at very close quarters, reading of books/documents in poorly-lit environment, several hours spent on computers/laptops without reading glasses prepare the ground for blindness. Until you have an eye test, even with your reading glasses, don’t be sure you cannot go blind suddenly.
The tragedy of the auditor at University of Ibadan should serve as a lesson.