It has not really been a closely guarded secret, given that Aisha Buhari had since told Nigerians that the country was being run by people who seem to have held her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, hostage. The word ‘Cabal,’ which had gained prominence in the past when the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua struggled between life and death, came back in the political dictionary of Nigeria. A cabal allegedly ran the nation when Yar’Adua was ill and prevented the world from knowing how sick the President was. The matter festered, leaving everyone guessing, until Dora Akunyili, in her capacity as Minister of Information, came clean on the matter, and told the nation that we were in a rudderless ship, that the Vice President was side-lined and knew nothing about the state of the nation.
It was a bombshell that set the National Assembly into quick action, giving birth to the ‘Doctrine of Necessity.’ The doctrine was invoked to dislodge the cabal and throw up Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was then a lame-duck VP, to become Acting President, to the chagrin of the cabal, which had usurped presidential power, wherein one of them said the President could rule from anywhere, to justify the usurpation of the powers of a President who was oscillating between life and death.
I can never forget my journalistic faux pas, in that era, when a source from the Presidency contacted my editor, and told him that Yar’Adua had recovered. The editor, in turn, instructed me to write a story, which blazed the news stand next day with the title “Yar’Adua Recovers,” only for him to pass away a few weeks later. It was part of the mischief of the cabal of the time.
The cabal of today is a different kettle of fish. Their principal is not sick. He is alive and well, but the cabal seems to be factionalised, or seeking for greater power among the factions. Those who did not want Buhari in power had been explicit in their campaign when they said the man would hold the title but other people would do the job. No one seemed to want to hear their negative voice at a time when there seemed to be a concerted effort to oust the then incumbent. Buhari had the pedigree and popularity to drown those dissenting voices.
These was a clamor, aided by the swift political arithmetic of party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who turned Buhari’s long alliance with the South East to the South-West. It was a smart move, given that Buhari’s long-extended hand to the South-East, resulting in choosing running mates from the zone in his previous attempts, yielded no fruit.
Tinubu turned him to the South-West and he struck gold, a move now being cited as enough reason to reward Tinubu with the presidency. That is a story for another day, lest we digress.
But the warning about Buhari’s capacity to run the office fell on deaf ears. His integrity and potency to fight corruption made him the candidate to beat. Now we have come face-to-face with a President whose chief of staff allegedly runs the Presidency, to the bizarre point of chairing security meetings. Bizarre as it looks, the Chief of Staff would not dare it without presidential permission and, if he ever did, then it would be the height of negligence of duty if the President failed to show him the door. He deserves nothing less than a sack. Nigerians did not elect him into office, His action is usurpation of power. On the other hand, if he did so with full presidential permission, should the National Security Adviser raise an eyebrow as though something incongruous is happening? Had the President given the NSA the permission to chair security meetings, would he have gone against the President’s instructions? If the Chief of Staff got permission, and I can put a bet that it is most probable, then the NSA is playing politics. He would rather have the President cede power to him, not the seemingly favored Chief of Staff. Both men are engaged in a battle of supremacy over who should be at the helm in the kitchen cabinet, or cabal, as we have named it. Both men have the President’s ear but one is evidently angry that the other now wields ‘too much’ power, as to supervise the security architecture, a situation that relegates him to the backwaters as NSA. After all, both men belong to the conclave of cabals. No one should be more cabal than the other.
Buhari’s recent comment about his ignorance of the sliding security situation in the land is an indication that someone else had been in charge and gave him the all-is-well feedback. The NSA’s recent outburst against the Chief of Staff might also be an attempt to exonerate the President against the background of the national outcry over insecurity. The NSA had come clean to tell Nigerians they should take their angst elsewhere. But that is hogwash because the dirt has to be swept to the President’s doorstep. The buck stops at his table. Nigerians elected him, not his Chief of Staff.
As calls for the removal of the service chiefs have fallen on deaf ears, the subtle evidence has emerged that the President’s chief of staff may, indeed, have sat on those calls.
In a letter leaked to the press, the NSA wrote thus: “The unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations are violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr. President. Such acts and continuous meddlesomeness by the chief of staff have only slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr. President has sought to achieve.’
There is a fight in the house of the cabal. The pity is that the President, in his usual aloofness, may allow this to fester.