As the nation awaits President Buhari’s cabinet nominees for his second term, there is anxiety and uncertainty amid endless closed-door meetings by leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as to who will make the list. The president’s silence on the issue has ratcheted expectations and fears amongst hopefuls. The battle for ministerial appointments has peaked significantly even as Buhari is said to be preparing a final list of those he wants in his cabinet due for announcement anytime soon.
The battle to make the Next Level cabinet has been made particularly competitive, because of former ministers, who are itching to return former governors who have either completed their two terms in office or those who lost re-election or lost the ticket to other candidates and other members of the APC, who feel a need to be compensated for their roles in the victory of the president in the 2019 presidential election. Although unlike in 2015, insiders have hinted that apart from selecting candidates from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the president has also decided to appoint another six to represent each of the geo-political zones in order to actualise his promise of inclusive government.
Unfortunately for a majority of party leaders, the president is keeping his cards close to his chest; the reason APC governors after a meeting last week conceded the choice of cabinet members as entirely the president’s prerogative. To that extent, the obvious lack of clue on who might get what from Aso Villa sources have further stiffened the jostle for appointments, even as the nation is on tenterhooks about those that would make the cabinet.
In Lagos State for example, while the appointment is strictly between two former governors, Babatunde Raji Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode, there is the understanding that, while Fashola, who was Minister of Power, Works and Housing may return representing the Lagos slot, Ambode is being considered for the Southwest slot. Fashola is said to be loved by the President while Ambode’s case is being championed by the President’s men in the Villa.
The situation in Rivers State is still believed to favor former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. But there are those who feel the APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole, who was denied the opportunity of challenging Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by different courts, is also being considered for a ministerial appointment. How to balance the two interests is what many do not however know.
The slot for Delta is a straight slugfest between former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and the President’s Campaign’s spokesperson for the 2019 election, Festus Keyamo, (SAN). Kachikwu is itching for a return while Keyamo feels he did well fending off Buhari’s opponents without apologies and as such deserves a cabinet shot.
In Ogun, the choice is between Wale Edun, Pastor Tunde Bakare and one Kayode Odesola. But neither of the last two candidates is believed to have sweeping support of stakeholders in the state. They are however in the good books of the president. The choice between Adebayo Adelabu and former Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi makes the battle for the state a tough one. Adelabu is eyeing the Ministry of Finance; but the former Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu is also in contention. Buhari might have made his choice already.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed is at daggers drawn with Gbemisola Saraki for the Kwara ministerial slot, but he does not appear to have the much needed support from home, as a majority of the people feel, the opportunity should go to other parts of the state for balancing.
Former Governor George Akume of Benue State and the immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh are the two candidates for the Benue slot. Not only are both men qualified, they both also worked for Buhari’s re-election. The stakes are therefore high in Benue. Currently, the Kano slot appears a solo run for the former Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Danbazau, except the president changes his mind, which many believed is unlikely.
Former Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika and Senator Abu Ibrahim are the two top guns for the Katsina slot. While many believed that Sirika might return, there are those who believe the Senator is in Buhari’s serious consideration. The slot for Borno is between former Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Mustapha Baba-Shehuri and former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima. Although now a senator, it is common knowledge that Shettima desires to be in Buhari’s cabinet, a situation that makes the choice for Borno also competitive.
The battle in Kaduna State presents a rather interesting twist. While Senator Shehu Sani, who fell out with Governor Nasir el-Rufai ahead of the 2019 election has been flying around, one Barnabas Bala Bantex has also come up strong in the equation. It is another competitive turf. Ebonyi has its 2019 governorship candidate, Senator Sunny Ogbuorji and the immediate past Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu. Apart from this being an APC affair, there is also the belief that the governor of the state, Dave Umahi might play a very serious role in the eventual choice for the state, because of his relationship with Buhari and APC.
To slug it out in Bauchi are the immediate past governor, Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar and former Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, one of the closest allies of the president. The choice here is also a tricky one, which makes a pick somewhat difficult. The former Minister of Niger Delta, Usaini Usani and governorship candidate of the APC in Cross River, Senator John Enoh, had since taken their rivalry to the ministerial bout, having fought fiercely, over who was the authentic governorship candidate of the party in the state.
The trio of Godswill Akpabio, Nsima Ekere and Udo Udoma are battling for the Akwa Ibom slot. While Udoma is the former Minister of Budget and Planning, Ekere flew the APC flag as its governorship candidate and lost, same as Akpabio, who could not return to the senate. The battle is tough because it is more about political relevance.
Although there is the belief that President Buhari might drop his former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, he appears the only candidate for the slot for Kebbi State. He is itching to return. Nothing is however cast in stone as far as his consideration is concerned.
For Sokoto, the battle is currently between Aisha Abubakar, former Minister of State for Trade and investment and the APC candidate in the just concluded governorship election, Ahmed Aliyu. Although Aisha’s appointment created some upset initially, when she was picked in 2015, it is unlikely Buhari might want to go through another pressure for her.
Former Adamawa governor, Mohammad Bindow Jibrilla appears comfortable as the most plausible candidate, having lost his election in March this year. In Taraba, Fatima Gambo is being positioned as the ideal replacement for Aisha Al-Hassan, former Minister of Women Affairs, who openly declared support for Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, even while still serving in Buhari’s cabinet.
UBA Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, yesterday joined the rest of the world to celebrate the International Day of the African Child. June 16, the day set aside by the United Nations to celebrate children in Africa, recognizes the courage of students who marched for their right to better education in Soweto South Africa, and is marked annually.
The foundation brought together students from various secondary schools in Lagos to the Tony Elumelu Amphitheatre at the UBA head office in Lagos, where they were educated on various issues, ranging from financial literacy, importance of reading culture and nation building. Some of the schools represented at the event included Akande Dahunsi Memorial High School, Lagos; Government Senior College, Maroko, Aunty Ayo International School Ikoyi, and Wahab Folawiyo Senior High School, Ikoyi.
Speaking at the event, the Group Head, Human Resources, UBA, Mrs. Patricia Aderibigbe, said the foundation’s mission centres on three key pillars: Education, Empowerment and Environment. She explained that the bank, through its foundation, recognises the huge role that education and good reading culture play in the lives of the youth.
“The UBA Foundation is committed to impacting the lives of the African youth across the continent. As a pan-African institution, we believe that the future of Africa lies in her youth. For this reason, UBA Foundation is actively involved in facilitating educational projects and bridging the literacy-wide gap on a pan-African scale,” she said.
“The UBA Foundation is helping to rekindle the dwindling reading and literacy culture amongst African youths as they pursue their education. Over time, we have worked with various schools and educational institutions across the continent to ensure that the UBA Foundation continues to traverse the continent, contributing positively to the development of African youth, especially in the area of education,” she added.
She also explained that the bank through its foundation, aims to make sustainable improvements in the lives of the needy and under-privileged by supporting entrepreneurship programs, such as social entrepreneurship schemes which benefit the community at large.
On his part, the Chief Credit Officer, UBA Africa, Mr. Franklin Erebor, who spoke briefly on financial literacy and the need to plan for the future, taught the pupils the importance of managing their funds and finances. Erebo said; “You are not too young to start to plan for the future, as what you do now when you are young will impact greatly on you later in live. So it is essential that you have an account which should be well-monitored to ensure that it fulfils the purpose.
“You need to be financially literate, as this will help to open your eyes to the opportunities inherent and help you make wise decisions to benefit from the investments.”
In The Spotlight
Finally, June 12 as a historically iconic date is official. It is no longer a mere symbol of what could have been. It is now encoded as a take-off date for the resurgence of the democratic experience in Nigeria.
And the credit goes to President Muhammadu Buhari, a man whose comrades-in-arms, led by Ibrahim Babangida had, in a streak of authoritarian madness, vitiated the peoples’ will in 1993. Whenever the injustice of June 12 is remembered, it will always be said that Buhari was the man who righted that wrong. History will be kind to him in this regard. But June 12, known euphemistically as the 26-year old pregnancy and national albatross, which has haunted the trajectory of Nigeria’s precarious democracy, can only get final closure if, and when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar tells Nigerians why he kept Abiola to die in detention while other political prisoners were released.
Without doubt, Nigerian democracy has come a long away. Most Nigerians who are old enough to remember the significance of June 12, hailed the decision of the Buhari administration to recognize June 12 as Democracy Day. Whether it was an obligatory atonement emanating from genuine contrition, or an expedient after-thought contrived for political reasons, Buhari’s conferment of the national honor, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Abiola, and his public apology to his family were acts of nobility and magnanimity.
Viewed as an act of statesmanship, the apology and multiple honors granted Abiola underlines the move towards appeasement, reconciliation and national unity. Buhari claimed the reason for the double honor rightfully granted the late Abiola was not “to open old wounds but to put right a national wrong.” To assuage the feelings of Nigerians and “recognize that a wrong has been committed,” the president made his offering: “This retrospective and posthumous recognition is only a symbolic token of redress and recompense for the grievous injury done to the peace and unity of our country. Our decision to recognize and honor June 12 and its actors is in the national interest. It is aimed at setting national healing process and reconciliation of the 25-year festering wound caused by the annulment of the June 12th election. I earnestly invite all Nigerians across our entire national divide to accept it in good faith.”
The travails of the prevailing democratic order make imperative the interrogation of what June 12 called Democracy Day is all about. Do Nigerians really appreciate what democracy means? Are Nigerian politicians making democracy worthwhile or perverting its content and process? Undoubtedly there are many Nigerians who have stories to tell about the great men and women who participated in those stirring events that culminated in the final stage when Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in as the third elected president of Nigeria. Perhaps the most significant actor in those events of 1998 and 1999 was Gen. Abubakar, the last serving soldier to hold the office of Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Gen. Abubakar was known among his colleagues as a rigorously apolitical soldier. He joined the nascent Nigerian Air force in 1963 but crossed into the army in 1966, a move that proved to be quite fortuitous. He was a member of the military tribunal that tried and condemned the soldiers who staged the Gideon Orkar coup of April 22, 1990 - the bloodiest attempt to topple IBB. After that event, Abubakar faded from the news. In the wake of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Nigeria was grip by crisis. Abubakar played a significant role in installing Gen. Sani Abacha in power in November 1993. When Gen. Oladipo Diya fell suddenly in 1997, it was Abubakar’s turn to rise in the byzantine politics of the Abacha court. He became Chief of Defence Staff and Abacha’s de-jure second-in-command.
But Abubakar was not a favorite of the Abacha court. He had an uncanny ability not to betray his emotions and would rarely volunteer any comment during meetings. His trademark poker face like a ventriloquist confounded even his most ardent critics and detractors. After the arrest of Diya and the generals in the fake coup of 1997, many of the top generals who survived were falling over each other to deify Abacha. They knew Abacha wielded absolute power of life and death. Abacha’s sudden death in 1998 changed the power geometry in Nigeria forever. The military announced Abubakar as the new Head of State. In an unprecedented twist, the Chief Justice brought out the tattered 1979 Constitution to swear-in Abubakar as new military ruler. The five political parties that had hitherto unanimously nominated Abacha for President collapsed like a pack of cards. Chief Bola Ige had famously described the five parties as “the five fingers of a leprous hand.”
When Abubakar took office, he had to clear all the old files pending on the late Abacha’s desk. In one of the files, there was a letter addressed to Abubakar awaiting Abacha’s signature. The letter demanded Abubakar’s compulsory retirement which was to be announced on the date Abubakar was sworn-in as Head of State if Abacha had survived to that day. The irony was not lost him. He knew his offence. He had refused to wear the Abacha loyalty badge that many generals were wearing. He had told those who cared to listen that his loyalty was to Nigeria and not to an individual. Abacha died. Abubakar survived.
But Chief Abiola, the presumed winner of June 12 did not survive. By the time Abubakar took power, Abiola had been in detention for four years. He was kept in solitary confinement and seldom allowed to see the sun. The circumstances in which Abiola was being detained were surreal. Then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was one of the last people to see him alive. Annan described how Abiola was watching the England-Argentina World Cup match on television without the sound when he entered the room. When Annan asked the guard to turn up the sound, he was told this was not possible.
When Annan greeted him, Abiola asked: “Who are you?” On hearing he was the UN secretary general, Abiola was overcome with emotion and kissed his hand. “What happened to the Egyptian [Boutros Boutros Ghali]?” he asked. Annan explained he had taken over the position in January last year. Abiola had no idea that the Pope had visited Nigeria and had pleaded for his release. He had only heard the day before Annan’s visit that Abacha, had died. He had been almost completely isolated from the world for nearly four years. Abiola said he had been allowed a radio in prison for his first month, but in mid-1994 was cut off completely. His guards refused to talk to him and he had stopped trying to get information from them. He had no newspapers and was only given two books - the Bible and the Qur’an.
Gen. Abubakar had asked Annan to get a written assurance from Abiola that, if released, he would not immediately declare himself president as a result of the 1993 elections. Abubakar feared massive disruption, with Abiola being hailed in the south, while the northern Hausa controlled the army. He wanted Abiola to support a period of transition until new presidential elections in which he and others could compete and Annan said Abiola appreciated much had changed since 1993 and he did not want to come straight out of prison into Aso Rock. But he was apparently reluctant to give a signed undertaking. Instead he opted to meet Abubakar and give his word. Instead he died on July 7, 1998.
Although many seem carried away by the prospects for national reconciliation, which the recognition of June 12, exemplifies, the deeper import of the injustice of the Babangida regime would be lost if the country doesn’t muster the courage to exhume and resurrect what certain quarters consider a fossil of Nigeria’s political history. Abubakar must tell Nigerians why he kept Abiola in prison, until he collapsed and died after drinking tea during a meeting with two US envoys –Thomas Pickering and Susan Rice. The US diplomats, who travelled with Abiola to a nearby hospital and watched as doctors tried to revive him, said Abiola was in a poor state of health after four years of brutal imprisonment. “He had some record of hypertension,” Pickering said. “Both of his legs were swollen and he showed them to us.”
For the record, upon taking office, Abubakar received a delegation of Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba group led by Senator Abraham Adesanya. The meeting ended in an upbeat note as Abubakar promised to release Abiola and other political prisoners. Days later, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Kunle Ajibade, Chief Bola Ige, Mrs. Chris Anyanwu and Gen. Diya were all released. But Abiola remained detention. Even more shocking, there was no change of circumstances as Abiola remained in the same solitary confinement where Abacha’s Man Friday, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, had consigned him.
Yet there was no apparent reason why Abiola was not released with the other prisoners of conscience. Abiola’s claim to power had been weakened by the destruction of the political structures that supported his mandate. The political parties, the national and state parliaments and elected executives were all gone. What sort of negotiation could be imperative that could not be done with Abiola as a free man? By the time of his sudden death, neither Abubakar nor any agent of his government had volunteered to see Abiola, talk less of negotiating with hm.
Gen. Abubakar delivered on his promise to return Nigeria to democratic rule in 1999, and for that the country owes him a debt of eternal gratitude. But he also owes the country an explanation why Abiola was still kept in detention after many of the leading political prisoners had been release. It is one secret he must share with Nigerians, 26 years after the death of the man who paid the ultimate price for the current democratic dispensation that Nigerians have enjoyed for the past 20 years. Until Gen. Abubakar breaks his deafening silence, June 12 as Democracy Day will remain a mockery of justice and atonement.
The continuous silence of Gen. Abubakar speaks to an unwillingness to confront the monstrosity of that great injustice, and constitutes an act of violence to the collective memory of Nigerians. Feelings might be assuaged, and emotions dissipated over June 12, but Nigerians in their minds and hearts remain open to revisiting this vexing national question of why Abiola was never released. The clamor for national reconciliation transcends the recognition of June 12 and if genuine honor is to be accorded to what June 12 symbolizes, Abubakar must address the hovering controversy; there must be investigation of persons or institutions; who were willfully culpable in the atrocities of the military junta. The assassination and unexplained disappearance of pro-democracy activists, journalists, human rights lawyers; the brutal murder of perceived enemies of the junta and the wanton destruction of property and deliberate incapacitation of opponents must now be brought to light.
This is an opportunity for all such acts of injustice hanging on Nigeria to be addressed, and all found guilty must face the lawful consequences of their actions. As a first step towards atonement, there should be a roll call of honor of all the victims of June 12, dead or alive. Most importantly, there is need for the dramatis personae, including Gen. Abubakar to come out and offer an unreserved apology to Abiola and other victims of June 12. This is necessary for them to make personal atonement and seek inner peace for the injustices perpetrated. Atonement and reconciliation are volitional for the attainment of peace; it can rarely be done on behalf of another, especially when the perpetrators are alive. The successful foreclosure of the June 12 controversy will only be complete when Gen. Abubakar tells Nigerians why he allowed Abiola to die in detention. The country deserves to know the truth.
In The Spotlight
There must be something about political power that makes otherwise good men to act contrary to expectations once in power. And it can be very dispiriting. Let me mention immediately that I do not know Governor Emeka Ihedioha from Adam. But by reputation, he was one of the politicians (alongside the likes of Dr Kayode Fayemi, Dr Datti Baba Ahmed and Prof Kingsley Moghalu) often embraced by public intellectuals as urbane, who, if given the chance, would help to sanitize the political stage. As Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ihedioha managed to avoid any ruinous scandal –despite emerging as the Deputy Speaker against his party’s zoning arrangements. When he contested the governorship election in 2015 under the PDP against Okorocha who ran under the APC ticket - and lost – he quietly went home after exhausting the judicial processes, licked his wounds, re-strategized and came back again. In that crowded field of ‘hard men’ for the 2019 Governorship election in Imo State, he stood out as suave and polished, leading to some people questioning whether he had enough rough edges to withstand the predicted anarchic character of the election. Ihedioha eventually emerged victorious – or rather he was announced the winner - since the outcome of the election is still contested – as most elections in the country are wont to be.
Given the expectations around Ihedioha, I feel that he started on a rather disappointing note: the first was the argument over the demolition of the Akachi tower, a controversial monument erected by the immediate past governor of the State, Rochas Okorocha. Most of the media headlines on Imo State on May 30 2019 – just a day after Ihedioha and other elected governors were inaugurated into office - did him no PR favours. Some of the newspaper headlines that day read: ‘Ihedioha Demolishes Akachi Monument Built by Okorocha’ [Punch]; ‘Governor Ihedioha Moves Against Okorocha, destroys legacy towers’, [The PM News]; ‘Ihedioha performs first assignment, demolishes Akachi Towers’ [The Sun]; and ‘Governor Ihedioha Destroys Akachi Towers, Okorocha’s Legacy’ [Leadership].
The sub-text in these screaming headlines was that Governor Ihedioha’s first assignment as a state governor was to go on a vindictive mission against his predecessor, something that traditional Nigerian politicians are notorious for, but which those regarded as the poster boys of the country’s public intellectuals and civil society groups are expected to eschew. Though Ihedioha later denied any knowledge of the demolition of the tower, for many, the PR damage had already been done. For some of his critics on the Akachi tower demolition, even if he did not give the orders for the demolition, there was no way it could have taken place without those responsible for that reading such from his body language. Others opined that to deny any knowledge of the demolition amounted to admitting to not being effectively in charge. I feel that Governor Ihedioha is yet to fully recover from that initial PR disaster when again he handed another round of ammunition to his critics:
On June 6 2019, several media houses reported again that Governor Ihedioha had set up an eight-man committee to probe the financial dealings of Rochas Okorocha. The Committee, which is headed by Dr Abraham Nwankwo, former DG of the Debt Management Office, was given the task of ascertaining and documenting the locations and balances on all bank accounts operated by the Imo State Government, its Ministries, Departments and Agencies as of May 29 2019. The committee was also mandated to review all financial transactions and carry out a forensic audit to establish sources of funds and how they are disbursed.
There is nothing wrong in setting up such a probe committee but should this really be one of the major tasks of a new government, especially when one of his first major ‘assignments’ after inauguration was to deny authorizing the demolition of Akachi Tower, and by implication being on a vendetta mission against Okorocha? One would think that the priority of a new government should be on how to streamline and implement its campaign promises and not to embark on projects that might be construed as witch-hunting the past governor - irrespective of his perceived sins.
If I were to advise Governor Ihedioha, I would have counselled that he should resist any pressure to move on his predecessor - until at least six months or one year into his administration. Even at that I doubt if it is politically wise to call any review of the activities of the past Government a probe – which in our clime often connotes witch-hunt. What would the Ihedioha government lose, if after one year in office, he sets up a committee to review and advice on how to streamline projects by his predecessor – which would of course cover the terms of reference given to the Abraham Nwankwo- led committee?
On June 18 2019, about three weeks after Ihedioha was inaugurated into office, Imo State was once again on the media spot. This time the news was that Governor Ihedioha has approved the suspension of chairmen, vice chairmen, councillors and political appointees of the 27 Local Government Areas in the state. He reportedly directed the suspended elected officials to hand over government property in their possession to the Directors of Administration and General Services (DAGS) of their various councils. The suspended council bosses and the 604 councillors, largely members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were elected last year for a-three-year tenure during the administration of Rochas Okorocha. Though the dissolution of the Local Councils was pursuant to a recommendation made to him by the Imo State House of Assembly, its timing unfortunately accentuates the narrative of a witch-hunt against Okorocha. Again while the traditional politicians see moving against their predecessors as ‘normal politics’, those like Ihedioha often hailed as being polished and urbane, are expected to do things differently. Though it is understandable that the governor will, at a point, have to find ways around working with the leadership of the Local Government Areas whose support he cannot vouch, the issue of timing also comes into play – especially in the light of the Akachi Tower controversy and the setting up of a panel to probe the Okorocha government.
Let me mention that I am not a fan of Okorocha’s brand of politics. His politics of trying to create a political dynasty in Imo state was extremely reprehensible and rubbed on the wrong side of many Igbos, because Igbo society is inherently anti-dynastic. A federal ministerial appointment that was meant for Imo State was cornered for Okorocha’s father in-law; his sister was a State Commissioner for Happiness in his government, and to rub insult to an injury, he was unabashedly pushing for his son-in-law to succeed him as Governor. It was probably the first time in the annals of Igbo political history that a Governor would dare to be such clannish. And that really angered many people.
However despite Okorocha’s apparent insensitivity and mistakes – including infamously erecting statutes that have no bearing to the country’s or state’s history- there are useful lessons Ihedioha ought to have learnt from Buhari’s obsession with the Jonathan government for most of his first term in office – it won sympathies for Jonathan. Also sooner than later people will get fed up with obsessions with the past and turn their frustrations into criticisms of the government. Yes, the past can be looked into, but it should also be borne in mind that every dirt dug up from the past usually has an accompanying politics of resistance to it, which necessarily leads to the dissipation of energies and resources by a government which should ideally not want to be distracted.
It should equally be borne in mind that Ihedioha won the election by scoring only 273,404 of the votes to defeat his closest rival, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance, (AA), who polled 190,364 votes and Senator Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), who came third with 96,458 votes. The combined votes of Uche Nwosu and Hope Uzodimma alone are 463,768 – nearly double what Ihedioha scored to win the election. The implication of this is that there are many voters out there who did not vote for Ihedioha and who are at this stage likely to be on the fence, waiting to see how his government evolves. Ihedioha can win over such voters by adopting centrist policies (at least initially), painstakingly pursuing reconciliation, eschewing all forms of vindictiveness and being magnanimous in victory. Dwelling on the past this early in his government, in my opinion, is not the way to go.