Analysis: Buhari and “stomach infrastructure” in Aso Rock

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The appointment of Mallam Lawal Abdullahi Kazaure as the State Chief of Protocol (SCOP) has created a groundswell of expectation and hope amongst State House staffers that the new president, will cater to their “stomach infrastructure” unlike out-gone Goodluck Jonathan, berated for being too stingy and selfish. Sources tell Huhuonline that morale is at its lowest ebb amongst State House staffers, who are bitter and disappointed that Jonathan left them worse than he met them. They angrily voted against Jonathan and welcome his defeat as good riddance. Although most staffers expect to be transferred out of the State House, the expectation is that Kazaure will underscore the need for Buhari to consider the welfare of staffers as a priority, to avoid influence trafficking and the embarrassing situation of aides openly and shamelessly harassing presidential guests and visitors for bribes and gratification as was the case under Jonathan.

Mallam Kazaure, a career Foreign Service officer who hitherto served in the Villa as Special Assistant on Presidential Matters, is well aware that Jonathan has left behind a very disgruntled workforce of state house staffers, including protocol, media and security personnel - military, police, State Security Services and Civil Defence. By general acclamation, Mallam Kazaure, alongside Mr. Oronto Douglas, the late Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, and the President’s Aide De Camp (ADC), Col Ojogbane Adegbe, were known to be the few people who served Jonathan with undivided loyalty. The others were more interested in their personal agenda; lacking in the requisite capacity to understand the dynamics of power and how to use events to further Jonathan’s agenda. 

As the engine room of the machinery of the presidency, these staffers can indeed determine the success or failure of any government. These staffers had either lobbied to be posted to the Villa or assigned on recommendations from political godfathers, hoping to cash in on their privileged access to the corridors of power. These staffers transformed the Jonathan presidency into a convoluted, parasitical bureaucracy operated by a vampire group of presidential aides and hangers-on, who took the nation hostage; deciding who sees the president and what public event the president attends. Abusing their positions in their quest for financial gain, State House staffers instituted a system of quid pro quo; demanding “facilitation” and “consultancy” fees to arrange meetings with the president, or schedule the president to attend public events. Those who refuse to “pay up” were fenced out from seeing the President, even when formally invited.

It is public knowledge that under Jonathan, Aso Rock became a graveyard of dashed hopes, grumblings and complaints, leaving the present crop of staffers and security operatives as the most compromised in Nigeria’s seat of power. Former military heads of state – Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar reportedly used the national day and end of year celebrations to make their impact felt on their staffers who received gratification and other perks outside their salaries. State House staffers who elected anonymity told Huhuonline that Jonathan was the worst president ever to occupy the nation’s highest office. Unlike Babangida and Abubakar, who held farewell meetings with staffers; from cleaners to the highest echelon, and lavished them with gifts, Jonathan behaved worse than Obasanjo; who never told anybody thank you; let alone a parting gift. “Is this the democratic way of doing things” one staffer asked rhetorically?  

But a Jonathan aide countered that the former president rejected the farewell party because he felt betrayed by his staffers. The aide, who asked not to be named, pointed to the results of the March 28 presidential poll where Jonathan lost massively to Buhari in polling stations within the vicinity of Aso Rock, notably the outer pilot car park booth beside the National Broadcasting Commission headquarters. He said the level of angst against Jonathan amongst the staffers was evident after the elections when security personnel even went ahead to relax security checks around some important entry and exit points of Aso Rock like the Pilot and Number 1 gates. “Why should the president reward such people; in any case, in this era of belt tightening, where would the funds for parting gifts come from” he queried? He attributed the situation to Jonathan’s style of governance, admitting that just as with other issues concerning the country, Jonathan preferred to issue directives, and leave his aides with the discretion in the way they conducted public affairs.

“You really don’t expect the President to be everywhere at the same time. He has aides assigned to carry out certain responsibilities and they all have their own budgets. The President gave all of them the free hand to operate. But what did they do with the powers of access and authority inherent in working with the President?” When these people fail to do their jobs, how is that his problem? If they took care of the personnel under them, the grumblings will not be there. The situation in Aso Rock is a reflection of the country. Except for about two Presidential aides, the others are AWOL when it comes to issues of welfare or shielding the President from the shortcomings of the Villa system,” noted the source.

The standing view amongst state house staffers was that Jonathan was “too weak and indecisive” and the popular refrain was: “nothing go happen” as all you needed was to contact the first lady or one of Jonathan’s trusted aides who will ensure you are secure if you did something wrong. Jonathan’s laid-back style was bound to fail in Nigerian where the fear of the President ought to be the beginning of wisdom, noted another source, who disclosed that: “things got so bad that state house officials were openly asking for payments before Jonathan could attend events.” It is alleged that officials from the office of Chief of Staff to the President received “consultancy fees” from top Nigerian Navy officials before they scheduled Jonathan to commission the first locally built Seaward Defence Boat in Lagos on June 1, 2012. The same officials collected “facilitation fees” before Jonathan commissioned the Defence Intelligence Agency headquarters in Abuja in 2013. Now, if State House officials cannot fear collecting bribes from intelligence or military officials; that is, if gold can rust, what would iron do?

Aso Rock sources noted that even when activities of his aides and appointees were brought to his attention either through the media, official channels or personal contact, Jonathan was always slow to act, that is if he acted at all. Again, even when some of his personal aides were flaunting wealth, nothing happened to them. The standing view amongst staffers is that Jonathan acted as if he was scared of some people or some sections of the nation. And when he acted, it was either too little or too late. He never came out as decisive and his actions came out as personal vendetta or acting out of fear.”

Although Buhari and his party are expected to do things differently, the contentious issue of stomach infrastructure is one he must confront head-on. This means Buhari must take a hard look at the state house personnel because no one can say with confidence that Aso Rock staffers have been acting with the utmost integrity and in the best interest of Nigeria. There are many competent men and women in Aso Rock and the President must provide them with the right combination of incentives for them to make Nigeria work for all its citizens, not just for those who can pay for access to power. For a man who, out of a deep-held conviction that he has something good to offer his fatherland, and contested the presidency four times, Buhari must instill the discipline to make State House staffers follow the tenets of integrity as well as function in the best interest of the Nigerian people. A situation where State House officials demand bribes to do the jobs for which they are paid to do will undoubtedly undermine efforts by Buhari to achieve a more focused, disciplined and progressive nation, his personal integrity and moral righteousness, notwithstanding.