With President Muhammadu Buhari still undergoing his London medicals, his men in the corridors of power are being torn apart by selfish intrigues that threaten to erode the president’s hold on power. MUSA SIMON REEF reports on the subterfuge fast putting the inner circle of Buhari’s Presidency in disarray with additional report by AMOS DUNIA.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari left the country for his medical follow-up in London, the United Kingdom, the kitchen cabinet of his government has not remained the same. Various issues bordering on self-preservation, inordinate ambition and power play have continued to pitch them against one another. More importantly, the President’s absence has made it impossible for these actors in the power corridor to forge ahead as a united front.
Insiders said it is war on all front and this has engulfed the PMB’s kitchen cabinet comprising Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, his godfather and uncle to President Buhari, Alhaji Mamman Daura, as well as the think-tank team that doubles as anchor men of the Aso Villa Cabal, Babagana Kingibe and Samaila Isa Funtua.
Not insulated from the blistering political inferno are those in the security circles, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as well as members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), headed by Prof Itse Sagay. Disturbing signals are that missiles are being thrown at known and perceived enemies, with all combatants determined to fight dirty and every opposition without consideration for restraints and limits.
Our competent sources hinted that it has been a dull moment for the cabal because they no longer find it easy calling the shots in governance.
“At present, their wings have apparently been clipped by the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s proven capability in steering the ship of state in the absence of President Buhari,” the source volunteered, adding that, “Given the Prof’s confirmable ability to pilot affairs of state with a good grasp and clear understanding of issues at play, the hitherto power centre men now have their tails in-between their legs.”
Curiously, the reported veiled attempt by some cabal members to by-pass the Acting President by allegedly ferrying official files to President Buhari in London for attention met a brick wall. Presidency sources said that skewed arrangement bounced back with such forceful repercussion as recuperating President Buhari refused their perceived ‘kind gesture’ and directed that the said documents be returned and handed over to his loyal deputy for necessary and appropriate action.
According to a top government official from the South-south zone, since that ugly development, the power play by the hitherto impervious cabal has taken a downward slope, thereby immobilizing most of them like rain-beaten chickens battling to find warmth around their formerly fortified vicinity. As a result, it has been a game of survival of the fittest for so-called inner circle’s men that are no longer sure of what the nation’s political terrain holds for them.
The report of Osinbajo-led Committee that probed the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir, is yet to be acted upon. Nearly two months after rounding up its sitting, nothing has been heard about the highly-anticipated report.
“With Buhari still receiving medical attention in London, the country is being run by a person in acting capacity. While we have an acting president, we also have an acting SGF. This is the dilemma the nation finds itself and it is not funny,” said a source recently.
Also, with the sacking of Babachir, mutual distrust easily set into the inner circle of a powerful group that hitherto ensured unity and cohesion among the president’s men Friday. Close aides admitted to Forefront that Babachir’s suspension really took him by surprise. It was a thunderbolt that caught the Adamawa state-born politician cum bureaucrat off guard. The suspended SGF was visibly shocked to the marrow even as he tried to put on a bold face of an untouchable when newsmen accosted him for his reaction.
“Pointedly, the suspended SGF felt stabbed at the back and is yet to recover from the ill wind that blew him off his exalted seat”, Forefront gathered from a source close to him.
In suspending Babachir from office, Buhari’s men played into the deliberate plot of a group that has always seen the cabal as mainly comprising core Northern Muslims with Babachir seen as representing the Northern minority interest. But with him out of the way, those plotting against Buhari’s men Friday obviously succeeded in portraying a portrait of nepotism for the Buhari government.
Growing Disenchantment Among Trusted Aides
When recently the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) discharged and acquitted President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki of alleged false assets declaration in his Code of Conduct form, the development produced feeling of defeat for the pro-Buhari group. Worried that the political influence of the Daura-born General was weaning, despite being the soul of All Progressives Congress (APC), the PMB inner circle members saw the need to shore up the President’s influence and build a political coalition that could present a formidable platform in future polls. This is to advance the interest of the president, whose health status is causing increasing concerns for both family and political allies.
The first crack that showed all is not well with the cabal presented itself through the suspension of Babachir over a grass cutting contract that was alleged to have gulped over N250 million. Unknown to Babachir, some close cabinet members had met privately with Buhari where they convinced him to suspend the Adamawa-born politician and set up a panel to probe the contracts.
While the suspension of Babachir boosted the Presidency’s anti-corruption aura, the same government did not do anything when the Chief of Staff Abba Kyari was accused of influencing a reduction of MTN fines last year.
According a top APC Chieftain, “It was expected that a government that is committed to transparency would have also probed the allegations said to have been brought to the attention of the President by former running mate to Buhari in the 2011 presidential poll, Pastor Tunde Bakare.”
Forefront reliably gathered that those championing the sacking of Babachir were committed to the destruction of the Buhari inner circle that had remained solidly united in the protection of the President against the Northern hawks interested in wrestling power from the military General in 2019. As it presently stands, the unity of purpose that once solidified the inner circle is lacking, just as the anti-Buhari team, led by various presidential aspirants, is gaining grounds and creating dissension among PMB’s men.
One of the boiling issues that have kept the PMB’s cabal on war path is the matter of a likely successor. Considering the health status of the president, no one is sure if the president will seek a re-election in 2019. Expectedly, if the president backs out of a comeback bid, the choice of who completes the tenure would become a nutty issue. This, it was gathered form the core reason why the APC National leadership has been unable to hold its convention which is long overdue.
Choice for 2019 Polls
For now, names of potential candidates are being touted and considered. According to an APC source that is privy to the workings of the inner circle, Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna State is clearly out of the equation because the cabal is not favourably disposed to his candidature owing to what they perceived as being ‘too ambitious, overzealous and brutal.’
“He is considered too brash and tyrannical in democracy. See what he has turned Kaduna State into. He cannot be trusted with power and the inner circle is aware that once on the saddle of power, he will do away with the old men who now wield power in the absence of Buhari,” said the source.
Top on the list for consideration to complete Buhari’s tenure are Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state, who is considered to be soft minded and not likely to rock the boat and former Kano State governor and current Senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, considered an astute but level-headed politician.
Further checks by Forefront point in the direction of ongoing permutations by the cabal that is leaving nothing to chance, having not foreclosed their involvement and active participation in the likely choice of who continues from 2019 per chance PMB declines to run. However, information pieced together indicates that it is not yet ascertained what the president would likely do in the event he declines a comeback bid.
Though the inner circle members are presumed to understand the body language of their principal most of the time, they are equally not unaware of the fact that he does springs lots of surprises at times and such surprises may come to play in the choice of a candidate to replace him without concern for possible consequences.
Tinubu On The Radar
For now, the cabal is believed to have put on not only their thinking cap but monitoring lights on the activities of APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu. Reason being that the Lion of Bourdillon has openly declared interest in contesting the 2019 presidential poll in the event that PMB is not interested in a second term. If the former Lagos State governor’s hypothesis scales through, it is most likely going to throw up another challenge on the cabal desirous to contain the Tinubu team that cannot be easily wished away in a political contest.
Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is believed to have commenced underground consultations with key stakeholders, including some members of the cabal for 2019, except that he is threading cautiously in order not to hit a brick wall.
Struggle For The Soul of APC
Not a few people were shocked when National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said State Congresses of the party will hold this year. The implication of the statement is that National Convention of the party will hold in 2018. This magazine was reliably informed that the strategy is to ensure those who may lose out in the battle to gain control of the party do not have enough time to mobilise a strong political platform to challenge the APC choice in 2019.
Again, most politicians interested in 2019 presidency are not resting on their oars in the bid to realise age-long political dreams. Accordingly, they are patiently waiting to activate alternative options in the event of being ditched at the last minute.
Ex-Leaders Meeting In Minna
When three of Nigeria’s former leaders, namely, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar met in Minna, the Niger State capital some weeks before PMB travelled to the UK for further medical check-up, signals emerged that the state of the nation was becoming worrisome and something needed to be done.
It is not clear if these leaders, who have mass followings nationwide, are happy with the goings on in the country. Though they had declared to newsmen that the meeting discussed national issues, it is clear that it was not unconnected with PMB’s health status. One thing is clear, it is unlikely that ahead of 2019 polls, the three former leaders that threw their support behind Buhari in 2015 will again endorse his re-election in 2019.
Defeat of Anti-corruption Fight
The winning slogan for Buhari’s 2015 victory was the fight against corruption and security, particularly the fight against insurgency. Curiously, the fight has not yielded the desired results as the courts have continued to dismiss some high profile corruption cases.
“The discharge of Saraki from all allegations of false assets declaration by the CCT marked yet another major blow for the government’s anti-graft posturing. Furthermore, the setting free of judges charged with allegations of corruption does not show momentousness on the part of a government determined to fight the monster of venality”, an insider told Forefront
The development did not go down well with the duo of Prof Sagay and his colleague in the committee, Prof Femi Odekunle that immediately hauled volleys of attacks on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). They accused hium of toying with the anti-corruption war of PMB. But it was an angry Malami that quickly fired back claiming Sagay and his team lacked a clear understanding of the issues involved, even as he reaffirmed his commitment to the fight against corruption.
Sources close to PACAC said Sagay is also crossed with the Department of State Services (DSS) over its damning report on Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) used by the Senate to nail Ibrahim Magu and reject his confirmation.
Heat On Osinbajo’s Connection
A senior aide of Acting President Osinbajo, who reacted to enquiries on the insinuations that his principal is already being wooed by some presidential aspirants as the beautiful bride, preparatory to the 2019, pointedly told Forefront that there is no truth in such commentaries at the moment
However, the aide said the Acting President is seriously focused on state affairs and would, therefore, not want to be distracted by such nonsensical talks