Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, seems befitting as an analogy for recent happenings in Nigeria’s political arena. The latest intrigue to come out of the space involves a vicious debacle between Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state for Petroleum Resources and Maikanti Baru, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Kachikwu has accused Baru of humiliating insubordination and disregard for due process in running the NNPC. These concerns, penned in a letter by Kachikwu to President Muhammadu Buhari, were leaked to the public last Tuesday. As usual, the “wolves” have jumped on this story, and as some reckon, they may have even engineered it.
In Anderson’s tale of an emperor who was known for his fondness for fine garments, two conmen posing as garment makers, managed to convince the emperor that they had created a very special garment that was so magnificent that it was invisible to people who are unfit for their positions or extremely stupid. Thrilled by the idea, the emperor contracts their services and they make a great show of dressing the emperor in his “invisible garment”. The emperor cannot see the so-called garment, but remains silent as he fears it means he is not fit for his position. The emperor then proceeds on a procession around town, but everyone remains silent also for fear of being branded stupid, until a child who does not know any better blots out the obvious – the emperor has no clothes on!
Now, as anyone can guess, President Buhari is the emperor in this analogy. His obsessive anti-corruption crusade is his fondness and by extension, his weakness. In this present day scenario, however, the conmen are numerous and the emperor’s court that remained silent are represented by the president’s ministers, other appointees and advisers that keep singing his praises. Since he assumed office, the president has been treated, probably obliviously, to many invisible garments and has been left exposed and naked by members of his inner caucus who, perhaps, are more concerned about themselves than the president’s image or the overall direction of the country.
That child in the crowd has manifested in different ways in Buhari’s administration, with the latest inadvertent manifestation in the person of Ibe Kachikwu. In truth, Kachikwu may have simply been addressing personal concerns to his person and his office, but what he may have inadvertently done is call out the president on his style of leadership.
In his letter, Kachikwu states that he had been unable to secure an appointment to personally convey his concerns to the president “despite very many attempts”. His letter also alluded to the possibility that Baru and others had falsely painted him as corrupt, “anti-north” and in collusion with militants in the South – buzz words that are likely to sway the president. What this means is that, whether through the influence of others or through his own wilfulness or neglect, the president had insulated himself from an important member of his cabinet.
If memory serves us right, Kachikwu is not the only one from the president’s ‘court’ that has raised alarm about the president’s confidants and advisers. Sometime in July this year, Aisha Buhari, the first lady, also referred to a cabal of “hyenas and jackals” within the president’s inner circle who had hijacked the Presidency and were making the president dance to their tune. The first lady would later be described as a “suicide bomber from Yola” in a phone conversation between alleged members of that cabal. Such has been the rancour within the president’s inner caucus, pointing to a problem in the president’s leadership style.
If Kachikwu’s allegations are to be believed, Baru is apparently a member of, or closely related to this cabal that we have been hearing about. Kachikwu backed up his claims by referring to repeated attempts by the cabal to gain approval from then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo during the president’s medical leave, in circumvention of Kachikwu’s authority, which the vice president declined and referred back to Kachikwu. As the leaked letter revealed, the vice president’s reference was never honoured, only for the approvals to be granted upon Buhari’s return.
On the assumption that these claims are true, it is difficult to rule out foul play at some level, with the net of liability reaching the president himself. The concern is, even if the president’s team is engaged in illicit games, no one seems to have warned the president about the possible (and actual) damage to the image of integrity that saw him sweep aside the past administration. The opposition has been watching and exploiting the situation, and this leak and others have been linked to the president’s detractors who, ironically, have also played the role of the child in the emperor’s analogy, by voicing the obvious truth about Buhari’s exposure.
The foundation of Buhari’s government has been the relative free hand given to members of his cabinet and other appointees to pursue policies that ought to benefit his administration as a whole. However, such a strategy can only work if there is coherence in the motives and objectives of each individual appointee. As the Department of State Services (DSS) and Ibrahim Magu saga shows, there is little or no coherence within the Presidency and the first lady’s theory is strengthened by the outcome in that case that turned out apparently against the president’s own wishes.
Buhari’s leadership style was easy to maintain in his first outing as military head of state, where the chain of authority was clear. Even then, many observed, rightly or wrongly, that the late Tunde Idiagbon, Buhari’s number two man, was largely the real power-house of the government, in line with Buhari’s style of extensive delegation. Now, under a civilian administration, the lines are not so clear and the free reign approach has led to more problems than solutions. Buhari’s retention of the position of minister for Petroleum Resources is certainly out of character, based on his leadership style. This fact and the way the Baru-led NNPC has behaved so far, can lead one to other conclusions.
The overbearing confidence of the ‘northern wing’ has also brought a new dimension in a system that thrives on federal character. The president’s weakness to address this or his ignorance of the existence and effects of this dimension, contributes to the problem. This is why, even in sensitive positions, non-Northern appointees like Kachikwu, while being sidelined, still feel the need to restate a nationalist, as opposed to anti-North, disposition.
It is also significant that the emperor in the classic tale continued his procession as if nothing had happened, even after the child revealed what was apparent. Will Buhari now do the same? There are reports that the president has met Kachikwu over the matter and possibly Baru too. Therefore, the president’s next move or lack of reaction will be very crucial in confirming or allaying fears over the truth about his integrity.
However, the Kachikwu-Baru clash is not an isolated event, as many cries about the president’s apparent ‘nakedness’ have elicited no reactions from the man himself. From the Katsina DSS recruitments to selective prosecutions, the cards continue to stack against the president but his appointees continue to ignore the signs.
Those who criticised Kachikwu over his handling of the matter should see the positives in the way events have played out. Buhari’s attention has finally been called to the matter. Perhaps, elevating Kachikwu to the position of a full minister for Petroleum Resources (if the hyenas and jackals will concede) and personally working very closely with him, (as it should be), is one way that confidence in the president’s integrity can be somewhat restored in this matter.
It appears the threads of Buhari’s garment of integrity and anti-corruption have worn out in the course of his administration, but the man carries on as though his popularity is as strong as when he took power. But who will tell the Emperor?
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