by Olusegun Adeniyi
“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” I remembered that timeless injunction by 20th century Australian journalist, Arthur Brisbane, last weekend the moment I saw the photograph of Senator Godswill Akpabio grovelling before President Muhammadu Buhari in London. Anybody who knows the former Akwa Ibom State Governor very well knows that humility is not one of his virtues; so it must be an act of desperation for him to stoop in the manner he did to accept President Buhari’s handshake.
That Akpabio, for whom the senate session rule was broken so he could become the minority leader, would abandon his party to cross the aisle is also a suspicious decision that makes many to link it with his case before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)—an institution that has been turned into an instrument of blackmail and coercion against the opposition by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). That explains why only the accounts of some states controlled by the PDP are being blocked.
On 27th March this year, in seconding a motion moved by the senate majority leader, Ahmed Lawan, seeking an adjournment of the senate to enable APC lawmakers attend the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting holding that day, Akpabio said, “even though we have a quorum of the senate which is about 37 and we in the PDP can continue proceedings, I give them the opportunity to attend the NEC meeting.” He then turned to Lawan and added: “I hereby second the motion to allow you continue the confusion in your NEC meeting today.”
That is the “confusion” Akpabio has elected to join though it is very well within his right. He becomes an issue only because his name is being frequently mentioned as one of the principal actors in the National Assembly sordid drama. Even though I have already spoken to some principal actors, I am yet to get a complete picture of what exactly happened on Tuesday and the allegation against Akpabio remains unproven. But I can perceive a vicious power struggle not only within the National Assembly but also at the presidency that I am not sure bode well for the country. While the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fall together, what I find interesting is the collective amnesia by many Nigerians.
I deliberately chose the title of Joseph Heller’s 1974 novel to headline this piece because there is still a lack of clarity on why the National Assembly was invaded. There are two accounts. If you believe one faction, the invasion was to clear the way for some APC Senators to enter the chambers and remove the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. The other account is that the whole fiasco was orchestrated by Saraki himself. Since we are in a season of full scale propaganda with both sides having foot soldiers in the social media, especially WhatsApp, truth has become the first casualty. The only constant is that the interest of Nigerians is the last thing on the minds of the gladiators on both sides, despite all the posturing.
However, for those who still argue that what happened on Tuesday was unprecedented, I enjoin them to Google Professor Wole Soyinka’s 3rd December 2014 press statement titled ‘King Nebuchadnezzar—The reign of impunity’, following the invasion of the National Assembly by the police at that period.
Let me refresh the memory of readers with a few lines: “The latest action of the supposed guardians of the law against the nation’s lawgivers is an unambiguous declaration of war against the people. Legislators are not elected for their athletic prowess, and such endeavours should not be demanded of them. Our legislators however have been made to perform over and beyond the call of the Olympics. I don’t understand why some media have described their action as a show of shame — this is a very careless, easily misapplied designation. The act of scaling gates and walls to fulfill their duty by the people must be set down as their finest hour. They must be applauded, not derided. If shame belongs anywhere, it belongs to the Inspector-General of Police and his slavish adherence to conspiratorial, illegal, and unconstitutional instructions — to undermine a democratic structure…For this latest outrage, one in an escalating series of impunity, the buck stops yet again at the presidency, and that incumbent, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, continues to surprise us in ways that very few could have conjectured.”
The import of that recollection is to remind Nigerians of the level to which regime protection has always been substituted for national security by those who head these agencies. It is particularly interesting that the IGP in question, who at that period was the enforcer for President Jonathan and the PDP, practically turned himself to Buhari’s ADC the moment Jonathan conceded defeat. Yet, I am almost certain that if the former president had rejected the result, the same IGP (who was sacked in anger apparently for his post-election disloyalty) would have led the assault against Buhari and his supporters!
Therefore, if there is any take-away from what is going on in Nigeria today, it is that the power struggle is not about the people, it is about the protection of personal privileges. So, nobody should be carried away by the politics of ‘my crowd is bigger than yours’ going on across the country that ignited Tuesday’s show of shame as politicians decamp from one party to the other. In any case, I followed the drama on television and except for the female legislator who stood up to the hooded security agents, most of her colleagues who became “heroes of democracy” were actually drinking Whiskey right within the premises of the National Assembly. And their leader, Senator Ben Bruce had to cheapen our country while addressing the media.
Here is what he said which I have transcribed unedited for readers: “…We will ask them to revoke the business, the business of their wives and the business of their children. They will not be allowed to leave Nigeria to travel to any nation in Western Europe and North America. And let me say this, let me say this very clearly, let nobody test me or let nobody test this institution. When you begin anti-democratic situations like this, including the DSS officials – I want to get the photograph (of) all those breaking the law; get me their pictures, get me their names, we will submit the names of the DSS officials, the names of Senator Akpabio and the gangs to the embassies – I’ve been in touch with them already, they are waiting for the list. As soon as they have it… the quest to go to Washington, to go to London, to go to EU, and to go to Canada and we will make sure their visas are revoked. And I hope these anti-democratic forces love Nigeria because they will not be travelling (for) very, very long time. I also want to tell them that Bayelsa has a very good medical facility, Cross River has very good tourist facilities…Godswill Akpabio, go and sell your [air]plane because you will not need it for a very long time. In fact, after this, my colleagues and I would buy a donkey so he could use because he has nowhere to go.”
With that revelation, we now know that Senator Akpabio has a Private Jet but it says so much about those who preside over our affairs that Bruce would equate staying in Nigeria for a public official with being punished. Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was Governor of Lagos State for four years and three months during the Second Republic and he never for one day ventured outside Nigeria, either for medical or on holiday. Now, none of our public officials can spend two weeks at a stretch in Nigeria, they must gallivant across the globe at our expense. And the cynical manner the senator talked about the medical facility in his home state shows he considers it beneath himself and that of his colleagues to go there.
While we will deal with all these issues and the National Assembly fiasco another day, let me say quickly that the person who should be held responsible for what happened on Tuesday is President Buhari. In fact, the growing insinuation is that were he to be in the country, nothing would have happened to the Director General of the State Security Service, Mr Lawal Daura; after all, nothing has happened to all the certificate forgers in his government, including those appointed to ‘fight corruption’. The question is, if a president could admit publicly that he gave a directive to his IGP and was ignored without any consequence, why would the heads of other security agencies not go rogue?
In my 19th April column on this page, I highlighted how President Buhari has failed to provide leadership by allowing those manning security agencies to practically engage in street brawl without anybody calling them to order and the implications for the polity. I enjoin readers to go through that piece again because it contains a mild rebuke of the president by his own National Security Adviser before I drew my conclusions: “The most elementary doctrinal pillar that undergirds national security is the recognition of the primacy of national interest. In that regard, it is the need to preserve the integrity of security agencies as state institutions that equips every president to contain the excesses of security chiefs, especially when their private agenda begin to muddy the national interest or vitiate the integrity of the institutions they head. In a situation where the personal interests and tendencies of these security chiefs are allowed to blossom uncontrolled, the agencies quickly grow into private armies that clash openly at the slightest opportunity.
“It is this red line that was crossed by operatives of the DSS, NIA and EFCC on the streets of Abuja in November 2017 which necessitated the intervention of the Senate. When added to inter-agency squabbles between the military and the police—whose men have become easy targets for extermination by armed robbers and sundry hoodlums—we are face to face with the precise reasons why our national security is today in tatters.
“What is baffling to most observers is how President Buhari has allowed the institutions of national security to be freely carved up into clashing and competing private fiefdoms of ambitious and lawless chieftains who have carried their fights into the public arena. Tragically, it is this dysfunction between the security agencies and the unhealthy rivalry among their heads that has led to the current state of general insecurity in the country.”
I wrote the foregoing less than four months ago. But the decisive step taken by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Daura should serve the rogue heads of our security services who act as though above the law oblivious to the fact that one of the primary objectives of security in a democracy is the protection of critical institutions of State. While loyalty to the Number One office in the country is required of security chiefs, it also behooves on them to understand that fidelity to national institutions and the constitution is a higher calling.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the current disarray among security chiefs reflects a scramble for vantage position in the politics of access to the president. In the process, the architecture of national security is in ruins. When he returns to the country from his holiday, President Buhari must redefine the structure of national security by replacing those who have outlived their usefulness. He also must take charge of his government by doing what is necessary to discourage further personalization of vital institutions. That is the irreducible minimum if his administration is to regain any modicum of credibility after the recent shame.