Leaked memos: Struggling for control in the seat of power

Amidst daunting security challenges, two notable members of the Muhammadu Buhari government’s cabinet during the week leaked memos suggesting that all might not be well within the inner caucus surfaced. Alarmingly, the memos revealed there could be a snag in the objective of the government to ensure the safety of all Nigerians in the face of glaring and persistent terror attacks. STEPHEN GBADAMOSI writes that the memos are not the first of such sensitive documents to be leaked since the inception of this government.

EVEN before the advent of the President Muhammadu Buhari government, Nigeria had been bedevilled by a myriad of problems. But there were optimism that the situation would change in line with the campaign mantra of the government, change, once the Buhari government took over. Expectations of positive change were high. But the country›s current situation, despite the claim of government that it has recorded outstanding success, is, according to economic experts, beyond pathetic. The problems, from social, economic to even political, seem too numerous to catalogue.

The problem the Buhari-led government appears to be battling with currently is internal, within itself. There is, from the expose of leaked memos, ongoing  supremacy battle among a few core members of the president’s kitchen cabinet, specifically between two powerful actors, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, a retired army general and the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari. During the outgone week, amid serious national outrage and debate over worsening security situation in the country, the media got busy with the news of a memo sent to security chiefs and copied to the president and his ‘chief appointee,’ Kyari, warning seriously of the dire consequences of the Chief of Staff’s alleged meddlesomeness in security affairs, which he (Monguno) believes are beyond the brief of chief of staff to the president.

The service chiefs had been in the eye of the storm over their perceived inability to tame end or at worst contain the insecurity across the country, particularly Boko Haram terrorism and militia-herdsmen, since they came into office about five years ago. The refusal of the president to change the security chiefs, despite public outcry, has generated more opprobrium for the administration.

Yet, the onslaught by armed herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers, insurgents and Boko Haram terrorists who kill, destroy properties and unleash fear on the various parts of the country, particularly in the North-East, North-West and North-Central has continued.

But Monguno, in the said memo, dated December 9, 2009, fell short of accusing the Chief of Staff of undermining the efforts of his office and the security chiefs in curtailing the security problems. He noted the meddlesomeness and warned the service chiefs to stop taking orders from Kyari and be wary of his interference.

It had been widely alleged that Kyari is one of the most powerful men in the Buhari Presidency and a member of the cabal running the administration on the president’s behalf. Even the wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, had cried out severally that his husband’s government had been hijacked by the said cabal and had even had to engage some of them.

According to the leaked memo, as first published by  Premium Times, “while it is expected that all heads of security agencies, having spent many years in service would understand means of passing directives from the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, it may be necessary to remind all, in the face of glaring breaches to that procedure.

“For clarification, other than direct verbal directives from the President, written directives emanating from Mr President would be conveyed with a copy of his manuscript directive or at minimum, bear his signature

“Additionally, Mr. President may convey directives to the heads of defence and security apparatus through the NSA who chairs the Intelligence Community Committee, Joint Intelligence Board and General Security Appraisal Committee on behalf of the President and the supervising ministers of defence and security agencies.

“It should be noted that the Chief of Staff to the President does not direct security apparatus of the Federal Republic of Nigeria — his job as it relates to security stops at conveying Mr President’s written directives.

“Similarly, you are reminded that the Chief of Staff to the President is not a presiding head of security, neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country.

“As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President.

“Such acts and continuous meddlesomeness by the Chief of Staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts but have also slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr President has sought to achieve.

“As professionals, you are aware that the security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria requires concerted and centralised effort taking into account internal, external and diplomatic factors.

“It is, therefore, detrimental to our collective security that the Chief of Staff who is a non-supervising minister holds meetings with diplomats, security chiefs and heads of agencies.

“Pursuant to the foregoing, you are by this letter directed to desist from these illegal acts that serve nothing but the continuous undermining of our national security framework. Any breach of this directive will attract displeasure of Mr President.”

To many Nigerians, this letter is not only an indictment on the government of the day and an indication of the uncoordinated manner in which the nation is being administered. The memo lends credence to the allegation that, indeed, all may not be well in the Buhari Presidency.

But the question that many Nigerians are eager to get answer to is how the letter, meant for the president’s audience, the chief of staff’s and security chiefs’ found its way into the public domain. What is even more curious is that efforts by journalists to get official reaction to the development did not yield fruit for many hours. Could the Presidency really be hiding something?

Many analysts have described this development as very grave to the security of the nation, especially with regard to the fight against terrorism and insurgency, especially when sensitive documents become a subject of extensive public discourse.

 

Memo leakage, a regular pattern in a discordant administration

Investigation by Sunday Tribune indicated that curious leakage of government’s secret memos has been a part of the Buhari-led administration since inception, with analysts suspecting that the development might have arisen from distrust and even corruption among key actors in the corridors of power.

 

The leaked Lai Muhammed letter

In May 2016, popular online media, SaharaReporters blew the lid on a controversial loan allegedly obtained by Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to fund a foreign trip.

The report had it that Muhammed, had, through a memo, requested a loan of N3, 120,470 from the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to finance an official journey to China on May 15, 2016.

The online medium quoted the letter as saying; “the honourable minister has, therefore, approved that you loan the ministry the total sum of N13,120,470 to enable him and his team embark on the China trip to carry out the assignment.”

The report also had it that when confronted, the minister did not deny the allegation, but only wondered how an internal memo in his ministry got into the hands of the media men.

“I am so disappointed that an internal memo like that would be with SaharaReporters; it shows a lack of integrity in the ministry,” he was quoted as saying.

About two years into the administration, in March 2017, a September 2016 correspondence of the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, to President Buhari over the state of the nation superintended over by the president and his party APC, was leaked to the public. The president had just returned from a medical vacation abroad.  In the 30-page memo to the president, el-Rufai, one of the super midwifes of the APC central government, bemoaned the worsening situation in the country and chided his party for not providing the right leadership.

But it was not just the APC that el-Rufai took a swipe at. The Kaduna governor also used the letter to snitch on the then senator representing Kaduna Central, Mallam Shehu Sani, with whom he had fallen out. He accused Sani, in the letter, of denigrating the president and the party. Though the memo was supposed to be a private correspondence from the Kaduna State governor, believed to be one of the strongest confidants of Buhari, to the president, it still found its way into the media. It appeared to many observers that he could actually afford to say such ‘naked truth’ to the president, provided it is in privacy; naked truth being that the ruling party was not cohesive. But it shouldn’t be lost on the people that at the time, he also had axe to grind with Senator Sani.

But who made the correspondence a public issue? When journalist prodded Governor el-Rufai over this, he denied ever leaking the memo.

“I have written several memos to the president. This is the first one that has leaked. I can state categorically that I did not leak it; if I did, I would say so. I wrote the memo; it’s my own. I could make it public, if I chose to, but I did not.

“It was a private communication and I can’t understand the motives of those that leaked it. I don’t know who leaked it,” the governor was quoted as saying.

 

The forgotten ‘Barugate’

One allegation of corruption against the government of President Buhari that sticks out like a sore thumb, but which the nation seems to have glosses over is that made against the Group managing Director (GMD) of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Maikanti Baru. The ‘can of worms’ was also opened to the nation via a leaked memo.

The then Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, had alleged, in an August 30, 2017 memo, leaked in October of the same year, that he was being sidelined, as the supervising minister over the NNPC, in the running of things in the corporation.

Recall that President Buhari is the substantive Minister of Petroleum, but Kachikwu was expected to represent the cabinet on the board of the oil agency.

He alleged that contracts running into $25 billion were awarded within a year under GMD Baru, without his awareness or that of the board of the corporation, adding that some of the gains recorded while he was at the helm of affairs at the corporation had been rubbished.

In the memo, he alleged also that due process was not followed, not only in awarding contracts, but also in making some appointments into the corporation.

The same Kyari named in the current leaked memo on security was to feature prominently in another such case that occurred in 2017.  Kachikwu denied leaking the memo to the public.

 

Mainagate memo was also leaked

Soon after, the case the former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, got to the public through an official correspondence that found its way into the public domain. Maina had been sacked by the previous administration over issues bordering on corruption regarding the humongous funds being handled by the pension agency. But soon after Buhari became president, he was reportedly re-instated via a government memo.

However, Maina’s secret re-instatement and promotion caught the eyes of prying Nigerians and the development generated a huge hoopla. Kyari the chief of staff to the president was to go into war of words with the then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita. Kyari had allegedly accused her of leaking a memo indicating that President Buhari was aware of Maina’s re-instatement to the public. Even though she claimed at that time that she had reached the peak of her career in the civil service, the furore that followed the development, many thought, signalled the end of Oyo-Ita’s days as the HoS.

 

The leaked memo on vice-president

In September of 2019, a similar occurrence played out over the office of VicePresident, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. It was a time speculations were rife that the powerful people in Buhari’s cabinet were all out to cut Osinbajo to size.

A memo was also leaked to the media then. The said memo directed the vice-president to seek Kyari’s approval for decisions made on agencies under his (Osinbajo’s) office. The development was seen by many Nigerians as a way of subordinating the vice-president to the chief of staff.

 

And Fowler was felled by another leaked memo…

Kyari’s name also featured prominently in the drama that saw to the eventual exit of the executive chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Babatunde fowler. There had been reports that Kyari wanted Fowler out of the FIRS, before a memo petitioning (him) Fowler was leaked.

The memo, entitled; “RE: Budgeted FIRS Collection And Actual Collections,” many believed, indicted Fowler. About this time, Fowler’s tenure at the FIRS was nearing its end. But the tenure of the man, regarded as a strong ally of one of the leaders of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, was open to renewal.

However, the reported power wielded by Bourdillon around the Buhari Presidency and the APC did not guarantee Fowler the much-needed renewal.

According to reports, Fowler took his destiny in his own hands and wrote a letter to the president informing him of his desire for tenure elongation which is in line with FIRS Establishment Act, 2007.

The memo, entitled; “RE: Notification of Expiration of Tenure as Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service,” expressed Fowler’s presentation of himself for a second term. It was addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.

“I write to notify the secretary of the federation that my first tenure as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) ends today, December 9, 2019.

“In view of the above, I wish to present myself for reappointment for a second term. This is consistent with the provisions of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 and would grant me the opportunity to consolidate and build on the achievements we have recorded in the four years.

“Please find attached the highlight of my achievements during my first tenure in the office. I will like to put on record my gratitude to Mr. President for the opportunity to serve the nation. I am also thankful for your support in the course of the discharge of my duties. Please accept as always, the assurance of my highest regards,” the former revenue boss had stated in the memo.

But all these would not spare Fowler from being removed from his job.

Many people have said that as the clearing house for the office of the president, the office of the Chief of Staff to the President looked suspect in the various leakages of otherwise confidential state memos. With the involvement of security matters in this latest case, apprehension can only increase among the citizens.

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