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10 Sep 2017

A Tale of Aisha I and Aisha II

The turmoil within the All Progressives Congress has intensified with the latest revelation by Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan.
Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan and Aisha Buhari

It is nearly one year ago that Aisha Buhari, the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, placed him on alert: that she may not back him at the next election unless he shakes up his government.  In her estimation, it had been hijacked by a few interlopers who were influencing his appointments.

That story tumbled into the open while Buhari was on a state visit to Germany.  Coming face-to-face with the international press, he infamously dismissed his wife’s concerns, describing her as some kind of political nonentity belonging only to “my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”

The former military chief made that remark at a press conference where he was standing next to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Weeks later, Aisha—let’s call her Aisha I—would describe herself as seeking “the success of my husband’s administration.”

But she did not actually take back her previous remarks, and the point had been made, the damage quite considerable.

Last week, she was followed by Aisha II: Aisha Alhassan, the Minister of Women Affairs in Mr. Buhari’s government, sometimes better known as ‘Mama Taraba.’

Speaking to the BBC Hausa service, she disclosed that Mr. Buhari has indicated he will not run for re-election, but that should he declare his candidature, she would not be supporting it.

And then Aisha II went farther and faster than any political animal before her, especially those of the masculine variety: for the presidency in 2019, she said, she would support former Vice President Atiku Abubakar instead.

It is no surprise that, overnight, the words of Aisha II threw the entire Nigerian political landscape into chaos, and began an early process of redefinition and reconfiguration.  Now, if APC is to have a shot at the presidency in 2019, not only must Mr. Buhari make an early clarification of his intentions, the party itself faces restructuring if it is to have a future, a process Buhari’s government is ironically afraid of at the centre.

There is another irony: the question of rooms, and who has the right to do what to whom and in what room.  In October 2016, Mr. Buhari tried to restrict his wife to a few non-political rooms around the estate, but it would appear he misjudged the challenge.

That challenge is whether APC has room for women, and whether such real estate includes the boardroom.  Between Aisha I and Aisha II, the women seem to have broken into political decision-making and influence not only for APC, but for Nigeria.  Where the men are afraid, and in places they are afraid to go, the women—particularly Northern Nigeria women—are showing character.  Talk about ‘C-H-A-N-G-E.’

EFCC and the media

Last week, I reflected on a historic admission by the EFCC that the war against corruption, in which it is a major player, has failed.

The stunning confession reportedly made by Acting EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu at an interactive session he held with media chiefs in Abuja on August 30.

I said he had by his words “basically torn apart the government’s most potent pretensions,” and wondered about the prospects of his call for the war to be “revived.”

But the part of the report claiming he had declared failure, it turns out, was false.  While the EFCC boss met with the journalists as a partner in the war, some of them, particularly in one online publication, had manufactured the failure story.

In response last Monday, the EFCC distributed the following press statement:

“The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been drawn to an article by veteran columnist Sonala Olumhense entitled, “As EFCC confesses the Sad Truth,” which was syndicated in print and online media on Sunday, September 3, 2017. The piece dwelt extensively on two heads of strategic agencies in the Muhammadu Buhari administration – the chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, and the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu.

“The author, as usual, wrote with poetic candour but missed the point on the score of the chairman of the EFCC by imputing to him statements that he never made.

“The way we are going we have already failed… I am telling you we have almost failed. It is almost lost,’’ Olumhense quoted Magu as having said, when he met with journalists in Abuja on August 30.

“But at no time did Magu make such a statement during the meeting with senior journalists.

“Olumhense could be pardoned for the wrong attribution, as he probably relied on information by a section of the online media, but the truth is that Magu never made such comments. By the same token, it would be unfair for anyone to be calling for his head for comments that he never made.

“It is unfathomable for the same man who announced the recovery of over N409bn and 137 convictions in eight months to claim that he had lost the fight against corruption.”

I subsequently reviewed the text of Mr. Magu’s 745-word statement at the event.  Nowhere in it did he declare the war to have failed.  As if to buttress his denial, the newspaper concerned, in a subsequent edition, first edited the offending headline of the story, and then removed the relevant quotes completely. On its site, it now carries the following editor’s note: “The headline and body of this report has been edited to accurately reflect what the EFCC chairman said.”

One immediate lesson here is that mainstream Nigerian newspapers must take their online editions more seriously, and not be afraid to publish today what they hope to sell in the hard copy editions tomorrow.  This is an unrealistic and dangerous loophole in the information age through which one or two publishers can disseminate falsehood for many hours before others report the truth.

That said, the bottom line of the anti-corruption effort is that it is the government, not the EFCC, which has thrown the war into disrepute.   Under this government, there is clearly no political will to fight corruption, as demonstrated by:

President Buhari who, contrary to a rule he made himself, continues to travel abroad for medical treatment, and for which he does not account;
*The litany of excuses being offered as to why hardly anyone in our army of kleptocrats since 1999 has gone to jail;
*The government’s failure to publish the statement of recovered loot (since 1999, and then since Buhari’s assumption of office) as ordered by the courts; and
*The failure of the government to diligently, indiscriminately and courageously identify any top looters, including Heads of Governments, and prosecute them.
*These basic fronts in the war are political decisions that depend on political will at the highest level: a gap the EFCC cannot fill.  They are the clearest signs that the war never really began.

There are fights, and then there are pretend fights.  This one, sadly, is a pretend war destined to be won by the bad guys.

By Sonala Olumhense

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