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10 Sep 2017

Top public officials who dared their presidents

Last week, one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministers, Aisha Alhassan, voiced her support for the 2019 presidential ambition of one of the President’s strongest rivals. BAYO AKINLOYE profiles Alhassan and other public officials who dared or defied Nigerian presidents
Your Excellency,” the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Aisha Alhassan, began in a video that went viral on social media last week. “Our father and our president by the grace of God come 2019. Before you are your people, your supporters for life, and the people of Taraba State; they are here to pay homage and to greet you on the occasion of Sallah and for all that Allah has done for you because Allah has raised your status.”

The fair-skinned, bespectacled minister was not addressing President Muhammadu Buhari.  Buhari hasn’t signified an intention to run for reelection. However, his associates have been dropping hints of a possible run for reelection while supporters are clamouring for the same.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the man Alhassan was addressing at the event, has not hidden his intention to contest the presidency again, possibly during the 2019 presidential poll.

Therefore, Alhassan’s mellifluous voice and salutary words, which later caused much disquiet within the corridors of power, must have sounded like good music to Abubakar.

It was the same tone of voice she used in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Hausa Service a few days after. She spoke with such verve and boldness. During the interview, Alhassan who is also known as Mama Taraba, reiterated her support for Atiku and his ambition.

“Since I was in the civil service, His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, has been my mentor and godfather. He has remained so even now that I have joined politics. There is a reason for every political relationship.

“Baba Buhari has not told anybody that he is contesting in 2019. I can assure you that today, if Baba Buhari says he is going to contest, walahi tallahi (I swear by Allah), I will go and kneel down before him and say, ‘Baba, I am grateful for the opportunity you have given me to serve as a minister in your administration but Baba, like you know, Atiku is my godfather.

“If Atiku says he is going to contest – but he too has not said he will contest… Why I said (Atiku) is ‘our President come 2019’ is that we expect that he will contest. But if he contests, I will go and do what I just told you I will do.”

Alhassan was equally daring as she assessed the possible consequences of her bold support for Atiku.

She said, “Those who are saying I will be sacked will be put to shame. Even if I am sacked, it is Allah’s will; I never lobbied for it. It was Allah who gave it to me.”

Her comments were met with silence from the Presidency; neither Buhari nor his spokesmen have reacted to her statements.

Her position has made the ruling All Progressives Congress to press the panic button with its National Working Committee calling for a meeting to be held on September 11.

However, Mama Taraba is not the first minister or public official to dare or defy a President.

Lokpobiri dared Buhari too

In this dispensation, the dare-or-defy posture seemed to have begun with the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, jetting out of the country in January this year without any approval to do so.

Buhari had in 2016 directed his aides and other top officials of the Federal Government to get approval from him  through the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, for trips outside the country.

The junior minister, who had written a letter dated December 28, 2016, to the President through Kyari, travelled out of the country without getting a reply to his request.

Reportedly, Lokpobiri’s request was turned down – but he was said to be already in faraway China when the response to his letter came on January 9, 2017.

Onagoruwa’s derring-do

Speaking up against maximum ruler, Late Gen. Sani Abacha, during his infamous reign as Nigeria’s Head of State, was a risky business left for those in the opposition.

Olu Onagoruwa, a lawyer with impeccable records as a human rights champion, first did the unspeakable when he threw his weight behind Abacha’s government in 1993 by accepting to be its attorney general and minister of justice.

Barely one year after, Onagoruwa had turned into an activist in government. He condemned and dissociated himself from eight decrees the dictator had issued.

Onagoruwa addressing a press conference said the decrees would “sweep away our liberties.” He threatened to resign.

Unlike Alhassan and Lokpobiri in the current administration, Onagoruwa was given the boot.

Prior to the press conference where he lashed out against the decrees, the firebrand minister had enraged Abacha by issuing a letter ordering the release of Turner Ogboru who was incarcerated for a crime allegedly committed by his brother, Great Ogboru.

Entered Akunyili

Late Prof. Dora Akunyili, said to be close to the then-President Umaru Yar’Adua’s family, particularly his wife, swam against the tide when she circulated – to the dismay of other ministers during a Federal Executive Council meeting – a memo requesting that then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should be declared the acting president.

She was instantly accused of betrayal. But she stood her ground.

“I want to start my humble submission by stating that I am a 100-per-cent loyalist of President Yar’Adua. President Yar’Adua is very dear to me just as he is to all of you. We are all aware of what has been happening in Nigeria, especially as it concerns the issue of making the Vice President an acting president.

“What went wrong? We love our president but we should remember that he is not infallible. Before he left Nigeria he had a moral and constitutional obligation to officially inform the Senate and hand over the mantle of leadership to the Vice President pending his return and recovery. That did not happen. Yes, the mistake has been made by our boss and brother. Mr. President is ill and did not choose to be sick. But while we continue to pray for his recovery, we should try to right the wrong he did.

“We need to do what is morally right and constitutional for the president to officially hand over to the Vice President to function as acting president. If he does not, we can evoke whichever aspect of the constitution that should make the Vice President an acting president. If we fail to act now, history will not forgive us. I rest my case,” Akunyili had argued.

Her clarion call was supported by Senator Bala Mohammed of the Nigeria Integrity Group, who was later rewarded by Jonathan as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.

Sanusi suspended for speaking out

As a former CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was suspended for speaking out against what he perceived as gross financial impropriety by some government officials and the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

He had written to former President Goodluck Jonathan months before accusing the NNPC of failing to remit $49.8bn (about N8tn) from the sales of crude oil for 19 months.

That letter, according to political observers, was interpreted as indicting the president of being negligent or complicit of the goings-on in the oil firm.

Jonathan would later wield the big stick and ordered the indefinite suspension of Sanusi for daring to look him in the eye.

Tukur too

Hamman Tukur, a former Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, had a running battle with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was also the Minister of Petroleum, about the money the NNPC ought to have remitted to the federation account.

According to Tukur, the accounts of the organisation was unaudited since 1999 until 2006.

Tukur also claimed some top officials of the corporation were involved in a N502bn shady practice of producing crude oil in excess of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ quota for the country.

He also accused the corporation of unclear accounting of about N555 bn between December 2004 and April 2007.

The RMAFC boss noted that the nation might have lost the sum due to lack of transparency and accountability in the NNPC’s computation and payment procedures.

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