EXCLUSIVE | Tension in Aso Rock, Only 3 Ministers Have ‘Access’ to President Buhari
Only three members of President Buhari’s Federal Executive Council have access to President Buhari, investigations by SIGNAL have revealed.
The three ministers, former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazzau and former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, SIGNAL gathered are the privileged trio who barely enjoy access to the President. More recently, Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma has been seen at frequent meetings with the President owing to the 2016 budget scandal which portrayed the Nigerian presidency as incompetent and uncoordinated.
President Buhari’s style of governance has built a wall around him, keeping him closely shielded from his ministers and other top government officials, many of whom he regards as corrupt.
Fashola, the Super Minister in President Buhari’s cabinet presiding over the three ‘juicy’ ministries of Works, Housing and Power came under harsh criticisms shortly before his appointment by Buhari as minister for spending N78 million on the design of his personal WordPress website while serving as Governor of Lagos State.
Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi was former governor of Rivers State. His tenure as governor has come under heavy anti-corruption scrutiny after being indicted for corruption by a Rivers State Judicial Panel of Enquiry. He was the Director-General of President Buhari’s campaign organization during the last presidential election.
Dambazzau is in charge of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) as Minister of Interior. Former President Jonathan sacked him as Chief of Army Staff, reportedly for his alleged role in the secret entry of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to the country in February 2010.
Working under fear
Informed sources about the development who did not want to be named disclosed to SIGNAL on Monday how Buhari’s ministers carry out their assignment under an atmosphere of complete fear.
“The ministers can’t even talk to their boss. Everyone works in an atmosphere of fear. Many of them have been digested into a system that makes it a crime to argue or have policy debates with the President. If you have noticed, most of the ministers speak with lack of confidence and some of them have withdrawn into their shell,” a top government official told our reporter.
The ugly situation in Aso Rock, inside sources say is largely responsible for the lack of coordination and failure of ministers to get a grip of their ministries, leaving them to the whim and caprices of civil servants. The inability of Buhari’s cabinet to establish a cohesive Executive-Legislature collaboration has become a distinctive feature of the Buhari government with ministers flatly denying contents of their ministries’ budget details in the 2016 budget presented by President Buhari to the National Assembly.
Recall that President Buhari shocked the world and Nigerians when he declared during a state visit to France that ministers do nothing but make a lot of noise. Defending his preference to operate without a cabinet, the President said civil servants were preferable to ministers who are politicians and “make a lot of noise”.
Lending credence to reports that President Buhari may have reduced his Ministers to powerless puppets, a former Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Rowland Owie recently warned Buhari against tampering with the 2016 budget sent to the Presidency by the National Assembly. Senator Owie said the President was not heeding to advice from his Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma.
“Mr. President should note that he can never get a budget the way it was sent to NASS or state Assembly. NASS has the right to re-introduce new items into the budget, right to reduce the amount, or decrease or remove it totally, it is the function of the National Assembly, no one can do that. If the president changes anything, he has to return the budget again to NASS, it will start again from first reading to second reading to committee stage. If he tampers with it, he has to return it to NASS and start from zero point meaning that this year, we may not have a budget. My worry is that Mr. President is not listening to advise from the Minister of Budget and National Planning and a former Senate Chief Whip, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma and his Special Assistant, Senator Ita Enang who is also very knowledgeable on National Assembly matters”, Senator Owie said.
The pervading atmosphere of fear at the Villa has also affected the number two citizen and Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Informed sources who pleaded anonymity described the VP as demoralized after President Buhari overruled and annulled his announcement that the Buhari government was going to redeem its promise of a N5, 000 monthly stipend to unemployed graduates.
“Buhari made Osinbajo, a pastor feel like a liar and a powerless subordinate when he overturned the VP’s reassurance to Nigerians that Buhari’s government will fulfill its campaign promise of N5, 000 each to unemployed graduates”, a top Villa official who did not want to be named said.
A similar situation played out in August 2015 when President Buhari reportedly ordered the closure of the Aso Rock Villa Chapel where the Vice President worships. Eyewitness accounts had reported how heavily armed men stormed the Aso Rock Chapel on Sunday, August 30, 2015 denying worshippers access to the church. A visibly embarrassed Osinbajo, who worships at the Villa Church, arrived the Chapel and could be seen managing to conceal a worried expression over the incident. This happened two months after the Children’s Church of the Villa Chapel where the wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Oludolapo Osinbajo worships with the children was closed down on orders from above.
The situation in Aso Rock is said to be one where the Vice President hardly feels a part of the government as several ceremonial duties, official functions and foreign visits that the Vice President should ordinarily undertake are carefully kept away from his reach.
Zero respect for subordinates
More worrisome is the lack of respect the President is said to be showing to his ministers, personal aides and other top officials of government. Aside from creating an atmosphere of tension repulsive to intellectual debate, some of President Buhari’s personal staff are bearing the brunt of what has been described as his disdainful approach to productive work culture.
“The president treats his ministers and aides with disdain. He talks down on everybody. It is so bad that sometimes he doesn’t even respond when he is greeted. Even his official pilot and air flight staff can attest. Sometimes, he just walks into the plane, they greet him, he refuses to answer, then he picks up his newspapers and begins to read. It’s really creating an unhealthy environment around the President”, another informed source who spoke on condition of anonymity told SIGNAL.
How the President relates with his aides is said to be largely evident in the way his ministers and aides engage Nigerians with contempt. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina is well known for his unapologetic brashness when engaging citizens especially in the social media. Recently, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu came under fire from citizens when he said he was no magician in reference to the plight of Nigerians in a season of protracted fuel scarcity. Similarly, the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa recently received public condemnation in the social media for a rude comment via her Twitter handle targeted at a Nigerian in diaspora.
In addition to the President’s high-handed approach to managing his staff, inside observers criticize the President in hushed tones for surrounding himself largely with personal staff of Hausa-Fulani extraction. “Everybody who is not Hausa-Fulani is hardly seen around the President except the man who takes his photographs. He has replaced everyone with his people down to his food tester”, another source disclosed anonymously.
Attempts to contact presidential spokespersons Malam Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina to get the comments of the Nigerian presidency have proved abortive. Malam Shehu has repeatedly ignored his phone calls and text messages. Femi Adesina could not be reached at the time of filing this report.
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