AT last, President Muhammadu Buhari has booted out of his government, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke. The sack of the duo, which is patently belated by every imaginable standard, came a few days ago, six months after their suspension. The erstwhile SGF was suspended on April 19, 2017 over alleged involvement in the N200 million grass-cutting contract of Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE). The NIA DG, on the other hand, was suspended over the discovery of an equivalent of N13 billion in local and foreign currencies in an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos State, said to belong to NIA. The committee set up to probe the allegations was headed by Vice- President Yemi Osinbajo and it turned in its report on August 23. But the report had been gathering dust on the desk of the president until a few days ago. It should be noted that while under suspension, the duo of Oke and Lawal were still earning salaries. In other words, Buhari’s indecision cost the country money, in addition to the poor perception by dispassionate observers, locally and internationally, of the way the anti-graft war is being fought.
The reason for the president’s vacillation on the matters until recently is yet unknown. But the platitudes of his image managers in rationalising the lethargic approach to governance is the need to make haste slowly and that the delay happened because Buhari needed to be thorough. Pray, what kind of thoroughness is being alluded to? Did Buhari set up another committee to review his deputy’s report? Another usual refrain is that the president has more information available to him on any subject of governance than anyone else, hence he needs more time to weigh all options before taking decisions. Ordinarily, however, availability of or access to information should facilitate prompt decision making and sharpen the judgment of the decision maker and not the other way round. If it took about four months to take a decision one way or the other on the report of an investigation headed by the vice-president and which had generated so much public interest, then suspicion of official fixation about the expected outcome of the investigation is not out of place.
To be sure, the president does not have to take decisions that tally with the sometimes uninformed expectations of the vociferous members of the public on all matters. Nonetheless, he is required to make prompt decisions based on facts available to him provided the sources of his information are verifiable and credible. No modern-day government has the luxury of unwarranted delay in making vital official decisions. Even where those decisions are right when eventually made, significant mileage, especially in terms of goodwill, would have been lost owing to the initial delay. And the argument that the delay at issue might have been occasioned by more compelling state matters on which the president had to act does not hold water. No official duties should have been more important than making a decision that would have established the credibility of the government’s anti-graft war at a time when the president was being accused of brooking heist and protecting allegedly corrupt officials within the corridors of power.
Sadly, by its inexplicable reticence, the presidency invited the avalanche of innuendoes being read in some quarters into the belated sack of the two senior officials from the public service. Many believe that the government did not act out of its own volition but reluctantly bowed to unremitting public pressure. And there would appear to be a measure of credibility in that position as the question may be asked as to how the delay has impacted the quality of the decision taken eventually. Or, put more pointedly, what has changed in the report submitted on August 23 and now especially when the official communication to the public about the sack alluded to the acceptance by the presidency of the report of the Osinbajo-led committee in arriving at its decision?
The situation is also hardly helped by the hasty defence of the former SGF by the president when the Senate filed its interim report on the alleged corruption in the execution of contracts under the PINE. The insinuation is also out there that the scandal that broke out in the aftermath of the fraudulent reinstatement of Abdullahi Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms literarily ‘stampeded’ the presidency into sacking the former SGF and NIA boss. These are unsalutary but somewhat justified commentaries. It is rather unsettling that this government would appear to be giving the impression that it will not act on corruption cases among its own ranks unless the public forces its hand. This is neither good for the country nor for the image and credibility of a government which practically rode to power on the crest of its avowed aversion to corruption.