By Hassan Gimba
This article, written some weeks back, is reproduced here due to popular demand. It makes it even more necessary considering that the president has been presented with the report of the panel that investigated the embattled SGF and the DG of NIA upon his return from a London Hospital.
That Babachir David Lawal will no longer continue as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is not in contention. What occupies the front burner now in political circles is who replaces the suspended cabinet scribe.
The office of the SGF is the engine room of government, being a clearing house of sorts. Because of the strategic importance of the office, its holder invariably becomes very influential and an automatic kitchen cabinet member.
Babachir Lawal, who had a running battle with the Senate over a contract it said he benefitted from, was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari to allow for an investigation by a committee of three headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The other members of the committee are the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Mohammed Monguno (retd.), and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Alhaji Shehu Malami. The President gave the committee two weeks from the date of its inauguration within which to submit its report.
Hope is a human trait which keeps many alive. ‘Tomorrow will be better’ is a refrain that keeps the person at the receiving end of the vagaries of life optimistic.
Babachir Lawal, according to close associates, has not lost hope of reclaiming his plum seat. Even though right after his suspension, Senator Dino Melaye twitted ‘Babachir ajeku iya nio je’ (He will be severely dealt with [He who’s not as big as me; But setting a trap for me; He will be severely dealt with]), the suspended SGF is confident he would laugh last and longest.
Lawal’s hopes notwithstanding, other party (APC) faithful see his predicament as an opportunity for them to better their lot. They and their associates are leaving no source unsounded out to get the leverage that will hand them the soon-to-be-vacant seat. While some have relayed their ambitions to stakeholders, others are being considered based on their track records.
Most of those whose names are doing the rounds have proved their mettle as loyal party men. They come from diverse political backgrounds and experience.
However, considering the way public offices are apportioned (zoned), the office of the SGF is an ‘exclusive preserve’ of the North East in the current dispensation. Therefore it is taken for given that whoever replaces Babachir must be a North Easterner, even though that would not be enough to stop Nigerians from other zones indicating interest or being projected by other interests.
Therefore this piece is limiting its beam to the North East, the zone seen as where Babachir’s replacement should, or most, come from.
However, a point worth considering is that from the zone, Yobe State is the least represented at the Federal level and the people of the state will not mind being compensated considering that they gave President Muhammadu Buhari almost a hundred percent of their votes. The fact is that even members of the PDP voted massively for the president.
Senator Ahmed Lawan
One of those who have shown interest is Senator Ahmed Lawan. Lawan, who is the Senate Majority Leader, is in his third term in the Senate, after also serving in the House of Representatives for two terms. At the onset of this administration, Lawan was touted as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s candidate and backed by the APC apparatchik to be the Senate President, but he was outmaneuvered by Senator Bukola Saraki in a game of high politics that left the party hierarchy in misery and pitched it against the Saraki-led Senate since then.
In a peace move to reconcile Saraki and his party, Lawan was later rewarded with the majority leadership in the Senate at the expense of Senator Ali Ndume.
Ahmed Lawan is a man with vast legislative experience but he lacks experience working in an executive role. He may have to learn on the job like Babachir.
He may also have some challenges because of his open ambition to be the governor of his state, Yobe. While such ambition in itself is not wrong – as it is within his rights, he will face challenges from his backyard. Many see him as arrogant and fear the consequences of allowing him to get to a position where he would wield more influence. The way he relates with the general public is also not seen as considerate enough, which may come to affect the way people will view the Buhari administration, some think.
Another name on the lips of people is Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda from Borno. Ambassador Jidda was one of those expected to be made SGF before Babachir emerged out of the blues. He may yet make it this time around, especially if it is his luck. Ambassador Jidda has diplomatic experience and has some advantage of experience, having been Secretary to the Government in Borno State (SSG). He is seen as one man who can bring his experience to bear on this administration if appointed.
Tijjani Musa Tumsah
Tijjani Musa Tumsah, Vice Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI), is one person whom the stakeholders are comfortable with and have confidence in. He has also earned the respect and trust of the members of the party as well as those of the executive and legislative arms. These are positive traits that can bring together the various arms of government for the country’s benefit.
Tumsah was the secretary of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), one of the three legacy parties that made up the APC. Being the first secretary of the APC, he is also one of its founding members and is one of those that mid-wifed the various political tendencies into the strong giant killer the party metamorphosed into prior to the 2015 election.
Tumsah is suave and cosmopolitan. Those close to him praise his intellectual prowess and diplomatic skill and believe these to be the qualities the government needs now halfway through its mandate. ‘His humility and respect for people has endeared him to the high and low’, said Alhaji Usman Abbas , who went on to say that
‘His humility and respect for people has endeared him to the high and low’, said Alhaji Usman Abbas , who went on to say that Tumsah’s workaholic nature and ability to deliver on his assigned mandates have made him turn the PCNI almost into what Buhari did with the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). To him, Tumsah would be an asset to the government in its effort to make life easier for Nigerians.
A further plus for him is that he was a three-time commissioner and a member of the constitutional conference that fashioned a constitution for Nigeria.
Honourable Mai Mala Buni
The current secretary of the APC, Hon. Mai Mala Buni, according to some sources, may also be in contention. A politician who climbed through the ranks, Hon. Buni is well grounded politically, having served as state chairman of the Action Congress and APC respectively in Yobe State.
Though humble and considerate, he is described as charismatic and seen as a go-getter who has so far served creditably well in his current position. The fact also remains that many believe that his frequent interactions with politicians, members of the executive and legislature could smoothen the rough relationship existing between the executive and legislature.
Senator Ali Ndume
Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, has been a visible face in the Nigerian legislature since 2003 when he was elected to represent the people of Chibok, Damboa and Gwoza in the House of Representatives. He was there till 2011 and was a Minority Leader.
To prove he is with the grassroots, after an altercation with the then Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, with barely a hundred days to elections, he decamped to the PDP and vied for the senatorial seat of Borno South trouncing Sheriff’s candidate, Asabe Vilita Bashir by 146,403 votes to her 133,734 votes.
He was the first APC Senate Leader before political machinations consumed him before he was suspended for six months. Ndume is a man who can go to any length for his people. Sagacious, proactive and intelligent, many see him as a person who can improve the service delivery of the current administration as SGF.
Alhaji Hassan Saleh
Alhaji Hassan Saleh, an experienced bureaucrat who rose through the ranks to become Secretary to the Government in Yobe State, has also been touted as a possible claimant to the office of the SGF. Backed by a former military administrator from Katsina, Saleh is seen as a thorough and widely experienced public servant who can bring his wealth of knowledge to bear on the office.
Dr. Habiba Muda Lawan
The current holder of the office, Dr. Habiba Muda Lawan, who is working in an acting capacity, is an intellectual of repute and a civil servant known for her honesty and integrity. She has been a federal permanent secretary for years and has gone round most of the core ministries. Her main obstacle is that she is not a politician. Another consideration is whether the Buhari administration, in order to please advocates of gender equality will be, or is, comfortable with women as both Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Government.
However, it should also be noted that although the final say on the candidate rests with President Muhammadu Buhari, to a relatively lesser extent, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari and possibly one or two others will ultimately play major roles in who finally becomes the next SGF.
Will Babachir Lawal laugh at Dino Melaye? Will one of those mentioned above thank God for showering his ‘tomorrow’ with that favour of the big post? Or will the dawn break on a dark horse? Only time will ultimately tell considering that PMB is also not known for being fast.
By Hassan Gimba