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Confessions of a ministerial nominee

Posted by By Levi Obijiofor on 2006/06/24 | Views: 441 |

Confessions of a ministerial nominee

A report entitled "Fani-Kayode begs, gets Senate's clearance", published in the Vanguard edition of Thursday last week was as revealing of Fani-Kayode's background as it was damning of the ability of Senators....

A report entitled "Fani-Kayode begs, gets Senate's clearance", published in the Vanguard edition of Thursday last week was as revealing of Fani-Kayode's background as it was damning of the ability of Senators to scrutinise properly the credentials and character traits of ministerial nominees.

The intro to that news story stated: "Five of the six ministerial nominees presented to the Senate were yesterday confirmed with one of them, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, making profuse apologies for hitherto inappropriate comments and actions before scaling the hurdle." To understand the hypocrisy in the so-called apologies offered by Fani-Kayode, it is important to highlight his performance as a presidential assistant on public affairs, including his fondness for adopting abusive language in disagreeing with opponents of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

For the period he reigned as Obasanjo's "Man Friday" in Aso Rock, Fani-Kayode developed an uncanny reputation for use of uncouth language in his public statements. Anyone who is familiar with Fani-Kayode's antecedent and indeed his recent history would have been surprised by the ease with which the man convinced the senators during his confirmation hearing. Indeed, Fani-Kayode's confirmation without serious questions about his conduct as presidential assistant raised again questions about the extent to which members of the Senate are easily influenced by the Presidency. It would seem appropriate to suggest, with due respect to senators, that the senators who interviewed Fani-Kayode did not conduct sufficient background check on the man before he presented himself for clearance. All those pleas by Fani-Kayode about his humble background and his born-again status are, in my judgment, nothing but a charade and a front designed to win the sympathy of senators. The man was more interested in sailing through his ministerial confirmation hearing than in genuinely purging and cleansing himself of the repulsive image in which he has soaked himself over the past few years.

Among the qualities that should qualify a ministerial nominee for public office is demonstrated ability, indeed the capacity to engage in intellectual debate with members of the public. On many occasions during his tenure as presidential assistant, Fani-Kayode demonstrated the opposite: a pitiable lack of ability to engage in meaningful debate free from insults. Often, during the acrimonious debate over Obasanjo's third term agenda, Fani-Kayode showed a disconcerting level of blind support for his boss. In doing so, he contradicted himself and his boss many times. Here is just one example. On 26 December 2005, Fani-Kayode jumped awkwardly to counter a statement made by the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, to the effect that there were indeed thousands of Nigerians capable of taking over the leadership position from Obasanjo in 2007. The Catholic Archbishop was reacting to the misleading impression by agents of the third term project that Obasanjo was irreplaceable, and that it was important to extend Obasanjo's tenure because there was hardly any Nigerian capable of matching the president's economic record of achievement.

Fani-Kayode in typical style sprang to his boss's defence. He said: "We believe that the distinguished archbishop completely missed the point and the point is this -- how many of those people are really capable of running the economy and fighting corruption the way it is being done today? How many are capable of restoring the fortunes of Nigeria in the international arena as it is being done today? How many could have won us debt relief and debt cancellation as has been done today? How many could have boosted our foreign reserve, increased agricultural production, consolidated our banks and revived the manufacturing sector as has been done today?"

Six months later, in an open admission of his government's failure to provide the basic infrastructure needs of the people of Nigeria, such as electricity, water and good roads, Obasanjo contradicted and rubbished the arguments made by Fani-Kayode. In an address at the 12th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja on 7 June this year, Obasanjo said: "I must concede that we are not where we would like to be in terms of development. The road to consolidated democracy and economic recovery in our land is still stretched far ahead of us. The state of our infrastructure especially power, roads, and water is still far from what they should be." Obasanjo's public admission came more than seven years after he had been in office.

On 29 December 2005, former head of state Yakubu Gowon advised Obasanjo not to seek an extension of his tenure but rather to learn from the experiences of his predecessors. Gowon gave the advice as guest speaker at a conference of the Middle Belt Forum. Gowon was not present at the event but his speech was read by General Domkat Bali (rtd). By all means, Gowon was well qualified to offer advice to Obasanjo. As a former head of state, he was a victim of his own attempt to extend the tenure of his military government in 1975. His military colleagues thought otherwise and overthrew his government in 1975. In his speech, Gowon said: "The best way to ensure our democracy is the respect we all have for our constitution. Any changes that must be agreed upon should only apply to the next dispensation. We have to avoid the tendency of leadership prolonging itself or overstaying its acceptability. My experience, that of General Babangida and Abacha should be a good lesson for all leadership in Nigeria today and tomorrow."

Fani-Kayode hardly waited for the press to publicise Gowon's advice before he lobbed abuses at Gowon. He said: "If I should talk about those that are qualified to give advice in terms of democracy and democratic credentials in the democratic process, certainly of all those who have ruled this country as military Heads of State, the only two that anybody should listen to should be President Obasanjo and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd). Whilst they were military Heads of government, they voluntarily handed over power at the time that they said they would hand over power. That cannot be said of Gen. Gowon; that cannot be said of (late) Gen. Abacha or Gen Babangida or any of the others who moved out of power by force, they came in by force, they had to be moved out by force. None of them left at the time they had pledged to leave except the two that I mentioned. So I think that it is very strange that somebody who didn't want to leave power at all when it was his time is now the one telling others particularly the ones that left when they were supposed to."

For clarity, it is not Fani-Kayode's readiness to defend Obasanjo that produced bitter resentment among those who wished that the presidential assistant could lift his standard of performance. Rather, many were and are still offended by Fani-Kayode's use of colourful language in his public communication. Rather than engage in informed debate, Fani-Kayode often descended to a level usually reserved for lesser mortals. Fani-Kayode's attack dog style of debating issues has earned him the sobriquet -- the "Presidential Rottweiler" - and that tag has stuck on him like glue ever since. There are many other instances in which Fani-Kayode used abusive language to diminish his own position.

When he appeared before the Senate Committee, Fani-Kayode, the former tough-talking man now desperate to become a minister, showed a different face; he looked more sober and even embarked on self-flagellation. First, he told senators that it was the pressure of work that transformed him from a silent gentleman to an attack dog keeping watch over critical comments against the president. The senators should have reminded Fani-Kayode that he was not the only official in the Presidency who held a stressful position. It is either that Fani-Kayode was expressing genuine penitence or he was simply practising the art of play acting. A question for Fani-Kayode to reflect on: if he were not nominated for a ministerial position and if he had not appeared before the Senate, would he have ever apologised to the nation?

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