Creative dysfunction is sometimes an unofficial government tool. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo occasionally set top government officials up against themselves to test their loyalty or ideas.
But there was no doubt who was in charge.
US President Donald Trump is reputed to have the worst cabinet in modern US history, comparable in its dysfunctionality only to Richard Nixon’s.
But again, there’s no doubt who is in charge.
In the last two weeks or so, there has been an outbreak of civil war in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, creating serious concerns about who is really in charge.
Buhari’s medical leave could not be responsible for it because there was no vacuum during his absence.
It started with the Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama pouncing on the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora, Abike Dabiri.
Out of concern for the misery Nigerian travelers were going through at the hands of immigration officials in a number of countries, especially South Africa and the US, Dabiri had advised travelers to restrict themselves only to essential trips.
This was common sense advice, which she was unlikely to make without first discussing it with the Foreign Affairs minister. She had barely said the word when the Foreign Ministry took up arms against her, advising travelers to ignore Dabiri.
Not that Onyeama offered an alternative or provided facts to the contrary. No. Insiders said the Foreign Minister was called aside by other “power centers” and advised to speak up and “put that woman in her place” or risk losing his job.
He threw the dagger without delay and, in a bid to reclaim his mojo, jumped on the next plane to Johannesburg with Minister of the Interior, Abdulraham Dambazzau.
But the visit only produced a brief encounter with former president Thabo Mbeki, whose promise that Nigerians would get an earlier warning signal did not stop three more Nigerians from being killed a few days later.
Has anyone asked Onyeama and Dambazzau why that happened or how many more Nigerians will be killed before the early warning sign begins?
The CAF election was yet another evidence of the serious infighting inside Buhari’s government. The President of the Nigerian Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, campaigned on getting rid of Issa Hayatou, who became CAF president when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was four years old.
Pinnick campaigned openly against Hayatou for months. At the last minute, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who was obviously on a Boy’s Scout parade all the while, called Pinnick and directed him to vote for Hayatou to repay Cameroun for its support to Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram.
Pinnick ignored the minister, lined up behind Madagascar’s Ahmad Ahmad and the world was invited, yet again, to see a house divided against itself.
Perhaps the most astonishing evidence of a meltdown in Buhari’s cabinet was the report by the Department of State Services, which the Senate used conveniently for a second time to reject the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
I still cannot understand why the Director of the DSS, who was appointed by the president and who reports to him through the office of the National Security Adviser, will lend the Senate a gun to execute the head of another organ of the executive, not once, but twice.
The first time a committee of the Senate rejected Magu’s nomination, the Senate said the first DSS report showed that he was living beyond his means and may have been compromised by persons he was supposed to be investigating.
Neither the DSS nor the Senate gave Magu chance to defend himself.
The Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, which later looked into the allegations, cleared Magu of any wrongdoing on the basis of which the Presidency represented him for confirmation.
But the Senate was not – has never – been interested in finding someone who can fight corruption outside its own terms. The same political elite hounded Nuhu Ribadu out of office; they smeared Ibrahim Larmode with allegations of mismanaging N1trillion worth of seized assets and once they got him out of office nothing has been said about the assets again.
They have sunk their teeth into Magu’s flesh and won’t back down under the current leadership.
The only thing worse than the combined treachery of the DSS and the Senate is the silence of the President, one week after he suffered a second humiliation with the rejection of his nominee.
There’s not been a word, no sense of discomfort, no feeling of outrage, nothing.
Those close to the president say that it’s his style not to get involved once he has put people in charge. He lets them do the job as best as they can.
That’s a good thing, but it’s precisely the sort of argument that former President Goodluck Jonathan used to justify his refusal to call to order ministers like Diezani Allison-Madueke and others who eventually ruined his government.
And surely, the President cannot forget that the other side of this two-edged sword dealt a fatal blow to his administration in his first coming.
Anyone who listened to Aisha Buhari and lately read Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s memo, might agree that Buhari’s government is in meltdown mode. It begins with absent-minded delegation. But we’ve passed that stage.
Authority has become very diffuse and the hijackers have become desperate to assert themselves. In the end, the cabinet is coming apart by the seams.
The meltdown is not irreversible but it must start with Buhari showing that he is present, presiding and in charge.
One of the saddest things said by a foreign newspaper during Buhari’s medical leave was that, dead or alive, he no longer makes any difference to the lives of Nigerians.
The best response to that metaphor is performance, not the sort of abdication we have seen in recent times.