New Telegraph

A tale of two Nigerian ministers

According to Wikipedia, Perception (from the Latin perceptio, meaning gathering or receiving) is the organisation, identification, and interpretation of sensory information, in order to represent, and understand the presented information or environment. And, it is this that goes a long way in shaping peoples’ belief, be it positive or negative, towards the actions of a government.

Thus, to a large extent, should people have a positive perception of those governing them, then such a government will have more leeway to carry out its programmes with a majority of the people supporting them. However, a government will definitely face hostility, even if the programme or action it intends to carry out is good for the generality of the people, if the perception towards it is mainly negative. Sadly, this is the problem the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari is presently facing. Already buffeted by claims of clannism, nepotism and cronyism courtesy of appointments or otherwise in federal establishments, recent actions of the government towards two ministers have only gone on to reinforce this perception – despite strenuous claims otherwise by those in authority.

In November 2015, Adeosun Kemi was appointed Minister of Finance by President Muhammadu Buhari. Born November 9, 1967, in London, England to Nigerian parents from Ogun State, she began her career as an accounting assistant at British Telecom, London, from 1989 till 1990 and after working with Quo Vadis Partnership as Managing Director from 2010 to 2011, she was appointed Ogun State’s Commissioner of Finance 2011 a position she held until becoming part of Buhari’s cabinet. One of the poster girls of the government with her British accent she was able to espouse government policies and seamlessly interact with other officials.

Everything was going smoothly for Adeo-sun and she reached her zenith when during the annual general meeting of Afreximbank in Abuja to commemorate its 25th anniversary, when she was elected chairman of the board of the bank, succeeding Ndagijimana Uzziel, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Rwanda. Unfortunately, her world came crashing down, when on July 7, 2018, an online newspaper, Premium Times, alleged that she had illegally obtained her NYSC exemption certificate to get into public office.

Two days later the NYSC’s Director of Press and Public Relations, Adeyemi Adenike released a statement that confirmed that Adeosun legitimately submitted a request for an exemption certificate, but also stated that investigations were still on-going to verify the approval of the exemption certificate. On September 14, 2018, Adeosun resigned as Minister of Finance in a written letter to the President, due to the alleged NYSC Certificate forgery scandal Her resignation was accepted, and rather than keeping with the convention of appointing someone from her geo-political zone as her replacement, Buhari opted to appoint Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed from Kaduna State, first in an acting capacity, and later permanently. Incidentally, when the then Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, James Ocholi (SAN), died in a car crash along the Kaduna-Abuja Highway along with his wife, Blessing, and son on March 6, 2016, he was replaced by Professor Stephen Ikani Ocheni, who was also from Kogi State. Now let’s fast forward to the present – same administration, another minister in a spot of trouble; but a vastly different response from the government. Isa Pantami, 48, is the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy having been sworn into office on August 21, 2019.

A few weeks ago, news broke alleging that the man from Gombe State has a very questionable past with audio published by Peoples Gazette, showing that Pantami was sympathetic to Boko Haram members when delivering sermons at several worship centres in the mid to late 2000s. This revelation led to further resurfacing of Pantami’s old speeches, including a 2004 speech, where he expressed support for the Taliban and al- Qaeda (“Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda”) and claimed that “jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.” Of course, this led to a firestorm backlash with many calling for him to resign or be sacked by the President.

However, in an unusual move, the Presidency released a statement exonerating the minister and blaming unnamed telecoms firms as being behind his travails. Unable to wash away his previous incendiary statements, which have been documented and caught on audio, the government said he made those comments when he was young and naïve and besides has since apologised. Incidentally, there was no such public support from the government for Kemi Adeosun, when she was facing her own firestorm over a clearly lesser indiscretion.

The government’s biased position was further exposed, when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, went on air to explain the Presidency’s different disposition to the ministers. When pointedly asked why the presidency let Adeosun go but was quick to defend Pantami, Shehu said the latter’s case only involved people probing his thoughts during the said lectures. “In the second case which is that of Pantami, you are probing the thoughts, what is called ‘McCarthyism’; you search the inner recesses of the minds of individuals, bring out things they have said, or they are about to say, or you think they would say, and use that against them. “If Pantami had forged a certificate before coming into office, the attitude (of the presidency) would have been different.” Of course the government’s response further exposed themselves to attack from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which described their action as being “insensitive”.

PDP in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of providing cover to the minister. The party said that this further confirmed the public and international apprehensions that the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) is allegedly patronising acts of terrorism in the country. It noted that the minister had initially denied his support to terrorist groups but only admitted after he was overwhelmed by evidence; “thus rubbishing the lame claims by the Buhari presidency that the minister had turned a new leaf 20 years ago.” According to PDP, Isa Pantami belongs to the deradicalisation centre and not in the Federal Executive Council where he has been accused of compromising national security. We can thus see why peoples’ perception of this government is as negative – especially as further reinforced with the vastly contrasting ways they have treated two ministers in the cabinet of the ruling party.

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