President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to go outside the permutations of political enthusiasts to appoint key officers of the administration was a fallout of the endless squabbling and the fait accompli that was forced on him by political opponents of his favourite for the post, former Governor Tunde Fashola.
The disappointments by political stakeholders from the South nonetheless, the appointment of northern minorities and Christians into key positions by the Buhari administration is meanwhile receiving mixed welcome from the Northern minorities.
Buhari on Thursday sidestepped the favourite nominees including Fashola and former Governor Ogbonnonya Onu to appoint Engr. David Lawal, the national Vice-chairman, Northeast, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Also appointed was the former newspaper editor and banker, Alhaji Abba Kyari as Chief of Staff while the taciturn disciplinarian and erstwhile chief of staff to Buhari, Col. Hammed Ali (rtd) was appointed as the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service.
Fashola had been widely touted for the position largely on account of his organisational acumen and strides in Lagos as governor. However, local political opponents of the former governor, especially within APC were said to have been largely uncomfortable with his possible emergence as chief of staff, a position they believed would have given him the impetus to dominate the Southwest APC political leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Though Tinubu has recently denied his personal involvement in the campaign against Fashola that was mounted through publication of allegedly inflated contract awards by his administration, his close associates were, however, known to have deployed other political schemes to knock Fashola out of contention for either the position of SGF or Chief of Staff.
The ultimate weapon that was used in neutralising Fashola was the nomination of a former commissioner in the Fashola administration as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President but delegated to the office of the vice-president.
Mr. Ade Ipaye (SAN), who worked as attorney general and commissioner for justice in the second term of the Fashola administration, has been pencilled down as the deputy chief of staff to the president with responsibilities of working under the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN).
The deployment of Ipaye, it was gathered, became the political masterstroke that was used in knocking Fashola out of reckoning in the stiff race for Chief of Staff.
Sources privy to the development disclosed that those against Fashola took advantage of the fact that Buhari is bent on operating a single Presidency with only one chief of staff who would oversee the President’s affairs and a deputy chief of staff who would oversee the duties of the vice-president. Given that Ipaye was projected to work with Osinbajo, it became untenable to have another Lagosian in the person of Fashola work as chief of staff.
“You cannot have two of them from Lagos working as chief of staff and deputy chief of staff in the same government,” a source privy to the development disclosed.
Ipaye’s choice as deputy chief of staff was also logical given that before his appointment into the Fashola cabinet, he had worked as special assistant to Osinbajo when the latter was commissioner for justice and attorney general in Lagos State in the Tinubu administration.
Meanwhile, despite mutterings in some sections of the country about perceived geopolitical lopsidedness in the appointments so far made by the President, the appointment of Mr. Lawal as SGF was at the weekend being welcomed as another elixir by Buhari to soothe the long cries of marginalisation by northern minorities.
Lawal from Adamawa State, a pastor and missionary, became the first Christian from the North to get the high profile position of SGF. His appointment, sources said, flowed from the comfort and confidence the President has in him arising from his long association with the President.
Lawal was a leading supporter of Buhari ahead of the presidential primaries and helped to ensure that Buhari defeated Atiku Abubakar in the APC presidential primaries in Adamawa State and the Northeast.
Besides his integrity and political capacity that recommended him for the office, Lawal’s emergence as SGF was at the weekend also receiving critical acclaim by northern minorities on account of the long history of marginalisation of Northern Christians into sensitive positions in the recent past.
However, one northern leader was not impressed saying that it was a move to lure the disenchanted northern minorities back to the agenda of one North.
“This is just a move to woo the northern minorities back to the Hausa Fulani agenda before they will again humiliate us after they have achieved their purpose,” the northern leader a former member of the National Assembly and presidential aide said.
Some have alleged that it was part of the scheme to reintegrate the northern minorities into the One North philosophy that the Northwest through Governor Aminu Tambuwal gave rabid support for the emergence of Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Apparently alluding to a deliberate effort to rebuild the relationship between the northern minorities and the Hausa Fulani when he received a delegation of Dogara’s Sayawa Community of Bogoro and Tafawa Balewa Local Government Areas of Bauchi State who paid him a thank you visit in appreciation of his role in the installation of Dogara as Speaker, Tambuwal had said:
“The relationship between people of Sokoto and Bauchi States was amplified in the First Republic when the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa worked in harmony with the leader of his party and then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahamdu Bello.”