20171104

Madam Oyo-Ita & The Presidency: Speaking Truth To Power

If corruption must be defeated, political analysts are of the opinion that there must be more people like Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, in the corridors of power.

Someone who can speak truth to power no matter what.

As written by Punch's Gbenro Adeoye with additional reports by Jesusegun Alagbe:

Mainagate – the scandal involving the reinstatement of a former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, into the civil service will go down as one of the incidents that will define President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and the toga of anti-corruption he has proudly worn before Nigerians.

Maina, who was declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over alleged N2bn fraud, had appeared in the country last month and was reinstated into the civil service with double promotion.

President Buhari had even directed the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to investigate the circumstances that surrounded the reinstatement of Maina following the public outcry that trailed the matter.

And it was at the height of a blame game among top government officials that a leaked memo from the office of the HoS to the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, surfaced.

In the memo, Oyo-Ita said she had warned the President that Maina’s reinstatement would have grave implications for the anti-corruption war of the Federal Government.

Oyo-Ita said she met the President after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, October 11, where she verbally warned Buhari against bringing Maina back to the service.

She, however, did not say what the response of the President was after briefing him.

Oyo-Ita had said, “Please, note that the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation was never in agreement with the reinstatement and consequently never conveyed the approval of the FCPC to Mr. A. A. Maina, nor approved his posting to the Ministry of Interior or any other MDA.

“Rather, I sought audience with His Excellency, Mr. President on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017 after the FEC meeting where I briefed His Excellency verbally on the wide-ranging implications of the reinstatement of Mr. A. A. Maina, especially the damaging impact on the anti-corruption stance of this administration.”

The letter also partly read, “Further to your letter Ref. SH/COS/100/A/1570 dated 23rd October, 2017 on the above subject matter, I write to inform you of the circumstances leading to the irregular recall of Mr. Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina.

“I wrote to place on record the following facts as it permits to Mr. A. A. Maina who was dismissed from service on 21st February, 2013.

“The move to recall Mr. A. A. Maina was at the instance of a series of letters from the Attorney General of the Federation to the Federal Civil Service Commission requesting the commission to give consequential effect to the judgement that voided the warrant of arrest issued against Mr. A. A. Maina which formed the basis for the query and his eventual dismissal.”

Since the leakage, neither the President nor his Chief of Staff has openly denied Oyo-Ita’s statement in her memo. But with the silence in the corridors of power on the matter, the public expected Oyo-Ita to be vilified by the Buhari and/or those close to him, and a recent video footage showing an altercation between Kyari and the HoS, appeared to suggest that the expectations were spot on.

Although the conversation between the two top government officials in the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was not captured in the recording, their dispositions showed that the conversation was centred around the leaked memo and not about some tea party.

And according to political analysts, the look of anger on Oyo-Ita’s face was enough proof that this was a courageous woman that would not be cowed into silence by intimidation or into throwing her opinions overboard so easily.

Some experts have also described Oyo-Ita’s action as that of a woman that would speak truth to power irrespective of who was involved or what it would cost her career.

And this is not very common in the corridors of power in Nigeria.

The Chairman, Justice and Equity Organisation, Mr. Tunde Bafunsho, said Nigeria needed more people like Oyo-Ita in the corridors of power to bring the right change to the country from the inside.

He said, “The actions of people like Oyo-Ita in holding the government accountable are very good. We need more of such people. Our country needs to be sanitised and much progress would be made if those in the corridors of power have someone who can speak the truth.

“If we had this, Nigeria would be sanitised and everyone would start living a good life. People who had worked would get their pensions stress-free, there would be employment opportunities for everyone and life would be easy.”

Similarly, a legal practitioner and National Publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party, Mr. Yemi Adetoyinbo, said for Nigeria’s war on corruption to succeed, there must be more people like Oyo-Ita in power.

“I once saw the attribute of courage in Mrs. Oyo-Ita sometime in the past and now I am seeing it again in her. The truth needs to be told always to those in power and I am happy Oyo-Ita did that when she warned the President against reinstating Maina.

“The woman exhibited great courage by cautioning the President, even though eventually, he didn’t listen. The whole issue is very disgraceful and that’s why we need more Oyo-Itas to restore our country on the right path.

“For the anti-corruption war to succeed and for the nation to progress, we need people who would be able to speak the truth at all time, no matter the consequence. Oyo-Ita’s action is commendable. I salute her bravery,” he said.

Prior to Oyo-Ita’s show of courage, a famous example of when a top government official spoke truth to power dates back to 2010, when the then Minister of Information, Late Dora Akunyili’s memo to the Federal Executive Council over the then President’s health status caught the nation’s attention.

President Umaru Yar’Adua had been ill and receiving treatment in a Saudi Arabian hospital. The President’s aides had created the impression that Yar’Adua was running the government from his sick bed, especially as he did not hand over power to the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.

So following reports that Yar’Adua had been sneaked into the country one early morning, Akunyili was compelled to go public with the truth that there was no need to continue to deceive Nigerians as her principal was incapacitated.

Akunyili had told journalists in an interview: “You manage information if you have information. We did not have information that our President was even travelling to Saudi Arabia until we saw it in the news, and when he was in Saudi Arabia, we hardly got information. I only got information once from Mr. Segun Adeniyi and that was what I reported in FEC, that the doctors in Saudi Arabia said he was getting better and it was only the doctors that would determine when he would come back and I reported it like that.

“That was the only information (I got). When I asked him who told him, he said it was one of the aides of the President that gave him the information. Thereafter, it was they said, they said and they said. We never had a comprehensive channel of getting information that we were sure of and most of the information, sometimes, they didn’t add up and it got very disturbing. When they don’t add up, you feel very awkward reporting such information.

“He (the then Attorney General of Federation, Anthony Andoakaa) convinced everybody that the President was capable and I was getting worried. I was getting worried in that I asked myself that if he (President) were capable, why could he not speak to Nigerians through our own channels? Why could he not speak to Nigeria through our Nigeria Television Authority? Why speak to BBC? After that briefing, I really felt very miserable.”

Soon after Akunyili’s statement, the National Assembly acted and empowered Jonathan as Acting President, bringing an end to the vacuum Yar’Adua’s absence had created in government.

Speaking of a similar display of courage by a very senior government, a professor of political science at the University of Lagos, Prof. Derin Ologbenla, noted that he was already disappointed with the Buhari-led administration, adding that he would love to hear the President’s reaction to the leaked memo in which Oyo-Ita said he was warned against Maina’s reinstatement.

Ologbenla said, “To be honest, I am one of those who have been very disappointed at the President Buhari administration and I don’t think that beautiful woman, Oyo-Ita, should be one to be used as a scapegoat by the so-called cabal.

“The woman has shown that she was against reinstating Maina. One would think the President would have heeded the woman’s warning, but he didn’t. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the President’s explanation. I hope he comes out to say his side of the story.

“However, Oyo-Ita should be commended for speaking out. She is just like the late Prof. Dora Akunyili. My only fear is that people like her are often targeted by the enemies. So, Oyo-Ita should be more careful and we should keep praying for her.

“Remember, there are still many conspiracy theories about what led to the death of Akunyili. She was a courageous woman, who served Nigerians with all her might. If we had more people who don’t care about speaking the truth at all times, Nigeria would have moved forward. Let’s be hopeful, though.”

In addition, the Director, Centre for American Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Prof. John Onuoha, who described corruption as the major challenge bedeviling the country, noted that people who were bold enough to speak the truth should always receive commendations.

The professor of political science said he would always have admiration for “people who speak the truth to those in power at all times without political colouration. Some claim to be speaking the truth, but it’s because of their own interests.

“Corruption is a serious issue and we should commend people like Oyo-Ita who can boldly confront even the President to see that the country is purged of every mess.”

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