Iron-clad integrity was the chief credential General Muhammadu Buhari flaunted to win power in 2015. Today, that golden badge appears under grave erosion in view of rising tide of sleaze and tales of apparent presidential indifference.
Last week's leaked memo by scorned junior oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu, provides what potentially may now be the tipping point.
In a rather rambling response yesterday, the NNPC boss, Maikanti Baru, could not but admit that approval was still needed from a superior for any big transaction he entered. The big question, then: was President Buhari granting such behind Kachikwu's back?
In any case, that a man supposedly saddled with overseeing the nation's fattest "cash cow" (as a presidency official recently classified the NNPC) could not access the principal for more than seven harrowing weeks until the confidential letter leaked cannot be a compliment. It perhaps best describes the squalor of the prevailing governance process in Abuja.
Before now, we saw a pathetic president unable to muscle the way for the EFCC boss Ibrahim Magu. Twice, he nominated him to the Senate. Twice, the congress torpedoed him utilizing ammunition supplied twice by no other than Buhari's own appointee at the DSS.
Now, a national outrage has been spreading since Kachikwu's epistle became public last week with many still unable to understand how a tiny circle could incinerate the Procurement Act and, within few months, consummate a raft of contracts whose $25bn value is more than the nation's entire budget for 2017 and only a little less than Nigeria's current foreign reserve.
Now, official spin doctors appear to have pushed the gear to overdrive. We are, for instance, told "no cash involved in the $25b transactions" at NNPC's expense. Does that foreclose the prospect of bribes exchanging hands before or after the sweetheart deals?
But Nigerians would probably have got even madder had they the presence of mind to contemplate the words left unsaid between the lines in Kachikwu's petition. Though the junior oil minister didn't name names, only few Nigerians are in doubt the character allegedly blocking him from seeing Buhari could be other than Chief Of Staff Abba Kyari who, interestingly, doubles as NNPC board member and, tellingly, is known as the dean of the now notorious cabal at the Villa. Wasn't the president being briefed by the CoS about happenings at the NNPC all along?
It was in anticipation of conflicts of interest like this that many had questioned the propriety of Buhari's own CoS being involved in NNPC board in the first place. Now, it is open secret that out of the ten slots allotted to the north in the recent appointment bazaar by Baru two went to ex-employees of a commercial bank which Kyari once led. So, who does not know how to hide meat in the mouth and pretend otherwise?
After the NNPC scandal blew open, a rather wild allegation has been circulating linking the head of the Villa cabal to one of the firms that cornered the multi-billion dollar contracts at issue. In fairness, this remains only an allegation. But public suspicion will fester with the officer referenced refusing to deny or confirm.
According to Kachikwu in the same letter, attempts earlier by Baru to smuggle some illegalities in through the backdoor while "Mai Gaskiya" was with his physicians in London were stoutly rebuffed by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, insisting due process be followed.
Again, Kachikwu stopped at faulting Baru's recent appointments in NNPC procedurally. A review of the particulars hints of something worse than sleaze. South-East where Abia and Imo States bear oil got nothing, but the section of the country that does not produce even a drop of oil cornered the lion's share. And when recruitment was to be made into the DSS much earlier, more than fifty percent of the slots were reserved for the president's native Katsina.
If we are to believe that PMB didn't know or couldn't have sanctioned all these all along as being canvassed by his advocates, then there can only be a more frightening certainty: the president must be utterly oblivious of key happenings around him, being technically out of power even though ceremonially in office.
This might sound apocryphal.. Recently, a top-flight media player tried to apprise foreign professional colleagues at a workshop in London of the progress report at home, stressing that Buhari's honesty was making all the difference. After listening to his sweet tale, the story is told that someone then sought a clarification of that honesty since, as they continued to hear, the same man was finding it exceedingly difficult to share with his fellow countrymen the nature of the ailment that was keeping him on a foreign soil indefinitely at taxpayers' expense.
If Kachikwu truly was found wanting before Baru was handed the rein of power in NNPC last year as already being whispered around today, the question: why was he kept a day longer? Let him face the music squarely in the name of equity. Or, the more unsettling probability: is his continued retention merely a cosmetic to seduce the militants in his native Niger Delta from resuming the sabotaging of oil exploration?
Amid this raging moral storm, it is quite instructive that Buhari's longtime advocates like Tam David-West have kept a studied silence thus far. Just how did a supposed nun get diagnosed of STD? This certainly is not the promise of 2015.
Given the sheer enormity of these charges, it is doubtful if the old professor of Virology, himself an implacable apostle of truth, transparency and all that is noble, would not have been sufficiently provoked to shoot someone right away before even bothering to ask further question.
Again, PMB's continued silence almost two months after the submission of the probe report on suspended SGF, Lawal Babachir's alleged scam and Ayo Oke's $43m mystery cash haul only refreshes the sad memory of the 53 suitcase scandal of 1984.
A deadline had been announced for the change of currency notes. Against the prevailing official order seeking to choke out currency traffickers then, Buhari's ADC would storm the Lagos international airport to smooth the way for the evacuation of the curious foreign cargoes said to be filled with Naira notes. The owner was a powerful northern figure. Even after the facts became established by the crusading media, no heads rolled.
Also, an obscure professor who claims to be PMB's townsman was in July accused of immersing himself in incestuous contracts award at the NHIS to the tune of N1bn. He only accepted to go on suspension following a national outcry while the president was still undergoing medical treatment abroad.
He was only recently suspended indefinitely. But what does that mean? Another dirty laundry stored in a crowded closet?
As if that is not enough, an ethical storm is also engulfing the Nigeria Police today with the No 1 cop at the center. So far, only a few are convinced by the Inspector General's response through fumbling aides to weighty allegations of promotion racketeering and untidy payment by big corporate players for protection leveled by Senator Misau. A charge corroborated in the Vanguard last Saturday by no less a credible figure and insider than the Crime Fighter boss.
Misau lobbed in more hand grenades last week with another expose that the IG has been putting serving police women in family way against service rule and granting one of them accelerated promotion and a wedding band. If any doubt ever existed about the veracity of the latest salacious story, it was removed with a photo splash by The Sun newspaper last Saturday of who is who at the lavish wedding threw by the love-smitten IG (someone already mischievously interpreted online as "Inspector Genital") including serving governors and some of those known to be standing trial for corruption.
The puzzle: didn't PMB also hear or read about this? Is he not worried at all?