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The Betta Edu case, By Dan Agbese

President Bola Tinubu needed no one tell him that in government, image matters as much as performance. When he assumed office on May 29, 2023, he demonstrated the courage

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President Bola Tinubu needed no one tell him that in government, image matters as much as performance. When he assumed office on May 29, 2023, he demonstrated the courage of a man who did not intend to let dithering and indecisions drive his administration. He served notice that he would be prompt and decisive in taking decisions to enhance good governance and positively impact on the nation and its harried citizens. 

He chose to begin by settling the lingering and embarrassing fuel subsidy and its corrupt administration under all previous governments. It had reached a point, the IMF and the World Bank repeatedly warned our leaders, where it was no longer sustainable, and its continuation was doing more harm to the national economy than serving the people. Tinubu knew that by refusing to provide for fuel subsidy from June 2023, President Buhari set a booby trap set for him. 

He chose not to dodge it. He walked into it to let the nation know where he stood on the vexed issue of fuel subsidy from which all his predecessors, bar none, shied away. Matters became increasingly worse for the economy and successive administrations. It became a fish bone lodged in the throat of the nation. Removing it was a problem; retaining it was a problem. Catch 22? Obviously.

Tinubu removed it. I chalked it up in my book as the dawn of an era in which actions would matter more than words among our public officers. Indecisions in the past had hobbled our national progress at all levels. It was characterised by this shuffle: problems identified, solutions offered by panels or commissions and the solutions were inexplicably ignored. The problem was allowed to linger and to mutate into myriads of other serious problems. Think of how long the debate on the removal of fuel subsidy lasted. Had President Buhari removed it on his honour in 2015 on his assumption of office, the fall out could have been managed and we would not face the current economic difficulties. 

By the time Tinubu assumed office as president the longest running war on the continent had gradually sputtered under the watch of the man who staked his integrity on killing corruption in the land. The fire had gone cold with its face covered in the ashes of indifference. Public officers and civil servants freely helped themselves to the continent of treasuries at all levels. Stealing moved from the under the table to the top of the table. It leaped from millions into billions of Naira. No shame; no conscience. The eyes of big brother looked but did not see what was happening to our treasuries.

Tinubu, of course, knew that corruption had metamorphosed and was still wreaking havoc on the nation. He was jolted in January 2024 by the allegation that his minister of humanitarian affairs, the colourful Dr Betta Edu, had dipped her hands in the pot of palm oil. Tinubu promptly suspended her from office to allow him to investigate what happened, how it happened and why it happened.

I chalked it up in my book as evidence that the president was prepared to tackle corruption by acting promptly on all reported cases of official misbehaviour that border on corruption. I allowed myself to think that the president is not going to pass the buck to EFCC but where necessary he would act to defeat this canker worm.

It has been some two months since he suspended Edu. The president has said nothing more about the incident. The minister is forced to live in splendid isolation, unsure of her final fate in the administration. Silence appears to envelop her case. This is no way to treat a public officer. I am sure the minister and her family are anxious to see an end to her problem. This inaction on the part of the president does not square with his initial prompt response to the allegations against the minister. Is he, I wonder, regressing into indecisions and dithering?  

It would be a thousand pities if this is the case. It would drag us back to what happened to high-profile cases in the immediate past. Take one such case. In 2020, the attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, made 12 allegations against Ibrahim Magu, chairman of EFCC. President Buhari suspended Magu from office and set up a panel chaired by Justice Ayo Salami, to investigate the allegations against Magu. The panel carried out its assignment and submitted its report to the president within the stipulated time. The panel went beyond the allegations against Magu and recommended what needed to be done to make the commission more effective in its onerous task of chaining corruption.

The report never saw the light of day. Buhari did not bother to read it, let alone act on it. He said nothing more about the case beyond his initial reaction that suggested that he had reminded himself of his promise to kill corruption. Magu was left to stew in uncertainty and inaction. When he could take it no more, he retired from the Nigeria Police. That inaction or indecision put a question mark on Magu’s character. He is forced to live with the allegations for the rest of his life. It is not way to treat a man who chose to serve his country as a police officer. 

Edu must not be allowed to suffer the same fate. In the name of fighting corruption, it has become the tradition to treat public officers rather wretchedly. Often enough, high profile cases die without explanation to the Nigerian public. If Edu is clean, the president should say so and either return to her office or let her go home. If she is guilty as alleged, let her face the wrath of the law, if only for the president to show that under his watch, no one is above the law and there are no sacred cows and bulls. 

The president has carved the image of an action president in his response to the fuel subsidy removal and Betta Edu cases. It is an image many of us heartly welcome. For his own sake it is the image he must maintain and constantly service. To see him act promptly today and regress into inaction and indecision tomorrow would not do his integrity as a person and his image as president much good.

It has been nine months since he assumed office. It is time for the real Bola Ahmed Tinubu to now emerge in the public domain. His new persona will be the product of the image he cultivates. That image tells us how he wants to be seen and judged by the people he leads. Vacillation has its place in governance, but it is both the enemy of a good image and of personal integrity.