The appearance of flamboyant politician and diplomat, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe in the appointment of noncareer diplomats last week caused not a little stir. BIYI ADEGOROYE in this report revisits the persona and stature of Kingibe and the role he is assuming in President Muhammadu Buhari’s kitchen cabinet
In the last few months, insinuations that a cabal has taken over the running of the nation were very rife. The emergence of the group brought with it the sidelining of prominent members of the All Progressives Congress who mobilized time, energy and other resources to secure victory for the party in last year’s elections.
Since the inauguration of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, names like Mammah Daura, Lawal Daura and most recently Babagana Kingibe, which were hardly audible in the pre-election activities, have now become heard and dreaded. Their prominent roles include co-ordinating several government activities between the Chief of Staff and the President.
A couple of weeks ago, the President’s Wife, Aisha Buhari, gave credence to the suspicion in a BBC Hausa Service interview in London, when she stated: “It was people that brought the government into power. More than half of those people are not appointed into the government. Some people that are not politicians, not professionals, were brought into the government. They don’t even know what we said we want and what we don’t during the campaign.
They have even come out and say to people ‘we are not politicians,’ but they are occupying the offices meant for politicians. Some have parted with their wives; some lost their children, some women too have parted with their husbands because of politics, a lot happened during the time.
“The way things are going I too I am not happy. We are just starting, we have not finished. Some people that worked for the government have been appointed. But those heading government agencies you can find one fighting his state governor. They contested together during election, one is in the APC while in the other PDP.” . While Mrs. Buhari just confirmed the glaring sidelining of the party’s bigwigs, perhaps the icing on the cake came in the recent appointments of non-career ambassadors done without input from the state governors.
Even Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, like Senate President Bukola Saraki was reportedly got one slot each out of 46 ambassadorial nominees. Sources said that the aforementioned trio played major roles in the drawing of the list without consultation with the 23 APC governors who are party leaders in their respective states. Hence their angst with were the Presidency when the list was released last week.
The absence of consultations with the governors has culminated in lopsidedness in the administration’s appointments, which observes believe has been very demoralizing. Not only do they fear their powers are being whittled down gradually, the systematic neglect of these key party leaders, they argue can endanger future successes of the party.
The President in his intervention had asked the governors to put their objections in writing. Undoubtedly, the emergence of this cabal has been roundly condemned by many politicians, like the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa and loyalists of the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Of the trio known to be members of Buhari’s inner cabinet, however, Kingibe comes tops- perhaps leveraging on his background to make a great difference in the current administration.
Kingibe is an astute politician and retired diplomat. Born in 1945, Kingibe hails from the Kanuri ethnic group in Borno State, in the North Eastern region of Nigeria. After his elementary education in Nigeria and higher education in England, he joined the Nigerian Foreign Service as a career diplomat. Kingibe is reputed for his mastery of international relations, especially with reference to diplomacy and intelligence gathering and utilisation of same in the conduct of state affairs in the international arena.
Such secrete operations and intelligence, some have observed, have also become useful tolls in domestic relations. During the Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo government of 1975 to 1979, Kingibe was in the Foreign Ministry, as one of three astute diplomats and intelligent top officials who were members of the inner cycles of the administrations. He was at various times Nigerian Ambassador to Greece and Pakistan.
After his tour of duty he was appointed Permanent Secretary (Special Services), where he was in charge of security matters in the Presidency. This privileged position exposed Kingibe to top state secrets even at a very youthful age in the service of his country. Between October 2002 and September 2006, he served as African Union, Special Envoy to Sudan and subsequently Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and Head of the AU Mission in Sudan and Dafur.
For those who witnessed the political transition programme of the then military government of President Ibrahim Babangida, the name Ambassador Babagana Kingibe rang a bell. Kingibe was the National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, one of the two political parties that dominated the politics of that era.
He later rose to become the vice presidential candidate of the SDP and was the running mate to late Chief MKO Abiola, the presidential candidate of the party in the June 12, 1993 election. At the vice-presidential debate that heralded the historic election of that year, Kingibe won the hearts of millions of Nigerians.
In his handling one of the issues he debated upon with Chief Sylvester Ugo, his counterpart part at the National Republican Convention, he brought down the roof with great laughter when he said the Biafran economy and currency managed by Ugo “fell like a pack of cards.” His broad smiles were infectious; his power of oration and elocution almost second to none, while his broad knowledge of the history and economy of Nigeria earned him and his party the massive support across the country.
June 12 betrayal
However, there came a low moment. The military government that midwifed the political transition annulled the popular mandate given to Abiola and Kingibe. This development triggered a mass revolt from the people, a conflagration that forced General Ibrahim Babangida to “step Government to clear the mess.
Unfortunately, when the ING-led by Chief Ernest Shonekan could not contain the peoples revolt, the then Secretary of Defence, General Sani Abacha took over the reins of government presumably to right the wrongs. The coming of Abacha in a subtle palace coup was celebrated by pro-democracy groups which thought he had come to revalidate the June 12 election and install the duly elected government.
But while Abiola was waiting a swearing in, Abacha made a surprise move and appointed Kingibe the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Considered a back stabbing by the SDP and Chief Abiola, the appointment was a master stroke that signaled the beginning of the end of the struggle to actualise the June 12 presidential mandate.
Although, Kingibe was eminently qualified to serve in the capacity of a Foreign Affairs Minister in view of decades of his meritorious diplomatic service before, not a few Nigerians believe that the circumstances surrounding his appointment portrayed him as a betrayer. Needless to say, he wore that negative toga throughout his stay with the Abacha junta. It has been said that his inability to bear the guilt of betraying the June 12 mandate, forced Kingibe to leave the Abacha regime and disappeared from the political radar.
As Yar’Adua’s SGF
While he was marooned in a political wilderness in 2007, the late President Umar Yar’ Adua fished him out and made him Secretary to Government of the Federation, a position that saw him taking a full charge of the administration. However, this second incarnation in government ended in a fiasco as Kingibe was accused of using his position to undermine his boss.
His greatest undoing started when Yar’ Ádua was sick and flown to Saudi Arabia for medicare. Kingibe reportedly connived with some powerful politicians and retired military officers outside government in a bid to scheme Yar’Ádua out of power. Unconfirmed report said that the group believed that it was better to get Yar’Adua out of the way and replace him with another northerner than for him to die in office and allow his deputy (then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan) to take over the government.
At some point, it was alleged that Kingibe was rallying support for himself to take over from the then ailing Yar’ Adua as a way of recovering the presidential ambition he lost by serving the Abacha regime. These plots however failed when the government got winds of the scheme.
Hence, Kingibe was sacked; thus sending him back to political oblivion. He was said to have relocated to Niger Republic for undisclosed personal and official activities. He may not have been visible at the Aso Rock Villa, but sources said the Bornuborn technocrat wields immense power behind the scene and makes great contributions to some of the President’s key decisions, especially those in his core competences – diplomacy and intelligence.