Help! Government Is Leaking Like A Sieve By Mahmud Jega

Is there any paper left these days in the shelves, file cabinets, drawers, cupboards, safes and vaults of the public service that cannot be leaked to the public despite its official status as confidential, restricted, secret or top secret? Not too long the public service held deep secrets within its vaults. Millions of papers churned out every day by ministries, parastatals, security agencies, schools, hospitals and political leaders remained hidden from the public. We only got to hear snippets of them at small evening discussion groups where disgruntled civil servants often spilled their bosses’ secrets. It is there that you hear of fake vouchers, audit queries, rigged payrolls, backdated approvals and multiple retirement receipts.

At the weekend the Department of State Services (DSS) leaked a memo that it submitted last December to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami in response to his request for additional information/ documents regarding its findings on Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu. Let me rephrase that statement before it lands me in trouble; the memo that DSS submitted to the AGF was leaked, although I don’t know by whom. I must be ambivalent about the source of the leak because in murky matters such as these, what appears to be is quite often not what it is.

Many Nigerians assumed last week that Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i leaked the contents of his controversial memo to President Muhammadu Buhari, but you must have read his strong denial in yesterday’s Daily Trust on Sunday. Both DSS’ document and el-Rufa’i’s memo caused national shock and awe due to their import. DSS’ papers are the last that we expect to leak. After all, they are the ones that safeguard the sanctity of other government documents and they fish out moles, saboteurs and disgruntled elements in the public service. El-Rufa’i’s leaked memo was also a major surprise because we thought a document that a governor, an APC one, personally handed over to the President should not easily leak out.

Whenever we see a leaked official document, we ponder as to who might have leaked it. The only thing that is certain is that it must be a person who had access to the document; either the one who wrote it or the one who received it. However, it might have come from some other person who somehow got hold of it, properly or improperly. Another pointer to the possible source of a leak is motive. The person who wrote the paper may leak it if he believes it will portray him in good light in the eyes of the public, or the receiver might leak it because it portrays the sender in bad light.

In the case of the DSS memo, we can say that DSS has a motive to leak it in order to show the public that its advice to Senate not to confirm Magu as EFCC Chairman was not frivolous or mere power play as some people are saying. The leaked memo revealed to the public for the first time that sensitive EFCC documents were found in Air Commodore Umar Mohammed’s house and DSS concluded that Magu gave them to him. This is a very serious charge. Now, Senate too could leak the report, if it had it, to prove that it did not just hide behind a bland report. Indeed, Senate’s spokesman Senator Aliyu Sabi said on Saturday that the leaked memo proved that Senate’s rejection of Magu was justified. On the other hand DSS’ opponents in political circles could leak the memo if they believe that it made a weak case against Magu.

The same thing could be said of el-Rufa’i’s memo. Some people thought that he leaked it in order to show Nigerians that he has a solution to every national malaise, as 2019 approaches. On the other hand, his opponents could have leaked it in order to tell Nigerians that the Kaduna State governor is rash, impatient, disrespectful, disloyal or all of the above. We do not know for sure who to hold responsible for these leaks because right now there is a multi-front, multi-directional, multi-purpose, mixed-motivations and shifting alliances’ war going on among APC chieftains. As different persons, groups and factions pursue these battles, documents are cascading out of secret shelves like a locust swarm.

I saw a leaked letter on the social media last week, which was given by the National Assembly’s liaison officer in Lagos to a driver who drove a Range Rover Jeep to Abuja. The letter said the jeep is for Senate President Bukola Saraki and all should accord to him assistance. Now, the allegation that preceded this leak was that the Senate is after Comptroller General of Customs Hameed Ali because the service intercepted an armoured jeep imported by Saraki on which the correct duty was not paid. This leaked letter did not prove that. If indeed Customs have documents to prove that Saraki imported a vehicle without paying duty, they have not yet leaked them, perhaps because the source will be obvious. Instead, another set of National Assembly papers were leaked, which said the director responsible for importing the vehicle got rapid promotion. Since he got the promotions years before the vehicle was imported, I think this is not enough evidence of correlation.

People who are fighting back at Senate on behalf of the embattled executive officers have recently “leaked” various papers. Many of them were meant to discredit Senator Dino Melaye, the battering ram of the anti-Magu, anti-Hameed Ali forces. They claim that his ABU degree in Geography was fake but a “1999 ABU Geography graduation list” circulating on the social media is hardly conclusive. Since the Senate Ethics Committee is likely to order ABU Zaria authorities to make a definite clarification on Dino’s certificate, I think we should wait a bit. Melaye also said EFCC is actively seeking evidence against him, in which case we expect to see a leaked batch of documents soon.

Before all these, the Senate ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North East leaked many papers that sought to indict Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal in the grass cutting scandal. Or maybe someone else leaked the papers but certainly not Lawal, who stood to gain nothing from the leak. The shocking documents included bank statements, Corporate Affairs Commission certified documents and contract award papers, and together they convicted the SGF in the court of public opinion, which is the purpose of all leaks. Now that this committee has summoned Lawal again and he is dodging it by going to court, a lot more documents could leak out in the coming days and weeks.

Even before Senate got into the action, papers were leaked [most likely by civil servants] early last year that showed Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed trying to take a N20m “loan” from National Broadcasting Commission [NBC] for a trip to China. The voluble Alhaji Lai was tight-lipped with an answer to that leak. From all indications we are now in an era of governance by leaks. Presidency, beware of the cascading effect of leaks. When US President Richard Nixon’s White House was plagued with leaks in 1971, his aides set up a “Plumbers’ Unit” made up of former CIA and FBI agents to plug the leaks. It was this same group that later burgled the Democratic Party’s National Headquarters in the Watergate office complex.

This article first appeared in Daily Trust

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