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Inside Tinubu’s ‘Kitchen Cabinet’

Since the return of democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria has produced five elected presidents whose style of governance is influenced in one way or the…

Since the return of democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria has produced five elected presidents whose style of governance is influenced in one way or the other by the persons around them.

Starting from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari and the incumbent, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, each of them had personalities in the corridors of power, who exercised some level of influence on their actions or inactions.

These personalities usually include; family members such as wives and children; friends, associates, top party executives at state and national level; as well as members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and National Assembly.   

In fact, pundits have at different periods, talked about the influence of Hajia Turai and Dame Patience when their husbands led Nigeria between 2007 and 2015.

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The situation was not different in the case of the 78-year-old Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, who once served as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) under Yar’adua and was considered one of the members of his inner caucus. The diplomat, politician and civil servant who has held several high-ranking government offices since the 1970s, serving six heads of state was also seen as a member of the inner circle of President Buhari.

The vice-presidential running mate to Chief Moshood Abiola, in the annulled 1993 presidential election was appointed by former President Buhari to his cabinet as Special Envoy on Chad and the Lake Chad Region.

He alongside late Chief of Staff to the immediate past president, Malam Abba Kyari and Mamman Daura, a nephew of ex-president Buhari, among others featured prominently during the past administration.

As Nigerians begin to settle down with the Tinubu administration, barely one year in office, a new set of power brokers are beginning to emerge just as the previous governments.

This piece, therefore, identifies some individuals considered to be in Tinubu’s kitchen cabinet, whose actions, advice and postulations help to shape the government. 

 

Femi Gbajabiamila

Gbajabiamila, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, is a dependable ally of President Tinubu.

The former federal lawmaker, who hails from the home state of Mr President, has been enjoying his support since 2003, when he was first elected to the House of Representatives, representing the Surulere I constituency of Lagos State. He was re-elected and served for six consecutive terms.

The politician and lawyer defended the cause of his benefactor with his legislative acumen before, during and after the presidential election and used his network across the country to campaign for him.

So, not many Nigerians were surprised when the president chose him as his Chief of Staff.

Gbajabiamila, who is an influential figure in this administration is believed to have been considered for the position because of the responsibilities of the office which include: “Coordinating the activities of all principal staff officers of the president, conveyance of all directives and decisions of the president, to the SGF, CDS, members and other top functionaries of government, formation of ad-hoc bodies as well as stipulating their terms of reference in conjunction with SGF, chairing of meetings of principal staff officers to the president among others.

Indeed the above functions  has placed enormous tasks as well as power on the Chief of Staff and people close to the presidency say, he is using the latter very well.

 

Chief Bisi Akande

The former governor of Osun State and the first interim national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is a long-time political ally of the president. The elder statesman who governed on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) is an ‘unofficial adviser’ to the president.

As a trusted ally, Tinubu, before his election as president, usually paid visits to former President Buhari alongside Chief Akande, who is also well respected by his predecessor, having played a major role in the merger of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC)

Pundits say many politicians who want to get access to the president go through the Ila Orangun politician.

During his first visit to Tinubu, who was his colleague between 1999 and 2003 on June 15, 2023, Akande said: “By the time we hear any complaint, the time will be ripe enough for giving president advice.”

 

James Abiodun Faleke

Faleke was the secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential campaign council in the last general elections. The Kogi State-born long – time ally of President Tinubu has been in the House of Representatives since 2011, representing Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State. He played an active role in the campaign and his statements were usually considered views of the Jagaban of Borgu. He was actually touted as possible Chief of Staff before the president eventually settled for Gbajabiamila.

The 64-year-old business management and logistic consultant and politician joined active politics in 2003, after Tinubu, then governor of Lagos State, appointed him first Executive Secretary of newly created Ojodu Local Council Development Area (LCDA). Having served in this position in interim capacity between November 2003 and April 2004, he was elected substantive chairman of the LCDA and held this office for two terms ending in 2011. 

His participation in 2015 on a joint ticket as deputy governorship candidate to late Prince Abubakar Audu in his home State of Kogi was believed to have been fully supported by the incumbent president, who equally enjoyed cordial friendship with Audu.

He lost the opportunity to govern the state then when  Prince Audu died shortly before the final announcement of election results. Till date, Faleke remains an influential figure in the Tinubu administration.

 

Senator Oluremi Tinubu

She is the First Lady, whose advice and views cannot be ignored. The founder of the Renewed Hope Initiative (RHI) is a politician who has been a strong pillar for the political aspiration of her husband for decades.

Senator Tinubu, who has been championing the cause of women and children in the society, equally uses RHI to assist the less privileged and women by focusing on agriculture, economic empowerment, social investment, health and education.   

Despite current challenges in the country, she has been delivering messages of hope and optimism to the citizenry during her tours across the country and other engagements and activities.

The 63-year-old, who represented Lagos Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly from 2011 to 2023, is a member of the All Progressives Congress and a firm believer in the president’s agenda. Her influence on party politics and governance cannot be ruled out as a core politician.

 

Seyi Tinubu

Seyi, an executive member and co-founder of TELD NGO, launched in 2005, with the aim of improving the standard of living for underprivileged youths in Nigeria through sponsorship and mentoring programmes, is the son of President Tinubu.

A trained lawyer with a Bachelor’s degree in law and a Master’s degree in corporate and commercial law from the University of Buckingham who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2013 did not take back seat while campaigning for his father during the last election.

Pundits say he is actually pursuing the cause of youths in the present administration as he mobilised them for support during the 2023 general elections. Before former President Buhari left office, Seyi led a delegation of Tinubu-Shettima Campaign Council in December 2022 to pay homage to him in Daura, Katsina State apparently to solicit support for his father. Photographs from the visit showed members of the delegation greeting the former president, with Seyi prostrating.

However, his influence, analysts say, is being checkmated by his father. In October 2023, President Tinubu warned his son, Seyi, and other persons from interrupting meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

The president had said he observed Seyi and other unauthorised persons breezing in and out of the federal cabinet meeting convened every week to discuss the most crucial issues of national importance.

He cautioned specifically that such activities must end.

“Last week, I noticed the undue access of people sneaking in and out of this Council, including… I saw the photograph of my son, Seyi, sitting behind. That is not acceptable. I will announce to you those people who are supposed to be here,” he said.

President Tinubu mentioned his Special Advisers on Policy Coordination, Hadiza Usman; Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga; Principal Private Secretary, Hakeem Muri-Okunola and Private Secretary, Damilotun Aderemi.

“Those are people who are granted exception to be here when we’re conducting the business of the nation. Unless I sent for you, don’t come, make it clear. Secretary to the Government and Head of Service, please take note.

Despite this, Seyi Tinubu has been sighted at some official functions. He is also alleged to have been behind some of the appointments made so far. 

 

Dele Alake

Dele Alake is the current Minister of Solid Minerals Development. The journalist, activist and technocrat who once served under Tinubu as commissioner for Information and Strategy of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007, was initially appointed Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communications and Strategy before his ministerial appointment. He is a long-time ally and confidant of Tinubu. The president alluded to this in a birthday message in October last year where he said, “Alake possesses uncommon versatility and strength of character that leaves a lasting impression on everyone he encounters, imparting the true essence of loyalty, trust, respect, and empathy.

“Through it all, Dele has proven to be a partner and worthy brother.”

Many Nigerians had expected that he would remain in the State House as spokesman of the president before his appointment as solid minerals minister.

However, he still remains a key political figure around the president who wields power.

 

Bayo Onanuga

Onanuga, a journalist, is the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy. The former Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) was the spokesperson for Bola Tinubu Presidential Campaign Council in the last election. His role as one of the presidential spokespersons, no doubt, exposes him as an influential figure around the president.    He is what many describe as the “attack dog” of this administration, as he is quick to set the opposition and others straight on issues.

 

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