November 12, (THEWILL) – They are neither elected into office nor hold any specific position in government. Yet they enjoy limitless privileges as presidential progenies. THEWILL looks at first sons and daughters with attitude. Michael Jimoh reports…
When Seyi Tinubu boarded a presidential jet on Sunday October 8 from Abuja only a few people in Aso Villa knew about it. By the time he landed in Kano barely an hour later, millions of Nigerians were speedily informed. In no time, too, photographs of Seyi disembarking along with some of his close friends surrounded by a phalanx of security officials were everywhere. There were some with Kano State government officials receiving the First Son on the tarmac. In all of them, Seyi was the centre of attention, bearded and in his funny get-up – a dark-coloured kaftan and, incredibly, a face cap.
As anyone would imagine, the president’s son coming to town would have been big deal to some people in Kano, and even a bigger deal to players and spectators at Usman Dantata Polo Ground where the 2023 Polo Tournament final took place.
Seyi himself is a polo aficionado, has a polo club STL Team in Lagos so missing the final in Kano would have been unthinkable. Who can blame him for his passion?
In times past, hundreds of soccer fans riding heavy duty motorbikes in long convoys from either side of the Niger Bridge invaded venues of finals between Bendel Insurance and Enugu Rangers in Benin City or Enugu. Now, here was the president’s son having the same itch with a grander, faster and safer mode of transportation at the ready.
Besides, the Kano jaunt was not the first such trip for the First Son. Sources say he is “known for travelling regularly with the presidential jet either in the company of his father or in those of his associates.”
Last July, for instance, Seyi was sighted walking towards one of the presidential jets in the FCT – destination unknown. The image shows a backpack strapped to a sky-blue jallabiya Seyi wore, complete with his trade mark face cap. His latest jaunt however drew criticism from Nigerians claiming “abuse of public asset.”
Though unelected, Seyi got all the presidential treat from when he departed Abuja to when he arrived Kano. Writing for Premium Times on October 9, Abdulrahman Abdulmalik reported that he “was thereafter chauffeured to the Usman Dantata Polo Ground amidst tight security provided by gun-wielding detachments of the Nigeria Police Force and the State Security Service. After the final matches of the two-week tournament were played and awards handed to winners, the waiting presidential jet then transported Seyi Tinubu and his party back to Abuja.”
Continuing, Abdulmalik reported that Seyi’s “use of the presidential plane for a private event to satisfy his personal passion immediately triggered a firestorm of criticism by some Nigerians.”
First among them was a London-based Nigerian journalist Jaafar Jaafar who questioned the morality of using a public property for a private event. “Here’s Tinubu’s golden child, Seyi,”Jafaar harrumphed on X, “travelling in a presidential jet to watch polo in Kano… Even if our laws are vague on this, one thing is clear: this is an offence to the moral code of leadership.”
Aliyu, a commentator on the same platform, agreed with Jafaar. “The use of presidential jets for personal or non-official purposes by public officials can raise concerns about transparency and accountability. It’s essential for leaders to uphold ethical standards and set a good example for the public. Transparency and adherence to rules can help combat corruption and ensure that government resources are used responsibly.”
Still on the presidential jet matter, a surgeon Bello Anka focused on the number of security detail with Seyi during the flight to and from Kano. “What about the misuse of a special forces unit as his bodyguards? See them in the pictures. The other day, he went skateboarding in Abuja with them running by his side. This is just a continuation of the culture of impunity from the previous government, perhaps on an even grander scale this time.”
The comment from @ajaGunSEgun was tongue in cheek: “Buhari’s daughter did the same thing, and I think it is high time the Nigerian government added the offices of the son and daughter of the president to the already created offices of the President and the First Lady so Nigerian government affairs could finally become a family affair.”
If there’s anything Seyi’s misadventure achieved, it is to anger many Nigerians, Abdumalik sniffed, insisting that it “has continued to irritate not a few taxpayers who lament inappropriate deployment and abuse of a key national asset.”
Of course, as most Nigerians know, Seyi would not be the first to willy-nilly appropriate a presidential jet for private use. Hanan, youngest daughter of former President Muhammadu Buhari, set the pace when, on January 9 2020, she flew in one of the aircraft from the FCT to Bauchi and back. What was her mission? A private photography session. Her action drew criticism almost immediately just as Seyi’s.
Farooq Kperogi a Nigerian professor thundered thusly from the U.S: “An unprecedented abuse of presidential powers.” Comparing Hanan’s abuse of privilege three years ago and Seyi’s now, an X user by name Bashar noted that “Buhari merely sought the title of ‘President’ without understanding or respecting the sanctity of the office. The audacity to let his daughter, Hanan, use a presidential jet for a mere photo tour in Bauchi was the beginning of this mockery. Now we see Tinubu’s progeny, Seyi, hopping on the same jet for a polo match in Kano. It’s not just about the laws, it’s about ethics, morals and respect for the position. Our leaders must do more than just occupy an office; they must uphold its dignity.”
Though the Presidency kept mum on Seyi’s pleasure ride to and from Kano early in October, his father President Bola Ahmed Tinubu himself became very vocal on another privilege the son may have abused. Late last month, the president bristled about family members inviting themselves to the weekly Federal Executive Council meetings. He specifically mentioned his first son. “Last week, I noticed people sneaking in and out of this council,” PBAT warned. “People had access to this place when they should not have. I saw the photograph of my son, Seyi, sitting behind…That is not acceptable. I will announce to you here the people who are supposed to be here.”
He proceeded to do just that, naming Hadiza Usman, Special Adviser on Policy Coordination, Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, Principal Private Secretary and Damilotun Aderemi, Private Secretary. “These are the people who are granted the exception to be here when we are conducting the business of the nation,” Tinubu said. “Unless I sent for you, don’t come.”
Of course, Mr. President duly informed the Secretary to the Federal Government George Akume and Head of the Civil Service Mrs. Folasade Yemi-Esan for prompt action, adding that “unless they are your staff that are included, no one should have access to the FEC meeting, except I have announced their names to you.”
Presidential Progenies Behaving Badly?
That question cropped up following Seyi’s recent wanderlust, his bias for using presidential jets for private jaunts. Did Seyi behave badly in appropriating an official property for private use? Did Hanan herself also take laws into her hands by acting similarly three years ago?
For most Nigerians and judging by the responses so far, the answer is yes. But some also point to parental indulgence. For Jaafar, erstwhile President Buhari “set a bad example by allowing his daughter access to the aircraft.” Therefore, Seyi Tinubu following in Hanan’s footsteps was only too natural – two instances of presidential progenies taking laws into their hands and damning the consequences. In that, they are both in good company and from the very country Nigeria borrowed its presidential system of government – the United States of America.
Hunter Biden second and only surviving son of President Joe Biden is currently embroiled in a firearm possession charge. Aside that, the 53-year-old has been involved in the worst of all possible scandals that ever could beset a first family starting from 2014.
From being an alcoholic to substance abuse, Hunter has fathered a child with a woman not his wife. He refused paternity until DNA tests proved otherwise. He now pays child support to the woman Lunden Alexis Roberts, an exotic dancer from Arkansas.
As if pursued by the Furies, Hunter was charged with tax evasion by the IRS. He also paid a backlog of taxes to government. And then, there is the more worrisome accusation of benefitting from shady business dealings with the Chinese and Ukrainians when he travelled to those countries with his father when he was Vice President to Barack Obama.
Worst of all is Hunter’s personal life which was unravelling bit by painful bit at a dizzying pace after his older sib Beau died of brain cancer in 2015. His brother’s death shattered Hunter turning him more and more to alcohol and drug abuse, reckless spending and forsaking his domestic duties leading his estranged wife Kathleen Buhle to accuse Hunter of “spending extravagantly on his own interests (including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs, and gifts for women with whom he has sexual relations) while leaving the family with no funds to pay legitimate bills.”
Thankfully, Hunter survived the alcohol and substance abuse but the case of firearm possession is pending in court.
Back in time across the Atlantic, Hunter’s counterpart Mark Thatcher son of former Prime Minister Margret Thatcher had his own bit of scandal when it emerged he was involved in an arms deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Dubbed Al Yamamah Deal, the UK was contracted to supply warplanes worth $43b through BAE (British multinational arms, security and aerospace company) to the Saudis. First sales and shipment was in 1986. The allegations became public in 2001. With payoffs running into billions of dollars, Prince Bandar who at the time was son of Defence Minister Prince Sultan was said to have received kickbacks from the deal. Also mentioned was Mrs. Thatcher’s son alleged to have received some slush funds from the transaction.
But investigators could never prove anything against any of the principal actors. Prince Bandar himself made nonsense of the bribery allegations declaring that “If you tell me that building this whole country…out of $400bn that we misused, or got, $50bn, I’ll tell you, ‘Yes. So what? We did not invent corruption…This has happened since Adam and Eve. It’s human nature.”
More tellingly was the remark of then UK Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine who denied any wrongdoing. “The government had no knowledge and no dealings involving commission arrangements.” Mark himself pointedly noted that he did not use his mother’s influence to benefit from his business dealings, thus stopping investigation into Al Yamamah dead on its track, prompting reporters to evoke an Arab proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”
The caravan also seemed to be moving on even while dogs were barking in a neighbouring country to Saudi Arabia back then when two presidential sons called the shots in Iraq. The story of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay recall memories of Ottoman princes revelling in their excesses, who could do no wrong, and were simply above the law all through the period their father presided over Iraq for nearly two and half decades from 1979.
Uday was a confirmed alcoholic, serial rapist and psychopath for whom human life mattered little or nothing. He achieved notoriety for his erratic behaviour, displaying a sadistic pleasure in torturing members of the Iraqi football team if they lost matches. For his brutality, some Iraqis tried to assassinate him but only succeeded in paralysing him thus paving the way for Qusay to emerge fully into public service and possible successor to Saddam. With more powers bestowed on him, Qusay soon outrivaled his senior sib in savagery, hunting down opponents to the regime and eliminating them.
A Sunday Times investigation, for example, showed that Qusay “was responsible for the killing of many political activists,” ordering “the killing of Khalis Mohsen al-Tikriti, an engineer at the military industrialization organization, because he believed Mohsen was planning to leave Iraq.”
Fortunately for Iraqis, the caravan did stop while the dogs backed. As the American forces closed in on Iraq during the second invasion, Qusay withdrew one billion dollars in cash from the central bank hoping to bee-line it with Uday out of his ravaged country. The planned escape failed. Uday and Qusay were subsequently killed in a shootout with American forces in a private residence in northern Iraq in 2003 thus bringing to an ignominious end the reign of presidential progenies behaving badly in a brutal dictatorship.