Tinubu and sons in Doha: the puzzles

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Just before he took off to Qatar, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu got more than what he bargained for when he decided to include his family members on the taxpayer-funded business trip.

Many observers objected because according to them, it amounted to official impunity and a breach of the Presidential Oath of office that the nation’s president took before he began to work on May 29th.

A portion of the oath of office of president contained in the seventh schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, clearly stated thus: “That I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decision…”

It does look like the President who stood his ground and jetted off to Doha to attend official meetings and to witness signing of business agreements, believe that he hasnt violated any law.

The President went along with his two sons alongside three dozen other state officials and they spent two days.

The defense put up by President Tinubu is that there is really no big deal going on foreign official tour with his children who are adults.

A key trigger for this national debate is that the trip comes amid a nationwide protest against hardship, hunger and high cost of living, among others in the country. So most Nigerians think that even when the country is burning, but the President is embarking on a family jamboree.

Otega Ogra, the Senior Special Assistant to President Bola Tinubu on Digital/New Media, defended the President’s inclusion of his sons, Seyi and Yinka, among the delegation going with him to Qatar for a business and investment meeting.

Ogra said that some leaders of the world take their children on state visits to educate them about world affairs and different cultures, and to maintain a semblance of family life, despite the demands of public office.

Tinubu will visited Qatar on a state visit scheduled for March 2 and 3, 2024 but was accompanied by 38 others including his sons. The delegation was split into two batches.

The first batch of 16 people to arrive on February 28, 2024, includes Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, Kaduna State Governor, Uba Sani, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake, National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, and the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, Mele Kyari.

The second delegation made up of 22 people to arrive on February 29, 2024, includes Seyi Tinubu, Yinka Tinubu, PPS, Hakeem Muti-Okunola, SCOP, Ambassador Victor Adekunle Adeleke, PP, Dr. Ade Tinubu, and SSAP (Household), Subair Oluwatoyin.

Meanwhile, it has been observed that although Tinubu had promised to cut the cost of governance but many Nigerians have accused the government of only paying lip service to it and not fully committed to going ahead with it.

Media reports say Seyi and his brother, Yinka have accompanied Tinubu on virtually every foreign trip.

But what is intriguing about the justification for the decision of President Tinubu is the mention of world leaders travelling with their children even as the United states of America was cited as an example.

That nexus that the Nigerian President raised between his decision to always travel on business trips and his children with the instances of how either the American President does same, pales into insignificance when we recall that even the United State congress often monitored the movements of the President of the USA with his children to ensure that no case of conflict of interests is allowed.

The conflict of interests such as allowing the children of the president to fly together with the president on an official trip and then cash in on such trips to arrange their private business deals.

I will return to explain further. But first, the Nigerian President’s travel to Doha was for official business and to attend meetings with business moguls. So did the children of the president use that trip to gain private advantage? By the way, why does the president have to travel to official meetings with his children when this sane president publicly barred his son from attending the Federal Executive Council meetings in Abuja?

Even as the aforementioned questions are to be answered by those who actually attended that meeting in Qatar alongside the president, in the case of America, the son of the President of America has had to confront an investigation by congress regarding his alleged use of a trip with his father on a business trip to China to set up his own beneficial private business deal. This allegation is not treated in America with kid gloves.

Dateline Oct. 2, 2019, the media reported the aforementioned scandal involving President Biden’s son like this: “At the time, it seemed mildly noteworthy, but not particularly unusual: then-Vice President Joe Biden, traveling to China on an official visit, had brought his son Hunter Biden along.

And when the two appeared in public together in Beijing during the 2013 trip, there were all the typical trappings of a mini-family vacation tacked on to a business trip.

With granddaughter Finnegan in tow, the Biden men sipped tea in a Confucian-style teahouse, leafed through books at local shops and treated themselves to mid-afternoon ice cream.

But almost six years later, Biden’s trip to Beijing is coming under new scrutiny amid revelations about President Donald Trump’s efforts to dig up information to corroborate his unproven corruption allegations regarding Biden and his son’s work in Ukraine.”

The reporter stated also that in 2013, “I was one of four reporters who traveled aboard Air Force Two with Biden and his son to China, a visit that was sandwiched between stops in Japan and South Korea. When we got on the plane on a bright Sunday afternoon at Joint Base Andrews, the Bidens were already on board, having just flown in from a family Thanksgiving gathering in Nantucket. Biden often took family members and especially his grandchildren on his foreign trips, so their presence didn’t raise eyebrows.

What wasn’t known then was that as he accompanied his father to China, Hunter Biden was forming a Chinese private equity fund that associates said at the time was planning to raise big money, including from China. Hunter Biden has acknowledged meeting with Jonathan Li, a Chinese banker and his partner in the fund during the trip, although his spokesman says it was a social visit”.

On DECEMBER 8 2023, it was reported that the US Department of Justice has charged Hunter Biden with nine federal tax offences, including tax evasion, adding to the legal troubles of the president’s son ahead of the 2024 election year.

The indictment was handed down by a grand jury and filed in federal court in California by special counsel David Weiss, who was appointed by attorney-general Merrick Garland to probe Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

Prosecutors said Hunter Biden failed to pay at least $1.4mn of federal taxes for the years between 2016 and 2019, a period that covered Joe Biden’s last year as vice-president and the start of his 2020 presidential campaign.

The DoJ said Hunter Biden had “spent millions of dollars on an extravagant lifestyle rather than paying his tax bills” and “willfully failed” to pay taxes on time for four years “despite having access to funds to pay some or all of these taxes”.

“Between 2016 and October 15 2020, the defendant spent this money on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes,” the indictment said.

It also said Hunter Biden had included “false business deductions” on his 2018 tax return to “reduce the very substantial tax liability he faced as of February 2020”.

What all these say, is that in the developed economies, in as much as Presidents sometimes include their children or grand-children on delegations to foreign official tours, but the developed societies have strong institutions vigilant enough to ensure that conflicts of interest do not arise. Also, the Children of such World leaders are just like any other citizens who are subject to the common laws. But the same thing can’t be said about Nigeria.

In Nigeria, due to weakness of institutions, the family members of the President often abuse the privileges of the position of their father and are seen misusing public assets for private engagements which amount to impunity.

The lawless behaviours of children and spouses of presidents of Nigeria in the past and even now even got to a point that the current occupant of the office of President in Nigeria, had to stop his son from attending official meetings of the Federal cabinet.

On the 1st November 2023, it was reported that President Bola Tinubu stopped his son, Seyi, who he accused of having “undue access” to the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja from attending the weekly meetings of the Federal Executive Council.

FEC, presided over by the President, is the highest decision-making body of the government.

It has the Vice President, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, all ministers, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and some top presidential aides as members.

At the opening of the last meeting of the council on Monday, however, Tinubu noted that some persons who have no reasons to be at the meetings have been attending.

In a video that has gone viral, the President mentioned his son who he said he saw in a picture sitting behind a cubicle during a meeting of the council.

Tinubu condemned the action which he said was not acceptable.

“Last week I noticed the undue access of people sneaking in and out of this council, including my son, Seyi, sitting behind the cubicle there. That is not acceptable,” the President declared.

He, however, listed the names of those that are permitted in the meeting.

“I will announce to you those who are supposed to be here with my consent. Hadiza Usman, the Special Adviser on Policy Coordination, Bayo Onanuga, the Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, the Principal Private Secretary and Damilotun Aderemi, the Private Secretary,” he announced.

Speaking further, Tinubu directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume, and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Folashade Yemi-Esan, to take note of his directive.

He further stressed that no one should have access to the FEC meeting unless they are granted permission. So why is it permissible that the sons of the president should attend official meetings abroad if they aren’t allowed to access official meetings in Abuja? Is this not a fallacy? So why is that presidential aides grandstanding and using the examples of what obtains in advanced democracies to compared to the abuses of privileges that children of Nigerian President’s commit?

Whereas the American Congress is independent and powerful enough to monitor the children of the US President regarding the use to which they make of public assets, but the reverse is the case in Nigeria, because the National Assembly is so weak that the Senate President and the Speaker of Parliament are nominees of President Tinubu. So how can ‘boys’ (Akpabio and the speaker) of Tinubu enforce ethical codes of conducts for the children of their political boss: Tinubu?

The Nigerian Senate can’t summon enough courage to check alleged excesses of the sons of President Tinubu regarding how they use public assets to attend private business.

Once, the son of Tinubu Mr Seyi flew in a Presidential jet to Kano from Abuja to watch a Golf match. Wife of Buhari took off to Dubai on many occasions for days using presidential jet. Buhari’s son often flew in Airforce 1.

But in the USA, – Lawmakers are demanding records related to then-Vice President Joe Biden’s use of Air Force Two, the federal plane reserved for the Vice President, saying he used the taxpayer-funded plane to fly his son Hunter Biden around the world.

Hunter Biden faces an array of legal challenges related to allegations of gun, tax and foreign influence crimes. Mounting evidence suggests that the president may have been aware and even aided his son’s overseas deals.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., sent a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration demanding the relevant travel records for how Air Force Two was used.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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