By Fredrick Nwabufo
“It will take the next two months before ministers can come on board. Bringing them in now may disrupt the clean-up going on. So, Nigerians just have to be patient.”
This was Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, speaking to Reuters on July 1, 2015 on the hold-up in appointing ministers. He said the president was taking his time to assemble a team of “credible and competent” Nigerians.
But after six months of suspense and wearisome wait, some persons of blemished character and of inchoate competence still got hoisted into the cabinet. What a pathos-inducing denouement that was?
As a matter of fact, reinforcing failure is solving a problem with the same washed-out tools, methods and liveware. A president is as good as his cabinet; this is the reason competence must supersede every other value item in the check-list.
It has been 14 days since the inauguration of the second Buhari administration, and it is shaping up to be the sophomore of a prosaic interlude charged with a numbing suspense.
Really, I think this uneasy wait could be the result of intense lobbying in “high places” or a consequence of ambivalence in making that important decision of appointing persons to the cabinet by President Buhari. And there is the speculation that most of the “arid hands” may return because they are angling and sparing no quarter in scheming to have another round at retailed power.
In an essay entitled, ‘Mr President, may we discuss your cabinet?’ Simon Kolawole delivered an incisive piece of protest when he said: “Mr President, I will now be straightforward: if you retain certain ministers, I will finally give up on your government. I have seen enough reasons to lose faith but there is this never-say-die spirit that keeps me hoping even when it does not make sense. That is in my DNA. I have, however, been gravely worried that most of the ministers have been saying quietly that they are returning. In fact, I am told more than half of your cabinet will be re-appointed. I hope this is a joke, Mr President. Tell me it’s a joke, Mr President. Assure me, Mr President, that this is a joke. This is a cabinet you should have dissolved years ago! How on earth would they be retained? Say it ain’t so, Mr President.”
With due attribution, I so declare: “I will finally give up on Buhari, if certain former political ‘appointees’ return.” The truth is, loyalty is not a strong point for outsourcing critical ministries or offices to loudly incompetent persons. This was the intended experiment with Adebayo Shittu, minister of communications. He is, perhaps, the most tragic misfit to have headed that ministry.
And it is not that the president lacks a pool of human resources to make his pick from within or outside his party. But the Nigerian brand of politics of cronyism, loyalty and patronage blights credible choices.
To say the least, I am not oblivious of the achievements of some officials in the administration. I know that there have been genuine reforms at some agencies. At PTAD, I know, Sharon Ikeazor, executive secretary of the agency introduced the Anti-corruption Transparency Unit to purge the agency of institutional corruption; I know she created a database for pensioners, jettisoning the antiquated and cumbersome filing process; yanked off more than 24,000 ghost pensioners from the system, saving about N495 million monthly for the government. But would it not be fantastic if we had a female Secretary to the Government of the Federation? What is to be said for gender inclusion?
At NEITI, I know there have been reforms. I know there is a push toestablish public registers of beneficial owners (real owners) of oil, gas and mining companies which operate in the country by 2020. Already, there is a published roadmap on beneficial ownership disclosure which provides clear definition of who beneficial owners are. The essence of this is to bring transparency and accountability into the extractive industry. What better way to fight corruption in the opaque sector? Also, the man leading this charge at NEITI, Mr Waziri Adio, is a public officer who is known to have shrunk the appurtenances of office off his own bat.
At the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the integrity of data has remained untainted. I remember a few months to the 2019 election; the NBS published some unemployment figures which were unfavourable to the government. Really, it takes special courage to hold up the end of non-compromise in this circumstance. Dr Yemi Kale, statistician-general, braved death threats to do his job.
And there are many other Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in public service like Dr Joe Abah who initiated a series of pristine reforms while he was the director-general of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms. The talent pool in Nigeria is inexhaustible. But the committee of “political scouts” are comfortable with the optional familiar.
President Buhari should imagine himself as the CEO of a blue-chip company. He must understand that competence is ultimate; it comes first, and that appointing career politicians to sensitive offices as he experimented in the time of “change” will not take us to the “Next Level” now.