WHATEVER may be his shortcomings, President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be said to be unpatriotic, lacking in zeal and determination, a visionary leader, to recreate the country in his own image. He is committed to battle the country’s twin evil of corruption and indiscipline to a standstill and put an end to the insurgency of Boko Haram that has ravaged a huge chunk of the Northeastern part of the country for nearly one decade. He believes that without successfully tackling this twin evil, all efforts to restore the economy will come to naught. That may excuse the largely perceived scant attention which the government is paying to the economy which is getting murkier by the day because of the dwindling global oil price.
Recent events have, however, shown that he has more to worry about than fighting corruption, defined narrowly as meaning the theft of national wealth by public officials. And when he is through with chasing away the criminal elements called the Boko Haram insurgents, he will have to sit down and do a rethink about the structure of his administration, which is the engine room of government.
The president has been eulogised and widely acclaimed as the new Sheriff in town. That is as far as catching thieves or alleged thieves is concerned. But nobody has credited President Buhari with the attributes of Big Brother, the fictional character in George Orwell’s 1984 who sees everybody no matter where they turn or wherever they seek to hide especially when they seek to plot evil and conspire to harm the collective interest of the socialist state that Orwell writes about in the said book.
But because Buhari is not omnipresent and does not have the capacity to see all and hear all at the same time, he, like all leaders in all climes, seeks to surround himself with trusted and competent aides and advisers. These trusted men and women must share in his vision and the philosophy of his administration. They must be men and women of proven integrity trusted to anchor their advice and decisions on the noble qualities of fairness and equity above other considerations.
To ensure he had the best crop of staff, he took his time to scrutinise their credentials and do thorough background check for integrity and competence. I want to believe that was one reason, or the sole reason, why it took him fairly long to assemble his cabinet. All of the men and women who work with Buhari must, like Caesar’s wife, be scrupulously above board.
But what does the budget padding which is threatening to become monumental scandal and national embarrassment say of his capable and trusted aides and advisers? Having enunciated his policy thrusts anchored on his vision for the country, it was enough for the President to trust his advisers and the technocrats to fill in the details. It is almost impossible for the President to have read every word, every line, every sentence and every paragraph in the budget document. It would have been impossible for him to have read every page of the budget running into 1810 pages before it was submitted to the National Assembly. For the first time in our history, we now hear of padded budget. We have heard of legislators forcing their will and desire into a budget document that belongs exclusively to the executive arm of government. And a little reconciliation and some handshake would sort out the difference in figures. That was in the years of yore. But this one beats all imagination.
As if this embarrassment is not bad enough, from one significant ministry headed by one of the President’s most trusted men comes some disquiet which, if not handled properly, is guaranteed to snowball into a major crisis of confidence. I am referring to this week’s sacking of the council of 12 new federal universities. And before one could say haba, the vice-chancellors of the affected universities as well as that of the National Open University were also casually fired and their replacements handpicked by officials of the Ministry of Education under the watchful eye of Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education, regarded very highly as a man of proven integrity and high moral principle, qualities that must have endeared him to the President.
Now, those who know better say the sacking and the appointments of their successors do not follow the due process and laid-down procedure. Don’t forget that two or three months into the administration of President Buhari, the government dissolved many boards including university councils. But the government, after due counsel, reversed itself within two weeks. The government explained that university councils were excluded, because they had tenured appointment of four years. They could only be removed by the visitor to the universities on grounds of proven corruption and maladministration. Without any publicly stated reason, the same government has sacked the councils of the said universities. And their tenures are not due to end in the next three years.
More disturbing is the removal of the vice-chancellors. Of the 12 universities, nine of their VCs were due to leave this month. In preparation for their exit, because they have run their tenure, the councils of the universities began the elaborate process to recruit new vice-chancellors, with advertisements in the newspapers, with search parties to look for credible candidates and other processes that would follow all these. While this was going on, a letter was written to the pro-chancellors of the affected universities to put the process of recruitment on hold pending further directives. But as the tenure of the vice-chancellors was drawing to an end and to avoid a vacuum, the councils of the universities, who are legally empowered to recruit their vice- chancellors, decided to appoint acting VCs. Then suddenly like a coup in the night, the councils were dissolved and the new substantive vice-chancellors were hand-picked in the name of the President.
The Coalition of Civil Society Groups immediately rose to the occasion to decry the changes which according to them contravened the provisions of the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No 11 of 1993 (as amended in 2003 and 2012 and other extant laws and agreements. The explanation of Professor Michael Faborode, the secretary general of the committee of vice chancellors, that the nine vice-chancellors were due to go in February did not help matters. If they were going in February, why did government not allow them to go quietly? And why did the ministry handpicked their successors without regard to the laid-own procedure? And what is the fate or the offence of the three vice chancellors whose tenure is not due until about two years time, like that of Professor Lawal Bilbis who has shown demonstrable leadership qualities and has transformed the nascent Federal University in Birnin Kebbi to a status that has become the envy of even his own contemporaries?
The government must have its reasons to subvert its own laws, but it is only decent to let people know why it is doing so. It is not enough to do so just because you can. In public office, it is a matter of duty to carry the public along. Not to do so smacks of impunity, lack of probity and accountability, self-same perfidy that Buhari’s Administration is condemning from the mountain top.