A cabinet the country needs
President Muhammadu Buhari is at this time expected to be facing a huge challenge of constituting a competent cabinet to run the affairs of the country, which urgently needs a new direction. It does not require dithering and spasms of indecision having being inaugurated for a second term in office as Nigeria’s chief executive a few days ago. This is the appropriate time to hit the ground running. Some four years ago, he missed the golden opportunity of choosing his ministers on time and perhaps some of the very best the country could produce. He waited for so long—approximately six months to choose his team. A concerned populace waited and imagined that there was wisdom in the president’s bidding of his time to get it right for a country in the throes of mis-governance and contending with insurgency in its north-eastern quadrant.
We all got it wrong. Nothing good came out, after all from that procrastination. At last, the Senate approved a list of ministers, an aggregation of political partisans, without corresponding portfolios. As it turned out, they were by and large, square pegs in round holes; none stood out by sheer expertise and even by sterling performance in the past. Many exhibited outright ignorance of the bureaucracy of the state they were hired to run. Other categories of appointments, such as the service chiefs were parochial and ethnically tainted in a multicultural country. The consequence was public charge of nepotism on the part of the president. Four years after, it is hard to find a distinguished achiever in the government. Corruption, the central agendum of the government, became farcical with the purchase of indulgence by corrupt politicians.
With hindsight, President Buhari failed to heed the ever-relevant counsel of the 16th century Florentine political thinker and theorist, Niccolo Machiavelli who once noted in his classic, The Prince that the character of any regime or administration can be discerned from the choice of ministers. In his words, “The choice of ministers is a matter of no small moment to a Prince. Whether they shall be good or not depends on his prudence, so that the readiest conjecture we can form of the character and sagacity of a Prince is from seeing what sort of men he has about him. When they are at once capable and faithful, we may always account him wise, since he has known to recognise their merit and to retain their fidelity. But if they be otherwise, we must pronounce unfavourably of him, since he has committed a first fault in making his selection.”
Again, the Machiavelli’s bell is tolling and the President must take heed, if he intends by any dint of imagination to leave behind an enduring legacy in the governance of our country. The constitution is there as a guide, the complexity of the country is there as a compass and wisdom, a divine grace is hovering around to be tapped.
Remarkably, the 1999 Constitution as amended recognises the country as a federation whose character must be factored into key appointive positions for the reign of equity in the polity. It states specifically in Section 171 (5), “In exercising his powers of appointment under this section, the president shall have regard to the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity.” This should be extended to appointments, secretary to the government of the federation, head of civil service, ambassadorial, permanent secretaries and heads of extra-ministerial departments, which the president can undertake even at his own pleasure and terminate upon the president exiting office.
Whereas the constitution envisages equity and inclusivity, in practice, the complexity of the country and the corresponding sensibilities of its people require a delicate balancing of interests in ways that no one will be left out of the scheme of things. There should be no doubt about this truth to power: the security architecture of the country currently skewed in favour of a section of the country must be balanced to reflect the diversity of the peoples of this country and restore a sense of oneness. Indeed, no one should be left out.
Economically and politically, the country is afflicted. To get out of the woods, wisdom is required in the choice of men and women to run the affairs of this country. This requires a delicate blend of sundry factors, politics, expertise, gender, record of performance and age. These factors are to be embedded on a foundation of merit and integrity. To reiterate, merit must be given a pride of place in the choice of political appointees.
More important, in seeking the approval of the appointees by Senate, the portfolios of the ministers must be tied to individuals. This will expose them to both Senate and public scrutiny. The Senate will be able to ask the right questions and the public will be able to dig into their past.
Mr. President, it should not be business as usual please, hit the ground running. This is 21st century, which doesn’t waste time in leaving procrastinators and mediocrities behind. There should therefore be no time to consider party loyalty above over-riding public interest. The nation is waiting for the president’s men who will take the country to the much talked about ‘next level.’
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