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Buhariwatch: Time to block sycophancy and mediocrity – Part 2

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As I was saying, this is not a time for Nigeria’s leader to be careless with time management as he did in his first term when he wasted six months before he could form his government. I also noted in the same vein last week that this is not a time too to entertain the most dangerous people in any government:  sycophants. I specifically pleaded that those pollutants (sycophants) including self-serving members of his ‘kitchen cabinet’ should be blocked at these desperate times that demand desperate measures – to rebuild the country’s broken walls. I would like to remind our leader at this time that it is not a time to allow sycophants and court jesters in his house to prevent him from listening to the ‘voices of reason’ who would like to tell him some inconvenient truths including the fact that there has been too much impunity nurtured by gross indiscipline in his first term.

I was also saying here before the article was declared ‘inconclusive’ too that, ‘there are indeed weightier matters of state and governance that the president should concern himself with at this time. We should not fail now to remind our leader that there have been some institutional weaknesses that negatively affected efficiency in his first term. There shouldn’t be any illusion that the president didn’t run the 2019 election campaigns on his performance in the last four years. The president’s performance was not significant enough. And part of the reasons are not too far to seek: They include: weak presidential bureaucracy; embarrassing parochial appointments; a cabinet of mediocrities; lifeless economic team, etc’.

Parochial appointments’:

There was also a simple salient point here last week that Nigeria’s leader at this critical time should not allow the sycophants in his presidency to dismiss those who have expressed concerns that since 2015, presidential appointments have been curiously parochial. And so it has been noted that perception of nepotism, in this regard could not have helped in building confidence in the nation he leads at this time.

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So, it is worth repeating too that the president should conquer himself at this time and reflect on the complex diversity within the country and that is why his appointments this time should not accommodate perceived parochialism and nepotism. The fact that he has been declared re-elected in the just concluded presidential election should not be interpreted to mean that all sections in the country have accepted his parochial appointments since 2015.

It was noted here too that most observers would like the president to overhaul his mediocre presidential bureaucracy. In this context, the presidential bureaucracy comprises the offices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF) and Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC).

Read below an article titled, ‘Time to overhaul wobbly presidential bureaucracy’ I wrote as a companion piece to the first column (piece) here titled, Buhariwatch: ‘Before the honeymoon expires’ in The Guardian on Saturday March 19, 2016 back page:

‘Time to overhaul wobbly presidential bureaucracy’.

‘But before the expiration of the honeymoon, let me state that I am fully persuaded that the president should use the one-year in office appraisal and celebration time to overhaul his (presidential) bureaucracy. I mean that the starting point of the reform he needs to carry out is the office of the president and all affiliated offices called the presidency. As I told the State House Correspondents in a keynote at a retreat in Kaduna on 11 December last year, “the presidency is more than the State House or Aso Presidential Villa….

Therefore, there is a sense in which we can claim that there exists a correlation between the quality of the presidential bureaucracy and operational efficiency of the presidency. I mean the starting point of “dynamic capabilities” is the quality of the men and women that assist the president in his peculiar office. And that is why even the constitution provides for this in Section 171, which deals with “presidential appointments”.

The presidential bureaucracy and the president’s Men

The following are principal actors in the special bureaucracy that should define the colour of presidential efficiency or deficiency:

  • Secretary to the Government of the Federation;
  • Head of the Civil Service of the Federation;
  • Permanent Secretaries;

Non-constitutional Offices in the presidency

  • Chief of Staff to the President (Created by President Obasanjo in 1999 as borrowed from the U.S Presidency)
  • Principal Secretary to the President;
  • Special Advisers/Special Assistants; etc, although there is a reference to advisers to be approved by the Senate to assist the president.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation

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The most prominent office inside the villa appears to be the Chief of Staff’s but the most significant is the SGF’s, a unique creation of the constitution. According to Adegoroye (2015), the office arose from the evolutionary development of Nigeria as a nation. The office does not have any parallel either in the UK’s Whitehall or in the U.S White House. According to Ajulo (1998), it began as Central Secretary during the Lugard administration and Chief secretary to the Government who was principal adviser to the governor and the accredited spokesman of the government from the time of Clifford in 1919 until self-rule in 1957.

According to Adegoroye (2015):

“In terms of mandate, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, is to coordinate and monitor implementation of Government policies and programmes, and serve as think tank and technical backbone of the presidency…”

There are (7) seven Permanent Secretaries attached to the SGF’s office to assist in the coordination of specialized offices, namely:

  • General Services Office;
  • Cabinet Secretariat;
  • Special Services Office;
  • Ecological Funds Office;
  • Political & Economic Affairs Office;
  • Special Duties Office &
  • Bureau of Public Service Reforms.

The Office of the SGF is the focal point of the presidential bureaucracy. It is the Secretariat of the Cabinet or Executive Council of the Federation and the Defence and Security Council.

The office of the SGF keeps record of the presidency (as the presidential library).

As I had added to the State House reporters last year, “What this means is that there is no way we can cover the presidency well without covering the presidential bureaucracy, which extends to the following:

  • Head of the Civil Service of the Federation;
  • Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission;
  • Bureau of Public Service Reforms;

I have gone to this extent to enable us deepen our understanding of the importance of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. I have been covering the Presidency from Dordan Barracks to Abuja’s Presidential Villa for the past 26 years. And so from experience and profile of the office, President Muhammadu Buhari needed more than just a close friend for the Office of the SGF when he appointed the current one. This is not to disparage the current office holder. The truth we need to speak to powers in Abuja for the benefit of all of us is that the federal bureaucracy is a broken wall that needs to be rebuilt through a coordinated reform. And so from the hierarchy, the SGF is to coordinate the other bureaucrats including the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and even the Federal Civil Service Commission. There is therefore, no doubt that the person to do this should have been a top serving or retired civil servant who must have been a retired permanent secretary or its equivalent. Past governments have preferred retired or serving permanent secretaries.

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As I have observed, there are more than six permanent secretaries in the office of the SGF. The one to supervise these permanent secretaries should have been at least a top civil servant who understands the public service system. There is yet another reason to go for a seasoned technocrat or bureaucrat. The President left office as military head of state about thirty years ago. Though the vice president is a public intellectual, he served only as attorney-general of a state. That is why the SGF should be a knowledgeable public officer who knows how Abuja’s bureaucracy works and, of course, why it has not worked. Despite criticisms of retired and serving top civil servants, as “evil servants” in the context of massive corruption being investigated in the bureaucracy, there are still so many good and knowledgeable ones even outside political circles that can fit the bill. Besides, the current Chief of Staff is not credited with remarkable experience in the mainstream public service. He too reportedly retired from banking long ago.

What is more, the current permanent secretary in the State House is also inexperienced. Surveys have revealed that he was a State House Counsel and somehow he was appointed a permanent secretary and returned to the State House. Therefore, if you look at the profile of the current presidential bureaucracy, it will be discovered that there is too much inexperience. Even the new Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, with due respect, does not have enough fire in her belly to drive reform that the civil service requires today. Besides, the current Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) does not have an agile head that can work ruthlessly to purge the service of mediocrity, ineptitude and corruption.

Therefore, all the president’s men who usually rise to please the president by attacking anyone who points out some institutional weaknesses should note this: We want the president to succeed. He is the only hope at the moment. If President Muhammadu Buhari cannot fix Nigeria at this moment, we are doomed. I am convinced that he has personal integrity and capacity to do it. But let no one be deceived that miracles will happen if the men and women he has chosen to do the job of fixing our broken walls are incapable. Ask a well-known cleric, T.D Jakes, he will tell you, “miracles too do not just happen.

Before we begin to talk about the capability of his cabinet next month, let the president do some introspection, and appraisal about the quality of the bureaucracy in the presidency. And here is the thing: If you want a football club like the Barcelona and Real Madrid, you should look for your Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo’.

Let’s continue the conversation on ‘mediocrity’ next week including reminiscences on what the late Professor Pius Adesanmi said about the danger of mediocrity (in April 2016). Let’s continue with why I feel the president should run away from mediocrity in governance and indeed presidential bureaucracy, especially now that there is a competent Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Dr. Bello Tukur Ingawa.

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