Rainbow or monochrome: Thoughts on the new cabinet
If media speculations are reliable, perhaps by the time you are reading this, President Buhari would have submitted the list of his ministerial nominees to the senate. This piece, therefore, stands the risk of being over taken by events and thus upgraded to an academic discourse, always but unfairly treated as a sterile argument. I hope not.
My purpose in this column is to enunciate a principle by which we should be governed by playing around with some ideas that should help us lift the business of government above political party interests to the critical demands of building a nation and uniting the people. There is some element of naivety in this, I know; and this, for two reasons. The first is that government is the business or, if you like, the creation of a political party. By its constitutional instrumentality, democratic governments come into being. This being so, it is the business of government to reciprocate by promoting the interests of the party whose servant it arguably is.
The second reason is that the party system is a reward system. Governments reward those who supported it at the polling booths. Governments, therefore, tend to be composed of men and women who deserve to be in government because they played a role that made the party victorious at the polling booths. Pray never to meet a man who gave his all to ensure the emergence of a government on the platform of his party but who, at the end of the day, is denied the fruits of his labour and left out in the cold. I need say no more.
Having said that, let me offer a caveat. My naivety here is for a good cause, the cause of of having the best of both worlds, to wit, the need to balance the composition of a government with party loyalists and supporters and men and women drawn from even opposition parties who have demonstrated their capacity in their chosen fields to help make the government of the day tick.
Every democratic government in our country, as far as I know, has strictly abided by the demands of the party reward system. No change even in an era that mouths change as a slogan for the long and weary trek to the next level. Each government is composed entirely of those whose loyalty and support as party members it can count on, at least until the devil plants unholy ideas in their heads and they are forced to define loyalty and support purely in terms of assumed personal entitlements.
The appointment of ministers, state commissioners and other aids, is part of a country’s leadership recruitment process. I do not think this fact has sufficiently sunk in among our leaders who, it seems, see themselves essentially as doing nothing particularly greater than following the constitutional directive in the composition of federal and state governments. If they knew, I believe they would be more serious in who and how they recruit men and women into their cabinets. The fact is that we have failed so far to institute a policy of head-hunting through which a president can recruit the best hands to assist him in ruling or leading this potentially great country.
A federal cabinet is composed of men and women whose names were given to the president for appointment as ministers. Under the current system, a state governor submits three names from which, arguably, the president is free to make his choice. That of course, is the fiction. The fact is that a governor lists the names in order of his preference and one that the president simply accepts. It is a serious flaw in our leadership recruitment process that a president appoints ministers who are virtually unknown to him. He is not in a position to personally assess their suitability and competence for the high offices given to given. It is a recipe for disappointment for the system itself. In a good political system, the leadership recruitment process must be conducted in a manner that throws up potential successors in federal and state administrations.
We should end this process if we are serious about recruiting the best for the job. It is wrong for the federal cabinet to be composed entirely by the appointees of state governors. Why would the state governors exercise this level of authority in the federal cabinet? Why should a president allow himself to be so dictated to by state governors who, despite being in the same political party with him, might not necessarily share his focus and vision?
There is a major fall out from this restricted leadership recruitment process in the country. And it is worrisome because we have accepted the illogic that what is, is what right and proper. No, sir. It may be okay from the point of party interests to appropriately reward those who suffered in the trenches to help elect the government but it is not okay when this is done at the expense of competence and experience. Strict adherence to this tradition sees mediocres promoted above their competence strutting the stage with the tinkling bells of sycophancy. This political tradition is inimical to our national progress. It robs our rulers the right to get the best among the people to do the job. After all, every political party, no matter its reach and popularity, can county only a minority of the population as members. The majority of the people may either support different political parties or are indifferent to politics. But the culture of the reward system dictates that such people, no matter how brilliant or competent or experienced they may be, have no place in federal and state administrations.
We need to remedy this by taking the following two steps in the composition of the federal cabinet. One, a president, without necessarily sacrificing party support and loyalty, should be given the freedom to recruit his own team. He must be allowed to go over the heads of the state governors and pick, through an established process of head-hunting, the best men and women from each state to help him take the country to whatever level he may determine.
Two, the isolation of opposition parties in the composition of a federal or state cabinet has the same result as one above. More importantly, as long as we maintain this tradition so long would our elections continue to be a war by another name. It takes courage for a president or a state governor to break out of this restricted process and reach out for the best men and women wherever they may be found.
This, of course, would require uncommon courage. To break out of the perpetuation of a system designed to serve party interests and not much else would not be an easy option for a president. There would be a possible stiff political price to pay. But if we do not find a new system that cures the glaring defects in the present system, we would never know how far we have travelled in our fitful efforts at nation-building and national unity. Our leaders need to tweak the system and effect changes that would demonstrate their commitment to change. A cabinet should be a rainbow collection of party men and women and of men and women with proof of the service they could render the nation. In the next few days we would know if Buhari’s new cabinet would be one or the other. A monochrome with the single grey colour of APC would be more likely. My guess.
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