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Six years of excuses, 22 years of locusts – Part 2

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Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/FMICNIGERIA


As I was saying on this sixth anniversary of the Buhari administration, our leaders at all levels have a responsibility to swallow their pride and vanity and focus intentionally on robust investment in education quality, lest we will continue to celebrate excuses and continue to read from Walter Rodney’s lamentation book, “How The West Underdeveloped Africa” every year. There should be no room for most of the excuses we heap on our colonial masters and indeed the ‘militricians’. We began this unbroken democracy on May 29, 1999, twenty-two years ago!

This is, therefore, a time to speak some inconvenient truth to all the powers in this our turbulent federation most citizens are not proud of at the moment. So, no matter how inconvenient, we need to repeat to our leaders who have curiously continued to enjoy their perks of office that it is not glorious to be planning for how to win elections all the time without any actionable blueprint on how to restructure this tottering federation, which Africa and indeed the black race have been waiting for. We need to repeat to them that their current mandate is in crisis and they are strangely planning for 2023 that may be a mirage, after all. It is not funny anymore that even the ruling party’s big men are in a denial mode. They are still smiling even to the banks without organising while the people they are ruling are agonising.  It is therefore not acceptable for any leaders in Nigeria to be celebrating excuses at this time when the agonising people talk about their (leaders’) mental laziness, ordinariness and small dreams. 

As I was saying too, our leaders at all levels should seek knowledge about dynamic capabilities, efficiency and execution, the discipline of getting things done – instead of fighting and replying critics. And that should begin with the quality of presidential and gubernatorial bureaucracies. This is one area where our leaders have failed us in the last 22 years of barren democracy. They don’t listen to those who want them to succeed. They dismiss suggestions on how to get the right people to do their jobs as balderdash. They haven’t realised that enthroning mediocrity in the public service is a prelude to failure that will keep failing.   

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And so, one critical challenge of the Buhari presidency that he has refused or failed to address is his (presidential) bureaucracy. As I have been repeating here since 2016, the president has never considered it expedient that he has never had an efficient Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) who would have helped him cope with the demands of that office. Having good men is not the same thing as having competent men. The president should have addressed the institutional weaknesses in the presidential bureaucracy. It is unfortunate that the President has continued to stick to an SGF who has not had remarkable public service experience and that hasn’t been helpful to the presidency. There are too many critical elements in the SGF’s office that a neophyte cannot fix no matter how emotionally intelligent he is. 

For instance, the office of the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) too was once vacant for more than one year after Deaconess Joan Ayo left the office when her tenure expired. That office, created by the constitution is too important to be left vacant for a year. The current chairman, a retired federal permanent secretary is although a good man, he can’t cope at this time beyond ordinariness that we see in the office now. There was a time there was an acting Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for more than six months. Sadly, no one has read about any dynamism and creativity or innovation from the current Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. This is not a denigration of these high offices: leadership and management positions have to be occupied by qualified people who can actually make some difference, not just what the appointing authorities like. Let’s set aside sentimentality, comrades, what would president Buhari have expected from the colour of his presidential bureaucracy since 2015? How many literate citizens can remember off-hand the three critical names in the presidential bureaucracy comprising the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the office of the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, for instance? How many of the members of the present cabinet can be named off-hand without using Google (except those who have been prominent or notorious through the media for some wrong reasons)? This article is essentially for those who would like to run the post-Buhari era. I doubt that there can be some redemption songs for the present administration.

We have seen for six years what cabinet members and chief executive officers of various agencies have been doing. Consequences of official responsibilities are what we have seen in the state of the nation today when non-state actors have become more efficient than state actors who control instruments of violence. Competence isn’t a concept that should be debated. It is transparent. People will feel it. We have felt the consequences of incompetence of state actors in Africa’s most populous nation at this time.  

Which is why our leaders should note at this time that they need knowledge workers around them to finish well and leave legacies. Even when they feel that they need their kinsmen and class and course mates they know too well around them as leaders, they should note that they need capable and efficient ones who can be part of discipline of getting things done for people to say, ‘well done’.  So, doubtless, our leaders at all levels have celebrated mediocrity for too long. They have ignored people who could have helped us and they have consistently opted for mediocrities (not mediocres) who have helped them and would continue to help them to win elections. They have thought they would not need officers, men and women who would help them to win the people. That is how the ruling parties (since 1999) have lost the country. The ruling party (1999-2015) could have settled certain issues ranging from critical infrastructure to comprehensive reforms of public service generally. But sadly they didn’t for 16 years that locusts ate in the country that they ruled. 

Most democracies look up to the hills of their parliaments in times of crises. The United States’ Congress just delivered their country from an incipient and embarrassing tyranny. Nigeria’s parliament is not a strong and reliable institution. The leaders, the presiding officers of Nigeria’s National Assembly can’t organise debate beyond lamentation and constant summons of security and service chiefs they can’t even interrogate well. They have never devoted time to state-of-the-nation robust debates beyond some crocodile tears in the chambers. They have been serious with robust constituency allowances, appropriation bill details and remarkable oversight functions – for enlightened self-interest, sorry self-help – for the next election. What is worse, they don’t have the two most important weapons in good parliaments: a good library and a strong budget office. Lest we forget, Nigeria’s federal legislature doesn’t have a good bureaucracy at this time to support service delivery. They had a good bureaucracy in the beginning. But they have lost it. That is why our legislators are mere noisy orators and can’t be oracles. Show me a good parliament without a good library and a functional budget office that can puncture possible concoctions from the executive arm. 

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More important too, the president and the governors should address the challenge of not allowing the law to rule in the country. You cannot claim excuses to breach the law of the land: the law is above even leaders all over the world. See what serious countries including South Africa, Mauritius, South Korea and Brazil have been doing to their serving and former leaders who have though done well but have breached their laws. That is why the president too should have dealt, for instance, with the legitimacy challenge of the anti-graft agencies. Ibrahim Magu, for instance, who was nominated in November 2015, actually acted for almost six years as EFCC Chairman.

The Senate rejected him twice in 2017. He was in office without confirmation until early 2021. How should we classify all his acts in office for almost six years? There was a time the ICPC too did not have a substantive Chairman for almost a year. Since 2018, a Court of Appeal in Abuja ruled that the President should include a citizen of the FCT in the federal cabinet. That judgment has since been ignored by the presidency. There have been several other violations including a new law, which provides that the tenure of the Inspector General of Police shall not be extended. The president just flouted that. This is not ideal for a growing democracy.

But as the drums are being rolled out for the ruling party’s sixth anniversary, and 22nd anniversary of a surviving democracy, the speeches should not be drafted to address only re-election issues. This is a moment of introspection and concomitant apologies on failure and collapse of their governance. Our leaders have failed us a great deal. They should not offer excuses this time. They should show genuine remorse for dereliction of responsibility to the people they have been unable to offer welfare and security, the primary purpose of government. Reasons? The nation is in grief. It is still a year of sorrow and fear. Fathers are still burying their children, daily. There is fear in the land. Even fear of food insecurity as farmers can’t go to their farms. Alan Paton, author of ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’, says fear is worse than sorrow because it (fear) is a long, terrible journey. That is also why speeches this year should minister grace to the people who are hungry and angry not necessarily because they are lazy and unreasonably cynical. It was once noted here that, ‘leaders shall not live by winning elections alone’. I also once noted here that, ‘our leaders can win election and lose their country too’. Are they not losing it?  The challenge of fixing Nigeria’s broken walls at this time requires some strategic planning beyond winning elections. It requires repentance than deliverance. Only repentance can deliver them from eternal damnation, political death and reproach. Therefore, our leaders should tell us on Saturday, May 29, how they would like to rebuild this divided nation where even senior citizens are openly calling on the ‘militricians’, sorry military chiefs to take over an elected government led by a retired General and former Head of State. Will president Buhari sincerely tell us on May 29 this year that Nigeria, Nigeria, never though me shall thou come to harm?
• We need to continue this reflection next week

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