Unprofitable ministerial screening!
Working as a political appointee in Nigeria is, perhaps, merely an exercise in extreme perfunctoriness. I doubt if those who accept these offices, those who offer them and those who “screen” and confirm the appointees, are driven by any vision at all, any objective to achieve for the progress of the country.
What is very clear is that whereas work for these officers is largely undertaken desultorily (with little or no intention to achieve any significant outcome), what appears to drive most of them is the opportunity to arrange or negotiate what might enter their private pockets from the public purse. It is at the point when there are funds to loot that one would be startled to discover that the Nigerian public office holder is, indeed, capable of being very zealous, thorough and focused, that he can conscientiously pursue a set goal and achieve it with amazing aplomb and precision.
Those who labour to perpetuate this grand mess are those characters that encumber the ground at the Upper Legislature Chamber and who expect us to address them as “Distinguished Senators”. If you want to confirm just how tragically unserious this country is, just spare some moment, go to Youtube on the internet and watch the videos of the recently concluded farce at the Senate which they called Screening of Ministerial Nominees.
It qualifies as one of the most odious dramas that could be inflicted on an enlightened mind. In countries managed by serious-minded people, names of political appointees are forwarded to the National Assembly with the offices to which they are nominated clearly specified. It is only a bunch of juvenile-minded senators that would agree to interview people whose job descriptions they are totally ignorant of. So, what then is the purpose of such a wasteful exercise? Why are they so intimidated by the executive arm of government that they cannot insist that unless the names of nominees are accompanied by the offices to which the president is intending to have them occupy that they would not do any screening?
Of course, the ideal thing should be that before each nominee appears for screening, the senators should have known what post he is being nominated for. Then they would undertake an intensive research to establish what the country urgently needs to achieve through that office at that particular time and test the competence of the nominee by having him explain clearly how he intends to achieve the expected targets within a set time. Sometimes, they would even engage some experts in that field to help them raise very penetrating questions for the nominee to be very sure that he is knowledgeable enough about the demands of the particular office he would be assigned to.
To these lawmakers, it is not a matter of merely fulfilling an obligation as is currently the practice in Nigeria. They are driven by love of country and concern for its advancement to want to be sure that the person being nominated for any office would bring great value to it. If in the course of questioning they find the person unfit for the position he was nominated for, they would refuse to confirm him. The president would then have to nominate another person, because responsible lawmakers would consider it unpatriotic to allow an incompetent person to occupy an office where he would only slow down the country’s progress and development. Only the best available brain is good enough for every office in the country’s public service.
But in our country, it is just a boring farce, a juvenile drama being enacted by naïve adults. What the president did once again was to send the names of nominees without attaching the portfolios to which they would be assigned. And our “distinguished senators” dressed up and appeared at the Assembly Chambers, wearing serious faces, to give Nigerians the impression that they were engaged in a very important national assignment.
I felt sad watching Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (whom I really respect) telling Mr. Rotimi Amaechi what is expected of him if he was “returned to the Ministry of Transport”! So what if he was not returned? What purpose then was achieved by the “screening” when the senators did not even know the particular job they were interviewing the fellow for?
Pray, how can full grown adults allow themselves to be made to enact this kind of tragic drama that ridicules them before informed people? What’s the essence of the ministerial screening if it does not attempt to determine the competence of a nominee for a particular public office? When will the informed members of the National Assembly summon the decency and scruples to excuse themselves from this puerile display and put their feet down to ensure it is halted to end the waste of time and resources and the humongous embarrassment it constitutes to decent and enlightened Nigerians and the diminishment it brings to our country?
The worst aspect of this is when nominated former National Assembly members appear for screening, as occurred in the case of Mr. Godwin Akpabio. The lawmakers would just ask them to “take a bow” and go! And the “screening” is over! They were once asked why they did this, and their answer was that anybody who had served as a federal lawmaker was qualified to be a minister! Did you hear that?
Just how unserious could a country be?
I felt very sick and disgusted watching the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, struggling to present a convoluted, drab and infantile argument to show that since Amaechi had a “legislative background” as former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly for eight years, that he also was qualified for the “take a bow and go” charade!
How then does his being a former speaker equip him for a totally different task of heading a federal ministry?
After serving out a tenure in the United States Senate and being a frontline presidential candidate, former U.S. first lady, Mr. Hillary Clinton, despite her acclaimed brilliance and qualifications, was questioned by Congress for about 12 hours before they could confirm her nomination as secretary of state. In Nigeria, they would have probably told her that her appearance at the Senate was unnecessary and go ahead to convey the news of her confirmation to her at home! What an unserious people saddled with a job whose sacredness and strategic importance they lack the capacity to duly appreciate.
In fact, I am shocked that the women that appeared for the “screening” did not protest the avuncular and patronising treatment extended to them by the Senate President who took time to “reassure” them that his own Senate was “gender sensitive” and so, they had nothing to worry about. He cast them in the mould of frightened school girls appearing before some “big brothers” and so needed to be calmed and reassured that they were safe. Does that not reinforce the stereotype of women being inferior to men in intelligence and capacities? Does it mean that the women would not be able to survive rigorous questioning? And what does that say about their capacity to excel in the office they would be assigned to since they were treated like slow-coaches that needed some concessions? What a bad day for women in Nigeria, many of whom have distinguished themselves in various areas of endeavours, and even where men had failed woefully!
This same shameful spectacle repeats itself each time ambassadorial nominees are screened.
And the lawmakers would merely ask somebody nominated as ambassador to a country in the Middle East, for instance, to just recite the National Anthem, without bothering to find out the extent of his knowledge about Middle East history, the nature of the politics of the particular country he is being sent to and even the reasons behind the enduring crisis in the entire region.
That is why our diplomats are always committing very costly blunders in the countries they are posted to. Many of them know little or nothing about the terrain they have been asked to represent us in. Were ours a serious country, the nations to which the president intended to post them would have been indicated and that would inform the kind of questions they would be asked during the screening exercise.
Serious lawmakers would seek to thoroughly drill them to determine the adequacy of their knowledge about the history and politics of the countries they were being sent to and how they intended to advance Nigeria’s interest while serving there. And because of that, they would insist to know the country they are being posted to before agreeing to hold confirmation hearings for them.
In Nigeria, a president can just wake up one morning and redeploy any of his ministers. Should the president of a development-minded country do that? If you are being moved, for instance, from the education ministry to the ministry of transport, are you not supposed to return to the National Assembly to be screened afresh to determine your ability to function in the new office you are being asked to go and man even if you had performed very well in the other office you had occupied? That is how serious countries are run. Care is taken to ensure that every appointment or policy would add great value to the country.
Now, with the little we just examined here now, are you still surprised why Nigeria would still remain the same, or even deteriorate further, after eight years of Buhari’s presidency? Poor souls!
•Ejinkeonye is a Lagos-based journalist and author. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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