Woes of special advisers to president
MY friendship with Dr. Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo (1941-2003), the Oyi of Oyi began in 1977 when i covered the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly. The friendship cemented fully when I covered the Presidential campaign between 1978 and 1979. So when President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari (90) appointed Dr. Okadigbo as a Special Adviser in December 1979, I made several attempts, as a friend, to visit him in his office in the then Dodan Barracks in Lagos which was then the seat of the Presidency.
All my attempts to see him in his office became futile. And I wondered why. It was my friend Toye Akiyode (Agosko) who was covering the then State house that told me that Dr. Okadigbo and five of his colleagues who are Special Advisers to the President, were managing only one room with one Secretary. He said because Dr. Okadigbo who was a smoker did not want to disturb his colleagues was often seen at the corridors. In short he had no office and no schedule as a special adviser, and that was why he was uncomfortable in granting my request to see him in the office. I understood his feelings with pity then. Dr. Okadigbo gave a schedule to himself by attacking the political enemies of his boss – including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mallam Aminu Kano in the newspapers – an albatross which he later regretted in life when he became a political leader in his own right.
In 2003, another friend, Professor Tony Segun Adegbulugbe was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo as special adviser on Energy. To his credit, Professor Adegbulugbe’s academic credentials have not been broken till today at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife as an outstanding scholar. Following the appointment, his numerous friends took to the papers to congratulate him after being sworn-in. For about nine months, he had no office. He was shuttling between the office of the then Director of special duties in the SGF’s office, Dr. Goke Adegoroye and my office in the eleventh floor, Federal Secretariat office of the SGF. His companion then was his PA, Prince Segun Ilori, who was always carrying his briefcase.
The Management of the NNPC refused him an office in the NNPC and even an official car. Professor Adegbulugbe’s only consolation was the state house identity card to attend the weekly executives council meetings. Not until the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette personally intervened on his matter that Professor Adegbulugbe could get an office and official car. And that took almost a year. Professor Adegbulugbe’s ordeal as a special adviser was not different from that of his colleagues who were appointed special advisers to the President.
Both Dr. Okadigbo and Professor Adegbulugbe and all other special advisers suffered the same fate. They were all treated as persona non grata both by the President who appointed them and the Ministers who they are to work with. To make matters worse, Ministers and Permanent Secretaries were of no help to them.
On June 3 this year, the Senate, headed by David Mark, approved fifteen Presidential advisers for President Muhammadu Buhari. I wonder what will be the fate of those special Presidential advisers. It is high time we address the plight of the special advisers to the President who have no schedule and responsibilities and who are neither here nor there within the government.
For example, the Minister of Women Affairs and Development has the least schedule among Ministers. Apart from managing her Ministry, her other schedule is the National Centre for Women Development, Abuja. And the Minister with the highest schedule in the Government is the Minister of Education who has fifty-six schedules. They include Federal Ministry of Education, Joint Admission and Matriculation Boards, The Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, The Federal Polytechnic, Bida, The Federal Polytechnic, Ede, The Federal Polytechnic, Idah, The Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, The Federal Polytechnic Kaura Namoda, The Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, The Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, The Federal Polytechnic, Offa, The Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Yaba College of Technology, National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) and National Board for Technical Education.
Others include National Board for Educational Measurement, National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, National Commission for Colleges of Education, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, Federal College of Education (Tech), Akoka, Federal College of Education (Tech), Asaba, Federal College of Education (Tech), Bichi, Federal College of Education (Eha-Amufu), Federal College of Education, (Tech), Gombe, Federal College of Education,(Tech), Gusau, Federal College of Education, Kano, Federal College of Education, Katsina, Federal College of Education, Kantagora, Federal College of Education,Obudu, Federal College of Education, Okene, Federal College of Education,(Special), Oyo, Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Federal College of Education,(Tech), Potiskum, and Federal College of Education,(Tech),Umunze.
The tradition has always been for a special adviser to be sworn in by the President and then directed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who will in turn arrange for accommodation and probably an office. That ends it. Thereafter, the special adviser is on his/her own. That should change with this regime. A special adviser must be given specific responsibility so as to be useful to government. You don’t just appoint a special adviser and abandon him/her thereafter. The special adviser must be part of government and must be carried along like Ministers. The frustration of special advisers must end with this government.
•Teniola, a former director at the presidency, stays in Lagos.