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Buhari’s Believers And The Challenge Of Talent Portability


A section of Federal Ministers during their swearing-in at the Aso Villa in Abuja PHOTO: NAN

A section of Federal Ministers during their swearing-in at the Aso Villa in Abuja PHOTO: NAN

WHETHER you call them saints (PMB), believers (Soludo), or even apostles, it boils down to the same thing: one cannot be a saint without being a believer and an apostle. My brief comments on these apostles of PMB’s (President Muhammadu Buhari) change gospel are as follows:

As in the days gone by, the North is in-charge of Internal Affairs, Water Resources, FCT (Federal Capital Territory) and the entire security architecture. Amaechi and Fashola, probably as major political investors, will oversee almost all the contracts in this change era, starting with the $25bn infrastructure fund. I also note the strange situation in education where a Professor and former VC plays a second fiddle to an accountant turned journalist.

It is indeed a tragic blunder! I also wonder whether the young lady at the Ministry of Finance can cope with the intricacies, political dynamics and global challenges of that ministry, in our challenged economy. The entire annual turnover of Ogun State is less than the petty cash account of one of the parastatals under her ministry. And when she declared – with her planning colleague – that $38 oil price benchmark is conservative, I start wondering whose grammar or appreciation of reality requires urgent upgrading! But let’s agree that she will start somewhere; she must start from building contacts, confidence and trust. Things are more worrisome as these ministers are starting with new ministerial configurations, new perm sec and wild expectations, birthed by equally wild campaign promises!

Furthermore, these fellows are not masters of body language, of which PMB is the only certified custodian. That is why their first outings were disastrous. When I recommended a special re-orientation programme for Lai because he had become an MFR (Minister of the Federal Republic) and no longer an APC high-wire propagandist, nobody listened. But the intemperate language he deployed to decimate those who raised issues on the TSA (Treasury Single Account) fraud has reinforced my position. (Incidentally, the TSA matter was stirred by the affluent neo-rights activist and change master, Dino Melaye).

He unleashed verbal terrorism on them, calling them dishonest, frivolous, scandalmongers, and ignorant, while advising them to go back to primary school. He had also cautioned social media operatives to self-regulate, so as not to self-destruct, to maintain credibility and avoid charlatanism. Yet, a few months ago, he had gleefully misused these faceless charlatans to good effect. Yes, we have had Fani-Kayode and Doyin Okupe, but these were of PDP and were ordinary advisers whereas Lai is a minister in this change republic! The Minister of Interior had threatened his staff (or his houseboys?) that he would show them ‘the other side’ while Ibe Kachikwu had ordered DPR (Department of Petroleum Resources) operatives to sell hoarded petroleum products free to the public. Apart from being a draconian, military type directive, I am still wondering how to ‘sell petroleum products free’!

However, business appears to be taking off, at least for Fashola, the super-minister, who recently unveiled the agenda for his gargantuan ministry. People expect wonders from him because of his pedigree, and that is where the problem starts. Fashola was employed and given the largest portfolio in Africa because of his attributes and perceived performance in Lagos. The same applies to Ibe Kachikwu (first-class experience at Mobil) Audu Ogbe (agriculture) and Mrs. Nelson (assuming she shined in Ogun State). But it is not always the case that stars shine wherever they are because the circumstances that favoured the shining at point A, may be irrelevant or absent, at point B. People do not always perform as they had performed previously because the environment and dynamics are quite different. We all recall the experience of Dora Akunyili in NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control) and Ministry of Information. But it is not just a matter of Dora’s experience; it is a global affair.

Garry Duncan had examined why a salesperson successful in one organization is unsuccessful in another, even within the same industry? He averred that the key causative factor is poor management- poor direction, coaching, communication and motivation. (Garry Duncan: Has your new sales star failed to shine?). David Bukus (2012) empirically examined whether star performance can be maintained when performers move to new firms and concludes that performance is largely dependent upon organizational context and, as such, does not transfer to new firms as is hoped. (“When migrating stars fail to shine. HRM International Digest, 20 (4), Chang et al find that firms with different characteristics need managers with specific attributes that fit these characteristics. This is similar to the finding of Groysberg et al (Are leaders portable, Harvard Business Review, May2006) who noted a wide variation in performance of former GM executives in different settings, because they were not good “fits” with the firms they went on to manage.

We should thus moderate our expectations from these super ministries. This is not because the situation is beyond redemption but because this is a widely different environment, with different rules of engagement. If Kachikwu were still in Mobil, he could not have given the sell-for-free order, neither would he have spoken that type of grammar! For BRF, his word was the law as he decided the if, what, why, how and when of everything while he was oga at the top in Lagos. Now, he has to watch the body language of PMB who may be busy globetrotting (about 30 per cent of his tenure so far spent in the presidential jet and foreign lands) to give any clarification. And even if he were around, the numerous roadblocks would make access herculean. He may also be unlucky to have some subordinates who are more powerful than him because they have more access to the rock or are better able to decode the body language. In effect, Fashola of Alausa is not Fashola of Abuja! All the same, I wish them luck – indeed, Goodluck. They (and the nation at large) need a large dose of it.

How should PMB optimize the performance of his believer-ministers? To ensure that these stars do not dim, he needs to create the environment- political, policy, interpersonal, motivational- that is favourable to performance. Furthermore, since we now have super and ordinary ministers, indicating that some are more valued and competent than others, he should avoid the set-up-to-fail-syndrome. This is a situation in which someone underperforms because he has been viewed as an underperformer, and indeed, expected to underperform. This is the opposite of Pygmalion effect in which a person who is expected to perform well actually performs well. These are some of the strategies for optimizing the performance of his believer-ministers

Meanwhile, I note that PMB has borrowed a trick from his friend, Ayo Fayose. In the belated budget documents, he has devoted N500bn for stomach infrastructure though he calls it social welfare scheme! It is well with Nigeria! The fact that you have just read this article is an indication that the umpire (editor) did not declare it inconclusive! God-win!

Dr. Muo is of the Department of Business Administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.

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