Ministerial List: To Serve or To Eat?


Tomorrow, 28th July, will mark exactly five months since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was elected. Yet he still does not have his cabinet in place. This says a great deal about his preparedness for office as well as the nature of ministerial appointments in our country.

If the basis for appointment was about service to the people and delivering the public good, the issue of ‘pressure’ to which we hear the president is being subjected (an excuse for the delay) should not arise. But perhaps we should cut the president some slack. The Constitution which makes it mandatory that a minister must come from every state already presupposes that such appointment is little more than a distribution of spoils.

Going by Section 42 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) “the nomination of any person to the office of a minister for confirmation by the senate shall be done within sixty days after the date the president has taken the oath of office”. With that provision, the president has only until tomorrow to submit his ministerial list to the Senate. Since the Senate ordinarily does not sit on Friday, it then goes without saying that the list must be released today. But the entire process has become ridiculous. Aside the blatant lobbying by individuals and groups in the media, there are also reports that religious clerics and marabouts are making a killing to ensure that certain names emerge on this list that can catapult someone from penury to prosperity. After all, we know those who used to travel by Night Bus and now travel by Private Jet, simply because they were once on ‘The List’!

On Monday, I was the reviewer at the public presentation of a book, ‘Reclaiming the Jewel of Africa’ by former Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Olusegun Aganga. The keynote speech was delivered by President Olusegun Obasanjo. He spoke about so many things but of particular interest is this line: “If you ask most of our leaders why they want to be in the position they are craving for, you will weep for your nation over their level of emptiness as far as development issues are concerned.” While that may be true, there are those who would also argue that the tone was set by President Obasanjo’s government.

When in 1999, he chose Second Republic Governor of the old Oyo State (now Oyo and Osun), the late Chief Bola Ige, among his ministers, not a few people were surprised. Even though Ige was played out of the presidential ticket of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (the dominant party in the Southwest) which he formed along with others, it was clear that working in a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government was bound to be problematic for the famed ‘Cicero of Esa Oke’. When he started to attack the then ruling party, it did not sit well with some, including his former deputy, Chief Sunday Afolabi (now deceased), who was also a minister. It was Afolabi who made the Freudian Slip about public service in Nigeria while attacking Ige. He said: “The PDP wanted Bola Ige to come and eat. I don’t believe we have done something wrong to warrant such insults from him. Although President Obasanjo is not bothered, we have to tell him (Ige) to stop insulting us.” Ige of course shot back that he was invited to government to serve, wondering what Afolabi was ‘eating’ in his own ministry.

Meanwhile, as it is with the federal government, so it is in the states. In Osun State for instance, Governor Ademola Adeleke is currently being accused of appointing into his cabinet a nephew who graduated from the family’s (Adeleke) University just two years ago—“a boy who has never worked before who goes about in dreadlock to direct the affairs of our Osun State local government service commission.” I don’t know what crime the governor has committed by offering a big job (and plenty of ‘food’) for his young and inexperienced nephew.

Of course, what concerns the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) is that the list of commissioners contains seven Muslims and 17 Christians. “We condemn this wanton blockage of privileges that should go to Muslims and their diversion to over-pampered and over-fed Christians in Osun State,” an angry MURIC Executive Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, wrote in his statement. “By deceiving Muslims in the state and engaging in spiritual hide and seek, Governor Adeleke has exhibited qualities odoriferously short in honour and dignity but egregiously long in infamy and bohemianism.”

Stripped of all the ‘odoriferously bohemianism’, what Akintola is telling us is that you cannot allow some to be ‘over-fed’ from public treasuries while encouraging ‘blockage of privileges’ for others. Unfortunately, it is this misunderstanding of public service that accounts for the state of our nation today. The challenge of leadership in Nigeria is also based on this warped notion that being elected or appointed to public office is simply to find ‘something to eat’. The misallocation of scarce resources that follows most of these appointments can then be easily explained by the same logic. When in April 2020 former Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State approved the appointment of 427 additional aides to join more than a thousand special assistants already working for him, this was the explanation from his spokesman, Christian Ita: “The governor has said repeatedly that he only needs about five per cent of his appointees. So, he deliberately creates these jobs to put food on the table so as to reduce social tension.”

But we should not blame Ayade for using public offices to ‘put food on the table’ for cronies. That is the philosophical underpinning for government in Nigeria. Which is why it is always about ‘sharing the national cake’, and not baking it. Leo Tolstoy’s ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need?’, Chinua Achebe’s‘No Longer at Ease’ and George Orwell’s classic, ‘Shooting an Elephant’, are popular literature in Aspen Institute Leadership classes. They are also standard readings in the seminar series of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) founded in 2006 by Aganga. While the first is used to interrogate the place of greed in the public arena, the other two speak to public expectation and the kind of pressure elected and appointed officials face, especially in an environment like ours. I have interrogated this issue before and will come back to it in future. But for now, all eyes are on the Villa and the Senate.

After weeks and months of waiting, ‘The List’ will finally be out today. And we are going to witness congratulatory messages for these eminent Nigerians. Yet, it is trite to say that our country is today going through one of the most difficult periods in our history. And if only for that reason, I hope the men and women who make ‘The List’ for the next federal executive council will be those who will contribute ideas to improve the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people and influence social change. God save us from the perpetually ‘hungry’ characters who are always looking for what to ‘eat’!

The Emefiele Lesson

There is a scene in ‘The Queen’, a multiple award winning 2006 British film starring Helen Mirren, that I love so much. The fictional account of the drama at Buckingham palace, following the death of Princess Diana, is a lesson for all power handlers. While Queen Elizabeth II (now of blessed memory) saw Diana’s death as a private family affair, then newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair exploited the situation by reflecting the public’s wish for an official expression of grief. This instantly earned Blair public acclamation while the Queen became so unpopular that many were even calling for the abrogation of the monarchy.

In the instructive dialogue from the encounter (as depicted in the film), the Queen had asked Blair, “You don’t think that the affection people once had for me, for this institution, has been diminished?” The PM replied, “No, not at all. You are more respected now than ever.” Apparently fishing for information, the Queen then said, “I gather some of your closest advisers were less fulsome in their support.” To this, Blair replied, “One or two but as a leader, I could never have added my voice to that chorus.” The Queen was unrelenting: “Because you saw all those headlines and you thought: ‘One day this might happen to me’…” Before the PM could respond, the Queen added, “…and it will, Mr. Blair; quite suddenly and without warning.”

The message speaks to the transient nature of power and how fortunes can change. But that is a lesson those who hold the levers of power in Nigeria never seem to learn. They believe they are invincible until they lose out in the power game. In an untidy bid to rearrest the suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, after he had been granted bail by the Federal High Court on Tuesday, hooded operatives of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) engaged officials of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) in a physical scuffle. They pushed and dragged the NCoS squadron commander out of the courtroom, molesting him in the process. In the sordid drama that played out in an open court, it was almost as if Emefiele was a merchandise. This clear abuse of power is being orchestrated by some who believe they are now above the law. And that what they are doing to Emefiele can never happen to them. They must be poor students of history.

Just about six months ago, Emefiele himself defied the Supreme Court ruling that the deadline for exchanging old banknotes for the so-called redesigned notes be extended. Emefiele considered himself to be above the law at a time many Nigerians were suffering from his Naira confiscation policy. Today, the emperor is naked. But as I wrote in my column last week, we must see beyond the person of Emefiele on this matter if we are to build a society governed by law and order. What is happening to the suspended CBN Governor is neither right nor defensible, whatever may be our feelings about him.

Under democracy and the rule of law, as I pointed out last week, accused persons are presumed innocent until evidence is adduced in a court of law to secure conviction. Revenge, as I also stated, is not the same thing as justice and state institutions should not be used for such perversion. The lesson is simple, when the most fundamental element and requirement of a civilized society, the rule of law, is trampled upon, we all have no defence against tyranny.

Since democracy is built on the principle of rule of law, no agency of government (or their heads) should be allowed to take the law into their hands on any issue. Besides, when those who ordinarily should enforce the law begin to treat court orders with impunity, anarchy is not too far away. I hope President Tinubu and his handlers can see beyond the person of Emefiele to the danger posed to the larger society by their contempt for a court order.

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