The Nigerian press seems to be in a season of scoops. Empty scoops, I mean.
‘About 30 ministers in the federal cabinet have been penciled down for sack in the imminent shake up by the Presidency, Daily Champion authoritatively scooped last night,” Daily Champion announced last Wednesday.
It was matched by Daily Sun, which said: “The impending federal cabinet reshuffle will sweep away not more than 16 members of the Federal Executive Council…”
A true scoop would have contained the names of the ministers who are on their way out or a list of the people being considered for their positions. That is how you know that a story emanated from a true source, and not a sub-fertile imagination.
But what is of greater significance is that these stories perpetuate two myths: that there is active governance in Nigeria, and that the core problem is Nigeria’s ineffective ministers.
Nigeria lacks governance. We have people who are going through the motions, such as wearing federally-funded baban-riga, awarding contracts and making speeches, but these things do not a government or leadership make. What they indicate is that Nigeria is dizzy. Walking in circles does that to you.
Perhaps that is why the press seems confused. The problem is not our ministers. It is to whom they report, and the motion and movement which leadership provides. In other words, if Umaru Yar’Adua does not or is not capable of getting out of bed, even a minister getting out of bed would be a saboteur.
We have been sprinting for four months now, with enough speed to win Olympic gold. The problem is that our feat has been confined to one spot either because the President is feeling insecure, or because he is sick.
On account of his personal and job insecurity during this period, he fired his service chiefs. He ‘reorganized’ the presidency, including sacking his Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the Government, administering an oath of secrecy on his staff, and shutting down his government by telling the ministers he is going to send some of them home.
And on account of his ill-health, the President shut down his office and went to Saudi Arabia to pray. He did not swear-in the Vice-President, in effect constitutionally holding the nation to ransom for weeks. When he finally returned, he set about his cabinet “reshuffle” process.
This reshuffle seems to be a matter of life and death to the President, rather than the mere process that it is. It is the reshuffle that led to the closure of Channels; the television station dared suggest the President would resign.
The process of refreshing his cabinet has become “Mission Impossible” for Yar’Adua. Perhaps it means nothing, but the state of emergency for the power sector that he promised has not taken place either, 18 months after the man was awarded the Presidency.
He must face the fact that he is running out of any credibility. His denunciation of corruption, for instance, is now completely hollow. SaharaReporters reported last week about how the announcement by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairperson, Mrs. Farida Waziri, that Olusegun Obasanjo has no anti-corruption petitions against him, was brokered by the President himself.
Yar’Adua’s government did not deny it. To make matters even more confusing, however, only one week after Mrs. Waziri made that claim, the EFCC reversed itself. Last Wednesday it said it would commence probing of the former President the following day. The Commission did not breathe one word about the probe of the same Obasanjo that Mr. Umar Sanda said in November 2007 and March 2008 was being undertaken.
Now Head of the E-Governance Unit, Mr. Sanda was on those occasions superintending General Investigations, and he was receiving the petition for the third time in one year. Still, he promised action, again. Perhaps they are now teaching double-talk at the EFCC.
Again, all this is enough to make you dizzy, but apparently not Mr. Yar’Adua. The only thread running through his story is obviously survival: his desire to remain in office. It explains why he is deploying vast and valuable federal resources in England to ensure that the embattled former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, wins the money-laundering charges he is facing there. Ibori was central to Yar’Adua’s presidential campaign, and if he is openly enjoying Nigerian advocacy in another country, why are we surprised the same EFCC claims that he and some 30 other indicted governors in Nigeria have no case to answer?
Yar’Adua’s preoccupation with survival, which may explain his comfort with the corruption at the highest levels of the Senate and the Police, as well as the manipulation by the EFCC and the Attorney General, is a dangerous sign for Nigeria. Leaders preoccupied with survival often wield federal power ruthlessly, even violently. Last week, Jonathan Elendu of Elendureports was arrested, allegedly for leaking state secrets. This is not a good sign, particularly for a leader that began his day by announcing the golden phrase, “rule of law.”
Yet we wait for the new or recycled ministers, as though things will change simply because we have new faces in office. But Yar’Adua has spent a year and a half in office, and has never tried to enthrone excellence. Why is eliminating firewood an event when fledgling iroko within sight is ignored? We know he had bad ministers, including the corrupt once that continue to enrich themselves while he looks on. But where are the good ones? What have they achieved?
Back to the beginning, let us not forget how difficult it was for Yar’Adua to put together his outgoing cabinet, even in a country as rich with personnel as we are. And why is it that, 18 months on, our universities, teaching hospitals, parastatals and similar institutions have no boards or governing councils? That has nothing to do with ministers; it has to do with a presidency that sometimes gives the impression it does not recognize its responsibilities.
In the end, what Nigeria seeks is a man determined to make Nigerians think differently about our country, a man who will inspire our people to rise to greatness, a man who will point us in the right direction and get out of the way so we can go. That can only be done with true commitment. No minister or other official can be superior to the fires that burn in his boss.
Still we wait, for the press to report on our new ministers.
By Sonala Olumhense