Looking at the list of President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposed ministers, there is no doubt that they are not the cleanest crayons in the box. And they are definitely not the brightest.
After four months of waiting, the names on the list were underwhelming. Any analyst of the APC political structure could have come up with over half of those names on the day Buhari was declared the winner of the 2015 Nigeria’s Presidential election.
The posture that Buhari was searching for ‘special’ people was either wrong or was just an abandoned project. Any avid observer would conclude that Buhari decided on the final analysis to come back to Earth and stop searching for what is not there or what is there but not practical.
Perhaps, T.S. Eliot was thinking of Buhari and his dilemma when he wrote in Wasteland’s “The Hollow Men,”
"Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow…"
“Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the shadow.”
The implications of this choice of ministers by Buhari are many. Take for example, former Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state who was recently enmeshed in scandals over contracts awarded in Lagos state for overhead pedestrian crossing, a N78 million naira personal website and many others. His ethical conundrum aside, the third-rate manner with which he dealt with the scandal when it broke out was astonishing. What does having him on as a minister say and do to Buhari's corruption fight? With someone like Rotimi Amaechi, who is refusing to answer questions about his term as governor of Rivers state, how will he anchor Buhari's continuing war on corruption and disregard for the rule of law as a minister?
The class of people on Buhari’s list that is even more troubling is the group of former governors. Anyone who collected security vote for four years or eight years, of an amount that ranged from about N100 million Naira a month and up, has no moral authority to aspire to be part of a change government. All those former governors have outrageous retirement packages that they or their predecessors signed into law that guarantee them perpetual payment of their full salaries as governor; government maintained luxury homes in Abuja, the capital of their states and, in many cases, in their own hometown. Add to that, foreign medical trips for their families and at least half a dozen staff, all at state government expense. They do not deserve promotion. They deserve retirement.
It could not have been that Buhari was unaware of all these and other atrocities these officials committed, the complication that such baggage brings to whatever policies the new government intends to pursue. Buhari must have been confronted by the shadow between the ideas and the reality. His choice of these hollow men is a testament to the fact that he buckled.
What needs to happen now is for Buhari to shine light on the dark sides of these former government officials that will be around him and minimize the ugly shadows that they project.
The first step is to mandate the nominated ministers to declare their assets. Those who were former government officials, like governors and ministers, must do more. Going through the Code of Conduct Bureau, they must publicly release their assets from their first term in office to their second term and the assets they declared after their second term. Nigerians should be able to look at these documents and have a good understanding of not just the progressive worth of these men and women but also where their business interests lie. Clearly, declaring their assets would not show fraudulent investments they made through their straw men and women and several other fronts. But it is a good beginning.
The tragedy of having these characters strolling along the corridors of power in Nigeria is that it reinforces the perception that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” But the truth is that the Nigerian society is changing. As it changes and young people who have been disillusioned and alienated for over three decades come of age, the society waits for someone who will surf the wave of that change and take the country to a place that many have dreamt of but none has figured out how to take it there. The person who can do that must be a thorough objector to corruption. He or she must be transparent and repentant if soiled by the past culture of laissez faire attitude towards our commonwealth.
Looking at the saga of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and her activities at the Petroleum ministry, we get a clear sense that Nigerian leaders have completely missed their ways. What is needed in our leaders is a deep concern for the wellbeing of the governed. It is not a big thing to ask for. And it is not a difficult thing to do. All that it takes is for people in leadership positions to revert to the old-fashioned priority- service and goodwill. A good and meaningful life comes from being of service to others and not from accumulating wealth beyond what ten generations of your descendants cannot squander no matter how hard they tried.
The silent majority of Nigerians are quietly searching for a vessel from which their better angels can manifest. Nigeria is prepared but will the leader emerge?
Martin Luther King Jr. warned that, “Everyman must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism, or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Nigeria has been unlucky to have political, religious and traditional leaders who preferred the “darkness of destructive selfishness.”
It is the price a society pays for dumping the wise in the thrash can. It is the outcome of every society where intellectual enquiry is suspended for things ephemeral. Otherwise, it would have been easy for our leaders to heed Dalai Lama’s charge that, “Every sentient being, even my enemy, fears suffering as I do and wants to be happy… seeking happiness while remaining indifferent to others is a tragic mistake.”
The ultimate goal of life is to attain a point when one can say, “I’m fulfilled.” Sadly, some have misunderstood that end. They have replaced the means to that end with the end itself. That is how the quest for wealth and what wealth could do have been substituted for fulfillment. But if wealth alone brought fulfillment, people like Diezani Alison-Madueke would have stopped acquiring it long ago. They would have stopped devising deeper and deeper ways to hide more and more of their illicitly acquired wealth.
As a new bunch of ministers get set to take office, Nigerians will be on the look out for who amongst them will be Buhari’s Festus Okotie Eboh, Umaru Abdulrahman Dikko, or Diezani Alison-Madueke. It is the nature of the beast that is our politics today. That not withstanding, sometimes in politics, you don’t need the brightest or the cleanest to accomplish the noblest of goals. What you need are those with redeemable values who are unfeigningly penitent and are willing to undergo penance. The other thing you need is a sheriff ready, able and willing to whip them into shape.