I’ve been away from my preoccupations with the Nigerian tragedy for a little over a week. That is because the academic unit that I head at Carleton University, the Institute of African Studies, is preparing for one of the biggest annual events on its extremely busy calendar of activities. Once a year, we partner with the Group of African Ambassadors and High Commissioners in Ottawa to organize a major international conference on a burning African issue.
On May 4, 2016, all roads will lead to Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies as we host this year’s edition of the conference on the theme, “From Climate Change to Environmental Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa and Canada.” Organizing a conference of this magnitude with all the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of an entire continent is no tea party, especially as the two principal partners and owners of the conference, Carleton IAS and the African Ambassadors, have been able to form a coalition of conference co-sponsors which comprise two other academic units at Carleton University, the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs and the Bachelor of Global and International Studies, as well as the Pan-African Affairs Division of Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ottawa-based Think-Tank, Africa Study Group.
The guest list for the conference is impressive and the countless organizing committee and logistical meetings I’ve been spearheading with the representatives of all the co-sponsors have blissfully shielded me from Nigerian affairs since last week. However, Nigeria is a stubborn customer. She is like a totally irresponsible lover who gives you nothing but migraines and yet makes entitled intrusions into your life and insists permanently on your time and attention.
Once you are hooked on the drug called Nigeria, there is no getting her out of your system. I encounter many Nigerian diasporans in Europe and North America who have been able to achieve the feat of a 100% delink from Nigeria. Folks who huddle around fireplaces in Washington and London to talk about the Bendel state of Ambrose Alli or the Benue state of Aper Aku. Their most current news about Nigeria is Joshua Dogonyaro’s coup speech in 1985. You ask them how they achieved the miracle of delinking, knowing beforehand that you will never be able to do it.
You will never be able to disconnect like some Nigerians in the diaspora even if you understand perfectly that they did it for their peace of mind. Nigeria will continue to make heavy demands on your time and eat up hours of your life on a daily basis. At any rate, should you elect to delink like them, you must also understand that Nigeria is a ruthless Oyingbo market that does not notice anybody’s absence.
Nigeria’s unwanted intrusion into my conference preparations came during one of my many strategy meetings last week. The African Ambassadors had suggested that it would be a good idea to invite Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, the Honorable Catherine Mckenna, to address the conference since our theme falls within her domain. I was to draft the Minister’s invitation letter and the Ambassadors would take care of the invitation through diplomatic channels. While discussing the invitation letter with some Canadian colleagues, one of them asked me perfunctorily if I had pulled up the Minister’s mandate letter online.
Mandate letter ke? I thought. At first I wanted to use agbari and boneface to hide my ignorance from my colleague. On second thought, I decided that Naija boneface was not what was required of me in the circumstance.
“Ministers have a mandate letter here?” I asked my colleague.
The surprise on his face betrayed what Canadian political correctness would not let him say out loud to me. I forgave him the surprise, telling myself it wasn’t his fault that my country, Nigeria, had once again happened to me. Nigeria happens to you whenever you display 17th century instincts and levels in situations requiring a 21st-century knowledge base largely because Nigeria’s primitive institutions and political culture had never exposed you to such things.
How is somebody whose political life-world is informed by Nigeria to know that when a Federal Minister is appointed in Canada, Canadian democracy requires the person making that appointment, the Prime Minister, to give a public “mandate letter” to the new Minister? That letter is immediately uploaded to the website of the appointee’s Ministry. That letter is a comprehensive exposition of the vision of the Prime Minister, his pact with the Canadian electorate and the role that the new Minister is expected to play in helping to deliver those promises to the Canadian people.
Because of the supremacy of the citizen, a Minister’s mandate letter is a comprehensive summary of the marching orders he receives from the Prime Minister to serve the people. There is no ambiguity. It contains specific aims and goals and benchmarks that will form the basis of the people’s evaluation of the Minister’s performance. As a citizen and a member of the Canada’s universe of civics, you cannot claim not to know the mandate of a Minister. You know what to expect of them because you know the assignments and tasks and goals and vision they were given upon appointment.
It is in this context that my colleague’s suggestion that I needed to read the Minister’s mandate letter before inviting her makes sense. If you are organizing an event and you require the presence of a Federal Minister, you go and look at which parts of his or her mandate letter your event fits into and you highlight this in your invitation letter. I pulled up Minister Mckenna’s mandate letter here:
I was in tears before I got to the end of the letter. I wept for myself. I wept for my country. I wept for Nigerian humanity. I wept because I couldn’t understand why these simple things about civilization are rocket science in Nigeria. I tried to remember when last the Nigerian system put the citizen in cognitive and empowered sentience of the mandate of Ministers and political appointees. I drew a blank. You will probably have to go all the way back to Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region, Michael Okpara in the Eastern Region, and Ahmadu Bello in the Northern region for last time that appointments were made with any intelligent and organic sense of mandates on the part of the appointees in hour history
To think that these Canadian Federal Ministers with publicly accessible mandate letters were appointed within days of an election! Yet, it took us nearly a year to appoint Ministers none of whom is even remotely aware of his or her mandate! And the citizens too hardly have any systemic or organic knowledge of the mandate of these Ministers. What is Fashola’s mandate? What is Ngige’s mandate? What is Kemi Adeosun’s mandate? What marching orders were these Minister’s given by their boss? How? When? Where is it online? This fuzziness does not stop with these Ministers. It transcends every stratum of Nigeria’s political life and across so many generations and eras. Which state Governor is really remotely aware of his or her mandate in Nigeria? Don’t even get me started with the buffoons in the National Assembly.
The closest that political appointees – Federal Ministers in this instance - come close to an idea of their mandate in Nigeria is what I call a confederacy of rough ideas. Three rough ideas constitute you appointment as a Federal Minister in Nigeria. You and the interests you represent are most likely to have lobbied for just about any portfolio irrespective of your experience and qualification. Your appointment as a Federal Minister is announced. You go to the National Assembly for the irresponsible comedy they call confirmation hearings. Then you resume work with your confederacy of three rough ideas. Firstly, you have a rough idea of what the President’s body language is and what he expects from you; secondly, you have a rough idea of your job description and how you ought to go about it; thirdly, you have a rough idea of the expectations of the Godfathers and special interests who lobbied you into the Federal cabinet. The combination of these three rough ideas is your mandate. As for the Nigerian people, well, they have a rough idea of your own rough idea of what your mandate is as a Federal Minister.
Truth be told, Kayode Fayemi even tried in this dispensation. Kayode Fayemi tie gbiyanju die. In the absence of a 21st-century clear-cut mandate from his boss, he even tried to cobble together some sort of mandate document which he circulated online once he assumed office. As with all things Nigerian, I am not even sure that Kayode Fayemi knows what became of that document he authored himself. All the other Ministers are just waddling along Nigerianly.
Now, if you are one of those pea-brained social media caterwaulers whose minuscule intelligence allows for only a hyper-partisan processing of issues, seeing APC versus PDP, Buhari versus Jonathan, North versus South in the oxygen you breath, this treatise is not for you. This is for superior intellects with an aptitude for transcendental, pan-Nigerian engagements and envisioning. I may have zeroed in on the current administration but any intelligent reader will see that the strategy provides a handle on our postcolonial predicament as a whole. What I describe of Buhari’s mandate-less cabinet is true of Jonathan’s, of Yar’Adua’s, of Obasanjo’s. This is a transcendental problem. It is a trans-temporal indication of Nigeria’s marriage to mediocrity.
All pleas to Nigeria to opt for divorce and end her marriage of 56 years to mediocrity has fallen on deaf ears. I tried to check out Ogbeni Adamu Adamu’s mandate at the Federal Ministry of Education. Before going to the Ministry’s website, I borrowed myself some brain and took the precaution of lowering my expectation to the barest. I wasn’t so presumptuous as to expect that I would get to the website and see a mandate letter from President Buhari to his Minister of Education. But, at least, I thought I would see the Ministry’s mission and mandate (not the Minister’s) prepared for the Nigerian people in a format fit for the 21st century. Well, here is the tragedy that I found on the website of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education:
Minister Adamu Adamu nko? There is a photo of him on the website. No clickable links to a message, to his mandate, to his vision and mission. He has a rough idea of what he is in that Ministry to do. And we, the Nigerian people, have a rough idea of his rough idea of his mandate. You don’t need to check out other Ministries. See one, see all.