Outside of President Trump’s support base, there is a lot of worry about the amount of time he spends tweeting and consuming cable television, especially Fox News. The worry about the sheer volume of time he has for and spends on trifle is a function of a certain awareness of the fact that the citizen has a right to know what’s on his president’s plate. This means that there is a civic duty to understand your stake in the PDA – Presidential Daily Agenda.
Outside of President Buhari’s support base, Nigerians must understand their stake in and start a serious reflection on the question of the PDA of the Nigerian President. However, such a conversation must not be petty and pedestrian. It must not be personality-driven. It must be holistic and informed by the fact that whatever is wrong with the Nigerian presidency is not the making of any one President. Rather, it is reflective of a tragic continuity of two things: 1) readiness to betray the people and your mandate; 2) readiness to hold the Presidency in trust for a very narrow confederacy of ethnic, religious, and partisan interests underwritten by corruption.
No Nigerian President has ever operated outside these two frameworks. The incumbent was supposed to change the game but a combination of his own weakness and unwillingness, the antics of his cabal and the deifying non-vigilance of his supporters, have kept him in the game and made him a tragic continuator of the basic frameworks of his predecessors.
Your interest in the Presidential Daily Agenda must bear all these factors in mind. Like all matters relating to your president, you must approach this subject as a right and not a privilege. Abobakus who have relinquished their democratic rights to be owed any explanations about anything pertaining to their president will come at you with their unvarying talking points, querying your right to ask questions about Mr. Buhari’s PDA, don’t worry. Just do it.
Maybe you are a somewhat privileged Nigerian who has a driver and maiguard. They are your employees but none of them is your most significant employee. Your most significant employee is your president. Maybe you are a Nigerian in the lowest rung of the class ladder. You still have an employee – your president. In essence, every Nigerian has at least one employee. What gets on his plate is your business. It speaks to how this employee is serving you or not serving you.
We can agree on one thing: big things and small things can get on your president’s plate but under no circumstances should trifle get on the plate of the President. This is not something that should be up for discussion so let us repeat it: trifle must never get on the plate of the President. Those who work on his PDA on behalf of the people must always ensure that this minimum benchmark is met: no trifle.
Here then is the problem: there is hardly a time in recent memory when the Nigerian President’s plate has carried anything but trifle. This has been a fundamental affliction of the Nigerian Presidency since independence but it rose to new levels with the return to democracy in 1999 and have worsened ever since with successive Presidents. Maybe part of the problem is the fact that the metaphorical plate of the Nigerian President is a tokunbo product imported from China and can, therefore, carry only trifle masquerading as PDA.
The Nigerian President’s PDA first became a serious issue for me under Mr. Obasanjo. This was in the heyday of Nuhu Ribadu at EFCC. It was during one of Ribadu’s high-profile investigations of the London connection of the corruption networks of a state Governor. We woke up one day to Ribadu strolling casually into President Obasanjo’s office, accompanied by two white police officers from the London Metropolitan Police who were helping him with the investigation at the time.
I nearly died of embarrassment and humiliation. How on earth could two low-level London police officers, who wouldn’t even be able to enter the Mayor’s office in London, let alone the Prime Minister’s office, have strolled so casually into the office of the Nigerian President? How on earth and why should their briefing get on the President’s plate? In whose brain did this add up as a good idea when preparing the PDA? Ribadu did not bring the officers to brief the Bayelsa State Police Commissioner. People whose trip to Nigeria shouldn’t even have risen to the level of the Inspector General gained an audience with the President. That is trifle on the President’s plate.
Once I started paying attention to the PDA after this incident, I noticed that the massive overcentralization of power in Nigeria is such that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that does not get on the President’s plate. This issue has bothered me ever since. In the summer of 2014, I was enjoying a lazy afternoon on the front lawn of my home in Ottawa when a young man stopped by to campaign. He introduced himself as Michael Qaqish and pleaded for 30 minutes of my time. He said he was a candidate in the forthcoming city of Ottawa municipal elections and he wanted to be city Councillor for Ward 22 - Gloucester-South Nepean. In other words, he was contesting for the rough equivalent of Councillor in a Local Government Area in Nigeria.
I invited the millennial (born in 1985) to sit down and campaign to me. He handed me campaign literature and started his campaign rhetoric. He did not know that my mind was far away from what he was describing to me as his duties and obligations to me if elected as my city councilor. He did not know that I was thinking that 99% of what he was describing to me would either be on the President’s plate or, at least, on a state Governor’s plate in Nigeria because we have made such a thorough mess of local government administration.
Michael Qaqish has been my local ward councilor since 2014. I receive email alerts and phone calls from his office periodically. I attend his town hall meetings where he regularly accounts for his stewardship. News about road repairs and renovation, airport repairs and renovation, public transit repairs and renovation, in short, everything that falls within the remit of the Mayor and city council, filters down to me directly from him. Ten thousand miles away, at the end of every FEC meeting, Lai Mohammed will stand in front of television cameras, grinning sheepishly from ear to ear, to announce that the President of Nigeria, after extensive deliberations, has approved things that are on the plate of my local city councilor here in Ottawa.
Let us repeat: 99% of the announcements we hear after the weekly FEC meetings in Abuja are trifle that does not belong on the president’s plate. They are there on his plate because power is overcentralized in Nigeria. We have not only destroyed local government administration, we have turned it into an inferior branch of government. Governors are emperors who organize local government elections at their pleasure and consider it a favor done for the people whenever they deign to organize one. What sort of madness is this? Imagine the Premier of the Province of Ontario being an emperor over the Mayor of the City of Ottawa!
The other day there was a public spat between Fashola and Ambode over the latter’s readiness to repair the Lagos airport road. Ambode accused Fashola of stonewalling. As the Federal Government has failed to repair the road, the Lagos state government has been angling to repair it but Fashola has been dancing palongo over the matter. When the matter became public, Fashola explained: “em, the delay is not my fault o. Members of the Federal Executive Council are still studying surveys and maps to help them determine how to vote on the matter.”
Admittedly, it is a Federal road. But, pray, what are surveys and maps that should be studied and approved rapidly by low-level surveyors and allied experts in the Federal Ministry of Works doing on the Nigerian President’s plate? You will also hear that after extensive deliberations at the FEC, the President has approved one hundred people for naturalization as new citizens of Nigeria!
You can’t make these things up: the President of Nigeria also has to sit for FEC meetings where individual cases for naturalization are discussed. I won’t be surprised to hear that before every match of the Super Eagles, the technical adviser must submit the CV of his players to the FEC for deliberation and approval by the President.
You have the right to information about your President’s health but you also have a considerable stake in an overarching struggle to reform the Nigerian Presidency beyond personalities. You can see that the Empire of Trifle that I have sketched out here has characterized the Presidential Daily Agenda of every President since 1999. Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and, now, Buhari have all been enablers of trifledom.
The last installment of this column examined the historical role of the Nigerian presidency as a foster parent of crimes. This week, we have looked at overcentralization and its ironic consequence of transforming the Presidential Daily Agenda to a sickening platform for micromanaging trifle. Even the most capable and cerebral President cannot qualitatively serve you if he spends his time in office diligently supervising overcentralized trifle.
How the President spends his time serving you, what gets on his plate: these are conversations that should go in tandem with the conversations you are already having about “the who” of 2019.