The newest episode in Nigeria’s governmental comedy unfolded on 29 December 2017. The Buhari administration announced the appointment of 209 board chairpersons and over 1,000 members. The sheer volume of the agencies at a time of dwindling revenues and major economic crises continues the pattern of waste and misplacement of priorities. This is alarming given the recommendations of a presidential panel on reform of federal government agencies set up by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Former Head of Service, Steve Oronsaye, chaired the panel. Oronsaye’s report indicated that there were 541 parastatals, agencies, and commissions in Nigeria. Some were statutorily mandated; others were not. The panel recommended cutting 161 of the statutory agencies. Clearly, the report of the panel, like others before it, has been gathering dust — neither the Jonathan nor Buhari administration has had the political courage to execute the recommendations.
Of course, such agencies provide a robust avenue to create jobs for the “boys”. In the current administration’s wisdom, age 75 is the new 40. You may be forgiven if you assumed this was a collection of political retirees in Nigeria. The theatre of absurdities roared to life as reports emerged that at least three of the chairs of the new boards had died. In fact, President Buhari officially commiserated with the family of one of the deceased, Second Republic Senator, Francis Okpozo, in 2016. This is our government at work!
The non-implementation of the recommendation to prune the agencies is one thing. However, if you must continue the buffoonery of such a large number of agencies, what does it take to verify or crosscheck a list of appointees that was prepared in 2015? Given the number of special assistants, special advisers, senior special advisers and miscellaneous government appointees, why was it so difficult for the government of the most populous country in Africa to do its due diligence? Why does a government of “change” formed by a man who ran for office for over a decade fail so miserably on mundane and routine matters of governance?
The government’s response is one of the records. Premium Times quotes presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu as stating, “no human undertaking can be free of mistakes”. He also notes that “there is no scandal” whatsoever as a result of the list. Rather than criticize Garba Shehu, we should appreciate the insight he has provided on the intellectual depth of the presidency. His response also shows that his future is assured. Oby Ezekwesili put it best when she asked him to consider a career in comedy. Mr. Shehu, this is a big deal! This is the sort of stuff that leads to mass purge in government. However, within the universe of dead wood; people with half-functioning brains and no brains at all and variegated sycophants — many of whom are related to the president or have been close acquaintances for over two decades — it is understandable why you may not believe that this shows degeneracy and incompetence.
I have no doubt that there are those who know better in the presidency. But it is clear that they are a silenced minority. Such persons need to start speaking out now, leave the government or be forever associated with one of the most blatant institutional failures of our time. Every organization reflects the person at the top — his or her intellectual depth, level of organization, competence, dynamism, proclivities, and biases. It is sad given our high hopes that Nigerians are now openly debating whether the Buhari administration is more incompetent than the Jonathan administration.
Bill Clinton is famous within US political circles for his borderline obsessive attention to detail and conscientious planning. As a presidential candidate, he would prepare with a stand-in for his opponent (a fairly standard practice in American politics). But Clinton would also insist on “feeling” the venue of each debate or campaign. He would walk the stage and room to get acquainted with the space. Such was his level of preparation (or what some within his inner circle must have felt was tantamount to paranoia) that his aides would take the stool with which he practiced to town-hall meetings for his use. As president, Clinton was reputed to function on roughly four to five hours of sleep per night, as he prepared for the next day’s government business. A leader must be a junkie for organization, details, process, substance, outcomes and yes, optics. I hope that this comedy of errors spurs better-qualified and more competent Nigerians into engaging with our democratic process.
Sahara Reporters and Premium Times published on 4 December 2016, an article that I titled “Incompetence Incorporated”. I stated in the piece that “I became genuinely concerned for the Buhari administration the moment political appointees began to be named. The ethnocentric nature of the appointments, the familial/communal connections and the patent lackluster record of most of those who have since become major players in the administration suggested that the new government would redefine incompetence even by Nigerian standards.” I hate to say that I have not been proven wrong.
Nigerians will no doubt storm places of worship in large numbers on the last day of 2017. Regular worshippers will be joined by those who take it an annual ritual — forsaking living rooms, beer parlors, and pepper soup joints for one night in a shared determination to pray into the New Year. The Yoruba have a saying: “Eleyi o ki nse oju lasan”. It roughly means, “this is not natural”. As you pray into the New Year, binding and casting away witches and wizards in your families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, please, remember that witches and wizards do not cause fuel crises, national power outages, or embezzlement of government funds. We are still invested in ensuring that our government succeeds. Therefore, kindly ask God for a brain for those at the highest level of leadership in Nigeria. Please, consider it your patriotic duty.
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