By Bolanle Bolawole
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has assigned portfolios to his motley crowd of Ministers. Close to 50 Ministers in a depressed economy calls for jeers, not cheers. This is not to mention the plethora of advisers and assistants, each of them with their own retinue of aides, all with tantalizing perquisites of office. One is bound to query whether, truly, this economy is depressed. The crowd of Ministers, Advisers and Assistants is one thing; their suitability for assigned portfolios is another. I also thought we were told that Tinubu will not appoint Ministers of State; how come they have now reared their ugly head: Job for the boys or payback time for those who worked to make Tinubu president?
Reminds me of the street football we played in those days, which we called “work and eat” There is only one goalpost and one goalkeeper; everyone struggles for the ball and whoever scores becomes the goalkeeper and keeps the post until someone else scores and ejects the goalkeeper who now has to join the struggle to win the ball and score to keep the post again and take a deserved rest as the goalkeeper. The formula used by Tinubu to share Ministerial posts appears to me to follow the “work and eat” formula; although he still bent over backward to satisfy the constitutional provision of national spread, it is those that worked that have been called upon to eat now; although some have ended up holding the short end of the stick! Do you hold a grudge against them? The shoe would have been on the other foot were Abubakar Atiku or Peter Obi the winner of the last presidential election!
The suitability of Ministers for the portfolios assigned them apart; there is also the issue of the president grabbing the portfolio of the petroleum minister, a throwback from the Muhammadu Buhari era. The States are already copying from that: In Osun State, the governor has made himself the Commissioner for Works (which is their own cash cow or “Petroleum” ministry!) The discussion is on as to how many square pegs the president has put in round holes. Names have been mentioned but that need not detain us here. At least one ministry (that of the Niger Delta) has been scrapped while many others have been split, re-named, reclassified and what-have-you.
The noise following the scrapping of the Niger Delta ministry apart, the immediate impact of Tinubu’s tampering with the structure he inherited is “job for the boys” as billions of Naira will have to be spent by the “new” Ministries on new billboards, signposts and what-have-you to reflect their new name. New letter-heads have to be printed and the old ones consigned to the dustbin; so also new call cards and ID cards for staff, etc, etc. These are not the kind of expenditure you expect to find in a comatose economy or in a government that has an eye for prudence. While the citizenry are being called upon to make sacrifices, those in government should not, to carry the people along, carry on as if nothing is amiss.
Square pegs in square holes are good; there is a place for cognate experience and academic qualifications but these, alone, are not enough for performance. We have found rookies who have performed excellently well in strange posts while experts in certain fields have failed scandalously. But this is no excuse to brazenly discountenance requisite qualification. Ministers are not the accounting officers of their ministry; permanent secretaries are. In the Nigerian system, a rookie Minister will be at the mercy of the civil servants in his ministry and they will dribble him at will. Ministers (and Governors) don’t sign cheques; how come, then, they are able to siphon billions of public funds? They are helped by civil servants.
Whereas all attention is focused on politicians, civil servants are more corrupt. There are thousands, if not millions, of silent civil service billionaires all over the place, in both the Federal and State civil service. They perfect the paper works for the corrupt politicians and help them to also cover up their tracks. No governor or Minister will steal a dime without the support, connivance, collusion and protection of civil servants. And when they steal a dime for the politicians, they steal at least twice that amount for themselves. The war against corruption will amount to nothing until we also focus our attention on civil servants.
No Minister will perform if civil servants are bent on frustrating him, like they did to the late Chief Bola Ige in his first place of assignment as Minister of Power under Olusegun Obasanjo before he was redeployed to his natural habitat as Minister of Justice and Federal Attorney-General. It is worse if the Minister is a rookie in the ministry to which he has been assigned. So, because of the Nigerian factor, it is better if a minister is familiar with his terrain.
Civil servants are generally the reason why there is little or no development in the land. They know how to frustrate people, policies, programmes and projects. Ever had the terms “red tape” “bureaucracy” and “bureaucratic bottlenecks”? These are sinister tactics employed by civil servants to clog the system, frustrate any Minister and arrest the nation’s development. They are adept at inflating the actual cost of contracts and ensuring that, in the end, the contract is not executed but money is paid out. They approve and certify shoddy jobs; delay project execution or outright “execution” of projects only on paper. Towards the end of the budget year, they race to clean up the plate with frivolous contracts or simply share what is left of the budget instead of returning the same to the treasury. Buhari complained of that sharp and shady practice during his tenure. So, we must wean ourselves from giving undue attention to Ministers while leaving untouched the monsters, which are the civil servants.
Having said that, I wish to advocate that there is one Ministry which should be created but which has not yet been created – it is the Ministry of Seminars, Symposiums, Workshops, inaugural Lectures and Lectures in general and also Book launch. So many useful ideas are generated at these events that will be useful for national development. Let us have a Minister, assisted by one or two Ministers of State, to attend these events and collate ideas generated there and pigeon hole them for the relevant agencies and the private sector for implementation. Ideas rule the world. I advance the following reasons for the creation of this Ministry: One is that our leaders are too lazy to read. All the ideas generated by researchers and writers are wasted, so to say, because our leaders do not access them. Some even deliberately shut themselves out of the world of ideas and wallow in their ignorance and stale environment. Two: Reading culture is generally low in the country today; na book we go chop! Yet, no country can develop faster than the quantum of knowledge available to it. Three: Our leaders are generally snobbish of the literati. Their “turenchi” is too much and offensive. Four: Our leaders do not have the time for much academic exercise, even for those of them that are diligent in the performance of their duties. Five: There is usually a yawning gap between policy enunciation and policy implementation. We need a Ministry to track this; and do a follow-up of some sort. Finally, we need a kind of Ombudsman to ensure that the ideas being generated all over the country on a daily basis are not allowed to go to waste, as is the case at the moment.
I attended two events in Lagos last July that gave me the inspiration for asking for the above Ministry to be created; one was the fifth annual lecture of an online publication, Freedom Online, published by consummate journalist and editor, Gabriel Akinnadewo. The event held at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos on July 18; and the second, a few days later, on 20th July, at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, was a lecture delivered by Prof. Babafemi Badejo titled “Utmost Freedom: The real essence of national interest” The ideas generated at the two events, if warehoused and put to use, are enough to solve the myriad of problems confronting the country, even at this its most trying period.
At the Freedom Online event were the likes of Chief Bode George, High Chief Tola Adeniyi, former governor Omoniyi Olubolade, veteran journalist Richard Akinnola, Barrister Benson Enikuomehin, Ogbeni Lanre Openiyi, Barrister Yinka Oguntimehin (representing Iba Gani Adams), among others. State duty prevented the big guns like the governor of Bayelsa State, Douye Diri; his Imo State counterpart, Hope Uzodimma , the former governor of Ogun state now senator representing Ogun East, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, from attending but they were duly represented.
Although Nigeria is said to have hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, Gov. Uzodimma said the common language spoken and understood by all of them is good governance. You cannot beat that! George, a retired General of the Nigeria Navy, warned that military life (rule) cannot be compared to civilian life (rule). In the former, you can expect anything anytime. This should be enough warning to anyone trying to toy with the country’s renascent democracy. High Chief Tola Adeniyi warned that the 1999 Constitution, which he described as absolutely military in nature, will take this country nowhere. Olubolade said a leader that would build the country must unite its people, put competent people in places and set its priorities. I can go on and on!
Gov. Diri, who gave the keynote address, said he believed in miracles. How will he not, seeing how he miraculously became the governor of Bayelsa state! His Imo state counterpart, Uzodimma, should also believe in miracles seeing how he, too, miraculously became governor! Diri asked that the younger generation be empowered so they would not be pawns or drug-induced thugs in the hands of misguided politicians. He regretted that, so far, Nigeria has failed to rise up to its potentials or to the huge promise of its founding fathers.
The NIIA event had in attendance the institute’s Director-General, Prof. Eghosa E. Osaghae; Prof. Adele Jinadu as chairman; my lecturer at the Graduate School, University of Ibadan, Prof. Femi Otubanjo, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, among others. Is utmost freedom the real essence of national interest? If so, how does war in the Niger Republic enhance or guarantee Nigerians’ utmost freedom? According to Prof. Otubanjo, utmost freedom does not exist; African societies have no such concept. The Hobbesian paradox is that society guarantees your freedom by limiting your freedom! Prof. Jinadu, quoting another thinker, said it is in the interest of every man to be free. “But suppose a man refuses to be free? Then, he has to be forced to be free!” Olukanni, drawing on his experience as Nigeria’s ambassador in many countries, said the need had arisen for the country to restructure so that the regions can decide, design and pursue their own interests.
If the purpose of human existence is utmost freedom as posited by the lecturer, Prof. Badejo, then, whatever limits the utmost freedom of individuals or groups cannot be in the national interest. QED!
*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.
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