Policy Briefs

The ‘Change’ Cabinet: God, Give us Men!

Nigerians should demand that the “bow and go” gesture be dispensed with, when President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees appear before the Senate for confirmation. Once a courteous indulgence, the gesture risks becoming shambolic. A credible confirmation process warrants that nominees affirm publicly their bona fides, aptitude, competence and track record. Beyond our customary fixation with the constitutional dictates in Article 147 (3), directing the President to “appoint at least one minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State”, we must take the nomination process seriously. Nigerians irritated by the President’s cautious haste need to reflect.

Every Nigerian patriot should be depressed about the state of the nation. The state of Nigeria is not strong! Still, Nigeria remains a nation destined for greatness, if its citizens and leaders commit to making the required sacrifices. As things are, we prefer to ignore the correlation between conflicting popular expectations and bad governance. Though it would be fallacious to conclude that all the problems of poor governance emanate mainly from conflicting popular expectations, conflicted expectations are symptomatic of deeper problems. Now there is hope for change as well as conflicting expectations; even as it is clear that President Buhari singularly bears the undue burden of our expectations. Whilst the President has the responsibility to lead and change Nigeria, he cannot do it alone. Our Constitution will not permit. He must lead then, with the support of the other arms of government, but also with the help of men and women who will constitute his cabinet. Democratic norms will compel the President to carter to the putative supremacy and desires of his ruling party and the demands of the opposition.

As Nigeria’s elected leader, President Buhari retains the prerogative to independently select, without mistakes, the right caliber of cabinet members, while navigating distractive geopolitical tangles. Such a process requires time. And attractive as “hitting the ground running” may seem, in our renascent circumstances, deliberate haste and constructive assessment of who to pick for what job, assumes overarching importance. My humble advice: let the 36 States each get their constitutionally mandated appointees, thus averting undue hubris. Required cost cutting measures can be applied in other areas.

Ahead of making their final selections, the President and his vetting team will do well to read the mantic poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland, titled, “God, give us men!’  The first six lines of the one-stanza poem, are aptly illuminating: “GOD, give us men! A time like this demands Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands; Men whom the lust of office does not kill; Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy; Men who possess opinions and a will; Men who have honour; men who will not lie…..” The masculine protagonist in the poem is, of course, gender neutral.  It is self-evident that Holland’s prayer-poem fits well into our national psyche and needs. For a nation not bereft of human resources, we fail -and consistently so- in squaring the circle, when selecting our high public officials.  Partisanship, cronyism and nepotism, more than the dictates of federal character are to blame. Yet, it is known that those with the most powerful sponsors always get the plum jobs. The ugly flipside of power sponsorship is that foisted appointees are either Janus-faced or insuppressibly tied to their titular masters. This reality makes President Buhari’s declaration of belonging to all and to none, very comprehensible. We pray that competence will this time around trump mediocrity.

Nigeria needs dependable men and women who can serve long-haul – four years in their ministerial portfolios – without being reshuffled.  Nigerians crave independent minded individuals who grasp the compelling need for collegiality and teamwork; people whom the President deem able and trustworthy to cater for national interests rather than ethno-sectional interests. Nigeria needs patriots, who understand the imperatives of purposeful and adaptive leadership, who should be ready to enter into a Managerial Compact with the President on their respective portfolios.  That Compact must spell out the following:  “I as Honourable Minister of XYZ, commit to achieve the objectives detailed below, for which the President will hold me accountable. I, in turn, will ensure that these objectives are reflected in the work plan and performance assessment of the staff of my ministry/department/agency at all times.” Such a Compact must include measurable performance indicators and operational and delivery benchmarks, by which the President and indeed, Nigerians, can assess the performance of such high public officials.  The desultory attempt at such a Compact by the immediate past administration floundered from lack of conviction.

Since every bureaucracy creates its own weaknesses, there is an inextricable nexus between proactive ministerial leadership and policy and service delivery. But Nigeria is renowned for the lack of repercussions for underachievement. Hence, our nation is speckled with uncompleted and abandoned federal projects, for which no minister or high official is held accountable. In the south-east geopolitical zone, the Federal Government’s legerdemain over the Second Niger Bridge remains vexatious. The non-completion of the bridge many years after its conception is a fitting metaphor for the federal government’s insensitivity and dysfunctionality in implementing strategic national projects. If the federal government’s delivery of hard infrastructural projects is dismal; so too is its delivery of basic services.

Moving forward, we need to first, demystify the electricity power generation genie, which has become an embarrassing national albatross. With a visionary Minister of Power, Nigeria should be well-placed to lead the drive for Africa’s energy self-sufficiency by 2030. Secondly, we need to demythologize the convolutions hindering the passing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and sanitizing our festering oil and gas sector. We must deregulate the oil industry, just as we have done with aviation and telecommunications. Third, the deplorable state of the federal highways constitutes cruel and unjust punishment to Nigerians in the 36 States.   One policy option open to President Buhari is simple; direct the adoption of the practice in the United States, whereby funds earmarked in the federal budget for the maintenance of federal highways are paid to the States on a per-mileage basis. Accordingly, each State assumes responsibility for maintaining segments of federal highways in its territory.  Logically, a sense of pride, ownership and accompanying bragging rights will compel the States to use the funds judiciously. This fund allotment policy has tremendous upside potentials. It will also end States begging to be refunded the monies they expend on repairing dilapidated and decrepit federal roads.

Nigeria’s annual national budget brims with recycled projects. Nigeria deserves cabinet members who will not tolerate such recidivism in budgeting, accounting, project implementation and service delivery. The aforesaid sectoral portfolios – energy, oil and transport – remain strategic. Each will require visionary, dedicated and driven ministers to turn them around and thus, fulfil the change promised by President Buhari. For the appointees, there will be no second chances, which is why discerning Nigerians are sanguinely comfortable with the President’s deliberate pace in picking his advisers and ministers. For its part, the Senate must support the President’s choices, via a bi-partisan, rigorous and transparent confirmation process. God give us men and women who possess the will to change Nigeria.

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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