NWOSU: There Are Many Good Nigerians To Appoint Into Cabinet
Prof. A. B. C. Nwosu is former Minister of Health and one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he insisted that there are many good people in the country even as he urged President Muhammadu Buhari to expand his search for credible and competent Nigerians to appoint into his cabinet.
Recently President Buhari remarked that knowledgeable and experienced Nigerians that are not compromised are difficult to find to appoint into his cabinet; what do you make of the comment?
WELL, it is his judgment and I don’t share in it. There are many good and capable Nigerians; not every Nigerian is a thief. If every Nigerian is a thief, then he himself will not be where he is presently. If he looks carefully, he would find one. For example, I have my friend Tam David-West; he could work with him. There are too many good people in Nigeria. We should not be giving the impression that Nigeria is full of thieves and corrupt people. And the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I was part of that 16 years of the party. Obasanjo had eight years, Yar’Adua, two and Jonathan had six. I was part of the Obasanjo four years and there were many other people there. If you are now saying everyone one that participated in this period, which includes everybody from 1998 when the PDP was formed at Eko Holiday Inn, comprising many of the G-34 members, who fought for the return of democracy, that cannot be correct. Those people haven’t all died.
Money has a very bad odour. You look at the cars people drive and the houses they live in and the properties they own, it is easy for the president to know people who are good and those who are not good, including those around him. Some presidents have mansions; President Buhari has his bungalow in Daura. Some ministers have mansions. Some people have properties and accounts abroad; others don’t. He only has to look, and if he does, he would see good people.
You mean the president is probably not looking in the right direction?
I think he needs to expand his scope and set out his criteria. There are too many good people in Nigeria — that is my judgment. There are good people in Nigeria who have served in public office. I served as commissioner for four military governors. And I know them. You can go and look at what late Sam Omerua had, or Akonubi or Abolu or Eze. I don’t believe in name-calling and demonising people and political parties. If people steal, send them to jail, whether they are from your party or not.
We must have zero-tolerance for corruption. People have become unjustly enriched. But when you give this bad impression, other countries call us rogues. When you travel and show your passport, the moment they realise you are a former minister they begin to search you. But in the end they find your $4,000 BTA and no more. But you see other people move with $80,000 and $100,000 and they are not searched. Moment they see you are a former minister, you are in trouble.
I am not holding brief for anyone and not saying that I am one of the good ones, but I’m only saying that if the President is looking for good people in Nigeria, he would see them and they are many in the PDP and APC. There are also very many bad people in PDP and many very worse people in APC. Before they begin to say negative things, many of the people in APC are PDP-runaway. It is not good to start labeling a nation as a rogue nation, where nobody can be found to be made a minister. The most important thing in making a person a minister is that the individual has competence. Can the person drive the vision and get things done? For example.
I wish him well in the search because Nigeria is in need of repair and we need people who can effect the repair. But this saint and sinners attitude, especially by the APC loudmouths, is very offensive. I am still strongly in the PDP and have no wish to be elsewhere, except with them. If I leave the PDP, I will not go to the APC because I have to know what I am going into. Definitely, I will not go into the APC.
Would you say that the president is held down by party considerations; the need to satisfy some tendencies within his party?
I don’t think so, because the PDP has never had only core party members in its cabinet. I don’t know how long Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Oby Ezekwesili have been in the party; but I doubt if they could be describe as core PDP members. I was in the party with Nasir el-Rufai and I respect him a lot, for his intellect and drive, and also Masari, both of who are now APC governors. I was in the party with Sule Lamido, whatever anybody is saying, I worked closely with him and we both sat together during Executive Council meetings; and he’s a very good and knowledgeable Nigerian. You don’t have to have core members. You only need people who can drive your policy. You don’t have to give us a talk to look for secretary to the government. That office controls so many permanent secretaries and that it hasn’t been filled till now is amazing to me. But that is his style and I wish him well.
Do you then encourage looking outside the country?
Of course, that is not a bad thing. A Nigerian is a Nigerian regardless of where he or she domiciles. Okonjo-Iweala came in from the World Bank –– from the Diaspora. Same thing with Ekwesili and a host of others. Ekwesili had previously worked with Prof Jeffrey Sands at Harvard. What is the problem in bringing in talented Nigerians who have demonstrated high competency levels? You will have some of such people here at home, you will have some of them in the Diaspora, you will have some of them as very young people and some of them as old people. The important thing is to drive development forward in the country, of course, while ensuring transparency and accountability.
But apart from looking for uncompromised people, what else would you say could have contributed to delay in naming the cabinet by the President?
Only the President can explain that to Nigerians. But if the President believes that we are all in agreement, it does not matter; I am not in agreement because there is need to have a Federal Executive Council (FEC). There are certain decisions that are taken in President-in-council, which is the President with his ministers. There are contracts above some certain sums to be decided by the FEC. It is also useful for him to have advice; sometimes, advice from people who are specialists in the area, as well as, advice he may not like to hear.
ADEBAYO: There Are Many Committed
Senator Cornelius Adebayo is former governor of Kwara State during the Second Republic. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, the former Minister of Communication there is a good number of committed Nigerians all over the world to work with President Buhari.
Why is it taking President Buhari some time to put in place a cabinet to assist him deliver his campaign promises?
I thought the president had explained himself, both in the country and when he was in the United States. He explained that a matter such as this requires care. It is one thing to obtain names, but when you then do the essential security checks and research you find that the people you are looking at do have things you are not aware of; that they have lots of baggages that will be an impediment to good governance. Sometimes it is better to take your time than to rush and get the people that are not good.
During his US visit the President remarked that it is proving difficult to get Nigerians who are not compromised to work with. What is your interpretation of this remark?
Sometimes it depends on who you are working with, who you have your eyes on and those who you are thinking of. A good number of people who worked for the government under which I served were not regular politicians. Many of them were called from outside the country to come and serve. And I am sure that people of that category are still available. The President must have met with a number of Nigerians in the Diaspora when he went to the US. There are many capable Nigerians all over the world. Some of them had been called back to serve in recent years and had been part of the government before. But there are others who I believe are yet untainted by affiliation. Even among the armies of those who had been here before, and having had the exposure, some can still be useful to this government. In any case, somebody has to start somewhere some day.
Yes, I agree totally that we need people with experience, but we also need to look at younger people, who have ideas and who share the commitment and expertise that those people also possess. It is true that the political cycle is presently more corrupt than it was in our time; that is when I was an active politician.
I strongly believe that the president should be given all the time he needs. He should not be pressured into taking hurried steps that would eventually take the nation to nowhere. It is better that he takes his time than rushing into things, that everyone would not be happy with the outcome.
In the light of this, do you think President Buhari is actually looking in the right directions?
Frankly, I don’t know where the President’s face is turned. I don’t know what is the right or left or wrong direction. He must know. He has the whole Nigeria before him. Even the last administration did not, essentially, choose from his party. People came in virtually from all parts of the world. They came in from academic environments, international organisations and the likes. We have people who command the respect and love of many Nigerians, as well as, people whose commitment is of little doubt.
But I would rather give him enough time he needs to choose the type of people he needs so as to deliver what he has promised Nigerians, rather than rushing him into anything. I don’t think there is any law in our statute books that specified time within which the President must choose his cabinet. He is completely at liberty to decide who and when. I think, generally, Nigerians must be patient.
But specifically, do you agree with the President that it is difficult to find uncompromised Nigerians to work with?
The fact is that the body of people that I know may not be the kind of people he knows. In the last few years he had been active in the political field and has been working with varieties of people. If he finds that there are areas of caution, then it is prudent for him to exercise that caution than regret later on.
Do you think the President is being held back by considerations based on political party affiliation?
I really don’t think so. I know a number of his party members are complaining. But what is at stake now is to give him the chance, whatever it takes, to get his own men to work with. I would rather be patient than rush him into taking wrong decision.
Chief Olu Falae is former Secretary to the government of federation and later Minister of Finance, who started his career as civil servant and rose to become a permanent secretary. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he said the quality of President Buhari’s cabinet depends on where the president is looking.
President Buhari seems to be having some trouble putting together a cabinet. Is it true that knowledgeable and experienced Nigerians that are not compromised are difficult to find?
NOT necessarily. And I really don’t think so. For me, how easy or difficult to find what one is looking for depends on who is looking for it. If I’m looking for you and we happen to live in the same street, it is likely for me to find you easily, but looking for someone on another planet is very difficult. So, it depends on who is looking for who and what exactly you are looking for. It is all relative and it all depends on what exactly you are looking for.
However, I will assume it is easy for a government to find people than the ordinary person because the government has all the necessary machinery for checking out peoples’ past and records. Yes, in a political domain, that may be a very difficult to thing to accomplish, but that is not to say that recruiting into the cabinet should take forever. In any case, I don’t think it will take forever now as we expect him to put the cabinet together very soon. The President has already said by September, which is just around the corner. The hope is that the quality of those who make the cabinet eventually will justify the delay.
We really don’t need geniuses to rule the world, neither are we going to find saints, what we need are ordinary people, intelligent, reasonable, educated and exposed, who are committed to the desire of moving the nation forward. People whose primary concern is the nation; and its people.
But how possible is it to find people who are committed and who are without serious baggage that the government has to contend with?
No. There are 170 million people in the country. Truly we all cannot make the cabinet, but there are enough people who fit the criteria that can make the cabinet. As I said, it depends on who is looking and in what direction the person is looking. If your search is limited to a political party and at a particular level, you will have some problems.
So, in essence, I am expecting President Buhari to pick a cabinet that will be made up of people of his political party and others who may not be members of the political party. We must appoint ministers who are experts in their own fields; and not necessarily politicians. That is the kind of thing we need to do in this country. We have a very challenging system. We need ordinary people who are true to a vision and are ready to work with a team. People who are passionate about the country. They are there, the President just needs to be sure he is looking in the right direction.
When I was appointed to serve as the Secretary to the Government in 1986, I was not in the military and I had never been in partisan politics up to that time; and the government of the day seeing my education, skills, exposure, experience and orientation, in their views, those were relevant to what they wanted to do, they brought me in. And despite my inexperience and lack of political exposure, I will like to say that I did not fail. So therefore, other people who are unexposed like me, as I was in 1986, can also meet the expectation of the present government if given the chance.
Do you see the personality of Buhari attracting such people you have in mind?
I don’t see why not. When I got into government I didn’t even know much about the then military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. I just knew he had some vision and I had been called upon to serve my country. So, if your intention is to serve the country and you think you have the competency to perform the duties you are being entrusted, that should be your primary concern. But if your intention is to come and enrich yourself, then you may have to worry about the personality of the person under which you are going to serve.
So far, civil servants have held forth for the administration. Do you trust them to deliver quality and honest service?
Two questions, but one answer. A civil service; any civil service anywhere in the world is headed by the permanent secretaries. In the private sector, we don’t call them civil servants, but managers. And during the industrial age, managerial revolution, which means the managers rule the world –– the world of industry. They run all the big companies in the world. Those who run Coca-cola, Lever brothers and so on, are not the owners of the firms. Yes, they may have shares and options, but yet they are professional managers. Their operations are so large that you find it difficult to identify who the owners are; except maybe at the AGM meetings. And professional managers are those who manage the world. In politics, having been on both ends as a professional civil servant and as a minister, at the end of the day, it is your management skill and ability to deliver your mandate as minister or as a permanent secretary that matters. And the permanent secretary in our time are permanent in the sense that they do not go with the administration. The minister has to provide the leadership and sense of direction.
However, the new type of civil servants are relatively corrupt and therefore cannot be relied upon to deliver desired goals. This is one of the challenges the President will have to confront. But then, it is not an isolated case. You will know people who are living beyond there income. If you want to make money, the civil service is not where you should do so. There is nothing wrong in making money, but if you have to do that you can go outside the civil service to make money.
In our time, not only I, as an individual but like many others, it didn’t even cross our minds to steal. We were too busy developing plans and building the system to even contemplate any untoward practice. Of course, I am not saying that it was total, but it was fairly general. That must sound extremely strange to the present crop of civil servants. They are the ones building fantastic houses all over Abuja and other places. They are not even afraid that anybody might ask them. In our days, there was a man who was secretary to the civil service commission, if you are driving a car considered more expensive than you can afford, in the light of what you are entitled to, without anyone writing petition to draw attention to you, the man will give you a query that it has been observed that you are living above your income, to wit: the car you are driving costs so and so and that your car loan is so and so. You will explain to the commission where you got the extra to buy the said car. So, the query is raised just from the secretary’s perception.
As such, the President must strive to build a civil service which integrity and professionalism is fairly reliable. Without doing that whatever he does at the political level, no matter who he brings in, it would amount to nothing at the end of the day.
How confident are you that this is achievable?
I recall during the Second Republic, President Sheu Shagari said some of us, civil servants, are not being loyal to his government. He gave us benefit of the doubt, but saying if there is anyone of us, permanent secretaries, that is not proving his or her loyalty he would not hesitate to remove such an individual. I went straight to Mr. Grey Longe and pleaded with him to help us speak to our President. He asked why, and I told him that he accused us unfairly of being partisan. Eventually, we met with President Shagari and I said to him, ‘sir, before you became the President we knew ourselves and you are not a stranger to the system too. We all know that after being permanent secretary, there is no more promotion beyond that. We know that anyone who cannot be loyal to the government of the day, should get out; if you are going to stay, you must be ready to serve the government of the day. We all know that. Now, we are serving the same government together with the political appointees, there should be no question on our loyalty; and the President agreed.
Consequently, we organised a weekend retreat, including the ministers and the permanent secretaries, with the aim of bonding together so that we can successfully serve the government together and as a team.
So, it is not a new thing. Permanent secretaries and political appointees may come from different directions, but meeting