For Ministers, Time Starts Running

President-Muhammadu-Buhari-and-ministersMORE than three weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated his cabinet, it is safe to assume that the ministers are gradually settling down to the serious business of governance. While public expectation is about ministers – men and women – who will hit the ground running in ways that can produce results; it is important that government itself recognises the limitations imposed upon it by its own cabinet. In issue here, among others, is the preponderance of views that the president’s men, with perhaps few exceptions, are not exactly square pegs in square holes. Equally relevant is the lopsided apportionment of key positions to various sections of the country. Certainly, there is enough glaring imbalance in the distribution of ministerial duties to worry the average Nigerian concerned about a wholesome composition of government and the real unity of the country.

Overall, the president and his men (and women) must rise with determination and deliberate consciousness to galvanise this country into the much-desired change promised by the new government. Granted that officials are not expected to produce magic in running the state, nothing short of a drastic turnaround of the nation’s fortunes will satisfy Nigerians.

On the expected performance of the cabinet, the economy is under recession and that has brought it under pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions. It would require a hard-core nationalist with radical political economy background to mind the gate.

The long wait for the composition of a cabinet was preceded by a retreat, which served for the president as a Sermon on the Mount. The president let it be known to the new ministers that he was elected by Nigerians on the triple promise to combat corruption, insecurity and revamp the national economy. To achieve the huge task ahead, the ministers must work as team, he admonished. And to further avoid a riotous line of communication with the presidency, the president laid bare the part of communication, namely, that ministers must go through the Chief of Staff. This was an important first step. Most government officials, driven by personal ambition, often forget that government is a teamwork based on an agenda of public service not self-interested activities.

Orientation to government policy is desirable, but the factors that feed the legitimacy of the government of the day are supreme. Therefore, a reflection on the composition of the cabinet is important in two respects. One is the capacity for performance and two, absolute regard for the sensitivity and diversity of our country. The Florentine political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, once explained that the direction of government is easily discernible from the form and content of the cabinet that the government puts in place. A Machiavellian reading of the appointed ministers would yield different perspective. While some people describe the ministers as ‘a political compensation list’ and some would argue that it is a product of real politik, others have indeed referred to the ministers as more or less old wine in the same old bottle.

And while there is little spectacular about the ministerial appointees, the assignment of portfolios to the ministers does not reek of serious consideration for skills, propensity and capacity to deliver. Although they are expected to work as a team, the missing links create a disadvantage in the learning process, which the times we are in could least tolerate. It will undermine the Shakespearean wisdom engrossed in Julius Caesar, which the president has so often cited, to the extent that there is tide in the affairs of men which, when seized upon, could lead to fortune and once missed could lead to ill-fortune.

More curious is the allotment of all critical security portfolios to a section of the country. The defence and interior ministries, viewed along with other appointments of service chiefs, the directorate of state security and even the Federal Capital Territory which since its creation has been run by a section of the country, create a perception of an internal colony garrisoned by a section of the polity.

We have again missed the historical opportunity to prove that the country belongs to all of us. Nigeria is a very complex country that demands intelligent statecraft to run. That statecraft must take cognisance of the differences in both cultural and individual perceptions of the direction that the country must go. Our founding fathers recognised the diversity and the ethno-linguistic foundations of the Nigerian state, hence the federal foundation of the state. A recent study has put the diverse groups in the country at over 500. Government policy must continue to weigh this diversity in policy and practice which is why federalism recommends itself and is variously perceived as a tool for managing diversity.

The government’s ability to do this earns it a huge dose of legitimacy. On the contrary, it erodes its legitimacy and engenders simultaneously fissiparous currents in the polity. Divisive currents once unleashed will undermine government objectives of eliminating corruption from the public domain, compounds the prevalent security dilemma and hedge the drive for diversification of the economy. Amidst a declining price of oil, the country’s economic mainstay and a virulent insurgency in the northeast, the country deserves the best it can produce at this material time of its history. This ‘best list’ must be meritorious and balanced.

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