Now That The Kitchen Is (Almost) Set
FINALLY, President Muhammadu Buhari has a full team, and he seems set to go. In our calculation as Nigerians, there is now a government where there was only a semblance of it, and a democracy where there was a dictatorship.
Twenty-four hours before he swore-in the Ministers and told them what desks they would be sitting at, the President first shook up the Abuja landscape.
First, he fired an army of permanent secretaries, the lords of the bureaucracy. Then he named their replacements. And then, putting all those names into one basket, he shook it up and redeployed them all.
It was in the turmoil of those permanent secretaries discovering their new addresses and introducing themselves around that the new Ministers were announced on Wednesday.
He admonished the top civil servants at their swearing-in to safeguard public funds closely, and ensure the propriety of expenditures.
“This administration will not condone any excesses, indifference, incompetence, and corrupt practices in any form,” he warned, urging full dissemination of this message to all civil servants.
“If Nigeria has to realize its full potentials for greatness, its civil service must first understand and accept the ‘change mantra’ of this administration, and then lead its spread through all the institutions of governance and the economy,” he declared.
He passed on a similar message to the Ministers, warning them, among others: to eliminate flamboyance in their conduct, adhere strictly to the rule of law, comply with civil service rules, and be guided in their decision-making by the imperative for change.
It is difficult to quarrel with the President’s intention or his message. I will return to this in a moment.
Also last week, President Buhari fired Ibrahim Lamorde, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He was replaced with another Ibrahim, this time, Ibrahim Magu, in the political equivalent of rising from the grave.
Mr. Lamorde should never have led the agency in the first place. Sometimes, an office elevates a person; at other times, it exposes him. In four years, leading the EFCC exposed Mr. Lamorde, who was a cross between the quintessential Nigerian civil servant and the everyday policeman. He was terribly unsuited for the task of heading an anti-graft body of any kind.
Fighting corruption will test the best of men, and fighting corruption in Nigeria will test the very angels. The problem is compounded when men who ought to feign illness and stay in bed pretend to be superman and accept a task they cannot perform.
Farida Waziri, Lamorde’s predecessor, had made the same mistake in a somewhat different political calculation, egged on by hatchet men of the Peoples Democratic Party who told her they would rule for 60 years and that all she needed do was sit at her desk, work on her manicure and polish her extensive jewelry collection. You know things are really bad when it is one Goodluck Jonathan—Mr. “Corruption is Exaggerated”— who fires you.
Nonetheless, one of the marvelous turnarounds in God’s plan is that Mr. Magu looked up last week and Buhari was pointing at him. “Yes, you!” the boss said.
Everyone remembers the Biblical story of David slaying Goliath. We often forget that he who became the King of Israel was a little shepherd boy when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse in search of him. He was the youngest of eight brothers, and all of the others were present when Samuel arrived. God rejected all of them in preference for David, who was not even a teenager yet.
In the early years of the EFCC, Mr. Magu earned a reputation as an unrelenting crime-fighter, and was reported to have been behind some of the commission’s most productive investigations.
Then the PDP appointed Mrs. Waziri, who wanted the narrative and the people responsible for it changed. Those were the days when the PDP ran Nigeria by the light of the dark, and Magu became the hunted, accused of “stealing” official files, and for being in possession of an official laptop computer he was working with. He was kicked out of the EFCC and sent to the Police Command in Ekiti State.
Having apparently returned during the lukewarm tenure of Lamorde, it is to Magu that Buhari has now given the keys to the EFCC, in a major vote of confidence. We now get to learn if the Robin Hood stories of Magu are true, in which case we will see what happens to Goliath in the near future; or if they were made up, in which case he also becomes exposed.
With the federal cabinet coming on stream, it is tempting to think that, in Nigerian parlance, food is ready.
The truth is that the table is not even set. But the kitchen is ready.
Buhari has clarified the direction in which he wants to travel, but it is the how that is lacking. It is not enough to say what Ministers and other top officials should not do. Of greater importance is what they must do to ensure change, and success.
What the president should do next is to establish a format that moves the objective of governance from contract-disbursal to performance-monitoring. Every Nigerian administration since 1979 has focused on the glitz and glamour of office, and reveled in speeches and splendor.
In fact, the past few governments consolidated a warped procedure where the purpose of the cabinet was not for policy-making, let alone execution, but simply to award contracts. This is the source of the hundreds of thousands of uncompleted projects that litter Nigeria.
The road to the future is for clear targets to be set for each Ministry. The rest of the life of the Buhari administration should then focus on performance monitoring and reporting, changing the official narrative from what is to be done to what has been accomplished. It is the only way to measure the nature, quality and pace of change.
Finally, on the question of table-setting, there is deafening silence in official circles concerning assets-declaration by the Ministers.
Speaking to Ghanaian journalists during his state visit in September, President Buhari told them it was not an issue as all heads of state and government, governors, ministers, permanent secretaries “will have to declare their assets” as a Nigeria constitutional standard. He had previously declared that he and his vice-president would declare publicly, and that he would ask his Ministers and other top officials to do so.
That time has come. Each Minister must declare his assets publicly, and now. When this is done, the table is set; if not, the danger is.