Taste Of The Pudding

Dan Agbese

Dan Agbese

THE Executive Council of the Federation has now been finally constituted – as if you didn’t know. The challenges and the magic (?) of transforming Nigeria consistent with the avowed ambition of the APC, has begun. President Muhammadu Buhari said he took his time to constitute his team because he had “been mindful of the need to ensure that the appointment of new ministers translates into round pegs in round holes…” Good.

The shape of the peg you put into a hole matters. It is not difficult to appreciate the simple fact that a square peg feels odd in a round hole. We can take it that each minister is a round peg in the round hole of his new ministry. A good beginning.

For the next few days or weeks, the pundits would x-ray the assignment of the portfolios and may find that some of the pegs look rather square in the round holes. We would put that down to human errors of the head and perhaps excuse it on the grounds that nature ensures that all human beings are cursed with heads where innocent mistakes are made.

Still, a wrong or a misplaced peg in the right hole is much more than a simple error of the head. It points to a fundamental misplacement of hope in the competence of the individual to deliver, as we like to say in this country, the goods. We have been led over the years to believe that our country is a can-do country. It means that anyone is capable of doing anything. An engineer as minister of health, for instance, would raise no eyebrows. Nor would we see anything wrong with a president appointing a pharmacist as attorney-general and minister of justice. If you check our past records, you might find that similar or even worse appointments were made in the past. Sure, there are incompetent professionals but professionalism matters.

That leads me to this problem. I have been trying to determine the shape of the peg and the hole in the case of Buhari’s minister of education, Adamu Adamu. He is an accountant by profession and a journalist by calling. He is a well-regarded newspaper columnist. He is not an educationist. In the can-do spirit of our country, I am sure Buhari believes Adamu can hold that ministry as well as or even better than professional educationists. It flies in the face of running a respectable system. The ministry of education is a professional ministry best handled by an educationist with proven and acknowledged competence. That the minister of state for education is a former vice-chancellor compounds this fundamental presidential error – if error it is.

Still, something nags me. Does Adamu’s appointment reflect what the president thinks of our education? Our educational system is in deep, deep crisis. It would be unfair to suggest the president is blissfully ignorant of that fact. I had expected past administrations to declare an emergency in that important sector long before now and engage the best brains in the business to clean up and reposition the system to meet our national aspirations in human, scientific and technological development.

None of them did. We plough on. Our educational institutions are mere certificate mills. Our universities produce graduates who are so poorly developed intellectually that they are not fit to be useful to themselves, let alone the country. Anyone who is not bothered about this must have problems with spelling the word, patriotism.

If, in his change agenda, Buhari does not see the urgent need to reposition our educational system, I fear that whatever changes we hanker after would fundamentally change nothing. If we do not get our education right, nothing would be right in and with the country. That is not rocket science. It is common sense.

At the inauguration of the ministers, the president said he had reduced the number of federal ministries to 25 but he went ahead to assign portfolios to the 36 ministerial nominee. Was that his mistake or my problem with numbers?

I do worry about the large presidential team. I do pray for a president who would dispense with this large team and opt instead for a lean and competent team. My prayer has not been answered. The constitution is the problem. It hamstrings a president in such a way that he cannot have a lean team. It stipulates that the government of the federation shall reflect the federal character. This is supposed to mean that all states of the federation must be represented in the council chambers of the executive Council of the Federation. Is this narrow interpretation of the constitution the real intendment of its framers? I doubt it. The large gathering of the states in the council chambers amounts to a cynical respect for the constitution. The large number of ministers is unwieldy and inimical to the philosophy of modern governments. Leanness is the word.

My other is that the president lost me in what I take to be his take on our infrastructural development – the bane of our focused progress as a nation. Among these are power, roads, water and housing. Each represents an enormous national challenge and a personal challenge to every president. Each qualifies to be declared a national emergency. Of these, power is our number one worry. It has consumed billions of dollars since 1999 and there is nothing to show for it. Light remains epileptic with deleterious effects on our homes, offices and industries – and our national development. I am sure the president feels pained by our total lack of progress in this sector. Power is not just vital to our economy; it is the engine of modern development. See why I am surprised that in his bid to reduce the number of ministries, Buhari did the unthinkable? He put works, housing and power under one umbrella. Works and housing are natural twins. Power does not just belong in the mix.

I expected the president to see the challenges of roads and power as special challenges that would not defeat his administration. I expected him to appoint separate ministers for each for works, housing power and give them marching orders to fix our roads, tackle our housing problems and, of course, end the same of the more we spend to have light, the less light we have.

I do not doubt the competence of Babatunde Raji Fashola to competently discharge the burden of handling three big ministries thrust upon him by the president. Who knows, Fashola may do the magic with a steady power supply and force the generator importers to look for a new import business. Keep hope alive. What I doubt is the president’s wisdom in coupling all these three ministries and placing them under one minister.

It is not enough for Buhari to put round pegs in round holes. It is incumbent on him as well to smoothen the path of his ministers for sterling performances. An overburdened minister is not likely to enjoy the confidence of the public in his capacity to effect the sort of positive changes we expect. I am sure I do not need to remind the president that his government, like all governments, military or civilian before it, faces enormous challenges of the crises of expectations from the public. How he delivers on his promises is as important as what he delivers.

1 Comment
  • Maigari

    A very incisive opinion from seasoned journalist undoubtedly. That said perhaps Dan either did not read the body language of the Judiciary or he wanted to task the incumbent on a burdensome Constitutional provision. The thirty six ministers may not have been the intended consequence by the framers but going by the Courts ruling on the “Immunity Clause” it may have have been a futile effort to attempt building a lean team as it were. Given this precedent and the very noisy ethic/sectional chauvinists now rampaging, the choices of PMB were and are he best under reasonable circumstances.