Governing Nigeria is no easy task and our problems are so many and so deep that governance processes have to be pursued with urgency. There are many successes in President Buhari’s efforts especially on the wars against terrorism and corruption and he must be commended for his achievements. Handling the economy has been less successful and there is virtually a consensus in the country today that the economic team simply hasn’t got the capacity to do the work.
Our Constitution places the power of the Executive in one person, the president. At the same time, the Constitution, conscious of the fact that the president cannot alone execute the vast array of governmental processes, requires that ministers, advisers and heads of parastatals be appointed to help the president carry out the huge responsibility of executing government policies. At the beginning of the Buhari Administration, there was a general expectation that he would hit the ground running. This was because he used the two months between his election and inauguration to consult extensively with his political allies. Having sought for power for over a decade, it was assumed that he knew exactly what to do with power. In any case, he had exercised power previously and was fully aware of the job description of the president.
He got inaugurated on May 29, 2015 and then nothing happened for such a long time. Well, he did request for approval to appoint 15 special advisers, which he obtained on June 3, 2015, just five days after his inauguration. Today, 18 months after inauguration, he has succeeded in appointing only five out of the fifteen that have been approved. Out of the five, he sent three to the vice president and one to the minister for Budget and National Planning. It took President Muhammadu Buhari five months after inauguration to appoint ministers. The heads of most government agencies are yet to be appointed and the president appears to be sticking rigorously to his assertion that political appointees are noisemakers and those who do the real work are civil servants.
The problem with governance is that if you do not make political appointments, civil servants take all the political decisions, including the most important decision of NOT MAKING DECISIONS. Sometimes, civil servants do not want to make decisions so that they do not get noticed or disturbed as they enjoy the perquisites of power, including the most harmful one of looting public funds. When, therefore, the president does not appoint people to govern, those at the head of governmental organisations create forms of governance linked to prolonging their temporary positions. Achieving the policy goals of the government cannot be their priority because their logic is that they are there for a short time until the president decides on who should do the job on a full time basis. As tenures of temporary heads extend from weeks to months and into years, confusion becomes the name of the game. The temporary heads begin to envisage permanency on the jobs and, above all, start working towards it. This means investing public funds at their disposal to oiling the process of retaining their positions, and we all know what that means.
The president has to be conscious that the last year of his tenure will be devoted to the elections, whether he is contesting again or not. He therefore has only one year to make a mark and governance processes must be accelerated and done with even more competence.
Governance is a continuous process of decision-making and interaction in all organisations, governments, markets, families, non-governmental organisations, and so on. Governance is therefore the rules, norms, power equations, actions and processes through which organisations achieve objectives that have been defined. It is for this reason that organisations give specific mandates to people they appoint to achieve the set objectives. When that is not done, those who find themselves in the position use the opportunity to achieve their own objectives. Governance is a normative concept that underscores whether expectations and objectives have been met or not. It is for this reason that we talk of fair, good and bad governance. The norms refer to respect to the interests and expectations of stakeholders and are therefore about accountability. When you do not appoint people that are responsible to you, those in position address other interests. It is for this reason that the permanent advice to presidents is to set up their teams quickly and make them understand his expectations.
On assuming office, the president prioritised Nigeria’s international relations and has invested heavily in visiting numerous countries in the pursuit of Nigeria’s interests. Any diplomat will tell you that while presidential visits are very important in defining priorities, the real work never happens between the presidents. Things happen when the diplomats follow up. Diplomats can only follow up with authority if they have been accredited. No one in the world can understand why President Buhari is investing so much time and energy in diplomacy while he has no ambassadors to follow up on anything. There are simply too many blockages that prevent consular staff from following up on presidential visits when no ambassador has been accredited to the country.
A couple of weeks ago, the president held three meetings with the Senate president within a few days. It was not clear what the visits were over. What has been clear, however, is that the cold war between the president and the Senate president had side-lined the possibility of the pursuit of the president’s legislative agenda. There are at least three urgent issues. The first is the reduction of the cost of governance through carrying out legislation that would enable the implementation of the Oronsanye Report. This would make it possible to close down and/or merge numerous parastatals that are duplication of governmental mandates and drains on crucial resources. The second is the Petroleum Industry Bill, which we had been told would be prioritised within the first quarter of the Administration. The third is the merging and/or strengthening of the anti-corruption agencies to ease the anti-corruption commitments of the government. Nothing has happened on these fronts. The impression created was that there was no hurry to act until the right leadership could emerge in the National Assembly.
The belief in the country is that the success of the Buhari Administration is vital to the survival and progress of Nigeria. For that success to occur, governing the country effectively must be his focus and he needs competent people to do that.
I have followed the announcement made by President Buhari in September 2015 closely, that he was dismantling President Jonathan’s Presidential Initiative in the North East (PINE) and establishing a new one – Presidential Committee on North East Initiatives under General T. Y. Danjuma. His argument was that the situation in the North-East was disastrous and needed urgent action by people with competence and integrity. The PCNI was finally established and inaugurated on October 26, 2016, 13 months after the initial presidential directive to set it up. As it is clear that the president had been committed to the Initiative from day one, the only explanation for the delay is the dearth of people in the presidency to do the paper work. It appeared that the publication of photographs of starving babies dying in Bama by Doctors Without Borders was what reminded the president that no one had acted on his directive to set up the PCNI. It will be recalled that it took President Buhari about five months after election to appoint his Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). The president is still searching for a good Principal Private Secretary. This means paper work piles up simply because there are too few hands to process them.
Governing Nigeria is no easy task and our problems are so many and so deep that governance processes have to be pursued with urgency. There are many successes in President Buhari’s efforts especially on the wars against terrorism and corruption and he must be commended for his achievements. Handling the economy has been less successful and there is virtually a consensus in the country today that the economic team simply hasn’t got the capacity to do the work. The president has to be conscious that the last year of his tenure will be devoted to the elections, whether he is contesting again or not. He therefore has only one year to make a mark and governance processes must be accelerated and done with even more competence. The belief in the country is that the success of the Buhari Administration is vital to the survival and progress of Nigeria. For that success to occur, governing the country effectively must be his focus and he needs competent people to do that.