By Rotimi Fasan
JUST when you think this government will quit its inanities and get hold of itself, it comes up with another foolishness that leaves you convinced that it’s yet to know in what direction it wants to go.
President Goodluck Jonathan last week introduced a strange ritual we hear he shopped from some foreign country (France?) that required a signed commitment by his ministers to perform. In other words, the President made his ministers enter into a contract with him that committed them to perform or be fired.
I could not understand the meaning of such contract except that, bored probably beyond words and too confused to know how to address the sundry failures of his administration, President Jonathan stumbled upon the revelation that his failures as president were an aggregation of the failures of the people he has to work with, to wit his lieutenants- ministers, permanent secretaries, heads of government departments, parastatals, advisers and, I imagine, political hangers-on, among other categories of public officers earning credits, including pay for work either badly done or not done at all.
President Jonathan is definitely right in his prognosis, namely, that his failure must come from the failure of those he has to work with but he is wrong in the measure he has chosen to take to address that problem. He knows very well what he should do to his non-performing appointees- fire them! But the fact he has to go through this charade of contract signing tells one something about the level of control he exercises over his subordinates.
According to reports from the Villa Chambers in Abuja where the Federal Executive Council meets weekly and where the President opened the new scene in his unfolding absurdist drama, in compelling his ministers to sign a performance contract the President aims to assess his ministers in terms of their level of performance. Which is to say that the privilege to continue to sit in meetings of the FEC will, henceforth, be based on members’ ability to deliver on their contract.
The quality of ‘deliverables’, to borrow the President’s officialise, is the yardstick by which a minister’s performance would be assessed. In specific terms, President Jonathan reveals that his ministers would not be judged in terms of how they’ve applied their ministerial allocation but rather in terms of the impact of their effort on the Nigerian people. Well, this looks a bit too open-ended, a very nebulous standard that nobody would in the end meet or anybody could claim they’ve met.
The yardstick of measuring the performance of the ministers in terms enumerated by the President does not appear objective enough. But I get ahead of myself in saying this. So let us go back to more basic matters. In the first place, one must ask on what basis the President appointed his cabinet and had them sworn into office if he now wants them to sign a contract with him committing them to perform in their various positions.
Were his ministers not appointed on, at least, some prima facie assumption that they are competent people, if not the very best available at the time of appointment that would help the President realise the mandate the Nigerian people gave him?
In the many weeks before a president names his cabinet, it is assumed they look around for the best people available for the various offices. What did President Jonathan spend his own time doing? Did he simply went to bed after INEC announced him winner of the last election and waited on his party elders to send him a list of party journeymen and women in need of jobs?
What the President is doing with this contract signing idleness amounts to putting the cart before the horse- this is something he should have done before anything else after his election, at least before naming his cabinet. It is basic that people appointed into any position are expected to perform or be fired.
It is a part of everybody’s job description that requires no special ritual. Ordinary Nigerians from teachers to bankers and bricklayers know that the only way they can keep their job is to perform. They do not need to be told- it is something the very application they sent in for the job states in the first place.
Targets, sometimes too high and unreasonable for certain categories of workers like bankers, are set for any new employee. How come those who get the highest advantages in the land are employed without this basic requirement? Does the President want to be congratulated for this non-initiative of making his ministers commit themselves to do what their oath of office demanded of them?
With the kind of song and dance that went with the contract signing nonsense last week one would be excused to think the President and his cabinet have made some outstanding discovery not to tell Nigerians that they’ve been enjoying the perks and privileges of office without work.
With this, the impression many Nigerians have that the President is out of his depth in his present position hardens into fact with the addition that his ministers are mostly party hacks whose only recommendation was their affiliation to the PDP and their friends and not competence. His list of ministers must have been handed to him, hence the urgency to sign another contract binding the ministers to him.
The President’s action has a strong aroma of unconstitutionality for what other contract should his ministers have other than the Constitution. What happens if the President, like some politicians, decides to summon his ministers to oath-taking sessions in the manner of the Okija ritualists?
It’s also curious that ministers were until now assessed in terms of how they’ve spent their allocations. This is a fiscal requirement that does not necessarily prove efficiency. Anyone could claim they’ve spent whatever amount on projects that exist only on paper as is very often the case here.
This is the kind of requirement responsible for the unseemly rush by ministers and other public office holders to spend every kobo of their allocations as the year runs out in order to qualify for a new allocation.
It does not matter what they’ve done, once they can show they’ve put their allocation to some use, there the matter ends. But Jonathan want them to be more accountable, in what way exactly I do not know except to cite his own example that rather than asking the Minister of Health how much he’s spent on his sector, he would be required to show how well he’s succeeded in reducing maternal child mortality. There’s more that stinks about the President’s contract with his ministers than space would permit me to discuss.