By Helen Ovbiagele

I don’t trust these people, whichever way you serve them up to the public,” observed a friend when I asked her opinion of the Acting President’s nominees for ministerial appointments.

“Why?  Do you have something against any of them, or, you just don’t trust the whole bunch?”

“I don’t know these lot.  I don’t know whether they’re trustworthy or not, and I don’t know if they can perform to satisfaction.  My stand is that I don’t trust public officers and politicians in this country.   My firm belief is that this changing of ministerial batons will not bring the desired improvement to the life of the average Nigerian.  I’ve lost hope and confidence in any bunch of people who rule us at any given time.  There seems to be something in the system which drags even the most credible Nigerian into a net of arrogance, corruption, lack of integrity and non-accountability once appointed into positions of service.”

“These are weighty accusations or beliefs,” I observed.  “I don’t totally disagree with you, but I thought this new batch may make a difference since they know what the problems on the ground are.  I’ve read the profiles of some of them.  They seem sound and achieving.  They will perform.”

“I know how you feel, Helen.  I’ve thought like that in the past, and I’ve been very disappointed by the poor performance of those I used to hold in high esteem.  Take the case of some portfolios, e.g. Health.  With the exception of late Prof. Ransome-Kuti, some other very efficient and credible doctors, suddenly became insensitive to the plight of the medical personnel, and urgent hospital needs across the country, once they were in the saddle.

What’s more, in a few cases, healthcare services became poorer during their tenure.   Same thing with Education.  An educationist is placed in charge of the ministry and teachers go on several strike because he/she is unable, or doesn’t want to do something about the plight of the teachers or improve teaching/learning conditions in our schools.

Instead of the standard of education improving, it deteriorates.  One can go on and on. I don’t think there’s going to be a difference this time around.  Mark my words.”

I wouldn’t write-off the incoming ministers before they take up their appointments, like my friend has done, but there are a few observations to be made.   I believe that each of them stands a chance of performing creditably well if they resolve to do so by placing the interests of the nation first, before those of their political party, their ethnic groups and their families, and their own quest to use the office to make money.

The acting President, like President Yar Adua  himself, seem to me a serious-minded and committed leader who has the interests of the nation at heart.   But a constant  problem is that of the various interest groups who want to have a hand in the choosing of ministers, and other important government positions.

Will they allow the Acting President to choose those he knows and trusts will help move the nation out of the pit we’re in, into an overall better life and respect from the international community?  Can he say ‘no’ to the various ‘king-makers’ around him and accept for appointment only those he trusts can perform?

Will the parliament which has to confirm these ministerial positions be honest and objective enough to confirm only those with proven good track records? Or will it be business as usual, based on ethnic sentiments and the desire to please a ‘king-maker’ somewhere?  I’ve watched on television some screening of ministerial nominees and I found the attitude of the law-makers hilarious.  Instead of allowing all  the nominees to go through the screening, for some,  you’d hear ‘Take a bow and go! Take a bow and go!’

It is this desire to satisfy the interest groups and accept their candidates for ministerial positions that make square pegs be put into round holes, where they can’t perform.  The nation is set back many paces when we have non-performers at the helm of affairs.

If at the onset, a President or Governor goes all out to choose capable hands without any unholy influence from interest groups, there wouldn’t be need for a cabinet re-shuffle mid-way, unless for gross misconduct.   Something always gives when there’s a re-shuffle as the new person wants to create his/her identity right from the start.   This would involve changing people and decisions to reflect a change of hands.  In the process of doing this, some good projects and capable hands are thrown away, to the detriment of good national development.

I’ve just read reports of passengers stranded for hours on the Benin/Ore road due to a collapse of the road.  One of the affected passengers who spoke to Joe Akintola, Vanguard’s Group Photo Editor, recalled how it was reported several years ago, that the then Minister of Transport wept when she went on inspection of that road.  With the minister’s  reaction, many of us were filled with hope that something would shortly be done to rehabilitate that road and it would become again the Trunk A road it was when late General Adisa was in charge of the Ministry of Works, and you could make the journey from Lagos to Benin City in three hours.

In spite of the minister’s tears, nothing concrete was done.   Instead she was deployed to another ministry, and government forgot that road and it continues to be a death-trap and a nightmare.  Don’t the politicians and law-makers  from Ondo and Edo States care about the state of that road?   Aren’t they embarrassed?   Both states, until barely two years ago, belonged to the ruling PDP.

Couldn’t they use their influence to get the minister for Works to rehabilitate that road?  Even now, can’t all the Senators and Mps from these two states come together and find ways of getting the federal government to do something about that road?  I’m surprised they continue to pocket their salaries and allowances when they have such a tragedy and embarrassment in their backyard.

That’s Nigeria for you.  No commitment, no accountability.  In developed countries, the law-makers representing these states will be recalled by their constituencies and they will be told to make the rehabilitation of that road a priority.  Our citizens just mumble to themselves and do nothing to awake these people to their responsibility.

Now we hear that political campaign for the 2011 elections will soon take off.  Thugs will be used to intimidate rival groups and winning at the polls will be a do-or-die thing with people killed or maimed.  Who are these people?  The common man on the street.  The families of the politicians will be located to safe places abroad.

As we go into the second decade of the 21st century, and also 50 years of self-rule, we should move away from the politics of the irresponsible and embrace integrity and accountability.

The ministers who are coming in should resolve to make a difference.  If there are good projects which their predecessors have started, they should complete it, before starting any new ones.  They should be able to hold up an honest score card at the end of their term, of things they had done to make our lives better.
More importantly, Nigerians should monitor their performance in an honest and objective way.

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