By Tonnie Iredia
It was heart warming some two weeks back when in far away Vienna, Mrs Deziani Alison-Madueke was celebrated as Nigeria’s first female oil minister. Lucky woman!
To start with, only lucky people become Ministers in Nigeria and women are quite few among them hence the relevance of the current campaign on affirmative action. Secondly, although ministers are lucky people, some are not as lucky as others. Some only need to bow to be cleared by the Senate. Some have no portfolios and are merely given the nebulous title of Minister of State.
Which State? I was educated on this the other day by a seasoned politician that Minister of State is a person whose appointment is not really necessary but who has to be included in the federal cabinet to meet the legal requirement of Section 147(3) of the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria (1999) which says that “the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State who shall be an indigene of such State”.
One reason why our new oil minister can be considered lucky is that she has never been reshuffled downwards to Minister of State. She has always had a portfolio. Some people are not that lucky. There was the case of a Professor who had served as Minister but who when re-nominated for the position became Minister of State after he narrowly escaped being rejected by the Senate more than once.
As Minister of Education, he had the luck of dealing with ASUU strikes; when he moved to Aviation, the story of plane crash became an issue. He understandably could not make it into the current cabinet of people who have ‘Goodluck’. But then this issue of lucky ministers has nothing to do with gender because there was a lady who was Minister of Science and Technology that was later reshuffled to Minister of State for Works and Housing during the Yar’adua days when cabinet reshuffle was a function.
Perhaps a far more important reason why, to me, Mrs Alison Madueke appears to have been lucky all the time is the fact that she has escaped from being held accountable for the irredeemably poor state of the Shagamu- Ore-Benin road; an ordeal she had to face in her first deployment as Minister.
Fresh in office then, Minister Deziani had defied the heavy down-pour of seasonal rains to visit that road on August 6, 2007. At the end of the visit, the media reported her to have mournfully made the following comments; “I want to apologise to Nigerians for the deplorable state that I found this road. This is inhuman and unacceptable”. She then promised fervently to address the issue headlong.
Her demeanour as reflected on television left no one in doubt that she was genuinely touched. Thereafter, she displayed a robust vision which embraced a comprehensive approach to road maintenance. Under her, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) designed the famous Medium Term Strategy which was to incorporate corrective, preventive, predictive, perfective and adaptive maintenance of federal roads.
In any case, she could not have justifiably adopted a less pragmatic disposition. In the first place, She had studied architecture in England and then at the Howard University in the United States before obtaining a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Cambridge University. She then added to this admirable background, a service at Shell where operatives master decision making and problem solving.
In spite of her however, the Shagamu –Ore- Benin which she promised to fix has remained till date, an express way to agony. It would not be uncharitable to blame Minister Deziani because she was rather naïve for equating government service with that of Shell. She probably did not realise that in a typical Nigerian public service, that a problem is identified does not mean that the appropriate strategy would be employed to address it.
In government service, the solution to every problem is a slogan-the principle of opportunity cost is never considered and nothing is rationalised or prioritised.
The 7-point agenda for example would in other lands refer to 7 specific policy issues. In Nigeria, the agenda was made to accommodate every public issue except the subject of delegation and succession. At the end of the day, considerable energy was dissipated without any tangible result. Adeseye Ogunlewe, former Minister of works revealed this much to the Senate Ad-hoc Committee which was ‘investigating’ works in the transportation sector in 2008.
The former Minister who was dropped at a time when he was doing well explained that an amount which can fix only one road is usually deliberately assigned to several roads. He maintained that N300 million allocated to Shagamu –Benin road in the 2008 budget had “no correlation” with the requirement for fixing the road adding that “spreading small sums to too many roads in a zone will not lead the nation anywhere”.
It can therefore be argued that there is a deliberate policy to keep our roads in a bad state. Two quick deductions can be made from this. The first is that bad roads do not affect the rich policy makers because they can fly. The second is that if our roads are fixed, our ‘private’ airlines may no longer profiteer.
Well, all of these should at this point in time not be the concern of Minister Deziani which is what luck is all about. Of course, as oil Minister; she will not find any road in places like Vienna that may even by accident look like the Shagamu- Benin road. Neither will she see any such thing when she visits Quito, Ecuador in December to attend the 158th Extra-ordinary OPEC Conference. Apologising for what she did not do but only on the basis of vicarious liability will also for now not be her portion.
Those of us whose portion it is to pass through Shagamu to Benin may have to take solace in the saying that “that those who have will continue to have. Those who do not have, the little that they have will be taken from them and given to those who have”. It may be destiny after all.