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SGF: who wears the cap?

By Ochereome Nnanna
THE long exclusion of the Igbo people from the core of politics and power in Nigeria is manifesting in many ways. Most members of the Igbo elite do not seem to know their left from their right when critical issues of group interest are at stake.

They have little understanding about the nuances of power play. The problem is even worse at the lower levels, where blind argument garnished in huffing emotionalism often beclouds cold reason and strategic evaluation of unfolding situations.

A very good illustration of this dilemma presented itself when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, decided to zone the post of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, to the South East. I have it on good authority that President Goodluck Jonathan himself made the offer.

It was he that insisted that Senator David Mark should retain his seat as the President of the Senate, not only as a way of rewarding his loyalty but also to balance power in the North between Christians and Moslems. He also offered the seat of Speaker to the South West.

The reason was that since the party had decided to maintain the status quo in most of these zoned seats, the South West might feel marginalised if the post is taken away from them because of the failure of the party in their zone.

Jonathan reserved the SGF for the South East specifically because he wanted to bring the Igbo people closer to the inner recesses of governance at the centre from where they have been excluded since the war ended. Jonathan wants to fulfill his pact with the South East governors to give Igbos positions that will be beneficial to the people. But as soon as this offer was made, some Igbos felt that the President was being ungrateful for the lump votes he received from their electorate. They wanted the position of Speaker, mainly because some federal parliamentarians from the South East who were interested in the post for themselves had mounted an emotional propaganda, especially over the internet.

The Igbo mind on the SGF position was poisoned in 1993 when Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu snidely described the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as “just a Secretary who makes tea for the President and his ministers”. It was not that Ojukwu did not know the importance of that office. He merely sought to belittle it because he was against the candidacy of Chief Moshood Abiola, who had promised to make an Igbo person the SGF.

The truth is that the SGF is the Presidency. He coordinates the Cabinet Office. After the President himself, the SGF is easily the next most powerful executive officer in the land. He handles the tons of government policy that arrive at the presidential desk everyday and is chiefly responsible for their implementation. Seven Permanent Secretaries report to him, and he is involved in taking far-reaching decisions, including in the area of security.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that the North has always appointed one of their own as the SGF any time they produce the President or Head of State. It enables them to be in office, in power and in full governance. My candid reading of the President’s offer of the SGF to the Igbos is that he wants the old East to run the government, just as the North always did, and he wants to work with the Igbo people. He wants to end the culture of excluding them where it matters.

Now, the question is: Who should be appointed SGF from the South East? Let me observe that I do not support President Jonathan’s decision to ask a tribal interest group like Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo to give him names of candidates for the job. Though the position is zoned, we do not want someone who will go there believing his first loyalty is to his ethnic group. The SGF’s first loyalty is to the President and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

We don’t want someone who is a stranger to the system who will need to learn on the job. He might make some avoidable, costly mistakes that could force the President to fire and hire South Easterners as Obasanjo did when the Senate Presidency was zoned to the South East.

Many of the names that Ohanaeze has been bandying about are academics or retired people who left the system long ago or hotheads who might not understand that the deceptively high office requires, first of all, humility and loyalty. Alhaji Yayale Ahmed’s personal carriage in this respect helped him to succeed and survive the Yar’ Adua and Jonathan presidencies.

To me, the man most suited for that position (and who is likely to get it, (anyway) is Chief Ojo Maduekwe. Some might find this unpalatable, but that is neither here nor there.

Maduekwe is called “AGIP” (Any Government In Power) by his detractors. He has been Minister of Transport, National Secretary of the PDP and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the recently concluded transitional politics, he was the Deputy Director of the Jonathan-Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation and the Chairman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council. On Friday, April 8, the President travelled to Ohafia, Ojo’s hometown, to commission the new Army barracks there. He insisted on dining in Ojo Maduekwe’s uncompleted country building before proceeding to Bayelsa State for the first elections. That says something.

Maduekwe is very acceptable within the PDP establishment. He is fiercely loyal to his principal and is always eager to run into the field with his declared agenda.

As Transport Minister, Ojo Maduekwe fought the war on corruption, egged on by President Obasanjo. He is one of the very few occupants of many high offices in the country who has never been accused of corruption or the slightest act of disloyalty. And to cap it all, his home governor, Chief Theodore Orji, one of the closest governors to the President, is fully supportive of his candidacy.

He is likely to get it.

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