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The clamour for ‘technocrats’

By Ochereome Nnanna
THE widespread call for the new Federal Cabinet to be peopled mainly by technocrats is a scathing disclaimer of the political class.

In any case, there never was a time that politicians had particularly good reputation anywhere in the world. And at no other time have they been so totally written off in the Nigerian context as the present moment and we perch on the threshold of a new beginning.

The reason for this is simple. It was the politicians, not the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who tainted the last general elections. The leader of this country, President Goodluck Jonathan, and the INEC performed creditably well.

The former gave the electoral body the wherewithal it needed to do its work and refrained from manipulating the process. In fact, the President went out of his way to dissuade his party and supporters from engaging in any act of impunity on his behalf. His “don’t rig for me” and “no politician is worth the blood of any Nigerian” were exhortations from Jonathan that will outlive him, just as “politics without bitterness” has outlived Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim.

INEC carried out its functions to the applause of Nigerians and the whole world, save for a disgruntled section of the political class, which inflamed passions among its supporters to go out and kill, burn and destroy fellow Nigerians after they lost an election they deserved to lose.

It was also the politicians who created the observable drawbacks in the electoral processes, particularly ballot snatching, falsification of results and ballot stuffing. It was politicians that decided to pad the results in favour of certain candidates, even when those candidates would have won without the unholy self-help. They competed with rival political interests and communities to have the highest possible figures in order to be considered ahead of their rivals when political offices and government benefices were to be shared.

It was politicians who barred rival parties from campaigning and also burned brand new poverty alleviation cars and buses in Akwa Ibom. It was politicians who slaughtered their opponents before the polls, and it was the same political class that sent shadowy elements to explode bombs and compromise some elements of the security agencies and the ad-hoc staff to do their bidding.

They “worked hard” (fouled the electoral atmosphere every which way they could in order to “qualify” for appointment into political office). They “invested” much time, financial resources and energy during the elections to get the governor or president elected.

It is these same people and their proxies that regularly get the front billing when new cabinets are constituted. As soon as they settle down, invariably their first impulse is to replenish the source of funding for their nefarious activities and satisfy the wishes of their backers (godfathers). Then, they proceed to fulfill their own personal mission, which encouraged them to seek political office in the first place.

The politician’s first love, therefore, is not service delivery to the people. It is not the welfare of the electorate. He came to office through buccaneering. While in office he will concern himself with pillaging, just like a triumphant pirate.

However, a technocrat is a specialist in his field of discipline. For a person to be renowned as an accomplished technocrat he must have made lasting impact in his area of specialisation. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo brought the likes of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, Malam Nasir El Rufai, Prof Dora Akunyili and others into his government after the 2003 elections, he changed the coloration – and tone – of government.

These people helped him to accomplish the real exploits, especially in the economy associated with his regime. Before then (1999 – 2003) his cabinet was made up of political hands, especially people loyal to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was a consummate politician. Very little could be remembered of the 1999 – 2003 leg of the Obasanjo eight years.

When technocrats assume office, their first natural concern is to leave lasting legacies and to come out of their journey into governance with their reputations intact. Most technocrats have jobs to return to after government.

This is unlike  those who have become “professional” politicians. Many “professional” politicians were once technocrats themselves, but after prolonged exposure to the “easy” money that comes with full time involvement in “politics” their orientation changed. Technocrats are used to the struggle to meet deadline and targets.

They are used to peer reviews and are well exposed to best practices. They are savvy in models of development and can square up to their counterparts in any corner of the world. They are more inclined to transparency and accountability. It was the politicians and those appointed because of their political connections that invariably became subjects of EFCC investigations and prosecution. Technocrats can also walk off the job when they can no longer cope with objectionable antics of their principals or the ruling party. Okonjo-Iweala did.

Nigerians are demanding for technocrats because they see the President not as an offshoot of the old order. They are clutching unto his promises of “transformation” and voted for him on the perceived premise of an unfolding New Nigeria as distinct from the Old Nigeria of the first 50 years of our independence.

Nigerians are tired of failed governance. Except in the case of El Rufai who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for some allegations of abuse of office, Obasanjo’s technocrats were generally above board. It was an experiment that bore fruitful results. That is why Nigerians want Jonathan to take them down that road again.

Jonathan must avoid putting politicians who lost elections in his cabinet. We should not compensate them with federal appointments when their people rejected them at home for their failure.


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