By Rotimi Fasan
IT is not uncommon for Nigerian politicians to make a norm of the abnormal and by that pretend to be making some profound statement. These politicians who many times cannot think outside the box are too quick to copy habits and ways they know nothing about. I say this in the wake of criticisms that have been levelled against state governors yet to constitute their cabinets by appointing commissioners.
It is on record that many of the newly-elected governors in the various states of the country are yet to appoint commissioners that will help drive the agenda of their governments. This applies mostly to governors spending their first term in office. These governors, it is now being argued, are taking their cue from President Muhammadu Buhari who, three months after his inauguration, is yet to appoint ministers.
There is no reason to believe those who attribute the governors’ behaviour to the example of Buhari are wrong. In the past, the norm was for elected public officials like presidents or governors to set up their cabinets by announcing appointments into the various portfolios within days after inauguration.
The ritual of making new appointments often occupy the time of newly elected executives at both the state and federal levels in the first two weeks after inauguration, and continues with appointments into various boards and other sectors in the following weeks. But Buhari in his own wisdom decided to toe a new line this time around and ever since governors across the country appear to be following in his track.
Whether good or bad, Buhari has told Nigerians why he has spent more than three months without ministers. It does not matter much whether many Nigerians agree with him or not. The important thing now is that he has his own reasons for his action. This is the need, even necessity, his minders say, to make a clean break with the corrupt practices of the past and start on a clean slate wiping off the rot left by the previous administration.
Now the question is, if Buhari has proffered his own reason for his refusal to name ministers months into his administration, what excuse or reason do the state governors who appear to be following his example have for their own action? Are their reasons the same as Buhari has proffered? If yes, the question to further ask them is whether the only approach to take in addressing the matter is by not setting up a cabinet.
While Buhari would appear to know what he wants and the direction in which he is headed, governors who have either refused or failed to appoint commissioners give the impression that they have no vision of their own. At best they betray their lack of preparation for the office into which they have been elected. At worst they are mischief makers who are only looking at the lay of the land before going in whatever direction that would best help in executing their mischievous agenda.
Otherwise, they would have other plans and/or approach to follow in carrying out the mandate given them by those who voted them into office than merely choosing to copy an example they know nothing about. To simply sit back and continue to watch as if waiting for directives from Abuja before going on with their own activities is irresponsible.
That Buhari is the president does not mean his approach to governance is necessarily superior to the approach of state governors who know their way. He may have better experience in governance than most but that is not to say that his way is the only way. Others must fashion their own way to governance and tailor their agenda to the needs of their states as the situation in Abuja is not necessarily the situation in the various states.
Whatever rot or unwholesome practices these governors may find on assumption of office will not necessarily be addressed by their failure to appoint commissioners. Had Buhari decided to appoint his ministers immediately after inauguration, I don’t see governors now pretending to follow his example being brave enough to take the criticisms that would follow their refusal to appoint commissioners. That would have been an uncharted course none of them would have been willing to take.
But now because Buhari has taken a step, suddenly many governors are following it even when the conditions that informed Buhari’s step may not apply to their states. The point might even be argued that these governors are merely looking for excuses to amass power to themselves and operate more or less like sole administrators. Sooner than later, they would have put in place unwholesome measures that would be very difficult to reverse even after commissioners would have been appointed. And in a country where patently foolish behaviour soon define fashion trends that are uncritically adopted for personal and collective conduct, the clearly aberrant would be transformed into a norm.
If Buhari has begun his fourth month in office without ministers, for how long more would the governors wait before appointing commissioners? Or are they executing the same agenda or following the same timeline as the president who has picked a September deadline for the appointment of ministers? Let us remind ourselves that since the offices of the president and governors are structured in the same way, a governor can rely on permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants for the execution of his agenda in the absence of commissioners who are political appointees.
But since that was not the norm, a governor that must take that option must convince the electorate that he knows exactly what he wanted to do and is not being a mere copycat without a sense of direction. Governance is not about making populist gestures and setting ill-conceived fashion trends that won’t stand the test of time.
We are no longer in the military era where soldiers took orders from their commanders and barrack regimen determined the conduct of everyone within the hierarchy. Now, each elected official must render account of their stewardship to their electorate and not a president in Abuja.
Buhari has been careful so far not to interfere in matters not directly under his purview. Even the much criticised appointments that he has made are within his purview. Criticisms have mostly been about the lopsidedness of the appointments. Thus, if the man has limited himself to issues directly connected to his office, if he has chosen to govern in a style unique to him, governors have no business following him like zombies, acting like people uncomfortable in their own minds and skins. They should be men enough to follow where their vision and mission takes them and give up on their uncritical follow-follow ways.