By Tonnie Iredia
These days, whenever, a Nigerian citizen is appointed into a public office, the first reaction is usually not about the proven competence of the appointee for the job, rather it is an immediate call for the reversal of the appointment on grounds of the political affiliation of the appointee. This is a very disturbing trend which if not quickly addressed may postpone the rapid development which our nation eagerly desires. The trend happens across the nation, but it is understandably more noticed at the federal level because everyone has an interest in the big level government at the centre. It is important to admonish our politicians and indeed, their youths to desist from the mundane inclination. All over the world, the fine difference between party and government is clear. Before an election, a candidate may be heard talking about his party; but as soon as he wins the election, he is obliged to see the bigger picture of the task ahead which is societal development. He is not expected to continue to wear the toga of a party; instead be becomes the President of the people.
The implication of this is that as a statesman, he works for the people by bringing together a team of capable citizens who may or may not belong to his party to help him develop the country. It is only persons who are neutral about the verdict of history, that can afford to politicize the golden opportunity of a diligent public service. Yet, political jobbers and chorus singers of political parties in Nigeria are fast becoming stumbling blocks in the appointment of tested hands into government. This column in the past drew attention to a few of such examples-a trend, which painfully is not abating. There was the case of a citizen nominated by governor el rufai of Kaduna state to serve as commissioner who was rejected by the state house of assembly for allegedly having criticised the governor in the past. This was hard to understand as it was done to a governor known for many years for his critical but principled stand on issues. When el rufai was nominated as a minister during the Obasanjo administration, he did not only remain critical; he had even told the nation the damning story of a group of senators who demanded bribe from him to ease his clearance as minister. Many who have remained admirers of the man on account of this till today wonder from where he got a timid legislature
We also had the case of one Festus Adedayo whose appointment as special adviser on media and publicity to Senate President Ahmad Lawan was withdrawn because some party supporters did not see him as part of them. Interestingly, when the appointment was announced, Betty Okoroh, special adviser to the senate president on administration, said the appointment was “based on merit, experience, track record and competency needed by the Senate President in executing his planned legislative agenda.” Big pity, such a well-thought-out choice had to be shelved to placate party demagogues who think the only aim of government is patronage for stalwarts. So, it didn’t matter that Adedayo, had a PhD in political communication or that he had been an outstanding member of the editorial board of Tribune newspapers and a regular columnist for The Cable. His quantum of experience as a media adviser to former governors Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state and Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu state were all swept aside. Based on the charged atmosphere of political intolerance, another seasoned technocrat, Olu Onemola had to also step down from his position as special assistant to the Senate president on new media.
Only the week before, the Founder of BudgIT, Seun Onigbinde bowed to wild outrage and resigned his appointment as Technical Adviser to the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning. The resignation came against the backdrop of criticism by supporters of the All progressive Congress (APC) that he had no moral justification to serve in a government he had persistently criticised over the past four years. Before his appointment Onigbinde had served as the Director of BudgIT, a critical fiscal transparency group that consistently built civic awareness on the right of every Nigerian to know how public resources are managed. Who could best serve as a Technical expert on budget than a Nigerian who had developed skills in ensuring government’s financial transparency? Should such a job be left in the hands of political campaigners? When will our political parties enlighten their followers on the difference between chanting slogans at rallies and executing public policies? Of course, we are not suggesting that party supporters are all illiterates or simply political jobbers, instead, we are telling stalwarts that the goal of government is not just to ensure satisfaction of partisan supporters. Rather, government belongs to us all and its resources come from all taxpayers who are also entitled to be part of government without necessarily belonging to a particular party
Luckily, President Muhammadu appeared to have heard our earlier counsel on this subject when he decided last week to constitute a new economic advisory council under the able leadership of Professor Doyin Salami as chairman. Many Nigerians are delighted that the committee members include Chukwuma Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and also Bismarck Rewane; a house-hold name in Nigeria known for his professional views on the appropriate direction of the nation’s economy. A few hours after the announcement of the team, Muhammadu Sanusi II, Emir of Kano, himself, a former CBN governor congratulated the President for constituting a council made up of what he described as “first rate professionals and academics” to renergise the management of the economy. According to the Emir, “the beauty of the team apart from the pedigree of its members is their private sector experience and their independence.” Like the Emir, we are all pleased that the rationale for the composition of the team is not politics but competence.
History tells us that each time our nation made progress; she was left in the hands of strong professionals. It is no doubt hard to forget the benefits of an Okonjo Iweala, coming in from the World Bank to galvanize government efforts not only to put the nation’s finances in a better shape but starting well by getting heavy debts off our necks. But then, there is nothing wrong with political groups looking forward to appointments. Indeed, APC youths have reportedly positioned themselves to head federal parastatals and agencies having lost out in ministerial appointments. According to the National Youth Leader of the party Sadiq Abubakar, APC youths have already petitioned the party and the presidency on the subject. Our strong caution is that nothing must be done to allow unqualified persons to supersede other Nigerians who have garnered years of experience in an organization. If that is done, such organizations would naturally decline with grave adverse consequences.