By Donu Kogbara
RECENTLY, I accused President Muhammadu Buhari of not being the kind of strict disciplinarian who can cure Nigeria of multiple ills.
Some Vanguard readers contacted me to say that they disagreed with me because Buhari’s administration has been extremely strict in its dealings with VIPs it regards as miscreants – for example, Sambo Dasuki, ex-President Jonathan’s National Security Advisor, and Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of Nigerian Shiite Muslims.
My response to those who confronted me with this observation is that when I say “strict”, I mean “constructively strict” and “strict but fair”, not “unnecessarily harsh” and “chillingly subjective”!!!…
…Which is how I will continue to view Buhari’s treatment of Zakzaky and Dasuki, unless I’m provided with solid evidence that the latter behaved more unethically than other onetime National Security Advisors who are not in jail and that the former and his followers are intrinsically more dangerous than their Sunni co-religionists.
OK, so I believe that Buhari is, as a general rule, not strict in a positive way. But an exception to the rule has just been drawn to my attention! And I need to give credit where credit is due.
Mr President has – for a change and much to my surprise! – recently displayed some WORTHWHILE strictness and seriously tightened up travel regulations for senior government officials.
I applaud this move, which was announced a few days ago in a statement signed by Willie Bassey, Director of information to Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF.
According to Bassey, Ministers et al will have to submit yearly travel plans for clearance; and when a Minister is head of a delegation, the size of his delegation should not exceed four persons.
The statement also says that “…all foreign travels must be for highly essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country. Except with the express approval of Mr. President, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Chief Executive Officers and Directors are restricted to not more than two foreign travels in a quarter.”
Furthermore, “…travel days will no longer attract payment of estacode allowances as duration of official trips shall be limited to only the number of days of the event as contained in the supporting documents to qualify for public funding.”
I am very pleased about this attempt to inject sanity into this area of government expenditure. When I worked in government, officials were always gallivanting around the globe on jamborees that didn’t add any value to the nation they were supposed to be serving or the projects they were supposed to be focussing on.
Once, some Ministry colleagues and I were invited to an important workshop by the World Bank; and hardly anyone wanted to go because the World Bank’s modest daily allowance was a fraction of the generous Naija estacode to which we were accustomed.
In other words, eyes were fixed on the money that could be made, rather than on the valuable learning experience we could embrace.
In the end, we sniffily rejected the World Bank “pittance” and successfully applied for estacode and went anyway.
Considering how poor most Nigerians are and how underdeveloped our country is, it is outrageous for Nigerian officials to arrogantly refuse to accept the same stipends as employees of the almighty and genuinely affluent Washington-based World Bank.
It’s like running before you can walk and drinking champagne when you should be drinking Zobo!
Let’s hope that Mr President achieves his aim of cost-saving and instilling financial discipline and prudence. But it has to be said, by the way, he is STILL not being strict enough!
He has approved for ministers, permanent secretaries, special advisers, senior special assistants to the president, chairmen of extra-ministerial departments and chief executive officers of parastatals to continue to fly business class.
I know ambassadors from wealthy Western nations that aren’t drowning in corruption and chaos who are compelled to fly Economy.
Given how hard things are in Nigeria at the moment, President Buhari should downgrade every official traveller to Economy!
A reader responds
I recently wrote about how I prevented my son from accepting an acting job he was offered in London when he was a child because I wanted him to have a normal childhood and conventional education before he started work.
A reader called BENJAMIN EDOSOMWAN strongly disapproved of my decision as follows:
“Mrs Kogbara I have to say that you did your son a great disservice by depriving him of that rare opportunity. talented people do not necessarily display their gifts AFTER they grow up or complete their education. Education is good, but it does not really make a man rather it gives us the knowledge of how the world works especially in our chosen fields. As for trying to help him grow normally, how many kids has normal childhood made stars? Common sense dictates that even if a child is wonderfully gifted, he/she should not be stopped from mingling with his mates however briefly.
Mr Benjamin also disagreed with my claim that the chief of army staff was being ridiculous when he said that spiritual tools need to be deployed against Boko Haram.
“The Chief of Army staff is not wrong by calling on the religious authorities to join him in waging war against Boko Haram. That statement clearly shows that he acknowledges that he can do his best as a man but only GOD can grant them victory against the wicked spiritual forces energizing the terrorists to shed innocent blood indiscriminately. You think all this terrorists’ madness is ordinary? Man proposes but God disposes. Even doctors say they care but God heals. The more we begin to acknowledge God in matters that are beyond our capacity,the better it will be for us in Nigeria.”
I recently complained about Greta Turnberg, the fiery teenage environmental activist who addressed the United Nations General Assembly last month.
I acknowledged the validity of her concerns about climate change but felt she should do more school work and less lecturing of adults. At last Mr Benjamin agreed with me, to some extent at least!
“As for allowing child activists to speak in the U.N.,we the adults should know that certain stages in this life are to be occupied by MATURE MINDS AND BODIES ONLY. Intelligent children may have good ideas on various issues and even be splendid public speakers but that is not enough qualification to speak in an august body like the U.N. This is akin to allowing a teenager be the officiating minister in a wedding ceremony just because he is called by God.”