By Tonnie Iredia
Festus Keyamo: In politics and government, there is what is known as the spoils system – a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives a chunk of government jobs to its main supporters, friends, and relations. The purpose is to reward them for their role in ensuring the party’s victory as well as an incentive for future work for the party.
Bearing in mind that the main consideration here is not merit, it cannot be recklessly done, otherwise, an unqualified party faithful may sooner than expected, become a clog in the wheel of public policy implementation thereby retarding both the government in power and the image of the ruling party.
Since 1999 when democracy was restored in Nigeria, there has been an increase in political patronage which has in turn become an obstacle to societal development. On the other hand, not may would dissipate their energies criticizing any political patronage where the beneficiary is seen as capable of undertaking his assignment with a good degree of competence.
During the political campaigns which ended in the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, anyone who followed the activities of Festus Keyamo, a well-known rights activists cannot envy his inclusion in the new cabinet. Apart from his strong outings in the articulation and publicity of the virtues of the President, the track record of Keyamo is that of a brilliant senior lawyer in the polity.
Indeed, while some think he deserves more than a junior minister of Labour, others strongly feel that if the fiery lawyer had been picked to serve in the position of Attorney-General, he would have opened the gates to several positive reforms in the nation’s justice sector.
A few analysts may have had fears over Keyamo’s longevity in service in view of his strong principles – fears which echoed last week when he announced his plans to pragmatically handle the approved policy of employing 774,000 Nigerians under the special public works in our rural areas. Keyamo was talking about acting in the best interest of society
Speaking in Abuja at the inauguration of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the project, the Minister vowed to resign rather than allow the politicisation of the policy adding that it was not another opportunity for political patronage. Keyamo’s desire is for the committee to evolve a platform for picking persons from every local government area irrespective of party, religion and ethnic affiliation that can vigorously engage in drainage, digging and clearance of rural feeder roads and irrigation canals.
The appointees are also expected to deal specifically with the maintenance of the Great Green wall nurseries and orchards. The questions which first occurred to me on reading the story in the media were as follows: Is Festus Keyamo not a member of the ruling party in Nigeria?
Is he unaware of what happens to leaders like him who do not consider it their duty to primarily focus on “carrying along” party members in areas assigned to them? I was left to imagine that Keyamo is probably on his way out hence the question which serves as the title of today’s piece: Can Minister Keyamo last long in office?
In earnest, whereas what the minister wants to do is in order, it seems almost incredible for our politicians to rationalize how a minister can employ people in each local government area in Nigeria without politicizing it. What most Nigerians outside Lagos state learnt from the tenure of former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was that his alleged failure to carry party members along in his administration was all that cost him a second tenure to govern his state.
How I wish someone had bothered to educate us on how he failed to execute development projects. The performance of the current governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu especially his proactive management of COVID 19 has no doubt been quite good.
But some silently believe that carrying party members along pays more. In other words, it is not enough for a governor to be an agent of development, he has to materially carry along party leaders in his state if he wants to have a second term.
In Edo State, the major problem of Governor Godwin Obaseki is premised on what is clearly seen as his preference for development over the old scheme of sharing money to party leaders. To them, Obaseki is a political neophyte who does not fully comprehend the efficacy of political patronage – a trait of political naivety that seems to explain the distractions he has gotten from those who claim they made him governor.
When this is added to the Ambode example, it becomes hard to see why Minister Keyamo wants to thread the same path of doing the right thing. If his point is that hiding under the umbrella of political patronage is applicable to only elective positions, then he probably has not followed the activities of Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management.
While we agree that the distribution of palliatives under her had some defects, we also know that perhaps not much noise would have been made if she had asked politicians particularly legislators to nominate beneficiaries to be included in the distribution list. She certainly would have been commended if she had adopted that approach.
The average politician strongly believes in the patronage system. Consequently, whether expressly said or not, each party organ at every level strives to firmly consolidate political patronage. As this column observed two weeks ago, those who were mandated to share COVID 19 palliatives in their states developed their own data that diverted the items to only members of the ruling party in each state.
In a number of places, the compilation of the list of beneficiaries was the responsibility of leaders of the ruling party in all wards across a state. Such leaders allegedly did not only discriminate against opposition politicians, but they also restricted beneficiaries to those who belong to factional vanguards loyal to a governor. These accusations against the All Progressives Congress APC at the federal level and in some states are not different from what leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP are said to be doing in the states where they are in power.
Considering that our nation cannot be made up of only politicians, it is necessary for well-meaning citizens to publicly condemn the unreasonable spoils system in our country today. It is not only politicians who pay taxes and rates, why would they always want to be sole beneficiaries of government patronage?
We, therefore, urge Minister Keyamo to not relent in his stand of giving all citizens equal employment opportunities. There is so much to gain in the approach. First, when the right persons are picked, the likelihood is that a good job would be done.
Second, apart from the fact that it entrenches equity in the society it clearly reminds everyone that we are citizens of one country which can strengthen the obviously below average spirit of patriotism in our country. Third, it can help to draw a veritable line between electioneering and governance thereby guaranteeing societal growth.