May 20, 2022

Dangers of partisan politics in government service

By Tonnie Iredia

Africa doesn’t need strong men; it needs strong institutions.’ This quote is as apt today as it was in 2009, when former American President, Barrack Obama stated it in his address to the Ghanaian parliament during a visit to that country.

If there is doubt that Ghana listened to him, it is certain that Nigeria did not hear him because it has remained difficult to point to any strong institution, with the same ease with which the many strong leaders of the country are identified.

The main reason for this development is that the practice of politicising public policy has increased exponentially. One obvious example is the awesome power of our legislators, not only in their official area of law making but in their proclivity to control every subject.

The other day, President Buhari himself wondered why federal legislators would insert into the federal budget, items that are supposed to be handled at state and local government levels.

In truth, a typical federal legislator in Nigeria can summarily arrive at the need to increase some public bodies and without relating with the societal institutions set up to manage the relevant area, determine the number of new branches of the entity to be established as well as the villages where they are to be located.

The action would then be passed by the legislature at a time when the nation is piling a heap of excruciating loans that cannot even meet the compelling needs of existing institutions which they are seeking to increase.

While the media is busy beaming LIVE coverage of the legislative sessions to Nigerians, a few citizens are left to recall that the pertinent societal regulatory body had earlier cried itself hoarse that there are too many infrastructural deficiencies in the existing bodies. How can the said public bodies and the new ones the lawmakers have added through the instrumentality of legislation become strong societal institutions?

The executive arm of government on its part appoints people into public bodies without reference to the enabling laws establishing such bodies.  Accordingly, for institutions that are expected to be non-partisan, Chief Executives are sourced from the campaign office of the ruling party.

Although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was also guilty of the practice during its tenure, the present administration has widened the breach by going beyond the Chief Executive positions to appointing partisan politicians into management cadres for which they lack cognate experience.

Special Assistants to Ministers who are visibly green horns in some sectors are allegedly empowered to supervise heads of agencies in such areas ostensibly on behalf of their Ministers. One implication of this is poor productivity on account of the low morale which the practice creates for the permanent workforce thereby making the quest for strong institutions to be a charade.

The problem extends beyond low productivity to lethargy and inefficiency. Without doubt, Nigeria cannot grow if in this age of technology, a typical national agency cannot properly articulate and conclude the standard policy of national identification.

For almost two years now, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has subjected Nigerians to an ordeal of extended nation-wide registrations. Last week’s verdict on the assignment by Senator Shehu Sani was that “Kidnappers call the family of their victims and tell them to bring money, using Nigeria SIM cards and nobody is traced or arrested.”

Sani and indeed any critic is justified in describing the policy of linking SIM to National Identity Number (NIN) as bogus. In another clime, the agency would have since altered the level of insecurity by using its platform to position our security agencies for excellent performance. NIMC is not alone and it would of course be boring to enumerate other societal institutions that are not meeting the purpose for which they were set up.

It is not irrational to assume that such institutions are labouring under the influence of partisanship within government services. However, those favoured in such disposition which essentially accounts for the nation’s stunted growth would be fast at saying there is nothing wrong with the spoils or patronage system whose origin is attributed to the United States.

Unfortunately, no one has bothered to check to realize that the system which had no constitutional backing, ended in that country some 200 years ago. Another thing many people gloss over is that a victorious political party at an election is not the same as the government it forms.

While the former is made up of only its card-carrying members, government is for the entire population. Whereas the goal of the former is to be in power and to attract favours for its members, that of the latter is to develop society as a whole.

Bearing in mind that government is for all and is led by statesmen, it is not entirely wrong to patronize some politicians, provided such patronage is not restricted to members of only one party, more so, as the oath of office of a governor or president has no partisan coloration.

In Nigeria, some of the acclaimed statesmen continue to function as party stalwarts relying largely on a contraption designed in 1999 which made them to be described as leaders of their parties.

This has adversely affected the effective running of our political parties as evidenced by the recent emergency arrangements for party conventions of the leading parties. If Nigerians never saw the tenure of President Shehu Shagari during the second republic and how his relationship with his party chairman Chief Adisa Akinloye was managed, today’s politicians would have eloquently branded the new arrangement as an integral part of the presidential system of government.

In any case, there is no how a party chairman can take precedence in party matters when he was ‘elected’ chairman only as the preferred candidate of the governor or president. The negative implication here is not only that the party chairman is unable to exercise the required capacity and discretion for effective party management, the executive is distracted from public policy implementation to routine partisan matters.

As general elections get closer, party officials and political aspirants are making copious arrangements for party primaries which many believe they are not likely to adhere to because they have to first identify the preferred choice of the national or state leader as the case may be, before strategizing to work to the answer.

Such an approach is antidemocratic and retrogressive. It does not give room to the emergence of the best candidates that can use their visionary dexterity to facilitate societal development. Rather, it throws up many who are unfit to take the driver’s seat in project implementation but who are only in government for personal gains.

To make up for their deficiencies, such office-holders spend all their time assisting their parties and members. Consequently, a typical public-spirited office holder who is passionate about his job can hardly last long in office as he would be condemned for not being ‘a good party man’ and would most likely lose the opportunity for reelection.

Under the circumstance, divided loyalty is in abeyance while everybody in government including civil servants are playing politics even if it is for the purpose of getting an otherwise deserved promotion.

Now that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha has sent a circular to all Ministers, Heads of Agencies, Ambassadors and other Appointees nursing political ambitions to resign, perhaps some quiet will return to the nation’s bureaucracy for a while and those sleeping would strive to adjust.

The decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party for suspected money laundering through their accounts in two banks in Abuja is in order; but before that, there is need for the tax agencies to quickly invite all those who raised the huge funds for nomination forms to present their tax returns. It might yield some revenue for a few development projects and hopefully teach some lessons.