I DO not know Bosun Tijani, the new Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, who, along with his colleagues, was sworn in on Monday. But I can see the picture of a young man standing before some dodos and dinosaurs in the National Assembly, who dredged up his past to invalidate his opportunity of being a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They were never moved by the credentials of this young fellow standing before them. Instead they nursed latent outrage that he would aspire to be a Minister under a party and in a nation he had impugned with some kind of misguided social media rant. How dare you!
Yes. Quite a number of people in that hall had a past to hide. Some had lived dubious existence. Some had the misbegotten opportunity to rule their respective states and ended up as final undertakers of those states as they plunged their people into depths of poverty. They loathe criticism with a passion. It is such an unfortunate twist of irony that the Nigerian state has a way of rewarding the crafty and the scoundrels that have brought her to this bedraggled, ignominious impasse; and quite a number of the guys who were frothing in their mouths, bellowing out questions to the nominee, are beneficiaries of a system that reserves the honoured sanctum of the National Assembly for some people with questionable past and claims to inexplicable wealth. For them wealth conquers all; but not the memories of a people sentenced to periods of sustained pain and lack.
There are two victories here. One for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu who picked Tijani because of his knowledge and achievements over a past that the elders of the party would not like, and the other for Tijani himself who apologised, perhaps realising that not doing so may deny him the opportunity to contribute to the reconstruction of this nation that is in desperate need of help. Those in the age of Tijani have reasons to be angry at this nation and the elders who have failed in positions of leadership should be humble enough to admit their roles in the fate that has befallen the nation. I am not making a case for Tijani but I am happy that his case has been sorted and that he has become a Minister of an important ministry that equally needs help at this time. Although, really, the entire nation needs help. Only the people ensconced in the comfort and security of the National Assembly do not know the challenging times facing the country as they joke with grave matters of letting the poor breathe!
Some people are celebrating Tijani whose flash of genius and creativity at Co-Creation Hub, Cc-Hub, brought global attention to Yaba in Lagos State as a tech development epicentre which has equally attracted tech personalities like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, among others. He is doing so much for the youths and with the youths. That may have led to the frustrations expressed by Tijani who had daily contact with young people at the Hub and could share in their bouts of frustrations traceable to elders who refused to affect their world positively. They have lived their own life and are eating up, ignominiously, the portions of their children.
Some say he is globally connected and that the nation needs people like him now. There is no doubt about that except that it will be good to point out that transiting from business to holding a political office won’t provide the attraction of a Yoghurt drink, sweetened or unsweetened. No, this can never be Yoghurt although a Yoghurt drink is very nourishing. The meeting with the senators may only be a precursor to the condition and reception awaiting him in a ministry that is fractured through the middle, actions that will be veiled in niceties and pretenses. The system is used to welcoming top government functionaries, no matter their stance and knowledge, with orchestrated respect and then swallowing them up tantalisingly for total ruination.
But while I will want to sound a note of caution to Tijani, unsolicited, to be very conscious of smiling faces that never tell the truth, apologies to the music group, The Undisputed Truth, there will be the urgent need for him to reunite the ministry where the parastatals were working against each other because of the acrimonious personality of the former minister. There are six agencies in the ministry which include: Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC; National Technology Development Agency, NITDA; Galaxy Backbone; Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NigComSat; Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST; National Identity Management Commission, NIMC; but for very personal reasons perhaps, former Minister, Dr. Isa Pantami, deracinated a unit of the NCC, the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF– see Sections 112 and 114 of the Nigerian Communications Act) from the Commission and made it a parastatal of its own although it still depends on funds from the NCC.
Everything about the former minister was about conquest, about power, about hubris, about self-aggrandisement and a narcissism without limit. The minister was the colossus bestriding the entire ministry with every parastatal and even their chief executives and directors, squirming under him. He had his unholy supporters who edged him on. The Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 is one of the best laws in the country but the former minister stood on the law and on everybody that was supposed to implement the law. The law restricts the minister and his ministry to policy decisions and representation of the nation at international fora (see Section 23, 24, 25 of the Act). Not Pantami. He left his office at the ministry which has been a pantheon of his predecessors and got embedded in the NCC property at Mbora, a district of Abuja. Tijani should reverse this decision.
Such action is something the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, and the Mobile World Congress, the collective of mobile service providers across the world, frown against. He got too close to the regulator and expectedly seized its regulatory functions. He went on employment binge, without even the benefit of job interviews and, within four years, doubled the nominal role of the Commission. He got involved in internal matters of the regulator, including travels, promotions and staff transfers. The regulator was captured nearly irretrievably and the industry suffered in fear. One day I made a call to one of the operators about the decision the minister just took. I could feel the man trembling on the phone swearing that I should take it that this conversation never held. Things were going awry in the industry and the operators, investing billions of Naira, were too afraid to attempt a remonstration because they knew the kind of government Buhari operated for eight years could take any decision without thinking of the consequences on business.
Funds earmarked for some special projects were diverted to other concerns without reasonable results to show for them. The regulator had been boxed into silence and helplessness. It was a classic case of regulatory capture. In the final days of the Buhari administration, the minister created a wrench between the NCC and NITDA as a new bill sponsored by the latter at the National Assembly was designed to swallow up the telecoms regulator with most of its function appropriated. The bill got frustrated but not laid to rest yet.
Being a tech aficionado himself, Tijani will already have the story of the industry beyond my rehash. I will want to suggest that his coming can initiate a fresh start by rebuilding confidence and trust within the ministry and its parastatals. The minster can also call a stakeholders meeting of the industry to reassure them of the safety of their investment through the promotion of a good business environment. The minister will need to put his house in order, I mean the operating environment in order, before inviting his international connections to play a part in the rebuilding and development process. Our prayers are for him to do well.