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SELECTING MR. PRESIDENT’S TEAM .. A PERSPECTIVE by: Prof. Tunde Adeniran

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‘As Lee Kuan Yew put it in his famous book, From Third Word to First: ‘’Choosing people into the cabinet is a very serious business. Writing about his experience in Singapore, Yew stated: “I systematically scanned the top echelons of all sector in Singapore – the Professions, commerce, manufacturing, and trade unions … “l Not only that; Yew also got the services of a globally renowned psychologist to help him with psychological tests “designed to define their (Ministers) character profile, intelligence, personal background, and values’’

PREAMBLE: In his Preface to my publication titled: ‘GOVERNANCE AN INSIDER’S REFLECTIONS, eminent political scientist, Prof. Tunde Adeniran asserted that: ‘’Participant-observers are among the most challenged of researchers, social analysts and commentators. ‘’They readily stand the risk of having their heads in the clouds, becoming servants of power chroniclers or even victims of cognitive dissonance. ‘’They could also turn out to be conscientious commentators, creative counsellors and intellectual advocates of change.’’ Prof. Adeniran has also at some point a participant observer, having occupied coveted positions of Federal Minister of Education of the Federal Republic; and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. In this two part serial, Prof. Adeniran takes a look at some fundamental issues in the governance of Nigeria from the perspective of an insider.

THE PRESIDENCY: The Presidency, especially in Federal systems, holds peculiar and haunting fascination for scholars in their attempts to diagnose the workings of modern governments. The increasing powers of the Presidency, the recurrent debates over their use or abuse end the continuous interrogation of the extent of the legitimate use of such powers, invariably compel attention to the study of the Presidency.  The areas requiring investigation include (i) the role of the President as crisis manager when a nation faces serious internal security challenges: (ii) the President’ 5 role as manager of the economy – especially when fiscal and monetary policies are set: in the context of double – digit inflation and severe economic dislocations; and (iii) the interactions between the President, the Ministries. Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the National Assembly. In Nigeria, a critical inquiry that goes beyond the surface seems to be long overdue and an appraisal of the making of a Presidential cabinet appears a vital put of the advancement of knowledge in this regard   That is what we intend to do in this chapter.

Without delving much into some psycho – historical perspective, it would help to understand some characteristics of President Jonathan so as to appreciate the making of his cabinet. How does his personality fit into Nigeria’s Political arena and his conception of his role as President? What is his own image of self and his conception of his role as President?  How well does he believe in himself with regard to acting on principles, ensuring fairness, etc in the competitive pressures coming from the political class with large egos? And, more importantly to what extent has his cabinet appointments fulfilled the expectations of the people to whom, as usual with politicians, he quite eagerly  and tendentiously  made specific  promises while appealing  for votes? Moreover, has he, like some of his predecessors, been subjected to subconscious forces beyond his power to control? And to what extent has his image as a flexible and accommodating President preoccupied with mediating conflicts to preserve the equilibrium of the system affected the making of his cabinet and vice versa?

The increasing challenges being faced by the Jonathan administration and the level appropriate response, periodically assessed as performance and/or non- performance of the Ministers in the President’s cabinet have, of course, further fuelled more interests in the way and manner the Ministers were selected. Could the method of the constitution of the federal cabinet impact directly on the performance or non-performance of the Ministers? Has the President adopted a performance-driven election method or has the constitution restricted his options? Has partisanship swallowed up objectivity in the selection process? Has ender equity been the overriding principle rather than competency? What is the ratio of technocrats to politicians in the cabinet? Finally, what effect has the selection process of relying on nomination by various interest groups, including the  President’s adversaries, had on effectiveness?

 SELECTION METHODS: In more advanced democracies like the United States, the selection of cabinet Ministers may take the form of Search Committees, Screening Committees or an individual loyal to the President who clears recommended names. In the regime of George W. Bush, for instance, Dick Cheney his Vice President, served as the clearing house. Of course, it is not difficult to understand why Cheney was saddled with such a huge assignment: he was Secretary of Defence to the senior Bush and, as such, a trusted any of the Bush family. He was also a very experienced politician and technocrat. He was Halliburton’s top executive for many years!

Whereas the selection process in the United States looks more or less like a straightforward business, it is not so in Nigeria. Here, it takes the form of intense politics, lobbying, blackmail, nepotism and partisanship. The Constitution recognizes the high-stake nature of the issue by stating that at least one Minister must be appointed from each state of the federation. According to Section 147(3) ” … ”Provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State”. This provision is in line with Section 14(3) of the Constitution which seeks to reflect the federal character in the appointment to public offices in order to eliminate domination by one group. The federal character principle on its own seeks to take into account the plural nature of the Nigerian society, and the variegated interests in terms of ethnicity, class, region, religion, linguistic and other particularistic interests.”

Yet it is important to understand that the United States is not a homogenous society. In other words, like Nigeria, the US is a heterogeneous society with many sub-cultures and diverse groups. There are Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities including women. Divided as she is, scholars rather refer to the US as pluralistic rather than plural. The difference between a plural society like Nigeria and its pluralistic US counterpart is that in the former, cleavages or divisions are of more fundamental character. For example, in the US, the position one takes on a number of political and economic issues does not necessarily depend on whether he or she is White, Black or Hispanic; whereas in Nigeria, for instance, most people take positions on some basic issues, including ethnic or religious affiliations. Take the simple cases of Amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents, state creation, or zoning of the presidency, most Nigerians take their positions as the issues concern their ethnic or religious groupings.

The consequence of this for political decision making is that it’s easier to reach some minimum national consensus on certain issues in the United States than in Nigeria. This was what President Barack Obama meant in his acceptance speech on his re-election when he declared that Americans are not as divided as their votes suggest. That being the case, it is safer to assume that it is less problematic to put together a Presidential cabinet in the United States than in Nigeria. Whereas in the United States, the overriding criteria that would recommend a person for Ministerial position are academic or professional qualification, loyalty and commitment to the President’s programs and competence, in Nigeria, factors like ethnicity, religion and gender are still too important. That notwithstanding, a non-rigorous process of recruitment continues to have implications for performance.

THE OBASANJO ERA (1999-2007): As a prelude to an analytical peep into the Cabinet of President Jonathan, a look into what happened before him would be beneficial.  In 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo was elected President, he went about rather meticulously in assembling his cabinet team well ahead of his inauguration on May 29. Obasanjo combined a number of methods in choosing his Ministers at that period. Apart from some key politicians whom he appointed on the basis of party loyalty and investment, he relied on the objective commendations of his trusted and long-time friends and associates who are well versed in statecraft as his search team. For instance, it is understood that Professors Eyitayo Lambe and Fabian Osuji were recommended by Professor Emma Edozien. Osuji was even living in faraway United States at the time of his nomination. He also benefited from his on wealth of experience as a former military head of state and a widely travelled person who understands every contour of Nigerian geography. There were also nominations from the leaders of his political party and other interests. President Obasanjo did not, however, decide fully on the recommendations.

He also objectively assessed the names recommended to him by direct observation and other informal processes. Many of those who ended up as Ministers in Obasanjo’s first term were members of the Transition Committees, which he set up and some of them were part of his entourage in the many trips he made before his inauguration which afforded him the opportunity to assess their competency levels and ability. The nominations of Ministers during his second term (2003-2007) came largely from his Search Committee composed of accomplished professionals and administrators. Whether the Ministers under Obasanjo were successful or not is another matter entirely. But it remains undeniable that the former president exercised absolute control over the process that produced his Ministers. In short, Obasanjo appointed his Ministers who were generally loyal to him or under his direct or indirect control. There was a report that Obasanjo made the Ministers sign their resignation letters before they even took their oath of office!

PRESIDENT JONATHAN’S CABINET: As Acting President after the death of President Umar Musa Yar’ Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan inherited a cabinet which he reshuffled thereafter. After his inauguration on May 29, 2011, as President, he announced a cabinet of 37 Ministers whose names were forwarded to the Senate for screening and clearance. Some of them were among those inherited from his former boss, the late President Umar Musa Yar’ Adua. This is significant against Jonathan’s assumption of office a President at the demise of the former President, amidst a bitter and intriguing politics around his ascension to power which marked some of the Ministers out as his opponents and some as friends. It was not surprising that some of the antagonistic Ministers like Abba Ruma were dropped before the 2011 Presidential election while people like Emeka Wogu, Deziani Alison Madueke and Godsday Orubebe who were appointed by Yar’ Adua remained in the cabinet.

When President Jonathan announced the list of his cabinet Ministers, some analysts and the media quickly termed it a “cabinet of many colours”. It was indeed cabinet of different colourations based on the backgrounds of those on the list, whether one considers their education, their states of origin, their professional experience, gender and, more importantly, their political source. They could be classified variously but the three categories which broadly sum them up are: Seasoned or professional politicians, relatively new entrants into politics from diverse backgrounds and the technocrats brought in on the basis of their demonstrated or assumed competences. The most striking feature of the cabinet is that, quite unlike the Obasanjo cabinet and based on the accommodating and liberal disposition of Jonathan, his cabinet appears largely to be donated by the Governors and a few friends of the President, godfathers and, of course, his rival stakeholders like the Senate President.

Some examples will suffice: Comrade Abba Moro, the Minister of Interior was a nominee of Senate President David Mark while Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, the Minister of Youth Development, was the candidate of Governor Aliyu M. Wamakko of Sokoto State.  Viola Onwuliri, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, a professor of biochemistry, was indeed the running mate to Ikedi Ohakim, the former Governor of Imo State who was defeated by the incumbent, Rochas Okorocha. The Minister of Education, Ruqayyatu Alka, a professor of Islamic studies, was reported to have been donated by Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State. Ms. Ama People, a grossly a political former Head or Service of the Federation and Nyesom Wike, the Minister of State for Education, were donated by Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State Wike was the Chief-of-Staff to Governor Amaechi and perhaps one of his closest aides on the basis of which the Governor was reported to have done everything possible to block the reappointment of an accomplished and widely respected and favoured Odion Ajumogobia into the Jonathan cabinet.

Mike Onolememen, the Minister of works is a nominee of Chief Tony Anenih, the chairman of the ruling party’s Board of Trustees. A former Minister of Works himself in the Obasanjo presidency, Chief Anenih is a highly influential party chieftain whose recognition as a key player and a redoubtable godfather has earned him the epithet of “Leader”. A key party functionary marked after the constitution of the cabinet in 2011 that the Esan Chief had seized the Works portfolio since he left the Ministry by ensuring that subsequent Ministers of Works are his own nominees. Olajurnoke Akinjide, the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was, of course, elevated from the position of being an aide in the Presidency to being a Minister of the Federal Republic! It may be safely assumed that she was either nominated by her father, Chief Richard Akinjide, an influential First Republic Minister and a PDP Board of Trustees member, or the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who also donated Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Natural resources

Erelu Olusola Obada was former Deputy Governor of Osun State, under Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. Erelu Obada, a lawyer, is close to Olusegun Obasanjo and some other godfathers. Another donated Minister is Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, Minister of Water Resources who was born in Plateau State and a very close associate of her fellow Birom–Jonah Jang the Governor of the State who nominated her as an indigene. She is also married to someone from the Senatorial District of the Senate President David mark in Benue State. Of all the Ministers, among those that can be identified to be really Jonathan’s people include, Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Deziani Allison Madueke, the Petroleum Minister, Caleb Olubolade, the Police Affairs Minister who was Jonathan’s Military Administrator in Bayelsa State; and Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation.

THE PROBLEM OF DONATED MINISTERS: The consequences of allowing any cabinet to be dominated by other politicians could be grave for any President. First, it goes contrary to the principles and practice of Presidential democracy. In Presidentialism, the President is the only elected individual with a nationwide mandate. In the case of Nigeria, this mandate empowers him to take decisions on behalf of every Nigerian with regards to governance. This literally means that all the bucks stop at the President’s table. He must be ready to take the credit for good performance and the flaks for anything untoward. To be effective, the President needs a cabinet that fully understands what he wants to achieve, the way he wants to go about it and the time he wants to achieve it. In short, the President needs a cabinet that shares in his vision of development for the country. And he cannot get this cabinet if he allows other people to choose most of his Ministers and cabinet aides for him.

As Lee Kuan Yew put it in his famous book, From Third Word to First, choosing people into the cabinet is a very serious business. Writing about his experience in Singapore, Yew stated: “I systematically scanned the top echelons of all sector in Singapore – the Professions, commerce, manufacturing, and trade unions … “l Not only that; Yew also got the services of a globally renowned psychologist to help him with psychological tests “designed to define their (Ministers) character profile, intelligence, personal background, and values”. Yew noted further: I also checked with corporate leaders of MNCs how they recruited and promoted their senior people, and decided one of the best systems was that developed by Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company. They concentrated on what they termed a person’s “currently estimated potential”. This was determined by three qualities – a person’s power of analysis, imagination, and sense of reality. Together they made up an overarching attribute Shell called “helicopter quality”, the ability to see facts or problems in a larger context and to identify and zoom in on critical details.’

Beyond these techniques and factors, the Singaporean leader also used the services of a panel of assessors, “at least two of whom must know the person being assessed”. Although Yew’s methods may have become a little obsolete today with the development of modern recruitment and assessment methods, there is no denying the fact that recruitment into a government cabinet needs to adopt a more rigorous process. The putting together of Jonathan’s cabinet obviously did not benefit from this kind of stringent process we are describing here. That perhaps explains why it is obvious that many of the Ministers do not understand the dimensions of his vision or appreciate the degree of passion and commitment required. Some do not ever understand the meaning and depth of the President’s “transformation agenda” beyond mere echoing and re-echoing it in their speeches and public statements so much so that the Agenda has been elevated to the level of a mantra meant for looking good in the eyes of the President.

Apart from the lack of deep understanding of the President’s visions, the way and manner the President’s cabinet was assembled do not give adequate hope of superior performance from the Ministers. In fact, much of the criticisms that the President is facing come from the perceived non-performance of some Ministers, which has led to incessant calling for a cabinet reshuffling. The truth is that many of the Ministers were nominated or donated as it were by their, principals, not because they are competent as to add adequate value to the tasks before the President, but for their own selfish reasons. These include the cornering of contracts and other perks of office as well as positioning for higher elective offices. By mid – 2013, many of the Ministers are distracted from their jobs as Ministers as they plot for elective offices despite the warning of a rather worried President. He is very concerned about their level of performance due to distraction.

To be continued: 

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