By next month, November 2016, it will be exactly one year since President Buhari swore in his first cabinet. Now is a most auspicious time to take stock, identify weaknesses and lapses, and then offer advice accordingly.
Going by Buhari’s antecedents, it is not surprising that his chief of staff (COS), Mallam Abba Kyari, has turned out so powerful in the current dispensation. Buhari likes to delegate responsibility so much that one might think he even abdicates responsibility. So any aide of Buhari, going by his public service career, is bound to be powerful. But the difference between the past and now is that those subordinates he had before were very competent while those he has now need our prayers.
By protocol, the chief of staff or even the secretary to the government (SGF) of the federation is below the ministers. In fact, they are supposed to be in attendance only at the Federal Executive Council. Conventionally, the SGF is secretary to the cabinet through whom ministers pass memos for consideration by the Council while the COS is in charge of presidential aides. So, it’s very strange for President Buhari to have directed that ministers couldn’t see him directly but go through the COS, thus giving so much power to that office than ever before.
That has left the ministers at the mercy of Mallam Kyari, the COS who has so far had shouting matches with some of the ministers. Nobody would see anything wrong with delegating powers to a COS if he was able and competent. For instance, if the late Salihijo Ahmed of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, fame were alive and had been appointed Buhari’s COS, the President would have been a star. But, as it is now, Buhari has given so much power to a COS who is increasingly seen as incompetent and incapable of running that office. Consequently, the verdict out there is that Buhari has grip but no control of his government.
Otherwise, how can one explain that, almost two years since coming to power, over 70 per cent of federal government appointments has not been made? Or how does one explain the ridiculous re-appointment of the chairman of the Revenue Mobilization Commission, a card-carrying member of the PDP who campaigned against the President’s party in the 2015 elections? Or is this a proof of the allegation that those in charge are collecting money for appointments? It is so ridiculous, and, as far as appointments are concerned, it appears as if this is a continuation of the Jonathan administration. It is even worse, since the government appears not to be implementing any clear party manifesto.
The picture that emerges currently in the informed public is that there is an unelected shadow government at the heart of the popularly elected government of Buhari, which is the unseen and seen hand running the show. Buhari is left floating and at the mercy of that shadow government. Consequently, the President has been cut off from his mass political base at the grassroots level. He has not created any economic or political constituency at the top as well, so he is living in a vacuum.
If one may ask: who are Buhari’s friends in the banking sector? oil sector? telecoms sector? or manufacturing/commercial sector? Can anyone answer that correctly? How can one effectively run a democratic regime with no political base and an economic constituency to service it? No one can separate politics from economics after all.
Government is not a moral enterprise. The primary responsibility of any government is, next to protection of life and property, the provision and sustenance of the welfare and wellbeing of the people within its jurisdiction. So far, there is no decisiveness to address the economic challenges of the country as over 100 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. There is no coherent, clear policy, focus or direction in this regard.
Thus, as the President approaches his mid-term, he has to rejig and order a thorough review of the government he is heading, to refocus and reinvigorate it before it is too late. He has to appoint a competent political adviser immediately. He has to appoint a competent principal secretary in the presidency, too, so that power gets diffused around him. He has to take command of the political and economic direction of his government. He has to do away with some deadwood in his cabinet. Appointments have to be given to those who are not only competent but can also add value politically. Over 80 per cent of those around him now cannot deliver one ward to him electorally. They are therefore a liability to him and to the nation.
By appointing more competent people, President Buhari would be saved the embarrassment of appointing a permanent secretary posted to the Federal Ministry of Finance, who has never been a civil servant but only fortunate to be director in the United Bank for Africa (UBA), when someone close to the President running the show now was the bank’s managing director. And, at least, the President should be told that the Finance permanent secretary he appointed attained 60 years last August and therefore ought to be retired if the civil service rules apply to him. Again, the President should be told to extend his probe to the all-important petroleum sector as well as the Central Bank that had been dishing out public money for the defeated Peoples’ Democratic Party campaign like an ATM instead of spending over a year only to probe the defence sector, without any conclusive conviction to date. Or are the petroleum sector and CBN being shielded by any shadow government?
Like many of his genuine admirers, I am heartbroken. I am writing all these because we really want him to change and to succeed, being one of those who promoted and supported him. It is painful to see how President Buhari has currently declined in terms of popularity. Even in Kano, his main political base, Buhari is very unpopular now. He may be having good intentions for the country, as some of us believe, but he does not have the vehicle (policies) and the tools (team) to actualize these good intentions in his government as constituted now. It is our patriotic duty to tell him these, because we really love him and would want him to succeed. It is time for him to review and be more decisive and dynamic as he was known for. Buhari cannot afford to fail. We wish him every success.
History is on the side of the oppressed.
–By ABBA MAHMOOD