ADELAJA: Using Permanent Secretaries To Run Government Is An Aberration



Odukoya Adelaja specialises in Political Economy and Comparative Politics and is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Lagos, UNILAG, Akoka. In this interview, he tells IKECHUKWU ONYEWUCHI that the delay in appointment of ministers is a reflection of the brewing crisis in the ruling party, and not necessarily a function of the search for ‘saints’ by the president.

What do you make of the present government running without ministers?
BUHARI would definitely need competent hands, technocrats and politicians, people who know the terrain, in order to perform. Invariably, the longer the delay in getting them, the more complex the problems and the more agitated the people. People are suffering and they want solutions to problems. There are equally psychological dimension to this. When the people see the kind of lieutenants the president has appointed, they start building confidence in the government. They would be ready to support the government. But the impression being created now is that we are on auto-drive. Nobody is in control, and that is not too good for the system.

What do we make of the continued reliance on permanent secretaries?
The permanent secretariats have their roles to play, but there is a limit to what they can do. One of the ethos of the civil service is anonymity. So, basically, they are faceless; you can’t hold them responsible. We are in a situation where people should be held responsible for what they do or don’t do. The civil servants are supposed to serve an advisory role. The issues we are battling with at this time are core, key and fundamental political decisions that only politicians or people at the ministerial level with ministerial power can tackle. The use of permanent secretaries is an aberration. It is like wartime and instead of having generals out to fight, the maigaurds are being used. The maigaurds, too, carry guns and serve security purposes, but they are not meant to prosecute war.

One can’t compare the dexterity of maigaurds with a military general that is schooled in the art of war. It is a misapplication of the permanent secretaries. Again, given the corruption in the system, we have had the era of super permanent secretaries and coincidentally, one of them is Joda, the chairman of the transition committee. Of course, if one goes back to history, corruption pervaded that time and they contributed to the poverty of governance. It is not something I think should be encouraged. In fact, it should be dispensed with.

Giving Nigeria’s presidential system of government and the need for the party in power to realise its manifesto, using dedicated field marshals, wouldn’t the delay in appointment of ministers and constitution of a Federal Executive Council stall the promise of change that Nigerians yearn for?
There is what is known as the covert and overt dimension to power. Even when there are ministers, the force behind the scene might not necessarily be the minister. There are elements within the parties. There is the kitchen cabinet of the president, and other technocrats, businessmen within and outside government that help the government achieve its purpose. The idea of having ministers to fulfill a party’s manifesto is not peculiar to presidential system of government. Any government, head of state, prime minister and president would need people that would key into his dream. That is part of the limitations of the permanent secretaries.

The permanent secretaries are not politicians. They are supposed to be dispassionate; they engage in the technical part of issues. And most issues in government have economic, political and social dimensions, such that it would take a minister or someone that is politically correct to implement. Something might be good technically, but might be wrong politically. Being politically correct is part of the need for appointing ministers that would necessarily be people that key into the philosophy of the government. I think this should be resolved and quickly too.

There is another school of thought that says if it would take waiting to get a good team, so be it. But for me, appointing ministers is not rocket science. This is a country of almost 180 million people and there are capable hands within and outside. We can name them. I think the problem is not about appointments; it is about political consideration. I think it is about the crisis and contradictions in the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The party is an amalgam of desperate politicians, with different ideological orientation coming together because of the desire to capture power. I think the APC is experiencing a meltdown, such that everyone is in a situation of ‘to your tents oh Israel.’ Things are falling apart the center cannot hold. Within that context, it becomes very difficult to pick people.

I don’t think the APC is being fair to itself, particularly Buhari. If they tell us to wait till September, that’s seven months. If it takes that long to get ministers, they are simply telling us that they are not in a situation to bring about any change. And that would be unfortunate.

For me, this shows that things that should have been sorted out were not even discussed. That was what played out at the National Assembly. The fundamental questions are: how do we share, manage, use and control power. What was primary to APC was capturing power. Now they have power and they don’t know what to do with it.

So where does this put Nigeria, especially in respect of managing the 2015 appropriation?
The ministers are supposed to have a considerable input in the budget. Ministers are the key figures in budgeting. They are the mind of the ministries. If a budget is eventually passed, are ministers supposed to come and implement what they had no input in? They have already started failing if that should be the case. Budgets don’t come from the blues, they come from people that have a shared vision and well planned programme of action and document on how it would be executed over a period of time. When such people are not on ground, it becomes very difficult.

What does this portend for governance in Nigeria?
We have had motion without movement. People are getting disappointed, frustrated and disillusioned. A lot of things are on standstill. The country is on auto-drive; the economy is experiencing deepening crisis: share prices are falling, exchange rate, that determines virtually everything in the country, is increasing, Boko Haram assault is ascending, and the Chibok girls are still in captivity. The people are continuously being disempowered. Nothing seems to be working. It is not good for foreign investment and relations. It is not particularly good for APC and Buhari. If they know what is good for them they should do the needful and get the country working.

How can government overcome this challenge?
It is better to make a wrong decision than not make one at all. Buhari and APC should not give us the impression that they are looking for saints or people, who are from another planet. People can be gotten here and abroad. They should do the needful; there is no rocket science to it. Governance is continuous; the president with his executive power can appoint and fire. This is not something difficult. I don’t know why they are being paranoid about appointments.

Can the fact that APC being new to the system, after several years of being in the opposition, be adduced to this delay; don’t they really need time, as some have argued?
That would be unnecessary rationalisation. This is the fourth time Buhari is contesting for the presidency. Except his case was that, each time he contested, he was interested in power for power sake; he was not prepared. I don’t want to hear that. But there is a temptation, given the action, to believe that. People expected that he would have hit the ground running. But, unfortunately, he seems to have hit the ground with a crash. Also, no attempt has been made to understand or understudy the crash and the process of redemption. They are carrying on as if nothing has happened and that is unfortunate. The fatality of the situation may not just be for the party, but for the country and would push people on the flanks to take advantage of governments inactivity, such as we are witnessing.

So, what do you make of the ‘stillborn’ change, so far?
It is a function of how you put it. The first error is to say the APC brought about change. They never did. The Nigerian people brought about change. In form and essence, they are not so different from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is just the difference between half-full and half-empty. If one looks at the dramatis personae in the party and the crisis playing out, it easy to find the PDP elements very dominant, people who have caused the woes of this country.

The people are not given their due share of governance. It is the desire of the Nigerian people for a citizens democracy, where the people are sovereign and determine what happens to them.

In such a democracy, people find bad leadership, maladministration, and corruption as unacceptable and uphold transparency and accountability. That was why the people sanctioned the Jonathan administration. If the APC had put forward a dog, the people might have gone for it, because they were desperate for a change.

The APC was only positioned as the anointed party; one the people could work with. But the credibility and integrity of Buhari helped and seemed to connect the people with the APC. Within that context, you can see the inability of the APC to manage that change.

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