Ailing president + suspended SGF = failing presidency

Lawal and Buhari

There is a cogent reason why I am unable to continue with the long, terrible journey of federal character crisis we have been discussing this week. And here is the thing; there is an issue of urgent national importance – the monumental implications of the suspension and absence of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in the presidency. This is more serious than we can imagine.

So, let’s cry for our beloved country and the unborn child, who Alan Paton says,“is the inheritor of our fear”, he describes as a “long terrible journey” as was quoted last week. Let’s cry this week to the impoverished citizens and the curiously silent power elite that the implications of the absence of an ailing president and a suspended secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) can be very devastating to health of an already weakened presidency. I am again persuaded that we dwell too much on politics to the detriment of a weightier matter of the law, policies. It is to be noted from the outset that absence of sound policies and adherence to the existing ones are at the core of why we always lament that we do not have strong institutions to sustain politics in our milieu. There are good policies here that our wicked and arrogant politicians ignore and, which our culture of impunity nurtured by man-made immunity sustains unfortunately.

There are two quick examples of sound policies backed up by the constitution that poor politics seems to have destroyed. These are the two powerful offices of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Auditor General of the Federation. I have been writing and talking about these offices for more than a decade. It is like our own daughter and prophetess, Asa who has been warning, There is fire on the mountain. And nobody seems to be on the run. Oh there is fire on the mountain top. And no one is running. And here is what is worth repeating, the Attorney General of the Federation as the chief law officer, is the one in charge of all the anti-corruption agencies including the Code of Conduct Tribunal, (CCT), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), etc. Which was why the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption headed by a Law Professor, Itse Sagay, the other day took the bull by the horns and lambasted the Attorney General of the Federation for loss of momentum in anti-corruption cases in courts including the big one involving the President of the Senate at the CCT.

Although there is a sense in which we can say that it is the institi0nal weaknesses inherent in the anti-graft agencies that led to creation of a permanent presidential advisory body (instead of an adviser)on anti-corruption warfare, the body was on point when they noted that the AGF had been negligent, in the circumstances.. The point is that there should be restructuring of the anti-graft warfare that will awaken the Ministry of Justice to take charge of the entire criminal justice system. When AGF’s office takes charge of anti-graft agencies as a matter of policy not politics, mediocrity and entropy that seem to be the signature tunes of most the agencies will shape up or ship out. The AGF is in charge of the Criminal Justice System. But this one is lethargic. The same applies to the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation.

The Auditor-General of the Federation and the Auditors-General of the 36 states can be quite critical to the success of the anti-graft agencies if there is a reform of the federal and state bureaucracies to make the offices work… The only constitution we have in the federation makes the Auditors-General very influential and independent. After nomination by the president and governors respectively and confirmation by the Senate and State Houses of Assembly, the Auditors-General can only submit their reports to the Public Accounts Committee of the Assemblies. There is no room for deference and even reference to any other powers. What is more, by convention, the Public Accounts Committees of the National Assembly are chaired by members of the minority (opposition party). This is to ensure autonomy and solid control of the federal purse. It is understood that the Houses of Assembly in the states are not bound by this remarkable convention, unfortunately. But a ruling party can through restructuring, organise this as a national policy that will increase the party’s “brand equity”. There are more remarkable policies that can be made to work for the common good if our leaders are serious.

The Power of the SGF
Let’s cool down rising tempers and frayed nerves on restructuring a bit and ponder over the grave implications of the absence of the president and the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF since April 19, 2017. What we should be debating is the grave implication of the suspension of the SGF as the president too has been on medical vacation for more then 50 days. Specifically, without a substantive Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), the presidency cannot be functional. Besides, there are many weightier matters of the law the Law Professor acting as President cannot handle, let alone an Acting SGF. So, when you add the implications of the long absence of an ailing president to the consequences of absence of a suspended SGF at the same time, what you get is what scientists call entropy (a state of total confusion) and anomie. And here are the reasons:

Office of the SGF Mandate.
The SGF Office “coordinates and monitors implementation of Government policies and programmes; and to serve as think tank and technical backbone of the Presidency”
By the constitution, the SGF is the no. 1 bureaucrat of the federation and the office is the point at which the Presidency (democratically elected/political office holders) connects with the Bureaucracy (career public servants).

As the no.1 (presidential) bureaucrat, the OSGF is the office from which the letter of appointment of a even the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF) is issued and the occupant of the office carries a level of authority, implicit in the mandate of the office, to guide, correct and issue directives requiring compliance across the entire bureaucracy (public service).

And so, putting a Permanent Secretary in the OSGF, a subordinate of the Head of Service, Mrs. Habiba Lawal (Permanent Secretary, Ecological Fund) to function or act for the SGF for a brief period of 2-4 weeks would not have been a problem, but ad infinitum as it now appears, is a big problem for proper discharge of the mandate of that office. This is so especially when this concerns those functions relating to calling the Head of Service, for instance, to order whenever there is a challenge in the bureaucracy, and governance in general, for as long as the current situation persists.

A case in point that is currently generating apprehension in the mainstream civil service now is the recent call circular issued by the Head of Service for the appointment of Perm Secretaries to fill the existing cum impending vacancies amounting to over 12 (some say16) in the cadre. The circular is devoid of the usual guidelines relating to the eligibility of the GL 17 officers in terms of states of origin, cadres, and experience in heading full-fledged departments. The tradition in the last 18 years has been to appoint at least one permanent secretary per state. And since last year whena list of permanent secretaries who have reached the mandatory age of retirement has been noticed, the list of States without a permanent secretary has been growing.The result now is that virtually everybody who has attained the grade of director by 2015 has been running around, mobilizing as usual the “pressures” that have become the trademark of such appointments in the last administration, to get to the good books of the Head of Service.
Consequently, some civil servants have alleged that the circular was deliberately designed for such effects. In normal circumstances, the SGF would have invited the attention of the Head of service to the implications of such a circular and advise that another circular be issued to further clarify the contents of this circular.

But sadly, an acting SGF who knows that he/she is bound to return to his/her original designation, would be mindful that his/her action could be interpreted as an affront to the HCSF, his/her de facto boss! The acting SGF, Mrs. Lawal, is said to have been extra careful in her dealings with the Head of Service, even as a Permanent Secretary and more so now in her current position.

When Acting President Can’t Act
More important, the constitution recognises only the office of President, and Muhammadu Buhari is holder of that office, period.
That is why many Ambassadors have been waiting to present their credentials for as long as the past 8 months! They can’t present their credentials to the Acting President. We may feel good that Professor Osinbajo has been acting well. But there are certain positions that the acting President cannot fill, unless it is on the instruction of the President.
SGF, Head of Intelligence agencies, Service Chiefs, etc. are good examples. Like MC. Hammer the rapper would say: “He can’t touch it, it’s too hot!”

Remarkably, it should be noted that the weight of what an SGF can contribute to governance is a function of the weight of the President. With a substantive President, an acting SGF can be made as effective as any SGF can be. The problem of the office of the SGF is compounded in this case because the backbone of authority for the discharge of the mandate of the office is being offered by an office that itself is daily looking forward to the return to office of his own backbone – his boss, the President of the Federal Republic! That is why we need to pray hard for the early return of the president, lest the presidency will continue to be a tiger that cannot boast of its full ‘tigritude’. And so, nothing extraordinary can come out of the office of an ailing president without the SGF, who is also the secretary of all constitutional councils chaired by the president and chief policy and political adviser to the president. Without a substantive SGF, the president cannot direct the affairs of these councils including the ministers’ council appropriately. The conclusion of the whole matter is that an Acting SGF reporting to an Acting President compounds what is already entropic in Nigeria’s presidency.

In this article:
CCTICPCMartins Oloja
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