Buhariwatch: Before the honeymoon expires…
Soon and very soon, the president and his men will realize the import of an ancient saying that has been credited to so many that indeed “no condition is permanent”. Today, the prevailing condition is that President Muhammadu Buhari and his men should be tolerated as change is a gradual process. But that condition is not going to be permanent. The clouds are already gathering for the rain of questions over the promise of change. Verily, verily, they will know that the condition that prevailed for the emergence of the Buhari presidency has been largely responsible for the unduly long honeymoon that will be over soon. Really, from April, a month to the celebration of one year in office, there will be some moment of truth that will jolt Abuja about the nature of Nigeria’s civil society and indeed the real colour of Nigeria’s mass media.
The honeymoon period has been responsible for the not-so-journalistic reviews that have been dominating the media space. Indeed, the media space has not reflected the state of the nation. And as a newspaperman, I have met some honest elders of the land who have noted that President Buhari has been quite lucky with the honeymoon as so many issues have gone awry. The other day, one of our elders in the media, Mr Gbolabo Ogunsanwo who was so frustrated by what some others have called Afghanistanism in journalism, set the tone for what will happen after May 2016 when he identified so many roles in the polity that are desperately in search of actors. Most of the roles will be previewed and reviewed very soon.
And so, it is time to tell the governing party, the friends of the presidency and their managers to drop their stale strategy of blaming the previous administration for all the ills in the land at the moment. It will soon occur to the Abuja’s big men that people will after next month ask for account of stewardship of this administration. I mean time is ticking for a review of leadership that we have had and its impact on the populace. The Buhari administration will soon realize that it is not easy to keep frogs in a wheelbarrow. Soon and very soon, we will like frogs in a wheelbarrow decide whether to jump down or remain there. And very soon, we the real people will then clear our throat and ask questions about the journey so far beyond the quick fixes of fighting corruption. It will be clear soon when the cock crows at the dawn of May 28 May 2016 that we need more than fighting corruption to fix the country’s broken walls.
Time to overhaul wobbly presidential bureaucracy…
But before the expiration of the honeymoon, let me state that I am fully persuaded that the president should use the one-year in office appraisal and celebration time to overhaul his (presidential) bureaucracy. I mean that the starting point of the reform he needs to carry out is the office of the president and all affiliated offices called the presidency. As I told the State House Correspondents in a keynote at a retreat in Kaduna on 11 December last year, “the presidency is more than the State House or Aso Presidential Villa….”
Therefore, there is a sense in which we can claim that there exists a correlation between the quality of the presidential bureaucracy and operational efficiency of the presidency. I mean the starting point of “dynamic capabilities” is the quality of the men and women that assist the president in his peculiar office. And that is why even the constitution provides for this in Section 171, which deals with “presidential appointments”.
The presidential bureaucracy and the president’s Men
The following are principal actors in the special bureaucracy that should define the colour of presidential efficiency or deficiency:
• Secretary to the Government of the Federation;
• Head of the Civil Service of the Federation;
• Permanent Secretaries;
Non-constitutional Offices in the presidency
• Chief of Staff to the President (Created by President Obasanjo in 1999 as borrowed from the U.S Presidency)
• Principal Secretary to the President;
• Special Advisers/Special Assistants; etc, although there is a reference to advisers to be approved by the Senate to assist the president.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation
The most prominent office inside the villa appears to be the Chief of Staff’s but the most significant is the SGF’s, a unique creation of the constitution. According to Adegoroye (2015), the office arose from the evolutionary development of Nigeria as a nation. The office does not have any parallel either in the UK’s Whitehall or in the U.S White House. According to Ajulo (1998), it began as Central Secretary during the Lugard administration and Chief secretary to the Government who was principal adviser to the governor and the accredited spokesman of the government from the time of Clifford in 1919 until self-rule in 1957.
According to Adegoroye (2015):
“In terms of mandate, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, is to coordinate and monitor implementation of Government policies and programmes, and serve as think tank and technical backbone of the presidency…”
There are (7) seven Permanent Secretaries attached to the SGF’s office to assist in the coordination of specialized offices, namely:
• General Services office;
• Cabinet Secretariat;
• Special Services Office;
• Ecological Funds Office;
• Political & Economic Affairs Office;
• Special Duties Office &
• Bureau of Public Service Reform.
The Office of the SGF is the focal point of the presidential bureaucracy. It is the secretariat of the cabinet or executive council of the federation and the defence and security council.
The office of the SGF keeps record of the presidency (as the presidential library).
As I had added to the State House reporters last year, “What this means is that there is no way we can cover the presidency well without covering the presidential bureaucracy, which extends to the following:
• Head of the Civil Service of the Federation;
• Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission;
• Bureau of Public Service Reforms;
I have gone to this extent to enable us deepen our understanding of the importance of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. I have been covering the Presidency from Dordan Barracks to Abuja’s Presidential Villa for the past 26 years. And so from experience and profile of the office, President Muhammadu Buhari needed more than just a close friend for the Office of the SGF when he appointed the current one. This is not to disparage the current office holder. The truth we need to speak to powers in Abuja for the benefit of all of us is that the federal bureaucracy is a broken wall that needs to be rebuilt through a coordinated reform. And so from the hierarchy, the SGF is to coordinate the other bureaucrats including the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and even the Federal Civil Service Commission. There is therefore, no doubt that the person to do this should have been a top serving or retired civil servant who must have been a retired permanent secretary or its equivalent. Past governments have preferred retired or serving permanent secretaries.
As I have observed, there are more than six permanent secretaries in the office of the SGF. The one to supervise these permanent secretaries should have been at least a top civil servant who understands the public service system. There is yet another reason to go for a seasoned technocrat or bureaucrat. The President left office as military head of state about thirty years ago. Though the vice president is a public intellectual, he served only as attorney-general of a state. That is why the SGF should be a knowledgeable public officer who knows how Abuja’s bureaucracy works and, of course, why it has not worked. Despite criticisms of retired and serving top civil servants, as “evil servants” in the context of massive corruption being investigated in the bureaucracy, there are still so many good and knowledgeable ones even outside political circles that can fit the bill. Besides, the current Chief of Staff is not credited with remarkable experience in the mainstream public service. He too reportedly retired from banking long ago.
What is more, the current permanent secretary in the State House is also inexperienced. Surveys have revealed that he was a State House Counsel and somehow he was appointed a permanent secretary and returned to the State House. Therefore, if you look at the profile of the current presidential bureaucracy, it will be discovered that there is too much inexperience. Even the new Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, with due respect, does not have enough fire in her belly to drive reform that the civil service requires today. Besides, the current Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) does not have an agile head that can work ruthlessly to purge the service of mediocrity, ineptitude and corruption.
Therefore, all the president’s men who usually rise to please the president by attacking anyone who points out some institutional weaknesses should note this: We want the president to succeed. He is the only hope at the moment. If President Muhammadu Buhari cannot fix Nigeria at this moment, we are doomed. I am convinced that he has personal integrity and capacity to do it. But let no one be deceived that miracles will happen if the men and women he has chosen to do the job of fixing our broken walls are incapable. Ask a well-known cleric, T.D Jakes, he will tell you, “miracles too do not just happen.
Before we begin to talk about the capability of his cabinet next month, let the president do some introspection, and appraisal about the quality of the bureaucracy in the presidency. And here is the thing: If you want a football club like the Barcelona and Real Madrid, you should look for your Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.