Plagiarism, mediocrity, and mystery deputy director
As we wait patiently for the unveiling and punishment for the mystery deputy director already fingered to have plagiarized Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech for the president’s “change begins with me” reorientation speech, it is pertinent to navigate the presidency that is so accident-prone and infested with the spirit of errors. This should not be in Nigeria’s presidency.
And here is the thing, the reproach called plagiarism that just rocked the presidency on the eve of the UN General Assembly was self inflicted and avoidable. It is part of the sad consequences of the president’s failure to organize a functional bureaucracy in his office as was noted on March 19, this year when I noted the danger of losing momentum in an article entitled: “Before the honeymoon expires” on this same page.
The honeymoon has since expired and the spirit of gaffes is hovering dangerously over Nigeria’s presidency. This is a very complex paradox of development in Nigeria’s seat of power. But let’s simplify the complex elements before we proceed. All we are saying is that the president must listen to people who speak truths to power. And so one of the truths that will set him free is the expediency of overhauling his bureaucracy for operational efficiency. We will return to this construct (presidential bureaucracy) presently.
What of the experts in the house?
But then there is yet another paradox: the office of the president, (including the vice president’s office) parades a lot of intellectuals and tested professionals even in the business of writing for the mass media. I mean there are very well known brilliant officials in the presidency that could have taken care of the clearly avoidable plagiarism scandal. And so, whatever happened to the two former presidents of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Mr. Femi Adesina and Malam Garba Shehu, who are Special Adviser & Senior Special Assistant, (Media & Publicity to the President! In all modesty, they are not just part of the aristocracy of the Nigerian press, they are part of the brightest and the best in journalism. They are very resourceful editors who rose through the ranks (in reporting and writing). They know the rules of even academic writing.
How were these president’s strong men bypassed in the art of editing their principal’s keynote speech? How did a mystery deputy director displace them in speech drafting and editing? What is more mysterious, there is Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Political Adviser to the President (VP’s office), another senior editor in the house. What of Mr. Laolu Akande? He is not just an editor, he was teaching journalism (part time) too in some New York universities before his current assignment as a Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President, Media & Publicity (VP’s Office). Besides, the Economic Adviser to the President (VP’s Office), Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu is an intellectual of repute.
There are more respected scholars in the presidency. Even the Vice President himself is a world-class Professor of Law who has been teaching and practicing Law for about three decades. Is it not a reproach to be mentioning plagiarism where these giants are in cruise control? Why should the president of Nigeria be living by this riverside and washing his hands with spittle? There is a sense here in which one can hazard a guess that there is something wrong with the organizational structure in the presidency that cannot harness its intellectual capital.
Time to overhaul presidential bureaucracy
The presidential bureaucracy comprises mainly the offices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF); the Head Federal Civil Service Commission (HFCSC) and the Chief of Staff to the President (COS- P). These four offices are as critical to the operational efficiency of a presidential bureaucracy as four piston rings in a four-cylinder auto engine. If one of the piston rings is faulty, the engine will be operationally inefficient.
The issue of wobbly presidential bureaucracy was in context on March 19, this year in a subtitle on this page: Time to overhaul wobbly presidential bureaucracy. It is sad to note that the health condition of the presidential bureaucracy has worsened. Below is part of what I observed then:
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…
The Office of the SGF is the focal point, the most important piston ring in the four-cylinder engine of the presidential bureaucracy comprising the SGF, HCSF, CCSC and the COS-P. The SGF’s Office is also the secretariat of the Federal Executive Council and the Defence and Security Council.
I had noted then that President Buhari needed more than just a close friend as SGF when he appointed the current one who never worked in the mainstream civil service.
I had also added then that, “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 a serving permanent secretary”.
As I had observed then, there are seven permanent secretaries in the office of the SGF who are to assist in the presidency. And the one to supervise these permanent secretaries should have been a top civil servant who understands the public service system.
I had also stated then that another reason the president should have appointed an experienced bureaucrat as SGF:
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… 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”.
I had added then that, “Even the new Head of Service… 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”.
All told, I still stand by my observation six months ago that the current presidential bureaucracy cannot assist the president to achieve his goals.
Conclusion then and now:
“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… 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…
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”.
So, the starting point of the restructuring of the machinery of government being suggested is the presidential bureaucracy. And then other reform issues including anti-graft crusade will follow.
Inside Stuff Grammar School:
Defuse Vs Diffuse
The gatekeeper of this school has noted that some writers often misuse the two unrelated words. It is wrong to “diffuse” tension or panic. It is also wrong to “defuse” information. Correct: The health officer quickly “defused” panic over reported outbreak of polio. 2. The public relations officers in the ministry “diffused” information about the disease. Diffuse means to disperse, spread widely while Defuse means to make less harmful.