President Buhari should try not to abdicate responsibility and/or relax having farmed out his critical work to just another person, because that same person is still but one man with all the foibles that men have. We voted for the president, not his chief of staff.
I am choosing a slightly cooperative title for this article because of those unknown supporters of the president who interpret every word as being antagonistic of the man. Those guys wear people out and we are almost now living under some sort of sycophancy-propelled fascism. I call them unknown because they are doing a job for a man who doesn’t know that they exist. Their loyalty is certainly not to Nigeria but to the Buhari persona. Fighting them is needless, for when one even supports the policies of this government, like I have a number of times in the past, they choose not to see this but only to troll one and jump on beer parlour-type discussions. There is an attempt to shut people up through threats, which will not work.
No matter the vituperations of anyone, issues of governance must be discussed, as long as we have breath in us. Our roles as citizens is to assist our leaders. No man knows it all. No man is perfect. I know that the problem with leadership is that it is often a thankless job. But a good leader is one who does the right thing, no matter what is said about him or her. A good leader also listens to people and understands that s/he is imperfect.
Today I am taking on the statement by President Buhari about ministers reporting to the chief of staff (CoS) and the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF). In short, I think the statement was needless because already, anyone appointed as a minister should understand protocol. Certainly no minister in his right senses should expect to barge into the president’s office on a whim. But the president stating it in the way he did – and openly – totally subjugates the ministers to those two offices, especially that of the chief of staff. Some of the ministers will hence be scared of approaching the president, even on very confidential issues or at all. Some of the ministers will also take liberty to operate as if there is no president to report to, after all there is a limit to what the CoS himself can handle. The relationship between ministers and the CoS should, however, not be one of hierarchy but cooperation. I believe that at that level, it should not be about command and control. We ought to be finding ways of minimising the role of egos and get everybody to focus on the work they have signed to do.
Some keen rationalisers of every statement of the president have laboured to tell us how that is the way it works in the United States of America that we copy our expensive politics from, irrespective of our history or estate in life as a nation. These rationalisers often defeat themselves with their arguments. For one, they tell us about the many frictions between the CoS, who is an enforcer (or better put, like a Mafia Consigliere as someone put it), to the president and the ministers, and even with the vice president. Even the U.S.A is noted as having issues with the arrangement, with the relationships being fraught with problems. So, just because that is how it is done in the U.S.A means we must do the same thing here? Just the same way we adopted a bicameral system and presently fritter trillions away on a handful of politicians, right? Are we the United States of America? Do we have their power, their influence, their history, their resources, their technology, the kind of wealth they sit on? Those are the questions to ask ourselves.
We needn’t make every mistake the U.S. has made. We should develop minds of our own. We should be asking ourselves if a CoS is a clearing house, or a de facto president. We should be seeking to know if he should see himself as clearly above all ministers, or simply their cooperative colleague, who is out there to make their jobs, and that of the president easier. The way things stand today, the function of the CoS especially is seen through the prism of raw power, and that seems to be the limitation of the president’s reasoning. A chief executive officer can subject all his executive directors and/or general managers to the authority of his special assistant or even his confidential secretary, but whatever choices made surely has a repercussion. What the CEO should have in mind are the achievement of corporate goals, the morale of his subordinates, the organisational culture that his choice portends and the long-term sustainability of the organisation. We are seeing more clearly each day now that a nation should be run just like a company – with tight controls on expenditure and a keen eye on revenue generation for the benefit of stakeholders (chiefly the people for a government).
In Nigeria’s particular instance, we have seen that the present CoS has been rumored to be a defacto president and we have seen at least one memo he wrote to the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, which – if one reads between the lines – assumes a clear air of superiority. This is the reason why Buhari ought to be careful in unleashing more power to such a personality or office. The same gentleman represents the president on the board of Nigeria’s cash cow, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). So he basically runs the Nigerian show. President Buhari should try not to abdicate responsibility and/or relax having farmed out his critical work to just another person, because that same person is still but one man with all the foibles that men have. We voted for the president, not his chief of staff.
So, contrary to those fanatics who are trying to convince us all that ‘ministers do not have access to or see the president in a presidential system of government’, the truth is that presidents are not masquerades and should actually avail themselves as much as possible and be very interactive, especially in a country like Nigeria with so much to achieve. Already in Nigeria, the president meets with all ministers every Wednesday and they are able to table their issues directly. We know that there have been many cancellations of such meetings in this regime, and that the Federal Executive Council meeting, as it is called, has since been converted into a Tenders Board, where ministers come to get approval for huge contracts in which they have interests. There should, however, be more of those direct off-cycle contacts where the president can get unfiltered feedback from his lieutenants, especially in a nation like ours with many emergency issues. That is the way I see it. However, any issue agreed in such meetings, requiring follow ups or reversions, will have to go through the CoS or SGF. Nothing wrong in that. Also, a president is a human being and should of necessity reach out to his close friends from time to time. He needs people around him too, like every other person, for mental health reasons. A president should not be sequestered from the world. That will be extremely dangerous.
I will further recommend to the president that he needs more impromptu visits to different places in Nigeria. People need such in order to sit up. He should practice Management by Walking About more, and catch people unawares – even in ministries. Also, he should never rely on any single person, no matter who s/he is. Nobody can be fully trusted in today’s crazy world of modern espionage. A president has to create checks and balances, and sometimes get people who will watch the watchers. Several layers of control are necessary. Finally, the president should remember, that his work has a timeline to it. He has barely three-and-a-half years left.