Reflections on ministerial screening By Niran Adedokun

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/In some unwitting way, all Nigerians are complicit in the still birthing of good governance and socio-economic development of our country. With about 35 million adult Nigerians said to be illiterate, a quantum of our population has no clue of what effective governance is all about. As a result, they have little or no expectations. So, when a government does something which is taken for granted in other climes, we shout the praise of such a government to high heavens like they were elected for anything less.

But, Nigeria will be better for it if the low hanging fruit mentality stopped with those who have not had the benefit of education but it does not. Due to vested personal interests, lack of political education or a combination of both, a lot of educated Nigerians do not comprehend the rights of citizens to demand good governance from elected officials let alone mobilise others for action.

The result is that we have become a very impressionable people. So someone is elected governor and in the course of his administration, he constructs one or two flyovers, endorses the construction of a few drainage and approves massive palaces and allowances for traditional rulers and we surrender our lives to him. Nigeria is so deprived of conscientious public service that we have become like that community of the blind where the one-eyed does not have to scramble for kingship.

When we assess our leaders, we do not talk about how much they have done about issues that directly relate to sustainable development. We do not consider what systems they have cultivated for quality and affordable health care delivery, quality and universal education, potable water and so many other indices with which the world measures development.

And in reciprocation of our low expectations, those we vote into offices take us for granted by throwing the crumbs at us and calling us to celebrate those tokens. In the frenzy of the jollity of these fragments of performance, they sneak into the communal purse, pilfering as much as their insatiable appetites lusts crave for.

Of course, dazzled by our illusions of good governance, we never take note of the malfeasances. In fact, if anyone is lucid enough to draw attention to the misdeeds, we shout such individuals down and tag them ingrates. It even gets more depressing; we sometimes dismiss whistle-blowing with some level of permissiveness. Moments when you hear postures like, “We do not even say they should not steal, just perform like this man and…”

These pathetic arguments account for why we never attempt a thorough interrogation of claims of creditable performance by people who have been previously entrusted with public office and are going into higher office. This is more so when such people are blessed with eloquence and brilliance such that they can daze us all into slumbering on whatever we hold against them. We just love form over substance, awe stuck by mediocre and mendacious performances.

This sense came to me as I read about the screening of some of our would-be ministers last week. One former governor, who testified that his state remains one of the poorest in the country, justified the construction of a N2.5bn government house because it would be the cheapest of such habitats in the country at the moment. And we clapped!

Another who was said to have approved the design of a website for an outrageous N78m in addition to other allegations, waved it all aside with the conclusion that he never signed a cheque in his eight years as governor of Nigeria’s most prosperous state. I wonder how many governors do. But then, we were already swayed even if loads of governors have been convicted for tampering with public funds.

The point of entrancement was the smoothness of these nominees in the course of their screening at the Senate. I have read commentaries about how senators looked on, spellbound by the sleekness with which some of the nominees tackled questions thrown at them.

However, I could not resist asking myself if this was the best that the Senate could do with promises that it would not be “business as usual.” Ruminating over it, I convinced myself that the answer is No. The Senate, in whose population there are a number of smooth-talking and experienced people including former governors, was definitely encumbered by the base level of our politics. If the Saraki-led Senate tried anything extraordinary in the screening of the nominees, I imagine how much venom Nigerians would rain on them in the assumption that it is a get back at the executive for the ongoing face-off between the two. I see nothing unusual about this screening business expect, possibly for the unending postponement of the screening of former Governor Chibuike Amaechi. The Senate has itself not given this exercise the rigour it deserves and for apparent political expediency.

In addition, I do not recall any time in the history of Nigeria that we did not have a few people of competence and eloquence in power, yet they have had very little impact on the country.

Here, we could argue that such ministers probably didn’t function well because of the quality of leadership they had. As right as that may sound, the truth is that the relationship between a President and his ministers is a symbiotic one in which one part complements the other. As Italian political tactician and philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, once said: “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” This is why this crop of gentlemen and women getting set to work with President Muhammadu Buhari would do well to justify the confidence of Nigerians.

From the events of the previous few weeks, it appears that many of these would-be ministers have received the “go and sin no more” approval, but history would not judge them well if they fail at this second chance.

Looking through the list of those who have served in one capacity or the other in the past, I see no one with any strong record of passion for the poorest of our people, this cannot continue.

These ministers are taking office at a very precarious time in our history. A time when we need a state of emergency in virtually all sectors. Public schools are crippled and incapable of taking our society into the future. The health sector is comatose. While the poor now find solace in herbal remedies and spiritual homes, those who appropriate the wealth of our nation, rather than develop working health systems, have embraced medical tourism in Asia, America and Europe.

Our judicial system does not currently deliver and is in need of urgent reforms. The economy itself is on life support with prospects of a recession growing by the day! The gap between the “mindlessly rich and hopelessly poor” in the country, as Fayemi put it, is a recipe for continuous tension that may permanently hurt our nation.

It is therefore no time to get carried away by accolades over some display on the floor of the Senate. It is the time for those who intend to serve Nigerians to forget the tentative attainments of yesterday and roll up their sleeves and get to work. It is no period for sycophantic, self-centred political games and the promotion of regional cum ethnic sentiments that have brought our nation to its knees.

It is a time for courage and absolute dedication to country. It is a moment when ministers must be able to tell the President what is right and walk away when what is right is not given its place. It is the time to record the administration’s name among those that turned the fortunes of nations around. It is a tough time to serve the nation, yet it is the moment of impact, a unique opportunity to be part of the transformation that Nigeria sorely needs.

PUNCH