Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Following the accelerated Senate confirmation of all 43 ministerial nominees, President Mohammadu Buhari is expected to swear them in any moment from now. He needs to get his cabinet members (drivers of his policy) to hit the ground running for, history beckons at him in this his final term. He has barely four years left to imprint his legacy in the Nigerian firmament; a legacy that could be either positive or negative and which Historians would be reeling out at end of May, 2023. It took this 9th Senate a record four working days to approve all the nominees whereas the 8th Senate spent four weeks to screen 36 candidates sent to it for ministerial slots. Now attention shifts to assignment of portfolios with many including their friends, associates, political fathers and juggernauts jostling for ‘juicy’ ministries. Some in an obvious act of hypocrisy even pray to the Almighty for juicy portfolios.
This is in contradiction to the sense of serving which public appointments denote or should denote that is, service to the people, the country and humanity. The word ‘juicy’ is a Nigerian contraption. It is a misnomer of course in that all jobs no matter their designation are equally important. The job of a fulltime housewife is just as important as that of the man that goes outside, working in an office as a salary earner. Without the work of the housewife in making the home harmonious for the man, he will not be able to give his best in his workplace. Without the cleaner making the office a conducive place for the president to work, Mr. President may not be able to think out good policies and programmes for the country. One job or assignment should not be looked down upon but should be valued as the other and both occupants should have mutual respect for each other. Ditto the ministries, no matter their nomenclature and whether someone is called a fully fledged minister or minister of state.
For the average Nigerian though, the common man and common woman who live mainly in the hinterlands, they are only interested in those ministries that would facilitate, ease their everyday activities. That is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Primary occupation of the average Nigerian is agriculture which is undertaken largely at subsistence level. From this they eke out a living and feed their families. They wish this all important occupation of theirs can be enhanced for them by government facilitating clearing of land, timely provision of inputs, fertilisers, herbicides and the like at subsidised rates; access to extension workers in every community to impart new, improved farming methods to them to multiply their yield and production. The Ministry of Rural Development should be a fully fledged one as it is all-encompassing with departments as roads, power, water, health and education. While the Ministry of Transportation proper concerns itself with Trunk A and Trunk B roads, the Rural Development ministry should be saddled with constructing rural ones. Those in the countryside are not asking for first class expressways but at least, graded access roads that enable them transport their produce from farmlands to market places. These should be constructed in all nooks and crannies of our hinterlands.
Water is life. Sadly, pipe borne water is hard to come by even in urban areas which are now dotted with boreholes and harder still in the rural areas, much less, water for irrigation, an important requirement for all-round farming. Needless to haggle further on the importance of water for rural dwellers both for their domestic and agricultural needs. Same goes for electricity. Rural electrification should be pursued vigorously. It is discomfiting that in this 21st century, many, many of our rural communities are still without electricity. Electricity is the livewire of everyday living in today’s world. Besides, steady electricity for rural dwellers would boost small businesses in those areas as barbing, grinding business and so on. The social services arm of the Ministry of Rural Development will deal with such matters as provision of primary health centres with midwives and community doctors, basic education and skills acquisition centres to empower the rural folks.
This last term is about the only one that President Buhari has to get down to real work and at a fast pace if he is to etch his name in our hearts as the president who took Nigeria to the next higher level of development. Without mincing words, one can say that the president spent only the last two years of his first term working with much time wasted on some contrived and self-imposed problems that bogged him down and slowed down his performance generally. For example, Mr. President expended a lot of time studying what was on ground, getting briefings from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). His reason for such rather long study was that the Jonathan Administration did not do a proper handover, so he needed to get himself acquainted with issues on hand. Then there was the Executive-National Assembly ever recurring tango, the cry of marginalisation by a section of the country that led to fouling of the environment with hate speeches; his health issue and pervasive security problems – internet fraud, banditry, kidnapping, insurgency, etc. By the time the president knew what was happening literally, his four year tenure was almost coming to a close and election time was knocking.
So, having apparently boxed himself or been boxed to a corner, President Buhari adopted the easy option of among others, completing critical infrastructural projects he inherited so he could have something to table to the electorate for re-election. In truth Mr. President’s administration did not really initiate any projects of its own during his first tenure. Indeed one may regard Buhari’s first tenure as a learning curve –a thoroughbred military man used to ruling by fiat learning to fit into a democratic setting with its inherent checks and balances, albeit executive presidential powers. Having had his baptism of fire in his first term so to speak and having passed the examination of re-election as the voters gave him the benefit of the doubt, President Buhari has no more excuses. He has to leave invaluable footprints in the sands of time. He has to initiate and complete projects of his own. He has to have signature projects that people can point to when he finally vacates Aso Rock villa; projects that touch the lives of the ordinary Nigerians and change their living conditions for better.