Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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President Mohammadu Buhari’s ‘next level’ ministers get off the block tomorrow with their formal swearing-in and inaugural federal executive council (FEC) meeting. This is after a two-day retreat meant to acquaint them with the policies, programmes, goals and objectives of the Buhari cum APC administration’s agenda. There should now be order and discipline in governance in contrast to the first tenure where there seemed to be no clear cut policy with cabinet members working at cross purposes; and the president himself generally perceived as not being in charge. To say that the APC-led administration had a bumpy ride in its first four years is stating the obvious. This is understandable but not excusable given that the ruling party was an amalgamation of various parties that was apparently hurriedly packaged with the sole purpose of wrestling power from the then dominant party that had governed the country for 16 long years.
It was when the party found itself on the seat of power that it began to think of fashioning out a roadmap for realising the president’s three pronged broad objectives of fighting corruption, insecurity and employment generation. It is doubtful if the APC has a comprehensive document detailing its manifesto and the nitty gritty of how to achieve them, step by step, down to the finest details. It is doubtful still, if the mass of its members are truly aware of its ideology, viz, a party that is a little to the left, socialist in outlook. Although the APC cannot be totally socialist per se given that constitutionally we operate a mixed type of economy, laissez-faire, it is a pro –poor or should be a pro poor party by virtue of its supposed leanings. But with the party itself not being a homogenous entity, comprised instead of heterogeneous groups – capitalists, socialist pretenders, genuine socialists, etc – the APC and by extension the administration found itself enmeshed in a cacophony of voices The result was subdued infighting with each group trying to carve out a niche of influence and power centre for itself and talk of a ‘cabal’ within the administration.
In fact at a point it was speculated that there was a parallel government being run by the cabal. Ministers were speaking in different tunes, government orders being countermanded or undermined without the apparent knowledge of the president cum commander-in-chief. For example, there was apparently no love lost between the former minister of transportation, Chief Rotimi Amaechi and the erstwhile Minister of state (Aviation), Hadi Sirka. The former executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) suspended by the former Health Minister for some alleged infraction, allegedly refused to heed the order, boasting that he is not answerable to the minister but to Mr. President. President Buhari did not take any decisive action immediately on the matter, thus allowing the controversy to linger for a rather long while. Ditto the controversy surrounding the sack, reinstatement and apparent disappearance of a former chairman of the pension bureau over alleged corrupt practices, Alhaji Maina. Mr. President did not respond to public outcries over it until when it had reached a crescendo. Some ministers and top ranking public officials were reported to have blatantly flouted orders from the vice president or disregarded him. In a rare unprecedented move, though, the vice president sacked the then head of the state security service, Lawal Daura when he acted for the president who was on medical leave abroad. This was sequel to the sealing up of the National Assembly by hooded SSS operatives without prior knowledge of the then acting president.
What we need more from the president this time is decisive actions; he should show that he is fully in charge. He should not shy from exercising his presidential powers firmly by promptly calling to order erring public officials. Neither should he watch aloof, seemingly unconcerned, while party crises linger at state levels as governors and state officials exchange bitter words with the national leadership of his party and vice versa. He should communicate more with the Nigerian public.
For the ministers, it is noteworthy that benchmarks are not to be set for them against which their performances are to be assessed, periodically ostensibly. They should acquaint themselves thoroughly with the administration’s mandate and follow it strictly. Above all, they should work with a unity of purpose. They should heed the president’s admonition to them, namely, “We must work as a team. Working as a team demands that we know what the next person is doing. You must open communication with your colleagues. Lack of communication leads to lack of cooperation and sub-optimal performance”.