WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
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I plead with my esteemed and respected readers to accept my sincere apologies for not bringing forth the second part of last week’s article: The Created Monsters (1). This is as a result of the pressing need to address the current issue which has got the entire country rumbling, about the president’s remark during the inauguration of his cabinet members: that his ministers are now to report to his chief of staff. “The Created Monsters (2)” shall be on the column for next week ( by the Grace of Almighty).
The office of the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President of a nation is an office essential towards the coordination and oversight of the executive office of the president. The lack of this knowledge makes many to wonder on how influential and powerful the office is while a great number of Nigerians would rather ascribe the powers bestowed on the office by the president as an aberration and a sign of a negative trend. I took my time to understand what is obtainable in other climes, especially in some of the believably more developed nations.
In the United State of America ( where we modeled our presidential system from) , the White House Chief of Staff manages the flow of information; protects the interests of the president; negotiates with Congress, other members of the executive branch, and extra-governmental political groups to implement the president’s agenda; and advises the president on various issues, including telling the president what they do not want to hear (coined from Wikipedia). The office is unique as its holder does not require senate confirmation and serves purely at the pleasure of the president.
The holder of the office works behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate dispute, and deal with issues before they are brought before the president. The chief of staff to the president of America negotiates with other members of the executive which implies that the holder of the office deals with the ministers on behalf of the president; this does not imply that the ministers do not have access to the president but simply that the president trusts his chief of staff enough to handle policy issues with them before it comes to his table.
Since the inauguration of the ministers by the president and the statement credited to the president to the effect that the ministers are to channels their requests through his chief of staff, the opposition to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has gone all agog singing incompetency and surrender of authority to his chief of staff. Some even went berserk to insinuate Abba Kyari is the man in charge of the presidency; the opposition once again saw opportunity to sell cheap propaganda of a certain Jubril from Sudan: such gibberish! Would you prefer that ministers report to the office of the wife of the president (first lady) as it was romoured to be the practice in the past administration? After all, that was the reason given for the stupendous wealth accumulation of the then first lady; cabinet members and others paying their way through her to have a date with the president.
The simple questions are: are the ministers reporting to the chief of staff outside the scope of the duties of the chief of staff? As the supreme head of the administration of the presidency, won’t it just be the natural job function of the chief of staff to relate with all members of the executive on behalf of his principal? Does reporting to the chief of staff not denote a sense of orderliness?
Everyone knows the duties of the chief of staff to the president; what President Muhammadu Buhari said during the inauguration was simply for the benefit of the new entrants into his cabinet. The president, by his statement, simply implied that all his ministers, apart from working in unity amongst themselves, must also carry his chief of staff along. After all, the CoS has the responsibility of protecting the president’s interest and advising him on virtually all issues. That is why presidents assigned individuals who are bold enough to criticize and tell them the truth at all times.
The public outrage that followed the statement credited to the president further mirrors the dilapidating structure of opposition in Nigeria; an index of failure on investigative journalism in the country; we hit the road criticizing everything without bothering to investigate the fact and correctness of the issue. If the president insists Abba Kyari must wake up to his responsibilities, why shouldn’t we support him and expect a better and more result-yielding interrelationship.
As the nation becomes more sophisticated so must our system of governance increasingly align with best practices for ultimate result; the process of national policy formulation and implementation path design must become more robust, effective and efficient. The fact that we have traditionally underutilized our institutions does not mean we should not wake up to current global realities and systems that produce better results.
The scrutiny of the policy and implementation structure of the ministries must be thoroughly scrutinized in the interest of the nation. A high level synergy between the office of the Chief Of Staff and the ministers accord us the opportunity of such synergy and its import on our overall system. A well-funded and staffed office of the chief of staff, rich in policy strategists and policy implementation pathway analysts would supply the ministers a robust opportunity to collaborate at various level to bring forth feasible policies with utmost bearing on the lives of Nigerians. Breaking policy development into strata beginning with in-house formulation, to mid-level interagency synergy and then collaboration with the CoS office before presenting a proven and formidable document to the president would most definitely improve the performance of the government.
We should rather be more concerned with the quality of the office of the CoS; to be able to function at the level of the expectations of the president. We should be more interested in the efficiency of the CoS’s capacity to harness the intelligence of the special advisers and other essential aides to the president and the vice president equally in scrutinizing policy operations of the various ministries. We should be more interested in the entire cabinet members’ readiness to form a working synergy to move Nigeria forward. The synergy is to ensure that they have no option other than delivering on the next level agenda which Nigerians expect.
Essentially, this calls for the need for synergy between the office of the CoS and the MDAs. The responsibility of project monitoring, policy review, performance and evaluation among others can be carried out more effectively by the CoS than directly by the president.
The Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, alongside other relevant agencies under the ministry, is to enormously aid the office of the CoS in carrying out most of its functions as the ministry is more of the overseer of government business. This also increases the burden upon the minister who should, besides his conventional political aides, should have more ghosts (experts )who are to efficiently aid in carrying out his enormous task. These ghosts could be singly or in a sort of think tank(s) who should dissect policies and issues for the minister who should, in turn, be essential to the CoS.
We should just imagine the clumsiness of every minister, special advisers and other appointees trying to see the president on every issue. Imagine the ineffectiveness of such a system, and then imagine the sanity and efficiency that come with the mid-level scrutiny, synergy and harmonization of issues before they get to the president. This further implies that the responsibilities of the president on performance and evaluation of the various MDAs within the office of the president are now essentially within the purview of the chief of staff. He has to ensure that all matters from the ministries are to be dealt with in his office before reaching the office of the president (in cases where the president’s attention is needed).
This orderliness which the president has made public is essential for the effective operation of our system. Where a minister channels his request to the president directly, he comes to the president with his file, gets approval and leaves with the file. Files could not be tracked, which also makes performance and evaluation very cumbersome.
Furthermore, it will lead to proper documentation and archiving of government dealings thereby keeping the presidency abreast of all dealings within and outside the country related to the government. More so, it is because of lack of proper documentation/archiving of government dealings in the past that has led us into this $9.6 billion mess in the UK: it was covertly done and executed and neither was there effective tracking of the deal. This is what happens in most cases when ministers report to the president directly. And for this, a company which has not kept its own end of the bargain is trying hard to milk our recovering purse of $9.6 billion. If we have such layers of tracking within the system, like of the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs, and of the office of the CoS before the presidential eye gets to it, we could track, ask questions, do follow ups and do away with avoidable circumstances as this.
This is one of the essences of documentation to every government, hence the need for archiving. The ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs and office of the CoS need experts in archiving, policy review and concept developers among others to enable a smooth and efficient running of the system. The ministry shall lessen the burden upon the offices of the CoS and the Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF).
When government dealings are archived, it implies that they are properly documented and tracked. This will naturally lead to monitoring and evaluation of projects as well as proper implementation. This can only be achieved through centralization of government business. There must be proper record of whatever business is discussed/approved ¹, or which comes in and goes out of the villa.
The Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs is to act as the eyes of the CoS and the president and keep them abreast of all happenings of the country within and without. There are several projects of the FG which claim autonomy: there is no autonomy in governance, there is only synergy and good working relationship. The ministry shall oversee these projects as those directly under the presidency (special projects).
The cabinet has been inaugurated. Nigerians expect and require more from each and every member of the cabinet. They should hit the ground running, delivering the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. But much cannot be achieved in isolation. Nigeria is one large, intertwined assemblage of units that must work in harmony for efficient service delivery. The ministers must have this at the back of their minds as they equally relate with their principal regularly. Relating with the chief of staff, Abba Kyari does not mean they don’t have access to the president; it is only a matter of protocol.
God Bless The Federal Republic of Nigeria!