It was Nicolo Machiavelli, the renowned Italian philosopher, who said that when you give a high political office to incompetent individuals or those who least expect it, chances are that they may come unprepared and in the haste to prove themselves inflict heavy damage on the system. Of course, history is replete with cases of some individuals who defied this postulation to make a huge success of their unexpected appointments, but the same history has never been kind to incompetent appointees.
In the case of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, the incumbent Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not even his worst enemy could accuse him of incompetence. When his nomination as minister was announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in August last year, I cannot remember even one word of resentment being expressed in the telecoms industry.
But there is a world of difference between perception and reality. As director-general of NITDA, Pantami had performed creditably, accounting for why there were high hopes that he was going to perform superlatively as minister. Industry watchers attribute Pantami’s success at NITDA to the deep level of cooperation he got from Adebayo Shittu, the person who supervised him as Minister. Shittu never interfered in the operations of parastatals under the communications ministry, and Pantami had a field day coming up with innovations that significantly helped the industry and the Nigerian nation as a whole. This perhaps informs why President Buhari decided to promote him to the high post of minister to supervise the entire telecoms industry.
But in supervising the telecoms industry, there are limits set by the law. As a renowned Islamic scholar, it is rather strange that Pantami, by his actions that clearly border on crass overzealousness, seems to be forgetting that he swore by the Holy Qur’an to operate in full concert with the law governing his conduct as minister. He swore with the Holy Book to operate as Minister without fear or favour, and not allow his personal interest to override his decision as minister. But he ended up breaching exactly that by getting his aide to succeed him at NITDA. I am not sure the person whose appointment as director-general of NITDA he influenced is the most competent in the entire telecoms industry to serve in that capacity, with all due respects to the person.
Now Pantami is being accused of waging a proxy war in desperate efforts to undermine Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of the Nigerian Communications Commission. The ultimate goal, according to reports already in the public domain, is to allegedly ensure Danbatta’s tenure is not renewed by President Muhammadu Buhari when it ends in August this year.
There are hawks in the centre of power who are clearly not pleased with Professor Danbatta’s penchant for playing by the rule; who are also envious of the unprecedented achievements he has recorded in almost four years as chief executive of the one agency regulating the telecoms industry.
Ordinarily, as a respected cleric, Pantami should draw Danbatta close and partner with him to ensure the industry contributes optimally to the growth of the Nigerian economy. Sadly, in Nigeria, personal interests often override national interests. And those who know Dr. Pantami very well are shocked that he could be involved in any underhand dealing to undermine anyone to ensure the emergence of a lackey as the next Chief Executive if the National Communications Commission.
But in trying to give vent to their argument, those who see Pantami as fighting a proxy war aimed at undermining Danbatta are quick to point to the show of shame that took place last week at the launch of NCC’s new building complex in Abuja. Prince Osuagwu, a respected editor, in a report he published on the matter quoted an eye witness, Mr. Craig Ofor, as saying that “the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy displayed the most shocking, unruly attitude and disrespect for the office of the Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC today at the launch of the digital economy complex. The way and manner the minister was hushing Danbatta while he was delivering his speech was bad enough. It was a total embarrassment.
“At a point, the minister took the microphone off the EVC’s mouth. As if that was not enough, he made the event a show of shame and lack of respect for the office of the President of Nigeria. The Minister broke protocol three times whilst the President, Commander in Chief was seated, to stop the Executive Vice Chairman from reading his speech. He timed him the third time to a point where Professor Umar Danbatta was to mention the achievements of the Commission – the ECC project, Pantami stopped him” he concluded
Personally, I could not believe that a person of Dr. Pantami’s caliber could descend so lowly, but then, sadly, that is exactly what he did. The man doesn’t even seem to know that the NCC is an independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry, established by Decree 75 of 1992 and reestablished by the Nigerian Communications Act of 2003. The law saddles the NCC with the responsibility preparation and implementation of programmes and plans that promote and ensure the development of the communications industry as well as the implementation of the Federal Government’s general policies on communications sector of the economy.
Nowhere in the constitution or elsewhere was it mentioned that Dr. Pantami or any minister of communications has the power to appropriate the functions of the NCC or any other parastatal under the ministry. Of course the law provides for the ministry to play a supervisory role on the commission. But neither the NCA Act of 2003 nor the federal government’s gazetted Public Service Rules, prescribes that the commission should cede its independence to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy or any other ministry for that matter.
The Act only permits the minister to formulate and review the general policy for the Nigerian communications sector. But then even on this he could only ask the NCC to do so on his behalf by organising a public consultative process . Even in amendments of the policy, the Minister and the Council shall take into consideration the findings of the consultative process.
The minister is also expected to from time to time notify the Commission and or express his views on the general policy direction of the Federal Government in respect of the communications sector, even though the Commission is not bound to accept them.
The Civil Service Rule is quoted as toeing the line of the Act. In clear terms, the rule in chapter 16, section 2(b) and (c) says: “A Board shall not be involved directly in the day-to-day management of a Parastatal. A Minister exercises control of Parastatals at policy level through the Board of the Parastatal only”.
In his diligent investigation of this serious matter, Prince Osuagwu observed regrettably that “this appears not to be the type of relationship the current minister of Communications and digital economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami and his counterpart in the NCC, Prof Umar Danbatta are reportedly having.
Many industry stakeholders have described their relationship as almost a master-servant relationship which ruins the independence of the commission and erodes the gains made by the sector.
“He minister is alleged to be breathing down the neck of the EVC and frustrating him from taking credit of his achievements since becoming the CEO of the commission in 2015. He is being alleged to have compromised the independence of the commission by completely changing the structure and the reporting line of the management of the Universal Services Provision Fund (USPF), a body set up by the NCC to provide strategic funding to take telecom services to rural and underserved parts of the country.
As one of those who expressed deep optimism about Dr Pantami’s appointment when it was announced seven months ago, it is my hope that the Minister would do all he can to give the lie to all these postulations by ensuring only the right thing is done. He can prove those who believe he is trying to take over the work of Professor Danbatta by allowing the man to operate within the level of independence prescribed by law Pantami can also prove those who believe he is trying to ensure Danbatta’s tenure is not renewed by spearheading the process that will see to Professor Danbatta appointed as Chief Executive of the NCC for another term of four years.
Inspite of these false-starts, I personally believe Dr. Pantami is going to be a resounding success as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. But he can only achieve that if he always keeps in his mind, the fact that he is a man put there by God to serve all Nigerians, and not a tiny group all out to foist a selfish agenda on the country.
The Minister must bear in mind, the fact that he is superintending over a very sensitive ministry of significant importance to the economy of Nigeria. The telecoms is a serious industry that thrives in maturity, and not pedestrianism. Already, what the minister did last week is reverberating negatively on the industry. And what this means is that once such shows of shame continue, the much needed foreign direct investment will be threatened, and the means of livelihood of millions of Nigerians will then be on the line. I am sure Oantami will not want to be remembered as the minister who came and ended up destroying the one of few industries working in Nigeria. He must therefore get his acts right. He must also remember that it is him, and not those allegedly goading him to go after Danbatta, that posterity will hold to account.
The Buhari Administration should do well to completely stop the practice where some ministers erroneously feel they are entitled to appointing only their lackeys to key positions in parastatals under the purview of their respective ministries. Situations of this kind have happened in some ministries, and if Mr President allows it to fester, it will end up consuming his government (God forbid) and wiping out its countless achievements.
Covid-19 exposes our human weaknesses
In the entire history of mankind, I cannot remember one single happening that is so significantly reducing the gap between the haves and the haves-not like the Coronavirus. This is even more so in Nigeria, where the gap between the rich and the poor is so wide that the middle class has since been removed from our social index. In this crime, it is either you are rich or you are poor. A recent report by the World Poverty Clock indicates that Nigeria has since overtaken India as the country with the highest rate of extreme poverty globally. Welcome to Nigeria where the World Bank once said the 99 percent of its resources are appropriated by just 1 percent of the population.
But the Coronavirus is no respecter of personality. It is an ailment that is said to have an over-bloated ego that makes it feel too big to pay you a visit at home or your place of work. You only get infected with it by going to where it is, or by hobnobbing with those who already have it. Analysts already see it as the greatest threat to mankind, an ailment that has shut down a third of the global population and is threatening the world economy in a scale never seen before.
In 2011, a poll cited Nigerians as the most optimistic, or in other words the happiest people on planet earth. One of the key drivers of that poll was the ability of a Nigerians to show empathy for one another, in times of adversity. But with the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, that attribute seems to have taken a flight as many Nigerians have continued to celebrate the fact that the ailment seems to be targeting the rich and the mighty.
Nigerians now make a jest of their leaders who would always rush to London or America when they experienced mild fever or catarrh. Sadly for these leaders, they cannot travel abroad anymore, at least as far as this epidemic is concerned because those countries they rush to are encountering the same ailment at much higher scales. So the leaders are forced to remain with the masses to slug it out together, in the same discrepit healthcare facilities that they have long abandoned.
Courtesy of Corvid-19, all manner of people have become experts in healthcare. On the net , you find all sorts of solutions to the ailment, even though the World Health Organisation has made it plainly clear that a cure is yet to be found. One area, though, where Nigerians are doing well is that of advising the leaders as to measures to control spread of the disease.
Mr. Nick Udenta, a personal friend and media colleague sent me a note suggesting a one week total lockdown of the country, with no movement. He postulates that the one week period should be used to engage in mass awareness campaign, involving every strata of the media, especially the radio. It is a long thesis that entails partnering with the electricity distribution companies and the telecoms industry. One key thing that has worked in China, which countries hardest hit by the epidemic earlier ignored to their peril is social distancing. Seeing the hardworking Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu working so tirelessly towards curtailing spread of the epidemic reminds me of the Governor of New York, who has acquitted himself so excellently working towards the same purpose. It is also encouraging to see some other governors going into isolation, and working towards shutting down the societies they superintendent over all in the bid to discourage the spread of the disease.
This column advises Nigerians to defeat Coronavirus by showing empathy to its victims, whether rich or poor. Those producing jokes out of this dangerous ailment should also refrain from doing so, as what is ahead of us is a disaster of worst proportion in the annals of global history. Only by working together can we wrestle it to the ground.
As President Buhari felicitates with Sambo Aliyu as Magajin Rafin Gwandu
On the 28th day of last month, President Muhammadu Buhari sent a letter of felicitation to Barrister Sambo Aliyu, an illustrious Nigerian, on his long-expected appointment as Magajin Rafi of the influential Gwandu Emirate. Not many people know that the Gwandu Emirate is by hierarchy senior to the powerful Kano Emirate, with only the Sokoto Sultanate and the Shehu of Borno as its senior in the category of traditional leadership set up through the Jihad of Shehu Usman Danfodio.
I know Barrister Sambo Aliyu as a man of unimpeachable integrity; a philanthropist extraordinaire and a patriot of uncommon hue, and for me, Gwandu Emirate itself deserves to be congratulated for picking this golden fish and bestowing in him this prestigious title.
This buttresses what Hajia Maimuna Garba, a close friend and director at the Nigerian Television Authority always tells me about the uncommon qualities of the Emir of Gwandu, His Royal Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Bashar, who in 2005 took over the throne of his forefathers as the 20th Emir of Gwandu.
Under his reign, the entire Gwandu Emirate has continued to witness unprecedented progress in all facets, partnering with the state government to move thousands of his subjects from poverty by deepening agriculture, and also ensuring an enlightened society by encouraging the pursuit of education.
May the Gwandu Emirate and Nigeria as a whole draw huge benefits from the very apt appointment of Barrister Sambo Aliyu as Magajin Rafin Gwandu.