By Willy Eya
Since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration on May 29 last year, some things hitherto impossible in Nigeria have been happening. Many believe that following the president’s body language and his leadership style, the nation’s governance architecture has changed. And as it appears, there is a paradigm shift in the thinking and socio-economic and political culture of the people.
Early this month, Senator Osita Izunaso who once represented Imo West(Orlu) constituency of Imo State rejected his appointment into the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC). The Senator’s decision came to many as a surprise and raised a lot of questions.
Again last week, in what many consider unusual in this clime, two other nominees to juicy Federal Government positions turned down their appointments. First was a former deputy governor of Plateau State, Pauline Tallen who said she turned down her ambassadorial nomination in order to be fair to other parts of the state in terms of federal appointments. She also said that part of her reasons was to have enough time to take care of her ailing husband.
Mrs. Tallen, who is a former Minister of Science and Technology and Labour Party governorship candidate in Plateau State in 2011 and who was nominated alongside 45 others said: “I hail from the same local government and tribe with Gov. Simon Lalong. I turned down the nomination because of balancing of appointments; I don’t think it is right for me to accept the appointment.
“Secondly, proper consultation was not done, my governor was not consulted because I called him when he was in United States of America to ask but he said that he was not aware.
“For me, I was consulted and I turned down the appointment even before the announcement was made. My husband’s ill-health is another reason why I will not accept the appointment.”
His state governor, Simon Lalong described Tallen’s decline as an exhibition of political maturity.
He appreciated Tallen for her decision, and assured the people that their quota would be filled and he would go further to ensure that distinguished sons and daughters of Plateau get more appointments.
Also, one of the ambassadorial nominees, Usman Bugaje, from Katsina State turned down the offer by President Buhari.
Even though he declined to speak to the media on his decision, in his Facebook page, the PhD holder in history thanked Buhari for the appointment but said he could not accept it because his hands were full.
“Regarding the published nomination for an ambassadorial posting, I have not spoken to the press and may not do so anytime soon,” he wrote on his Facebook. He however added: “I thank those who think me fit for the job, but I have so much in my hands already, especially the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP), which is the only broad platform in the North driving development.
“I have weighed the options and have decided to remain home and continue the struggle for development and good governance.”
As if that was not enough, another nominee of President Buhari for the position of the chairman of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC), Professor Akintunde Akinwande also did not show up for screening with speculations that he also had rejected his nomination. But over the weekend, Akinwande who was to be screened along with six other nominees for membership of the commission, said he did not indeed turn down the offer and that he would still show up for the exercise organised by the Senate Committee on Power. Initially, there were reports that he shunned the screening invitation without any communications on his absence and it led to a call-off of the session. Akinwade is a Nigerian American engineering Professor at the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There were reports that Akinwade even declined to avail himself to the Department of State Services (DSS), for security checks which other nominees had undergone. Efforts by the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, to persuade the committee to screen other nominees who turned up for the screening was rebuffed, as the chairman of the committee, Enyinnaya Abaribe declared that the failure of the presidency to inform the upper chamber about the reasons for the absence of the nominee amounted to disrespect.
Fielding questions from newsmen over the non appearance of Akinwade, Abaribe said there was no way the screening could go on in the absence of the chairman-designate. He added that the inauguration of the board of NERC was key to solving the problems of the sector. “Regrettably, when members of the committee assembled to screen the nominees made by President Buhari, we were told that the chairman- designate was unavoidably absent. The presidential liaison who brought the nominees informed us that the chairman was unavoidably absent.
“There was no way the committee could go on with the screening without the chairman designate. Since the nomination was made over three months ago, the Presidency should have known whether the chairman designate would attend the screening or not,” he said, adding that the commission is vital and could not function without a chairman and that it cannot screen them until it has a formal communication from the Presidency.
To many, as genuine as the reasons for either turning down the appointments or not showing up for screening may seem, the development appears unusual in this clime. Among critical observers, so many issues come to mind in x-raying the new attitude to appointments in Nigeria. Some of them include:
Appointments no longer attractive
Even die-hard critics of the present administration would agree that for all those in the corridors of power today, it is no more business as usual. The thinking in many quarters is that under President Buhari, positions of authority are no longer attractive as it used to be.
In the past, every appointment was celebrated not as a call for service but an opportunity to amass wealth. With their personal and official privileges being curtailed, and the presidency keeping a close watch on their activities, even the ministers serving under the current government are certainly not oblivious of the fact that the alluring ambience and power associated with political office are no longer there.
For those conversant with how governments were run in the past, the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by the administration to pull all revenues into a single source before dispensing, has not helped matters as several government functionaries including ministers no longer have control over funds.
So, a school of thought believes that one cannot rule out the possibility that the new culture of turning down appointments may not be unconnected with the disappearing privileges and perks associated with government’s offices.
Perceived failure of Buhari’s government
Many agree that in the court of public opinion, there is no doubt that President Buhari is currently not having the best of times. Increasingly, the public perception is that the administration led by the All Progressives Congress(APC) has failed even to meet halfway its campaign promises to the people.
The situation becomes even worse in view of the downturn in the fortunes of the nation’s economy since Buhari assumed office.
In the first 12 months of the present administration, the economy recorded a total decline of $2.1bn in investment inflow.
Available records show that since July 2015, the country had been experiencing persistent decline in the value of direct and portfolio investments. So far, all the three major components of investments such as Foreign Direct Investments, Portfolio investments and other investments recorded significant declines in the one year period.
The consequence of all of these is the fall into recession which Nigeria has found herself in.
So, in the light of the above picture, it is not impossible that not many would be enthusiastic to work with a government which is swimming in the ocean of several challenges.
Confusion in the air
For some people, part of the challenges of this government is its failure to articulate a clear-cut and comprehensible policy framework. The thinking of people in this school of thought is that there is so much confusion in the air since President Buhari came on board.
In the critical minds of people who share this view, it is not everybody who would readily take appointments under such an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.
Even though the anti-graft war is often criticised for targeting certain individuals, there is no doubt that the fear of it is the beginning of wisdom. Many believe that the easiest way to incur the wrath of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) is to take up an appointment with the government and particularly this one headed by President Buhari.
So, the calculation in many quarters is that to ensure that one does not soil one’s hands, it is better at this time to stay out of government. Those who share this view believe that such a feeling might have been the reason for some people to think twice before accepting such offer.
However, whatever the argument, the truth is that a new culture is gradually emerging in the nation’s landscape.