Political leaders are often advised to know the difference between what they think is right and what they believe will work, not necessarily in the short-run but in the long-run. Knowing this fact, and doing it, is essential because, as one writer puts it, ’knowing how the world will judge what you do, how a particular position or policy will play, is a key political skill’. Therefore, if a politician or arm of government can’t predict how its decisions will impact performance, that person or institution may not survive for long.
It’s indeed for this reason that when the history of the present 9th Senate is written, the manner it handled the screening of the would-be ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will definitely take a significant space, especially the shambolic ‘bow and go’ syndrome. Although this ‘school boy’ manner of screening supersedes the present Senate, the Ahmad Lawan-led Senate will have a bungee rope around its neck in the way it conducted the ministerial nominees expected to be concluded today.
Everywhere you go -within the country and outside our shores -you will hear with stunned silence and pain, how our Senate has made joke of one of its most significant assignments given to it by the Constitution . Foreign media have been making a huge, snide joke about the “bow and go”. Though the way a parliament chooses to run its affairs is its business, however, the screening of ministerial nominees should not be like being in a kindergarten class. At least public interest demands a thorough job because governance as a human enterprise is a serious business.
Let’s for a moment leave history to judge the present Senate, and turn our attention to the would-be ministers that may be inaugurated this week and the burden that awaits them. Choice of Cabinet often mirrors leadership style of the President, informed by concrete tactical and strategic decisions and policies. Building confidence in the people is key. This raises a vital question: Does the President’s choice of Ministers inspire confidence? Presidential historians tell us that one major requirement to form a successful Cabinet is a mix of competent, talented, very knowledgeable people, men and women, fresh enough to help build a country and make the people achieve their ambitions. To deliver on the administration’s promises is of paramount importance. In other words, policy should take precedence over politics.
Crucial to this, but not limited to the aforementioned, is a Cabinet of strong managers who will(as it were), control the career bureaucrats and not become their captives. I mean people who know how to build support across the aisle. These are the kind of people who should manage the details of administration while the President should concentrate on determining national priorities and directions himself. The difference between success and failure in any administration is often anchored on getting an all-round Cabinet, men and women who can give Mr. President unvarnished truth, not ‘yes men’.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari has recruited a Cabinet of fine quality that can help the country to the “Next Level” (whatever that means to APC)? Except for a few excellent minds with political experience whom you can count on your fingers, I doubt if these recycled would-be ministers have the nous and the capacity to make right policy decisions that can take the country beyond the present mediocre level. I think what the President will gain most in addition to possible pliable National Assembly, is an unrestrained authority and confidants within his Cabinet. With a President who has a virtue of procrastination in looking at proposals, unaware that he ought to be the advocate who sells them to the public at large, and encourage dissent, many Nigerians are already afraid we may be in for another painful, four years. All I can see in the incoming Cabinet is winner- take- all
You see, this is why in the last four years; the President’s Cabinet achieved little. Rather, as the wife of the President and First Lady, Aisha, once said, we had a “cabal” that allegedly hemmed the President in, men who shoot from the hip, not giving the Commander in Chief much room to think deep about how to design coherent policies that will save the country from the brink and restore authority to his Cabinet and his presidency. The idea of an all-too powerful Chief of Staff should cease. It doesn’t do any government any good. Watergate scandal in the USA in the 1970’s that brought down President Richard Nixon was partly the result of having a too-powerful CoS in the Nixon’s administration.
Ahead of giving the would-be ministers their portfolios, it is pertinent at this point to ask: Will they deliver? As one saying goes, ‘it’s not enough to roll out a bright purple team of Cabinet’. What matters is whether the team members have the requisite knowledge, experience to organise the President’s ideas and vision in such a coherent manner that will produce results for the country? Will the President have the presence of mind to put square pegs in square holes? The idea of putting ‘square pegs in round holes’ remains one of the occupational diseases why our ministers don’t perform.
For once, let this administration have a Cabinet that Nigerians can trust to deliver on the various sectors of the economy. This is called in management “Building Collaborative Enterprise”. It strives on a shared purpose. It is not, according to the Harvard Business Review, “the verbiage on a poster or in a document”. It also doesn’t come via a leader’s pronouncement. It has no place for self-interest. It’s a good strategy or vision statement, which must articulate how a Cabinet should position it in relation to the challenges ahead.
In other words, whether the Ministers will perform or not, will depend largely on the President. Can the President prove by his own actions that he is a collaborative leader, a connector, not a divisive, polarising figure? Does he have the capacity to link people, his team and the resources that will produce better results? I ask these questions because leadership also entails the ability to rally people from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, cultures and leverage all they can offer, to the benefit of a common good of the country.
It’s advisable that the President and his soon to be announced Cabinet see politics in the present tense. Public office is a privilege, a grace given by God, a duty to perform, not a prize to be won. Specifically for President Buhari, he needs reminding that while his appointees hold their positions at his approval, a President succeeds or fails as a result of his own decisions, actions or inactions in office. Failure can be a good teacher in governance. The general consensus is that if Buhari gets it right with his Cabinet, Nigerians are willing to forgive his last four years of insularity that hindered the performance of many ministers, especially those that manned critical sectors like Finance, National Planning and Budget, Power, Works and Housing and Interior ministries, to mention just few.
No ministry that is not important for national development, but the above mentioned sectors require ministers with missionary zeal and the expertise of a whizkid. But the multiplier effects of not getting it right this time around will have profound consequences for Nigeria and the citizens already hard-hit by bad policies of the last four years. It will also determine how history will judge this administration.