When a Blackberry contact forwarded the list of the new ministerial nominees to me, I quickly disregarded it as one of those serial BBM broadcasts typically shorn of veracity. My skepticism was premised on some eerie optimism, earnestly looking forward to the injection of a new breed of revolutionists and renowned intellectuals into the ailing governance systems. Reveling in that fantasy, I had even predicted the emergence of an array of super-skilled technocrats of prolific pedigrees in the mould of the Akinwunmi Adesinas, Segun Agangas, Arunma Ottehs, Omobola Johnsons, Chidi Odinkalus and many others that have performed brilliantly, exceeding expectations both in the private sector and in the public service.
Disappointingly, the list of 12 ministerial nominees sent to the Senate for confirmation wasn’t a ruse, dashing my hopes, and that of many Nigerians anxiously yearning for the transition to a new type of leadership characterized by meritocracy, competence and innovation. A cursory look at the list evidences a total lack of political will and readiness to constitute a reform-oriented team capable of churning out policies and programs that would earn President Goodluck Jonathan a bright outing at the 2015 polls.
To begin with, certain names on the list represent a complete contempt for the war against corruption. Until January 15, 2014, Boni Haruna, former governor of Adamawa state between 1999 and 2007 faced charges of fraud and embezzlement of public fund running into billions of Naira. In an uncommon speed of lightning that is characteristically rare in the Nigerian judiciary, his lawyers filed a no-case submission on January 13, 2014. The application was heard two days later and a judgment handed down the same day discharged and acquitted him of all corruption charges. Few days later, his name appeared on a list of ministerial nominees forwarded to the red chambers for screening. Observers and stakeholders keenly watching the political developments in the country have refused to view the judicial swiftness surrounding Boni Haruna’s acquittal and the ensuing nomination as a mere coincidence.
Not long ago, the convicted former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alameiseigha, was pardoned despite his muddy political exploits and daring antecedents in the chess game of corruptionmania. As if the presidential pardon granted Alameiseigha isn’t enough bitter pill for Nigerians to swallow, a surge of bizarre court judgments and pronouncements have been witnessed lately, which has seen ex-convicts and indicted politicians totally stripped of guilt and shame for their inactions.
The Boni Haruna saga adds to the list of latest court verdicts which have set longstanding legal precedents and commentary in turmoil and confusion. Consequently, the few shiny efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that once gave citizens some shred of hope for accountability in governance have all been rubbished. “Is there still any need to continue to have a castrated EFCC that cannot bark and bite?” This is one question many young Nigerians have been asking, considering the spate of court reversals and quashed convictions. What is the use having a crime-fighting agency that works so hard to secure a conviction which would end up being either quashed, or the accused gets pardoned?
Speculations are rife that these court-ordained saints have been penciled for even bigger political appointments and official responsibilities. The appointments will of course, offer the saintly “statesmen” fresh opportunities to refatten thinning foreign bank accounts; and also compensate and pacify certain aggrieved actors supposedly capable of improving the ruling party’s dwindling political fortunes. Here we are witnessing what appears to be an unsavory season of political pacification and compensation, while citizens watch in utter helplessness, the unfolding weakening of democratic institutions and the resulting exposure of organs of government to ridicule and scorn.
Nothing exemplifies this nauseating season of compensation and pacification than the emergence of Bamanga Tukur as the new chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) days after he was ousted as the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)! The NRC is a sector screaming for a change of guard from the old to the new. It is not a comforting idea that a man that I started hearing about in my nursery school quatrains and primary school social studies classes three decades ago has continued to occupy exalted public offices in a country that boasts of no less than 65 Million youths half of whom are unemployed graduates. Notwithstanding his devastating zilch record of performance either in the public service or as a party chairman, Tukur has been blessed, nay, overloaded with a greater role of spearheading the transformation from locomotive engine trains to conventional high-speed passenger trains of the 21st century. With bated breath, Nigerians await the promised rail infrastructure development, maximized performance, better safety measures and customer services right under the octogenarian’s watch.
Yes, the executive has wide discretionary powers to appoint persons they deem fit into exalted positions. However, the latest ministerial list illuminates the tragic flaws inherent in the exercise of such discretion. The character or quality of personalities who take over the helms at government ministries and departments is so important because the new helmsmen will decide the fate of 160 million Nigerians for better or for worse. Worse still, to political spectators, especially the younger generation craving for positive political changes at the center, the impression they get is that political ascendancy is basically anchored on loyalty, patronage and desperation rather than merit and good public conduct. This ingrained notion will take even a longer time to overturn.
Shifting the balance of power in favour of a new generation of energetic and responsible leaders would surely pay off, both in terms of enabling a favorable outing for Goodluck Jonathan’s government if he decides to contest in 2015 elections, and at the same time, positively impact on the plight of the people. As my good friend Kemi Adeloye rightly observed, the true test of transformation lies in what the Senate does with the list, considering all the information about the nominees at its disposal. It would also be the basis of measuring the seriousness of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as a leader really desirous of “transformation”. Otherwise, just keep in mind that governance has been put on hold till after the 2015 elections. That consciousness is comforting enough!