From January 15, 1966 till June 3, 1967, Nigeria had no Minister. That was a period of over fifteen months. The two military rulers of the time, Major General Johnson Thomas Umanakwe Aguiyi Ironsi (1924-1966) and General Yakubu Dan-Yuma Gowon (now 80) constituted permanent secretaries as members of their Federal Executives Councils.

Under General Ironsi, the following people were appointed: Mr. Ige (Agriculture and Natural Resources), C.O. Lawson (Communications), Alhaji Musa Daggash (Defence), Allison Ayida (Economic Development), S.S. Waniko (Education), T. Eneli (Establishments), Edwin O. Ogbu (External Affairs), Abdul Aziz Atta (Finance), B.N. Okagbue (Health), Phillip Asiodu (Industries), Grey Eronmosele Longe (Information), Alhaji A. Mora (Internal Affairs), M.A. Tokunbo (Labour and Welfare), H.A. Ejeyuitchie (Mines and Power), Alhaji Abdulrahman Howeidy (Special Duties-Internal Affairs), Alhaji Sule Kolo (Trade), H.O. Omenai (Transport), S.O. Williams (Works and Housing), Alhaji Sule Katagum (Chairman, Federal Public Service Commission), A.E. Howson-Wright (Chairman, Nigerian Railway Corporation), A.I. Obiyan (Chairman, Nigerian Ports Authority) and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Gabriel Onyiuke. There was also the all-powerful Chief Francis Nwokedi, who was Permanent Secretary, Special Duties and of course, Chief Pius Okigbo. Mr. S.O. Wey was in all but name the Secretary to the government.

As for General Yakubu Gowon, he had a preference for Permanent Secretaries. The Permanent Secretaries were the ones that paved the way for his coming to power on July 29, 1966 during the historic meeting held at Ikeja Cantonment. So, for the first ten months of his administration he had no Ministers. He relied heavily on the counsel of Permanent Secretaries and Judges who administered the country. They include Sir Adetokunbo Ademola (Chief Justice of the Federation), Alhaji Sule Katagum (Head of the Federal Civil Service Commission), and the Solicitor General, Biliaminu Oladiran Kassim. Others were Mr. Phillip Asiodu, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Mr. Eneli, Mr. B.N. Okagbue, Mr. Allison Ayida, Mr. Phillip Asiodu, Alhaji Abdul Aziz Atta, Mr. Buba Ardo, who later became a Supreme Court Judge, Alhaji Musa Daggash, Prince Festus Adesanoye, who later became the Osemawe of Ondo and Mr. S.O. Williams. Some of them were later referred to as “super permanent secretaries.” This included Mr. S.O. Wey, who later became the Secretary to Government. There was also Mr. Ime Ebong, who was subsequently the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Planning.

It was not until June 3, 1967 that General Gowon brought eminent Nigerians, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Joseph Takar, Mallam Aminu Kano, Mr. Wenike Briggs, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Shettima Mongunu, Chief Okoi Arikpo, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, Chief A.Y. Eke and Chief Edwin Clarke, into his cabinet. Chief Obafemi Awolowo left the cabinet in 1971 for personal reasons. Gowon later appointed some Military officers into his cabinet. These included Major General Emmanuel Eyo Ekpo (Agriculture and Natural Resources), Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo (Works and Housing), Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye (Health), Lt. Col. Ahmadu Alli (Education), Captain Olufemi Olumide (Transport), Brigadier Murtala Muhammed (Communication), Brigadier Henry Adefowope (Labour) Col. Dan Suleiman (Special Duties) and brigadier Mohammed Shuwa. Even then General Gowon did not make them members of the supreme military council, yet he allowed the Permanent Secretaries to attend the meetings of the Supreme Military Council as observers. Worse still, Ministers could not pass memo directly to General Gowon. This arrangement created problems between his Ministers and his Permanent Secretaries till he was removed on July 29, 1975.

Now forty–years after, the same scenario is being played. The recent appointment of Alhaji Ahmed Joda as Chairman of the transition committee and the submission of his 800-page report to President Muhammadu Buhari is to emphasise that retired and serving civil servants will play key roles in the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. Even though he is now a transformed democrat, the military blood in the President is still alive. I am of the view that the military trusts civil servants more than they do politicians, and the civil servants in turn trust the military than the politicians. The role to be played by the retired civil servants will become clearer in the months ahead. Let us keep our fingers crossed.

Eric Teniola, a former Director at the Presidency, stays in Lagos.