By Mac Durugbo-- Twelve years into the attainment of democratic governance, it is obvious that Nigeria is yet to strike the cord of true development that can take her to the much orchestrated Vision 20:2020. Ironically, the reason for this unfortunate development is not in the lack of resources, both human and material, but in the inability of the nation to achieve good governance, one of the critical indices of which is policy consistency.
One of the factors that ensure policy consistency and policy direction is a stable executive. Unfortunately, in the last 12 years, the Federal Government has hardly maintained a stable executive. A critical study of the Federal Cabinet between 1999 and 2010 shows an average turnover of two years for Ministers. For example, from 1999 to 2010, the Ministry of Works and Housing had a total of six Ministers, Aviation six Ministers, Finance 3, Defense 6, Foreign Affairs 5, Transport 6, Education 7, Health 4, Commerce and Industry 6, Solid Minerals 3, Science and Technology 5, Internal Affairs (Interior) 7, Agric and Water Resources 4, Power and Steel 5, Federal Capital Territory Administration 5, Information and Communication 6, Labour and Productivity 5, Environment 2 (2007 – 2010), Sports and Social Development 5.
A comparative analysis of this turnover with what obtains in other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America makes quite an interesting study. For example, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who began in May 1997 with a Cabinet of 21 Minister, took almost half that number to his second term which lasted from 2001 to 2005. The mild reshuffle which took place in 2001 only saw some Ministers swapping offices while a few left cabinet voluntarily to pursue other careers. But he left very vital Ministries intact throughout his tenure. An example was the Chancellor of the Exchequer (an equivalent of our Minister of Finance) and Second Lord of the Treasury, Lord Gordon Brown, who served through the two terms. Also the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Irvine of Lairg, served the two terms and so did the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Alistair Darling, who swapped offices in 2001 to become Secretary of State for Works and
Pensions, a newly created Ministry. In his place, Andrew Smith became Chief Secretary of the Treasury. That mild reshuffle in 2001 also saw Jack Straw from Secretary of State for the Home Department to Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, swapping offices with Robin Cook who became Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, remained constitutionally the First Lord of the Treasure and Minister of the Civil Service while his Deputy, John Prescott, swapped the office of Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for First Secretary Of State. The Environment and Transport portfolios were respectively taken over by Margaret Beckett and Stephen Byers.
The two were already serving in top positions in the government before the appointment. Margaret Beckett, for example, was Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons in 1998 while Stephen Byers was Trade and Industry Secretary the same year. Those who did not make it to the second term were largely those who voluntarily left cabinet. They included Secretary of State for Defense, George Robertson, who left in October 1999 and was replaced by Geoff Hoon and Jack Cunningham, Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is also on record that since Blair’s predecessor, David Cameron, came on board, he has neither reshuffled nor changed any member of his Cabinet.
In the United States of America, a similar trend can also be observed. Out of the 22 members of Cabinet chosen by President Barak Obama, only the Secretary for Defense, Leon Panetta was appointed in 2011. The rest 21 members were appointed in 2009 and none has been replaced. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had, perhaps, a more enduring record. He not only kept his Cabinet intact from 2001 to 2009, he was known to have retained several members of his predecessor and father’s Cabinet.
The experiences in the aforementioned countries speak to the benefits derivable from merit and longevity of service. In both countries, the members of Cabinet are chosen on merit and they have security of tenure based on their track record. The argument may well be advanced that other jurisdictions like Japan and other Asian countries also have high turnover of Ministers and political appointees. But again the truth is that the motives, whether in appointment or disengagement, is always based on merit. There and in other advanced economies, public officers resign on the slightest allegation of corruption or scandal against them.
Of course, the result of the high turnover of members of Cabinet here is very evident. Policies change like the whiff of smoke; as ministers go, policies enunciated during their tenure often go with them or where they are retained, implementation becomes almost impossible. It is a virus that has infected and infested all sectors of the nation’s economy. Perhaps, the Education sector has been the worst hit. With as much as seven ministers overseeing the sector within a period of less than 10 years, is there any wonder then the near total lack of focus and direction in our Education System. Is there any wonder the very poor yearly results in the West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations and National Examination Council (NECO) examinations? And by extension, is there any wonder the quality of graduates that are churned out yearly from our tertiary institutions.
As it is in Education, so it is in Health, Energy, Transport, Industry and others. A critical look at these sectors will reveal that not much progress, if any, has been made in them since 1999 to date.
What all this has revealed is that picking cabinet members to form the executive arm of any government is not a matter of politics. It is not even a matter of zoning. But the way our leaders have carried on over the years speaks volumes about our concept of governance. For instance, it seems alright if all the tribes and Geo-political zones are represented equally in the Cabinet, It does not matter if the appointees are capable or not of executing anything. That is, probably, why when they are appointed, they spend their time amassing wealth at every opportunity for themselves and their sponsors at the expense of the rest of us. When there is any reshuffle of the Cabinet, it is likely as a result of disloyalty to the “piper”.
One of America’s foremost Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, once described a leader as one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough from meddling with them while they do it. If this nation must move forward developmentally, therefore, the present concept of governance must change. We must begin to see governance and government as a big corporation where ministers and commissioners are managing directors and executive officers and the electorates shareholders. A business enterprise is run with the aim of making profit. The only different here is that while the corporation makes profit in concrete monetary terms, government profit is measured in terms of welfare available to the people or what is popularly referred to as democracy dividend.
Our leaders must begin to attract more technocrats into Government; people who have successfully managed their business over time, and give them the chance to run the government like a big corporation. That way, they are sure to produce the required results. This is not the time to play politics. The elections are over and the electorates are looking up to those they elected into office for the dividends of democracy. Party men and women who contributed to the victory of the ruling party, both at the state and federal levels, can be compensated through other means.
The truth is that if the nation hopes to achieve the Vision 20/2020 which is less than 10 years away, our leaders must stop using the Cabinet to compensate party men.
Today, the world has practically stood up for Lagos State for the transformation that has taken place in the State since 1999 but particularly in the last four and a half years. The secret of this transformation is that the leaders have run the Government as a corporation. In his first tenure, almost half of the members of the Cabinet of the incumbent Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), were carried from the Cabinet of his predecessor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; members among whom were people of other tribes. In his second tenure, more than 50 percent of members of his cabinet are retained. Those who joined in this term were either former Special Advisers or Permanent Secretariess in the Ministries they are now serving as commissioners. Again, because of the credibility that has been brought to bear on governance in Lagos State, many technocrats and seasoned business executives are willing to come in and contribute their quota in the administration of
the State more because they want to be identified with the success of the present administration and the State. This should be the norm in this country.
*Durugbo is the Personal Assistant (Print Media) to the Governor of Lagos State