Doubtless, there have been too frequent dissonance and crisis of coherence in the office of the president. And this is not good for reputation management. It is too early for his reputation managers to be running around to control damage that can be quite challenging in this digital media age when information travels at the speed of light. It is Nigeria’s presidency and we have a responsibility to counsel for its stability before it is too late.
Besides, it is not too early to claim that the president’s men are not collating the groundswell of opinion on how to fix the presidential bureaucracy and the public sector. This is about twenty-five years of unbroken democracy and the institutions of governance including the presidential bureaucracy that should set the tone for efficient management of the public service, shouldn’t be this wobbly and brittle. This column has since 2016 contained more than twenty contextual commentaries on the expediency of a strong presidential bureaucracy.
The bureaucracy of the presidency organically comprises the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the Office of the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission. These three offices are creations of the Constitution of Nigeria. The Obasanjo administration disrupted the presidential bureaucracy when he added the office of Chief of Staff to the President, as part of the personal staff to the president. The Yar’Adua administration (2007-2010) scrapped the Chief of Staff post while President Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2011-2015) reinstated it and the office exists till the present.
So the presidential bureaucracy today exists with the office of Chief of Staff and the officer (CoS-P) can artfully hijack the presidential bureaucracy with or without the consent of the president. This is where the dissonance that can set off a chaotic bureaucracy in the office of the president occurs. In the last administration of President Buhari, for instance, there were instances when the Chief of Staff signed letters of even transfer of a Permanent Secretary, instead of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Just as we have seen in the current administration whereby the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity has been announcing presidential appointments without details of the appointees: This is the remit of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who is the Secretary to the Cabinet Council, Head of the Cabinet Secretariat and Secretary to the Security and Defence Council.
There are seven offices headed by permanent secretaries in the SGF’s office. These offices include Special Services Office (SSO) with a responsibility for managing the bureaucracy of defence and security services of the federation. The SSA Media’s office since the Buhari administration, has been usurping the duties of the Minister of Information too. This has been due to the curious chaos in the presidential bureaucracy that lost its mojo during the post Yar’Adua administration when a politician who had no solid civil service background was appointed to the office of SGF. This is the origin of the current chaos and present and clear danger to the polity.
What is more curious, why has the presidential bureaucracy become so ordinary to the extent that the President had to announce directly the ban of his son, among other non-members of the Executive Council from the Council Chamber? How did the strangers stray into the Federal Executive Council Chambers? What happened to organisational efficiency in the office of the SGF and indeed the presidential bureaucracy? What is responsible for embarrassing withdrawal of appointments of people into the federal public service these days? Ministerial nominees and even nominees to the Federal Civil Service Commission have been withdrawn. Who supervised the budget details of the controversial N5b worth of Presidential Yacht in the noisy N2.2 trillion worth of supplementary budget? How did the office of the First Lady surface in the purchase of SUVs for the office of the President? How did it take a Senator to tell Nigerians that the Yacht had been paid for before the outcry? Was the Navy unaware of the delivery without payment that would have been explained before the Senator Ndume’s revelation? Where was Senator Ndume too when the National Assembly was talking of transfer of the Yacht’s N5 billion vote to the Students Loan subhead? When did the office of the President know about the controversial Yacht? Where were the concerned ministers and presidential bureaucrats when the details of the supplementary budget were being prepared?
The SGF should be made to take back his office and remit as head of the presidential bureaucracy before it is too late. These challenges would have been avoided if they had been listening to and reading suggestions from those who have retired from the public service that once worked. One of such suggestions, for instance, came through an article in The Guardian barely two months ago by a retired federal Permanent Secretary who once worked in the office of the SGF and was the pioneer Director General of the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR), Dr Goke Adegoroye. Here are excerpts from the classic he wrote on the federal and presidential bureaucracy titled: ‘Too Early To Say We Are Losing It: But Can The Bureaucracy Come To The Rescue?’
‘…From several people across social, economic and religious strata within my own ethnic group, all solid and passionate supporters of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu including those who before he was sworn in are so close to him personally as not to require a notice to see him, the one common thread opening their conversation in the last three weeks, be it on telephone or when we meet, after the titular salutation courtesy of Egbon, Bros, Doctor, Awe (buddy) in palpably worrisome tone is: “we are losing it”! This is in direct contradiction to the euphoria of the first week after swearing in with courageous and far-reaching policy decisions that were commended by most Nigerians, the international community and, indeed, politicians across party lines.
While acknowledging the challenge of the Niger Coup to his administration at this early stage of his presidency and are able to wave aside the complaints of those who claimed to have worked for his success at the last election but are now sidelined, they seem worried by two main issues, namely:
media posts alleging payment of huge sums of money to key individuals around the President to influence appointment into political offices and/or facilitate meetings with the President; and
the new cabinet in terms of its size and composition. They point to the geo-political distribution of the portfolios as smacking of a reverse replay of what we accused the last President of, and the non-fulfilment of the promise publicly made to Malam Nasir el Rufai as both not reflecting the true Yoruba spirit.
Their “we are losing it” outburst, is driven by a sense of collective responsibility and it exudes their true Yorubaness as Omoluabi who want fairness for all, the fear that their expectation of a magic wand by the President is becoming a mirage, and the urgency of a reassurance to the populace as an imperative.
It has become my lot to embark on a well calculated gerrymandering to reassure them that things will begin to fall into place very soon. They all assume that as a former top civil servant living in Abuja and with working experience in the Presidency, I must be one of those advising the team of PBAT behind the scenes and as such should be aware of what’s going on. Yet I am at sea myself in finding a solid base to anchor the many theses of reassurance that I have been carefully offloading on them on a regular basis, as I am equally worried that the firm steps that are required to stem the tide might be gradually slipping away.
New Appointments and Deployments Demand Acculturation:
Anywhere in the world, the swearing in of a new President and his Deputy entails new appointments of many aides, political office holders in executive positions and cabinet members, based on careful screening and selection processes. Because these aides and other political appointees are coming from diverse backgrounds, systems and terrains, manifestation of effectiveness and efficiency at their new duty posts is a function of not just the induction protocols they have been taken through but how soon such inductions have been made to take place, ideally before but not later than a couple of weeks after taking office. Otherwise, their entry into the system could lead to other challenges requiring strong efforts to tackle.
In my address at the public presentation of my twin-volume book – Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Thursday, 25 June, 2015, under the title: Of Indigenous Species and the Threat of Invasive Species as the rationale for the books, I stated that “In the absence of careful selection and systematic introduction protocols, there is the danger of introducing species that can become systematically destructive and a threat to the survival of the native populations in the eco-system”. And that “this usually happens when such species are introduced at the top bureaucratic and/or political office holder levels where they are calling the shots and can deploy their own strains of practices, procedures and behaviours in carrying out their responsibilities”.
Induction training and protocols are an important and indispensable tool of human resources management. With the return to democratic governance in 1999, it was the first step taken by the Obasanjo Administration. Indeed, so crucial did he consider it that he made it to commence within a week after inauguration, with sitting permanent secretaries and key persons from outside the bureaucracy that he had considered as potential Ministers, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants etc as the participants. It was from the Induction that he was able to off-load some perm secs and make up his mind on his choice of Ministers and Advisers in certain States. Professor Adebayo Adedeji, now late, was the principal Facilitator. That Induction for political office holders lasted 10 days. It was subsequently extended to the Directorate level officers GL 17, 16 & 15 as a 2-week course that spanned 20 editions, commencing under Abu Obe and concluded under Yayale Ahmed as Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. I was the chairman of the team that synthesized the proceedings of the 20 editions into a single Report for the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for presentation to the President. The establishment of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms is one of the outcomes of that series of Induction Course.
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You can see why the Tinubu’s presidential bureaucracy that is crisis-prone at the moment needs to be rejigged to wake up to its responsibility before it is too late!