Opinion

Abdul Mahmud: Buhari, His Critics And The Case For Efficient Government

“The real question is not whether there is a centralization or delegation of power but whether there is efficient government. And this is determined by the conditions in which a government operates…it is understandable that a president should say that provincial premiers should be selected on the basis of merit, of ability- not popularity, not because they belong to this or that clique. You must understand this as a phase. Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got that chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us”, argued the great African statesman and hero, Nelson Mandela, in the March 2001 interview he granted to South Africa’s leading newspaper, The Mail and Guardian.

In the interview, Mandela marked out centralization of power, abuse of political appointment processes, careerism and corruption as some of the issues confronting states-in-transition, and established the basis on which political domination can be interrogated by taking the case for efficient government into account in order to curtail the abuse of power.

There are two fundamental points Mandela made that are pertinent to us. First, that political appointments should be made “on the basis of merit and of ability”. It must be pointed out that President Buhari has been widely criticized for making political appointments that seem to promote the interests of the north far and above other sectional interests. His critics point to Section 14(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that ” the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies”. While the import of this constitutional provision is not lost on me, it is important to appreciate the peculiar condition that confronts Buhari’s presidency. For a President settling down to government business after many years in the opposition, the fixation on ethnic and sectional representation when the framework of government hasn’t been knocked out and formed becomes a disturbing distraction, at least in the short run. For me, ethnic and sectional representation should not be served as a political expedient course. But, President Buhari appears not to appreciate the peculiar condition that confronts his presidency and misses the point Mandela made in the recent interview he granted to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He arms his critics when he says that ” I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong? I have been with them throughout our trying times, what then is the reward of such dedication and suffering?”. The yardstick of appointment, if I read Mandela correctly, is merit and ability and not the long sufferings and dedication of acolytes. To reward acolytes with public office is the height of cronyism!

Second, and a more important point, here, is the case that can be made for efficient government as Mandela clearly pointed out. True, making the case for efficient government has become the hollow phrase of academic discourses, but we cannot dismiss the argument on efficiency of government business neither can we deny the truth of effectiveness nor wave off the competitiveness of government the argument makes plain. The resources available to government and the demands of citizens on government make the case for efficient government imperative. My argument, here, is that our agitation, in spite of the constitutional demand, shouldn’t be on sectional or ethnic representation but on how we can push President Buhari to accept smaller and better government as a governance reality. Though President Buhari has spoken extensively on the need to reduce the number of Ministers of the Federal Republic and of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), but he hasn’t shown any real inclination for smaller and efficient government. One first step is to propose an executive bill directed at expunging the proviso to Section 147(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), which commands the President “to appoint at least one Minister from each state”. Smaller government eliminates waste. Going by Messrs Adesina and Garba’s appointments, there is nothing to suggest he is matching words with action. There is so much he can learn from Rwanda and Mauritius, two countries that are held out as stellar countries with smaller and efficient governments by the World Economic Forum.

This takes me to the issue of corruption that has become President Buhari’s paternoster. It is easy for us to nod our heads in amen whenever he begins every sermon on corruption with a prayer, or what is increasingly becoming the nunc dimittis of those looters whose consciences prick with the guilt of their naked pillage of our commonwealth; but what isn’t very easy to discern, at least from his prayer against looters, is the direction of his anti-corruption fight. Perhaps, we can discern the movement of his first step towards fighting corruption in the appointments of individuals without dirty baggage and in the overt centralization of authority around his person or what his spokesperson, Femi Adesina, calls “the sheer force of personality and presence”. Centralization of authority, it must be stressed here, seeks to pull a country towards a defined force of personality and presence which the individual who exercises the ultimate power invariably symbolizes; though we seem, for lack of communication on the part of his media handlers, not to appreciate this. However, there is a downside to centralization of authority. In a constitutional democracy, the moral force of the ultimate holder of power is always kept in check by the constitution. Simply put, the moral force of President Buhari must be in sync with the letter and spirit of the constitution. He cannot venture outside the basic law no matter the force of his personality and the ubiquity of his presence.

Concluding, Nelson Mandela had this say on the powers of appointment of the president: “Our mandate must derive from grassroots. That is the principle of democracy. But, at the same time, there must be a central authority that is going to pull the country together. With the problems…there was no other way if we wanted to clear the country of corruption. The President had to say: “I am going to appoint premiers””. May those who eventually pass President Buhari’s test not end up robbing our people. Did I hear you say, amen?

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Article written by Abdul Mahmud..

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