Today, the Presidential Retreat opens in Abuja for the 43 ministers-designates of the second cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari in this democratic dispensation. Coming just on the trail of the recently concluded two-day Maiden Presidential Policy Roundtable Retreat at the Aso Rock in Abuja, this is one official brain storming session, too frequent and high sounding in Nigeria’s high places.
South Africa, United Kingdom and Senegal concluded their elections almost same time with us. Their respective cabinets have long been inaugurated with Ministers hitting the ground running not receiving belated tutorials on what they claimed to have known. The point cannot be overstated that compared to art of governance elsewhere which is about getting the job done (not endless hows and what’s to be done), Nigeria’s governance architecture increasingly passes for a weekly school for elected and appointed public officers by the same very elected and appointed public officers!
One searches in vain for the word “Retreat” in the constitution such that one wonders why governance-by-handouts has become an abiding commitment for every new administration at Federal, state and local government level. Nigeria’s 1999 constitution (with all its limitations!) envisages a functioning, performing Nigerian state (not a debating society!) with endless resolutions out of dictatorship of ideas by scores of resource fellows with media live coverage. Chapter II of the Constitution deals with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. It says among other things that “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring: (a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development; (b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; (c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and (d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.” “Retreat” (as opposed to “Advance” in military parlance!) has inadvertently become a Nigerian peculiar invention (or is it a peculiar mess?) according to which those who had been duly certified by the party, National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and who audaciously campaigned to have all the answers to all our problems return back to televised schools. Are these “Retreats” truly for nation-building or some feverish just-in-time-jobs/platforms for consultants of varying hues? Are retreats passing fad to grandstand that we are committed to getting the job done or enduring platforms to account to the citizens that jobs they are elected to do are being done even well before they assume offices? This could very well be the first set of questions for the 2019 Class of 43 ministers-designates who are in themselves tested and respected “resource fellows” in their own rights, some being former governors, governor-Ministers, permanent ministers, with multiple degrees advertised at the televised Senate screening recently. The key objective of today’s “Retreat” “is to sensitize the appointees on the status of implementation of Policies, Programmes and Projects of Governments and the Road map towards the delivery of Governments Priorities / Next Level Agenda for 2019-2023”.
Half of the current cabinet designates were retained from the previous cabinet. Are they also to be sensitized too, or they are they sensitizing the new designates? Whatever the worth of the two-day Retreat, I suggest that the first hand-out to the Class of 43 ministers-designates should be the 1999 Constitution with boldly underlined Chapter II on the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy,. Of special importance should be section 14. which says: (a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: I also recommend underlined section 23. which prescribes national ethics as “Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social, Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism and section 24. It shall be the duty of every citizen to -(a) abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities; (b) help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required;
On discipline, the Ministers designates must be reminded of the virtues of punctuality and time management for national development. Nigeria already missed out on the 2015 eight Millennium Development Goals. We have another chance to join the train of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 by the United Nations. This administration’s Next Level Agenda for 2019-2023 has truly come in the fullest of SDGs 2030! Happily some of the policy initiatives of President Muhammadu Buhari encapsulate the SDGs agenda 2030. Goals 7, 8 and 9 deal with Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure respectively.
The acid text for the new cabinet is how to ensure uninterrupted power supply. There cannot be Industrialization without electrification. I also recommend all the historic Executive Orders already commendably signed by President Muhammadu Buhari to Ease business and fight corruption. Of special importance should be Executive Oder 003 dealing with Support of Local Content in Procurement.
Ministers must use national budgets to buy local goods, promote local value additions, beneficiation and create mass of millions of decent jobs for the increasingly frustrated youths. Ministers must rise in support of Buhari’s policy which deliberately and rightly denies scarce official foreign exchange to smugglers and importers of goods that could be produced locally. Ministers should also be vocal to ensure policy clarity in the wake of orchestrated media policy distortions such as the recent CBN’s commendable move to deny food importers access to official foreign exchange. Let importers of the food items and other 41 items source their FOREX from financial institutions towards meeting their importations but not through the Central Bank of Nigeria. Nigeria must move from underdevelopment financing to Development Financing.