The President’s Team

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Dan Agbese

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By Dan Agbese  |

A LITTLE hyperbole won’t hurt. So, here. Millions of Nigerians were glued to the NTA live telecast October 13-14 as the senate put 18 of the president’s ministerial nominees to the test of ministerial suitability and qualification. It was riveting. It is called screening in the arcane legislative speak.

The constitution has ordered this be done to ensure that the presidential team is whole and wholesome. The senate has powers, through this process, to bar unsuitable men and women from the presidential team. It can thus be safely assumed that all those who passed this crucible and emerged smiling, would be clean and faithful servants of the people in the only form of government in which power belongs to the people.

Constitutional orders are quite often troublesome because constitutions are not always minded to say how their orders are to be carried out. President Muhammadu Buhari followed the constitutional order (the first order of business among soldiers is to obey orders) by simply submitting a list of ministerial nominees to the senate for approval. He was not obliged to assign a portfolio to each name. And he did not. He merely walked the beaten path from 1999.

I was disappointed about that. I expected him to do it differently not because this is the era of change but more importantly because in discharging a constitutional responsibility it matters that the intendment of the framers of the constitution be appreciated and taken into consideration.

I believe it was not the intention of the framers of the constitution that in inserting the clause requiring the senate to confirm the president’s ministerial nominees that the nominees are simply processed through the senate and are confirmed. I think this constitutes a wrong reading of the intendment of the constitutional provision under reference. It should be clear to us, as it was clear to President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic that the primary objective of the screening is for the senate to judge the qualification and the suitability of each nominee for the ministry he would head. With the portfolios missing, the senate was not in a position to make rational judgment of each nominee. Thus we saw them answer a few questions but we still do not know them, whatever might have been their antecedents.

It led to two enduring anomalies in the screening exercise last week. Firstly, the senators were forced to ask hypothetical questions: If you are the attorney general…. (asked of lawyers); if you are the minister of defence… (asked of a retired general); if you are the minister of health… (asked of doctors); if you are the minister of petroleum… (asked of the group managing director of NNPC).

Secondly, the senate suspended its right to even ask some nominees ‘a few questions.’ They were asked to take a bow and go. I think the screening process, as it is, is badly flawed. None of the nominees confirmed by the senate was a product of a fair and rational judgement by the upper legislative chamber.

Having said that I think there is much to commend the president’s choice of members of his team. They may be his dream team. It is a careful blend of the known and the unknown faces; men and women who have paid their dues at various levels of human endeavour in and outside the country: former governors, former senators, retired generals, technocrats, politicians and men and women who have worked and proven themselves in overseas private companies and international organisations. I am sure they will bring to their new, onerous national assignment, their professional experience, competence and exposure. We need evidence that they are agents of the change for which we clamour.

There is Chief Audu Ogbeh, about whom a whole load of rubbish has been written since his name was unveiled. He brings to the new administration a plethora of experience as a former lawmaker, a former minister and a former national chairman of PDP. And what is most dear to his heart at this moment: he is a farmer; not an arm chair farmer but a serious-minded farmer who is never tired of telling all those who care to listen, that at this level of national commitment, if that, our agriculture development is a shame and a disgrace. In all his years in the eye of the public, Ogbeh has remained a humble and principled politician without blemish.

There is Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, former governor of old Imo State. He is, in my view, the most principled Igbo politician today. He is a first class brain. Since the military cut short his stay in the government house, Onu has shown none of the anxiety to feed at the table of any government or person in power. He has been true to his principles.

There is Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State, perhaps the most fearless politician we have today. He fought President Jonathan on matters of principle. He put his life at risk but was always sustained by his belief that when good men abandon a determined pursuit of the right cause, the nation suffers.

There is Babatunde Fashola, immediate past governor of Lagos State. He hates blowing his trumpet, preferring that his work should speak for him – and it does, quite eloquently. I live in Lagos and I know what difference his infrastructural development has made to the quality of our lives in that impossible city. All right, the grinding go-slow still grinds us but we accept, even if grudgingly, as part of the social culture of the city. Take away go-slow and Lagos is no longer Lagos.

There is Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State and a former senator. He survived Okija shrine and the Ubah brothers and has since carved a niche for himself as someone larger than the parochial political interests of his own people.

There is Dr Ibe Kachikwu, a first class technocrat, with a vast experience in the international oil industry.

These and the others confirmed so far by the senate are, on the face of it, stellar men and women who would likely make a stellar presidential team – all things being equal. But it is important for us to bear in mind that no matter the quality of their grey matter, no matter their experience and competence, no matter their individual commitment to changes and a better country, they are, to borrow a military term, staff officers of the president. None of them has an agenda. Only the president does. He has assembled the team of staff officers to carry out his agenda in all the areas of our national development. It is the president who will drive his agenda and thus drive his team. We are not waiting for the promise of tomorrow.

I wish him and his team well.

—  Oct 20, 2015 @ 11:10 GMT

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