By Onyema Omenuwa
When Chief Bola Ige was appointed minister by a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) administration in 1999 and he seemed to carry on with the conviction that it was a call, on merit, to serve the nation, Chief Sunday Afolabi had to, unapologetically, caution restraint, telling Ige that he was only invited to “come and chop.” For the fact that Chief Ige was a chieftain of a rival political party, the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), Chief Afolabi considered him undeservedly lucky, of course owing to the belief, if not the fact, that political appointments in Nigeria open a floodgate of benefits for appointees. Chief Ige remained in that administration, first as Minister of Power and later as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, till he was assassinated on December 23, 2001.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo may not be a likeable person but what he demonstrated with Ige’s appointment would qualify as clearness of purpose to lead, informed by the conviction that once elections are won and lost, leadership ought to assume a life propelled by statesmanship, with party politics really de-emphasised. That is a hallmark of true leaders. The progress or development of their nation is their preoccupation. The flipside would showcase opportunistic characters who are consumed with the desire for self-aggrandisement, which is usually fed by shameless sycophancy. Naturally, sycophants would usually expect reward, by way of political appointments, irrespective of whether or not they have the capacity to discharge critical assignments needed for national growth.
For some two days last week, the nation was abuzz over an appointment made by the new Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, which would evoke the Afolabi-Ige scenario, but with an unsavory outcome that saw mob mentality eventually triumphing over what was evidently a patriotic gesture; even when the appointee is not known to belong to any political party, much less a rival one. Obviously convinced that he needed a competent hand as media aide, the Senate President had headhunted Festus Adedayo, newspaper columnist and a known critic of the incumbent administration of Muhammadu Buhari. However, no sooner had his appointment been made public than members of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their supporters went into a frenzy of rage. All hell broke loose, with babel of voices protesting that Adedayo had usurped an APC appointment. Barely 24 hours later, they won: Lawan caved in to the blackmail and reversed Adedayo’s appointment. ????
Much more than anything else, the Adedayo experience offers an opportunity to interrogate the purpose of political appointments. Are they exclusively for political patronage, in which case bootlickers, some of whom are actually party thugs and, unsurprisingly, lack any form of professional competence, are rewarded? Or should a leader like Lawan see in it a chance to pull and pool together professionally-tested hands for his own benefit of achieving results, and as well for the benefit of the nation, which stands to eventually gain from such results. The fact shouldn’t be disregarded that success at elections is premised on promises of results.
Then consider also that more often than not, wherever and whenever a group of Nigerians are gathered, the subject of discourse can’t be completely divorced from politics. And there is usually a consensus that the country has remained stagnated, many years after independence, in spite of the abundance of intellectual capital needed to launch any country to enviable heights. In equal measure, opinions would also always coalesce into one factor as reason for that sad reality: bad leadership! Of course, it goes without saying that bad leadership thrives where people are entrusted with positions of responsibility or authority, the sole qualification for which is just their praise-singing prowess whenever they find themselves amongst politicians. An added qualification would be the capacity to hurl attacks, verbal or otherwise, against known and imaginary enemies of such potential political benefactors.
Interestingly, such political minions who are readily available to execute evil assignments are always for the asking in the polity and they are almost always rewarded, unless their masters don’t succeed in their quest to clinch positions. Given this reality, Lawan committed an unpardonable sin against his party, the APC, when he went outside of their fold to pick an aide. It doesn’t really matter to the APC people that if the Senate President succeeded in his national assignment, courtesy of a non-partisan appointment, it would be to the glory of their party. No, an ordinary Nigerian, particularly one who shuns sycophancy and hypocrisy, and takes the government of the day to task on its obnoxious policies, is not worthy of any political appointment. And woe betide any such Nigerian who takes his criticism of the present administration a notch further by mentioning Buhari. Such a one instantly becomes an enemy of state.
It has never been this bad, that dissenting views cannot be tolerated by an administration and its supporters. And in a democracy! In fact, extremism displayed in every facet of life appears to be the bedrock on which the present administration rests. In the history of Nigeria, it has never been that if a citizen held contrary opinion to that of the ruling party, that citizen automatically hated the President. Maybe only during the dark days of Abacha! So, should every Nigerian become an APC or Buhari bootlicker to enable them to find space in APC’s good books and thereby qualify for political appointments? The fact cannot be overstated that competent Nigerians abound who cannot touch party politics even with the longest pole, yet they are enthusiastic for public service. It’s obviously for such Nigerians’ inclusiveness that past administrations allowed a window through which professionals with absolutely no party affiliation could come on board and deploy their expertise for the ultimate benefit of the nation.
The argument, as canvassed by APC members and their supporters, that criticism of an administration disqualifies the critic from serving in that administration, therefore, flies in the face of patriotism. If so, Ige of the AD shouldn’t have been minister when the PDP held sway. Dr. Reuben Abati, not any party man though, but once a vitriolic critic of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, ended up serving as spokesman therein. Indeed, an administration that is desirous of change would see a critic as an asset and be disposed to experiment with his alternative approaches.
The point needs be emphasised that an invitation deliberately extended to a citizen to serve in an administration that he’s a fierce critic of, can only be for their knowledge, competence and experience to be exploited. Even in the midst of the deafening noise that trailed Lawan’s action, he has demonstrated with it that there are indeed Nigerian politicians who are ruled by altruistic considerations. Sadly, the ravenous ones overwhelmingly outnumber them and this multitude is strutting about in the APC. Today, they have had their way but it is, sadly, a way that has the potential to rob the nation of the services of quality professionals.
. Omenuwa is a lawyer and commentator on national issues