Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu. Email, email@example.com
It came as a shock to many people in the hall when the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, declared that the Lokoja floods did not come to anyone as a surprise.
This declaration was made before all the Secretaries to State Government (SSGs) in Nigeria, who were seated in the State House Banquet Hall. It soon dawned on everyone that information came in good time and that the Kogi State Government was notified three months ahead of the disaster. The warnings were repeated subsequently and other states ‘in the line of fire’ were also alerted. Suggestions on the advisable remedial actions they might want to take were made and calls were made for them to ensure that the right measures were taken to protect lives and property.
Curiously, the state government actually took the repeated warnings seriously and the state governor made the information available and explained the need to move. It came out in the end that people simply ignored the calls and warnings. The experience of Governor Aliyu Babangida of Niger State, who was present at the event and who narrated his own predicament with a section of the Niger population facing a similar situation, appeared to corroborate everything.
The people have not moved to the new settlement he built for them. His agreements with traditional sources of authority were having challenges because of the people’s inertia, as most doubted that such a thing would happen. When it did happen, as it often does, a small detachment would move. The rest will stay – until the next rains, of course! But Babangida was happy that those who moved when the traditional ruler decided to set the tone were later joined by others who were subsequently driven out by the floods. This year, too, more have moved because of this round of flooding. He is confident that the forces of nature will make them take advantage of the alternative village already set up for them at the expense of the state.
But the forum was actually not convened to discuss or deal with floods and flooding. It was a retreat organised by, and at the instance of the SGF to provide a platform for the SSGs to examine how to improve public administration, good governance and service delivery. For the two days that it lasted, the State House Banquet Hall faced an epidemic of secretaries, beginning with the SGF. The exchanges were robust and deeply revealing.
The beauty and strength of the retreat came more from the ‘content’ of the proceedings. One can say with relief that this retreat was completely unlike several ones witnessed across several institutions in government circles, where empty ceremonies and lousy speeches contrive to pass themselves off as useful capacity building programmes for the officers concerned.It is instructive that a former President of the Senate and three former Secretaries to the Federal Government took part in the proceedings.
They did not just come for the opening ceremonies and leave after 30 minutes, as is the norm with ‘big men’ during most government programmes. They also did not talk down on anyone, but spoke with a calm frankness that could only have come from a deep concern about the future and wellbeing of the nation. Senator Ken Nnamani chaired a session and all his inputs and observations were informed, statesmanly and devoid of any pretensions to superior wisdom. Chief Olu Falae brought his experience as the first SGF under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida to bear on the challenges and transmutations office, pointing out lessons the current SGF, Head of Service and SSGs can learn for their present schedules.
Gidado Idris was forthrightly informative on how not to be effective in office, whether as SSG, SGF, or any other office whatever. His experiences in government and in the office of SGF, as well as his explanations about how to maintain credibility, were a harvest for everyone. Ambassador Babagana Kingibe was in his element, as he x-rayed the challenges of the office of SGF and expatiated on why office holders should separate personal interests from their tasks if they wish to have the sort of integrity that would make them enjoy the confidence of their bosses.
Professor Jerry Gana, typically, bestrode every subject thrust at him with his usual analytical flavour, taking everyone through the issues and challenges of good governance with a flare that was peculiarly his. He emphasised the need for effective communication and commended the current Information Minister, Labaran Maku, for following in his footsteps by conducting a media tour and showcasing the achievements of government.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah was present. He also spoke and anyone who had hoped that his elevation to the position of Bishop would have tempered his passion for matters affecting the people was most thoroughly disappointed. Rather than being mellowed, he came with extra fire and with the same commendable analytical rigour. But it was a fire that turned out to be a light showing the way forward on how to measure good governance, rather than a flame than burnt and destroyed.
The National Planning Minister, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, led the discourse on the milestones and challenges of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda, delving into the specific targets and their expected multiplier effects. Our intervention in this regard was to (1) distinguish between reform and transformation (2), point out institutional and structural challenges to any form of transformation (3), make suggestions on why the government must forge ahead even in the face of counter actions by entrenched interests and (5) identified detailed actions that will drive national transformation. Professor Mike Kwanashe raised some of the core challenges facing national transformation; and with a distinctive leftist concern that always makes him a welcome voice on policy discussions. His input drew attention to the need for a serious ‘interrogation’ of all the variables that we may take for granted as already available or understood in the transformation process, but which are not.
The fireworks expected from the presentation of Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, on “Strengthening Inter-Governmental Relationship: The Role of Secretary to the Government of the Federation” came with a fire extinguisher. He made a mature submission, admitted the right of the executive arm of government to ‘suggest’ projects and a budget, but affirmed the view that the presumption of sacrosanctity of executive submissions is open to question.
Senator Udo Udoma’s entry on the same theme was a realistic set of observations on the causes of friction between institutions and the ego-induced indiscretions that create needless friction between representatives of the same people operating at the Federal and state levels. As in the other presentations before his, it was an informed intervention that added to the non-combative and distinctly pro-National Assembly submissions of the Senate Leader.
Governor Donald Duke’s intervention on building strong intuitions for enduring democracy drew much from his experience within and from outside government. It was a frank and unpretentious discussion on how to manage the challenges of leadership, the human and institutional obstacles to be expected. He was able to show why, in spite of all challenges, the leader must not relent.
Professor Afolabi’s interventions (and there were several) had the attention to detail he is known for. Even when he had to make quick stand-ins on themes that were originally not on his plate, he brought considerable rigour to bear on his outputs and gave easily-digested ideas on the issues concerned. Dr. Nielle Myshak spoke on the coordinating role of the Office of the SGF and gave useful pointers on the massive schedule of the SGF’s office. She dwelt on its equivalent in other lands and commented on how coordination can be improved through streamlining of roles in government.
As for the SSGs, it was two days of unblinking interaction. Their concerns revolved around how to balance some of the obvious challenges of federalism, especially against the background of limited performance by the Federal Government. The sometimes conflicting roles of chiefs of staff and various SSAs to their governor bosses were examined and indications were given on how to avoid friction. The powerlessness of many SSGs before their, sometimes distinctly imperial, bosses was noted and ways of navigating the ‘rocks’ were pointed out. All said, they were woken up to how to better manage their schedules and, more importantly, how to serve their people better.
The SGF, Anyim, the convener of the retreat obviously had clear outcomes in mind, because he avoided general comments in all his interventions; from his welcome address, through his comments during the retreat, to his closing statements. He had not invited the SSGs to pontificate, but to brainstorm with him on how Nigerians can be better served through the various state governments of which they are supposed to be the engine rooms. He raised fundamental questions about statecraft and the need for everyone to always work in such a way that what they do can stand up to the best standards of good governance, natural justice, equity and good conscience. He noted, for instance, that strict compliance with urban and town planning rules, which the SSGs are in a position to oversee, would have averted the recent events in Lokoja and other places.
In urging everyone to focus on doing the right thing, rather than saving their jobs, the SGF left no one in doubt that his concerns are nationalistic and deeply human. For the record, the presence of experienced administrators and the generally free and fully interactive ambience of the retreat, coupled with the continuous physical presence of the SGF and the others throughout the duration of the programme, actually set a tone for anyone who wants to organise a serious policy retreat in government.