Making Sense of Special Duties

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Lekan Fatodu
I certainly am not the first to express surprise about the retinue of needless aides with unfathomable designations often paraded by political office holders in Nigeria. Many, which I cannot begin to count, have expressed similar sentiments.

The frenetic fondness for legion of assistants by political leaders right from the president, state governors, lawmakers to the local government chairmen has been a major outlet of huge expenditure from our collective purse.

It is therefore not surprising that the call for a total downsizing of the number of these aides is seen as significant in a bid to save money, which the government can then deploy to other critical areas for development.

Across the country, there are alarming examples of how governance is made uninspiring by the number of individuals that are presented to serve, for instance, a governor in one vague capacity or another. And the justification for arriving at such a massive number is usually as ridiculous as the need itself.
When it came to the public’s notice that the governor of Niger, Alhaji Abubakar Bello, has 317 aides, apart from 14 commissioners, the response of one of his spokespersons was that the governor appointed that number of aides “to ensure efficient services.”

But in the real sense, particularly from close observation, this crowd of favoured political appointees does more in putting strains on government services than ensuring ease.
So, it is quite convenient for anyone to live in constant doubt about any thing good ever coming from the opaque job descriptions that are usually fixed for mostly inexperienced people who are only picked to fulfill some political allegiance.

However, further digs into this trend have revealed that while many state executives favour the idea of the army of aides flocking around them without adding any value to governance, and at the expense of the taxpayers’ funds, a very few have deemed it imperative to put moderation into political appointments and ensure that each appointee is saddled with responsibilities which add significant value to government.

And this is why Lagos’ example is noteworthy amongst others. Most times, I simply move on whenever I hear the title of “special duties” in some government circles. Because the post and its holders are most often appendages of an extant and important office ironically endowed with good budget for ambiguous assignments or purposes.

But an incisive attention on Lagos State has provided a preferred perspective, and has given a direction that offers more reasonable explanations for the position of special duties unlike the waste that is presented by many top government offices across the country under the same nomenclature.
Clearly, the undertakings by the Lagos State government through the office of the Commissioner for Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations headed by Mr. Seye Oladejo are quite vital to support the existence of such portfolio in government.

In a country where the statutory emergency services take forever to respond to urgent incidents; and humanitarian support is diverted for self-enrichment, like we see in the case of the fraudulent diversion of materials meant for the IDPs for self purposes by some rapacious public officials, then the need for a truly dedicated and meaningful office for some special assignments will be inevitable and imperative.

I have read of how Seye Oladejo, the Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties moved very swiftly to the aid of the family of one Mr. Odiah who unfortunately lost four children to a horrible mudslide in the Magodo area of Lagos. Apart from the exceptionally sympathetic and speedy manner with which Oladejo and his team in the Special Duties Ministry coordinated the arrangement for succour for the bereaved to reduce their pains, the timelessness of the donation of the sum of N5 million to Odiah’s family by Oladejo on behalf of the Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, was rare in all ramifications.

This is actually the kind of positive reaction that is expected of any responsible government office regardless of the name given to the position.
Under its vision statement the Special Duties Office of Lagos State says it seeks, “to be a an effective interface between the Government and relevant stakeholders, safety/disaster manager based on strategic thinking and planning within a robust research and development environment where safety will be a culture.”
This portrays significant clarity of purpose, which is further accentuated by the amazing works being delivered, by the office across the state in line with its core mandate.

Of course, many have continued to wonder why Lagos is not flagging in its pursuit of excellence, and why particularly the present government, in offering a new model in terms of development, continues to be a talking point around the country.
The answers are not really far-fetched. They are all there in the focus, and vision of a purpose-driven team and its determination to see through every process of inclusive growth. And this can never be found in the army of feckless aides that walk many corridors of power across the country. Undoubtedly, the paradigm of Lagos is indeed a special one for the entire nation.