That CHANGE May Start With Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhamamdu Buhari must pay deserving attention to some of the failings that typified his first term in office and consciously make amends this second term. Olawale Olaleye writes

The rebranding slogan of the Muhamamdu Buhari administration, as put together by the Ministry of Information and Culture under Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is “change begins with you”. It’s an idea, which seeks to embrace the challenge and task of rebuilding the country from the individual level and emphasises the concept of roles and responsibility between the leaders and the governed.

However, with respect to this administration, change failed to begin with it in many respects. Indeed, it eluded it in practically all the boxes of expectations of an administration, which vowed to do things differently from what was about the ‘standard normal’ in the governments before it.

The failure of change to take effective root in the government of Buhari in the last four years has been located by observers in the inability of the president to take active charge where necessary and also stamp his feet in areas he was least expected particularly, by paying attention to the functional structure of governance in a democracy.

For nearly the whole of the last four years, government functionaries functioned at cross purposes, a development that not only stalled a lot of things but further earned the government obnoxious reputation, the president especially.

Up till now, no one has explained or apologised to the nation over the disharmony that existed between the Department of State Services and other sister agencies, like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the National Intelligence Agency and at other times, with the police. This poor working relationship was at a huge cost to the country particularly the repercussion that the Nigerian people suffered over failure to share intelligence concerning the staggering insecurity that had since plagued the nation.

Even amongst active cabinet members, many of the ministers refused to work together, a condition largely responsible for the below average performance of the administration. In some other stances, a junior minister was reported as having disrespected the senior colleague and all that the president did was look away.

The failure of the president to rein in some of his personal staff, who loomed large, created a lot of perception crisis for him, such that his wife, Aisha, came out a few times to say just about two people and not his husband were the ones ruling the country. Although she did not name the persons in question, fingers of course pointed at a familiar quarter.

Moving forward, the president must curtail the excesses of some of these personal staff, who have done more to undermine the cabinet, no matter how highly placed. After all, the Secretary to the Government of the federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, the Head of Service, the National Security Adviser and Special Adviser on Media as well as the Director-General, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), who attend the Federal Executive Council (FEC) Meetings are not cabinet members but always in attendance for administrative purposes.

While the SGF is the secretary of FEC, the reason he is always in attendance with six permanent secretaries, the Chief of staff is to convey FEC decisions to the president under extract. The NSA is there to deal with security issues by taking note of deliberations at FEC. The HOS is there to understand decisions concerning the civil service and pass them on appropriately, while the SA on Media is to understand the decisions taken at FEC and to be able to convey and own the narrative when they arise. This is applicable to a few others, who were just in attendance at FEC.

This category of people does not have a vote whenever issues get to that point and as such, does not have a voice. They cannot even espouse their own views at FEC, because they are not members.
Therefore, those who directly report to the Chief of Staff, for example, include the Chief Detail; Permanent Secretary, State House; SA Media; CSO and the ADC. No minister is by normal structure under the Chief of Staff, yet, the current Chief of Staff is feared heavily, because of the influence he wields.

The truth is that the Chief of Staff is not known to the Nigerian constitution and it’s actually a creation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, since the culture of chief of staff is of the military. It was why Obasanjo picked one of his juniors in the military, General Abdulahi Mohammed, otherwise called Baba Ilorin, who was largely commended as effective and in total control of the Villa, yet, unseen, unknown and unheard of by many.

In fact, under military regimes, what obtained was the head of service and the SGF. Thus, the place of the Chief of Staff is definitely not a civilian culture. Although peculiar to the American system, it was never part of the Nigerian system before Obasanjo introduced it.
It was also for the same reason that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua scrapped the office of the Chief of Staff and would rather the principal secretary, State House, in the person of David Edevbie.

But the current Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari has since remained such a power house that many of the ministers fear and defer to him. It is also no surprise that he was believed to have influenced the nomination of about eight ministers, including Geoffrey Onyeama, Udoma Udoma, Okechuckwu Enelemah, Aisha Abubakar, Zainab Ahmed and Mustapha Baba Shauri. That’s an evidence of how much powers he wields.

And with no Principal Secretary, who ordinarily is in charge of the Vila Admin, Kyari has an expanded role in the presidency, such that many believed he used his office to even undermine the office of the NSA as service chiefs also report to him.

Truth be said, it is the understanding of many that the president needs to be well managed for obvious reasons. Thus, as gatekeepers, there is a school that reckons his role so far is with good national intent. Besides, some of the candidates he was said to have nominated into the cabinet are also ranked as some of the best in the government.

But this does not take away the fact that he largely abused his influence and power. With him (and his veiled allies), he’s maintained a firm grip on the administration. And with such a set-up, even the vice-president is effectively contained in terms of the authority he exercises.

These are some of the structural anomalies of the administration, which the president passed, albeit inadvertently and which of course, were largely responsible for the larger chunk of the failure of his administration. Therefore, if the very essence of the change that the Buhari government signifies must be seen and felt, it must begin with him as the Commander-in-Chief by first engaging in thorough ‘house clearing’.