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Governor-elect without a program

Governor-elect without a program


The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana said that those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it. Santayana probably had me in mind because those who cannot remember a column article I once wrote, are condemned to read it again. I retelling this story from eight years ago because most of the powerful men and women it addressed at the time did not remember it for eight years when they occupied their offices, and we could today be standing on the cusp of a repeat performance.  

Here is the story. In May 2007, three weeks to the handover date to a new set of rulers, a Governor-elect invited me to visit him and he lodged me in a guest house. He came to see me at night, visibly tired from the hassle of the huge crowd of politicians in his house.  We had a wide-ranging discussion on political issues. He was a very experienced politician and had previously held high political office.

He asked me to advise him on his media relations. I said well, he should take into account the national media’s traditions when drawing up his program of rule. He asked what that tradition is, and I said traditionally, the media marks a ruler’s 100 days in office, then his six months in office, then his one year in office, followed by his two years in office, and then the end of his four years in office. Therefore, I said, it is important to break down his program of rule into time periods so that at each stage he will have something to show the media. Otherwise, I said, if you only have programs that would take years to mature, the newspapers will go to town with stories, features and columns saying you achieved nothing in 100 days or even in one year. This could damage your public image to a point where it is difficult to recover.

Then came the shocker. The Governor-elect asked me to draw up his governance program. At first, I thought I did not hear him well. I thought, “How can anyone get elected as a governor without a program? He must have one. What he probably wants me to do is to help break it down into time periods in order to conform with media traditions.” We talked about other issues and when he was about to leave, I said, “Sir, where is the program so that I can work on it?” He said, “There is no program! That is why I asked you to produce one for me.” At that point I wanted to say, “What do you mean there is no program? You wasted people’s time and asked them to vote for you when you know you don’t have a program?” Of course I didn’t say that. I told him as politely as possible that I was not in a position to write a program for him since I have never lived in that state and I did not know what its problems, resources or aspirations were. He needed a committee to do that, after which I could polish and break it down into time periods.

That was 16 years ago. The problem of media relations has become more complicated since then with the onset of social media, which is restless, deeply sensational, addicted to breaking the news before establishing the facts, a million times faster than print media, with much deeper hand-held reach into society and with the combined power of text, graphics, audio and visual. While the media scene has evolved almost beyond recognition, the political scene in Nigeria has remained stuck in time.

On this day next week, eighteen men across the country are due to be sworn in as state governor, easily the most powerful office in our Constitution after the Presidency. Another ten men who have been governors for the last four years will on the same day be sworn in for a fresh four-year term. I hope all 28 of them have by now written, edited, polished and printed their governance programs, ready to hit the ground running. In case no one reminded them, they should also break it down into time lines in recognition of media traditions. Start with the low-hanging fruits, so that the media will celebrate you as an “Action Governor” early in the day and it will give you a good public perception latitude while you deal with the longer-term programs.

The 18 men who are coming in may be new to the governor’s office, but almost all of them are not new to governance, having held high offices previously. At least two have been deputy governors; some have been senators; some others have been commissioners; some have headed important federal agencies; one was a top banker; and at least one is a senior cleric. As for the ten men who are to start their second terms next week, no doubt their people had a favourable impression of their performance during their first term, which was why they re-elected them. Or maybe voters had an unfavourable impression of the men who contested against them. Sometimes you get elected into office not so much because voters like you but because they do not like your opponent.

Any governor-elect who has not yet produced, printed and adopted his governance program and broken it down into time segments in order to escape future media blackmail, should better get cracking while there is still a little time left.  Distraction in this circumstance is understandable because every governor-elect’s house is now a mecca of political activity with a surfeit of visitors.

Given all this commotion, a governor-elect may easily forget to draft a program of governance. It is never far from a first term governor’s mind that he must seek re-election in four years’ time. Some governors begin thinking about re-election the day they are sworn into office. If, however a governor arrives at the office without a coherent and well-thought-out program, then he might have imperilled his re-election chances from the start.

The essential elements of a good governance program will be similar in all the states, with variations based on individual states’ peculiarities. Education, for example, is a priority in every state. Education however takes at least a generation to bear political fruits, so a first term governor needs to have other priority areas that bring quicker political results. Roads, bridges, hospitals, water and electricity projects and empowerment programs readily come to mind. Or if a governor inherits a backlog of salaries and pensions, then that is also a low hanging fruit. Prioritisation is critical because every social and economic sector will come to a governor begging for intervention, while politicians, NGOs, CSOs, traditional rulers, clerics, communities and politicians will come up with schemes every day that demand immediate attention. Plus things you don’t have control over, such as natural disasters, criminal activities or international developments. But by all means, have your priorities and try to stick to them. 

I am offering this free advice because, back in 2007, I was taken aback when a man who had stepped down a few months earlier as a two-term state governor told me that when he was in power, I had been one of his reliable sources of political advice. How come then that I was not aware of it when he was in power? One of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s wise sayings was that “you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.” This man never told me when he was in power that I was his special adviser. I never received an appointment letter from him. As far as I could determine from my fledgling bank account, I never received any salary from him. His office never asked me to attend a meeting. Even now, I cannot determine which, if any, of my advice he ever heeded.  Judging by how it all ended, I doubt if he heeded many of them.

This man apparently shaved my head in my absence because he gleaned political advice from me by skimming it off the pages of newspapers. In other words, he appointed me as his Special Adviser in pectore, a very good idea that he apparently borrowed from the Roman Catholic Church. Some months before his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II followed a 1,000-year-old church tradition and appointed one cardinal in pectore, that is, in the chest. Even though John Paul II had publicly appointed more than 200 cardinals during his 26-year papacy, this one was never publicly revealed. Nor were the reasons for the secrecy ever disclosed. Most probably, the beneficiary bishop was never told that he had been elevated to a cardinal. He never got to exercise the privileges of his high office and when Pope John Paul II died, the appointment lapsed.

I have this nagging suspicion that some of the outgoing governors may have shaved my head in my absence by appointing me as their Special Adviser while they kept the information in their chests. The most painful part is that I had not appeared on their payrolls, in these hard times. Some of the incoming governors are brash new-generation young men, so it is very important to acquaint them with the rules of government service. You see, Your Excellency, you were too young to know the General Order [G.O, it was called in the old times], which is today called Public Service Rules. Section 130 of the General Order stated that “There shall be no unpaid labour.” Any appointment in pectore violates this golden rule.

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