The days of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet ministers are numbered. For me, the return of some of them to their seats come June would amount to a disservice to Nigerians. But I won’t name names. Here though I wonder who among them would leave behind what Nigerians would remember them by. Yet, I don’t expect too much because, as I tell myself, even cabinet ministers are human after all. This disposition makes me imagine that I’m rather permissive, eager in fact to justify the other person’s shortcomings, easily dismissing what some may want to hold as flaws on the part of others. So, I don’t see public officials as miracle workers. For they don’t know all the answers, and they don’t have answers to every problem.
This is the reason I clap when any public official does one thing, only one thing,
I’ve come to the conclusion that the more impactful of government measures on Nigerians are the ones that a minister sits in his office, carefully studies, and sets in motion machinery to execute. Measures that impact the lives of a majority of our people which a minister pays attention to are what I regard as achievements. It takes a minister who has the mental capacity and who gives attention to details to identify this in the truckload of the many things that his ministry does and work on it. Issues that require a minister’s attention and which can impact the most tend to be in the hidden details of government policy, programme or measure. But many ministers miss it, attending ceremonies and signing contract papers instead. Yet, much positive impact can be made on our people through a minister’s simple instruction that, for instance, says all books for primary schools (or UBEC programmes) must be printed in Nigeria (as against the current practice). If it’s necessary the minister could assist indigenous printers to access loan to import needed equipment. The minister doesn’t need a ceremony and the TV cameras to do this and jobs would have been created for millions of Nigerians as well as reduce outflow of funds to foreign lands. Most of the time, a minister leaves nothing behind to be remembered by because he comes to office without a single idea of one thing he wants to achieve or be remembered by. There’s no single issue he has passion for or desires to use his new office to bring changes to. So, they spend four years in office being carefully moved around the country by their staff to attend ceremonies and sign contract papers and allowances and welfare packages.
I recall two occasions in the past when I made my view known with regard to what a public official may do in office. The first was directed at Jelani Aliyu, the Director-General of the National AutomotiveDesign and Development Council. I stated at the time he could identify one or two issues that he’s passionate about in this field and attend to them (The PUNCH, April 21, 2017; August. 11, 2017). The other person I addressed is the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, stating he should see to it that books for the UBEC programme that Nigerian governments pay for are not printed abroad anymore (The PUNCH – September 14, 2018). These are little issues that go a long way in making a difference to people and economy. I take note though that on March 13, 2019, Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, was saying that for the first time Nigeria had a law and policy on leather production. Leather, he said, is the highest non-oil revenue earner and he doesn’t see why Nigeria should continue to import leather shoes and belts when we have enough leather here. He wants Nigeria to make shoes and belts that are of the same quality with what is available in Europe.
In furtherance of his objectives, he inaugurates a committee on strategic leather implementation plan. There were several messages in Onu’s action. One of them is how a public official can do just one thing and he would have left his mark. I don’t know other things Onu has done that might have been seen by Nigerian scientists as landmark achievements. But I understand his latest effort, like every Nigerian does, that the minister wants to create jobs for our young ones. That resonates with me, my idea of performance. I don’t understand a government official whose idea of achievement is attending ceremonies, signing contract papers and inspecting projects. Anyone can sign a paper and inspect projects. Where the things to be achieved are, the value addition to the office, is in identifying those issues that make us have so much in talents and resources and yet lack so much, as well as adopt measures that can cause a turnaround. This takes a certain kind of focus, integrity, courage, and sincerity. Sincerity itself requires being passionate to make a difference.
A former minister once said that as a private citizen he experienced the negative effects of things that were wrong with the nation’s social services. When he arrived office as a minister he chose to seize the opportunity to address them. He said if he didn’t, he would also suffer the consequences when he returned to private life. Many criticise government when they are private citizens, they lobby to get positions in government, but when they get it they glow in the aura of being a minister only. They make no difference.
As I’ve already alluded, it’s not those ceremonies complete with TV cameras that many focus on regarding the performance of a public official that I focus on. When a minister works to put in place mechanisms which ensure public funds aren’t freely looted as the current Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, continues to silently do, that’s my idea of performance. She’s making her contribution to the anti-corruption effort. When a minister looks for a way to ensure that sports associations are better run for the greater benefits of players and for the country to achieve greater glory in sports as a former sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, had planned to do, I clap. When a minister stood her ground against the British Government that had prevented a Nigerian airline from getting to Heathrow Airport as a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, once did, I’m elated. Such are the little things that I take note of regarding the action of public officials, my idea of performance, rather than the grandstanding at ceremonies where newsy comments which contribute nothing to our progress as a nation are made. Surely, the President will return with whoever he wants. But I’ll be disappointed as a Nigerian to see him come back with people who liked being ministers but added no value to promoting his agenda on the economy, corruption, and security.