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The president and his party: Are they finally awake?

On Tuesday, the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) met and the fact that they did meet is huge news. It should…

On Tuesday, the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) met and the fact that they did meet is huge news. It should not have been big news because the body is supposed to meet at least four times every year. However, for reasons that had never been made clear, they had never met to discuss anything since they won the elections two and half years ago. The ruling party decided that with power in their hands, there was nothing to discuss and so nothing happened. It’s in reality a huge statement about the powerlessness of a Nigerian ruling party that two and half years into power, most political appointments into boards and parastatals have not been made, party faithful had not been compensated, the competent people with integrity that the party promised Nigerians would be appointed to replace the corrupt officials of the previous administrations were never appointed. The party, which everyone knows was full of angry and frustrated people in dire need of meetings to address their frustrations, could not meet to discuss and do something about their predicament. There cannot be a clearer statement about the powerlessness of this allegedly ruling party.

The APC was of course taking its cue from the President who made it very clear from day one that he was not in a hurry to establish his governing team and govern. Following his inauguration on 29th May 2015, there was an eerie wait for things to happen but then nothing happened for such a long time. Well he did request for approval to appoint 15 special advisers, which he obtained on June 3, 2015, just five days after his inauguration. Two and half years later, he has succeeded in appointing five out of the fifteen that had been approved. Out of the five, he sent three to the Vice President and one to the Minister for Budget and National Planning. It took President Muhammadu Buhari five months after inauguration to appoint ministers. The heads of most government agencies are yet to be appointed. It appeared the President appears to have been serious when he said political appointees were noisemakers and those who do the real work are civil servants. 

There appears to have been a change of heart because on Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that he would expand the Federal Executive Council to bring in more supporters at federal level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government. At present, President Buhari has 36 ministers one each from all the states of the federation. The President even publicly regretted that he had not re-constituted the boards of parastatals as he had promised in 2015. He reminded APC leaders at the meeting that he had given instructions since October 2015 for this exercise of making political appointments to start but that there had been inordinate delays through several committees in an attempt to get the balance right and to make sure all parts of the country were equitably represented. Two and half years into a four-year tenure is a long time to decide who to appoint and the question today is why are appointments back on the agenda, if indeed they are. Why did the President promise that this time: “By the Grace of God, these appointments will be announced soon. Especially now that the economy is improving, we will have the resources to cater for the appointees.” 

The new dimension on the political terrain is of course the maneuvering for the next elections, which have taken off in earnest. What has been surprising is that the President knew all along that he became president because of the delicate merger between three parties that allowed him to extend his votes beyond his traditional catchment area. The obvious implication was that he had to maintain this enlarged group and in politics making appointments is a key instrument for keeping friends happy. Over the past two years, many barons within the party have been engaged in elaborate stratagems to take over from the president while he on his part had refused to play the counter politics of keeping as many barons close to him. The question today is whether he has finally realized that he had been on the path to political suicide. I doubt that we know the answer yet. What we do know is that precisely because he is keen on his legacy, whether or not he is interested in a second term, he needed to play politics to ensure that the ruling party remains faithful to the tendency that would protect his legacy. The fact that he has consciously refused to even appoint a political adviser and to have strong politicians around him suggests he is intransigent about remaining an “apolitical’ politician. 

The President appears unconcerned about a political environment in which the Senate President, Speaker of the House, the Party Leader and many other barons of the party are not in his camp. At the same time, most State governors who are extremely powerful on party and electoral matters are also extremely upset at what they consider to be the manner in which he had marginalized them. By refusing to engage with them for so long, the challenge he would now face is that he might have to bend back beyond what he would consider to be reasonable to get them back on his side so the standoff is likely to continue.

During the party meeting, the President reeled off his achievements in the last two years, which we can assume is the legacy he would like to protect. The list includes success on Boko Haram, Niger Delta issues, regular fuel availability, improved power supply, establishing the treasury single account (TSA), improved agriculture and fertilizer access, and above all, the knowledge that corruption will not be tolerated in Government. He proclaimed that: “We all know there is CHANGE. Nigeria’s prestige, he asserted, has gone up, Nigeria is now credit-worthy, a clear testimony of which was the over-subscription of the Euro-Bond by 4 times.” For the politician however, these are not the real achievements they seek. What matters is for them to be in power and to remain in power. Too many leading members of the ruling party believe they won elections but never got the opportunity to be in power. They are likely to search for alternative routes that will take them to power.

The Constitution places the power of the Executive in one person, the President. Nonetheless, the Constitution also requires that ministers, advisers and heads of parastatals be appointed to help the President carry out the huge responsibility of executing government policies. The problem with governance is that if you do not make political appointments, civil servants make all the political decisions, including the most important decision of NOT TO MAKE DECISIONS. The slow pace of governance under President Buhari is a direct result of his decision not to make most political appointments that are due. It is well known that when civil servants are in control, they do not want to make decisions so that they do not get noticed or disturbed as they enjoy the perquisites of power, including the most harmful one of looting public funds. When therefore the president does not appoint people to govern, those at the head of governmental organisations create forms of governance linked to prolonging their temporary positions. Achieving policy goals of the government cannot be their priority because their logic is that they are there for a short time until the president decides on who should do the job on a full time basis. As tenures of temporary heads extend from weeks to months and to years, confusion becomes the name of the game. The temporary heads begin to envisage permanency on the jobs and above all start working towards it. This means investing public funds at their disposal to oil the process of retaining their positions and we all know what that means. Today, the time for the show begins as the politicians come into the field and start expressing themselves and acting on what they consider to be the tragedy of winning an election and being kept out of power.

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