By Tonnie Iredia
The outrage that followed the discovery of dead persons in the list of members of federal agencies recently released by government may have died down but its implications will remain in the sub-consciousness of many Nigerians. Although some pro-establishment commentators tried to play the subject down by stating that a mistake in any human endeavour is normal, it is good for our democracy that without delay, critics such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) condemned the obvious lethargy. In fact, the reasons given for the lapses are unacceptable. Even if the dead persons on the list died a few months ago, we have no basis justifying our inability to be diligently up to date with official assignments – a trait which happens only in countries such as ours where public policy actors are forever unduly simplistic. The federal government has however done well in apologizing for the error and recalling the list for better scrutiny. It is hoped that this time, a good job would be done.
Against this backdrop, government should always distance itself from praise singers and those who are ever ready to defend anything it does. Except government takes such a stand it, may be misled into ignoring every criticism thereby depriving itself of the golden opportunity of making amends and remaining in the good books of majority of the people. Whereas the error concerning prospective members who died a few months ago can be understood; that of the late Senator F. S. Okpozo who transited more than one year before the list was released is inexplicable more so as his family had the privilege of receiving a condolence message from government when he died. His case and those which SERAP described as duplication of same names on different boards ought not to have happened. Buck passing which the ruling party-the All Progressive Congress APC sought to employ by arguing that it was not part of the error merely worsened the issue as the list was compiled and collated by APC members and announced by their members in government. Except the party is suffering from self persecution, its attempt to exculpate itself from blame is annoying.
For this column, except the lack of diligence is roundly condemned, many more of such lapses will recur and increase existing ones. First, the APC has proven never to be ready at composing any team. For instance, it was sheer luck that the judiciary was not pushed into chaos when to appoint a new Chief Justice early last year became a last minute herculean affair after different people had raised concerns. Considering that a tradition of appointing the most senior justice of the Supreme Court had been in place; government ought to have simply followed it or be decisive in breaking the tradition if it so chooses without creating anxiety in the polity over it. As at the point of writing this piece, there were fears that the all-important monetary policy committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will not be able to meet this month because it may not form a quorum in view of members whose tenure had expired and are yet to be replaced. This could further sink our economy.
The pain in our casual approach to governance is that it is not new; our grouse is thus not necessarily with the present administration, instead it has become a culture which we had hoped would be redressed by our acclaimed progressive government. During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the federal government selected 50 ‘outstanding’ Nigerians for special honours on the 50th anniversary of the nation in 2010. It was during the ceremony that the President was confronted with the reality that the organizers could not produce enough medals for the decoration of only 50 honourees. Painfully, the same thing happened less than a year earlier when there was shortage of medals during the national honours award ceremony. Of course for a nation with a retinue of supporters who would rationalize every failure, our inability to handle any matter successfully has become firmly rooted in public affairs in our clime. The delay does not come from one arm of government. In some cases, where the executive names its appointees, those who are legally required to obtain Senate clearance are caught in the cross fires between the executive and the legislature.
Our boards are often constituted in a manner that looks as if they are not obliged to serve any purpose. The position has been that boards are usually composed of members of the ruling political party as compensation for whatever role they played in the election of the President. Elsewhere, being a party member is never the most important basis for being an appointee, instead cognate experience; knowledge and competence come first while being a party man is only an added advantage. After all, the votes of party members alone did not elect the President. With party patronage as the main basis of political appointments in Nigeria, there is doubt if dead members are less useful in the boards. Many board members have little or no knowledge of the mandates of their organizations and as such are not fascinated by such mandates. They are only interested in contracts, allowances and interfering negatively in the day to day running of the bodies. A cursory look at the Agencies which have problems with boards will show that they are those which reject attempts to extort money from them
Besides, there is very little impact the few worthy members can have because coming on board in 2018 on the eve of electioneering, there is no time for meaningful work. It is therefore not unlikely that the omission to scrutinize the appointees may have been influenced by the realization that they are strictly speaking hardly needed. In some cases, the boards are unwieldy as in the case of the Film and Video Census Board with about 50 members. In other cases, boards are constituted in breach of their enabling laws. Whether or not a befitting chairman is found to replace the dead nominee of the Nigerian Press Council, there is doubt if the board of the Council would achieve much after the Judiciary held in 2010 that the law setting up the council is “oppressive, overbearing and grossly not compatible with standards of society.” We surely can avoid controversial boards.