Nigerian Presidential Seal
Credentialism,the undue and excessive reliance on credentials,especially in the shape of certificates,for securing jobs or positions,is a symptom of a society without a work-ethic.And no wonder.In a trust-fund state,like Nigeria,the only business in town,is the sharing of the “national cake”. Nowhere is this trend more evident,or pernicious,than in the appointment of government ministers.People are given ministerial appointments,just because they possess certificates that purport to relate to the ministries,they are supposed to head.No matter that these people have no ideas,on how these ministries are supposed to provide services to Nigerians,and thus make life better.I am not suggesting that having certificates,should not be factored into decision to appoint people.No.I am saying that,though certificates may be necessary,they are not sufficient.
To secure the necessary performance from our governments,at every level,ministers or commissioners should be men and women of ideas.People who have given some thought to those areas covered by their ministerial portfolio.Consider the health ministry.It is wasteful,to make somebody the health minister just because he is a brilliant professor in some narrow medical field,if the person has never really given a thought to the idea of health-delivery as a social service.You need someone with a vertical view of the health situation;someone with a grasp of the social,cultural and economic factors,that impede the delivery of health-care services to Nigerians.Brilliance,within the walls of a hospital,will not necessarily translate into competence in public service.
What is true of the health ministry,also applies to other ministries.We need people who can think outside the box.As an example of this,i remember that the Brazilian government ran a program,to increase vaccination compliance and school enrollment for it’s Indian population,using financial incentives.People were financially rewarded,if their children met a stipulated school attendance rate,and visited a clinic on appointed days.This program could only have been designed by people who are socially and culturally aware.Creative people.Not social illiterates.Take the power sector.The minister’s job is not to design transformers.All the technology needed in the power sector is already out there.Electricity technology is old-school,low-tech and has been around since the nineteenth century.His/her job is to ensure that generation keeps up with projected demand,and to improve enrollment.
To improve enrollment simply means extending electricity to those without it,as well as ensuring that those using it,pay their bills.So it is about accountability.It is about getting the power sector to become self-sustaining.To do this job well,the minister needs more than a handful of engineering degrees in his tool kit.He needs to be able to think creatively,factoring social realities into his calculations.For example,if people are reluctant to pay their bills,leaving the utility with a considerable short-fall in revenue,which forces it to scale back investment in talent and technology,in a context where law-enforcement is weak,and outside the minister’s authority,then you need original ideas to get around this problem.Only a minister who has thought long and hard about the power sector,and it’s centrality to the Nigerian economy,is capable of unknotting the problem.
Underpinning this situation,is the “federal character” principle,which has been enshrined in the Nigerian constitution since !979.According to section 14 of the constitution,”the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in the government or any of its agencies. ” This principle is the reason we have 27 federal ministries,with almost all of them having one or more junior ministers.You can imagine the duplication,and waste,involved just to satisfy this requirement.
The United States ,the inspiration for our presidential system,at over twice our population,ten times our total area,with 51 states to our 36,and with a GDP of 14 trillion to our 214 billion,has only 15 federal departments.Go figure.Worse than the duplication and waste,is the fact that it is impossible for the president to pick his team,by himself.Because it is impossible for the president to identify qualified people from 36 states,he is forced to rely on the recommendation of “God-fathers” within his party.Of course these people are going to choose nominees,on the basis of loyalty rather than competence and integrity.If you look at the United States,the president does not micro-manage.He chooses people he knows and trusts,and lets them get on with it.The president is like the captain of a ship;he sets the direction,and lets the crew get on with the steering.
If we want progress,the Nigerian president should have the freedom to choose people,whose ideas align with his agenda.If we cannot change the “federal character” principle,then we should insist that,for this purpose,the federating unit should be the geo-political zone.That way,the president needs to pick only six people to be “federal character” principle compliant,and is thereafter free to choose the rest of his team,from any part of the country.If we are to hold the president accountable, for the performance of his government,equity demands that the president be allowed to choose those people,he believes to be in tune with his agenda.If the ambition of the “federal character” principle,is to secure national unity and loyalty,then we should plump for efficient governance,which would really serve the Nigerian people.To do this,we have to unbundle governance into “cake-baking” and “cake-sharing”. “cake-baking” must be a meritocratic process,if we want a lot of “cake” to share.The better the “cooks”, the better and bigger the “cake” to share.Then when it comes time for “cake-sharing”,we can realise the aims of the “federal character” principle,by ensuring equitable distribution of federal amenities;schools,power stations,hospitals,e.t.c.