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Nigeria-Credentialism,Presidentialism and Federal character

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.

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5 responses to “Nigeria-Credentialism,Presidentialism and Federal character

  1. codliveroil March 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Having witnessed what successive administrations have failed to achieve. I strongly believe in some sort of national council of technocrats (Nigerians from abroad preferably) to draw up a blue print of what economic milestones should be
    achieved in the short and medium term.

    This council could have the right to veto/ or consult with the president over the ministers the president wishes to select.

    Which ever government is elected, would be duty bound to reach the key milestones during their term. (Leaving the direction of the country solely in the hands of short-term administrations, who do not have the medium to long term interests of the country at heart, to me is a serious oversight).

    If the government is failing they can either appoint new ministers, and if that is proving hopeless they can be dismissed and either fresh elections are held or the council will take over until the electoral process can come up with an alternative administration.

    About the capabilities of the ministers, the council with it’s panel of experts,
    would be in the best position to advise/assist the president in the appointment of ministers, as they will know what it takes to succeed.

    I agree with you about this Federal Character principle. Six geo-political units is enough, and the allocation of government posts should be scaled back to reflect this. So only 6 positions would be given over to this idea, the rest would be at the discretion of the president in collaboration with the council. Bureaucracy needs to be seriously scaled back and be made transparent not to mention efficient.

    The council again should have veto rights, if the money allocated to the geo-political units is being seriously abused ie not targeted at where it’s needed. Then it can be frozen and if necessary should the president prove to be too lame to kick the representatives of the geo-political zones into line. The federal government would step in to ensure the money goes where it is supposed to.

    With this body overseeing things, the president and his staff will know that they too are under the spotlight of people who have achieved internationally in their respective areas of expertise.

    What do you have to say about the creation of such a body? Do you not think that previous president’s can be relied upon to drag Nigeria from where it currently is to where it should be?

    A good write up on a familiar theme, some good ideas especially about the trimming back of Federal Character principle, thank you.

  2. henryik2009 March 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Hi codliveroil,
    Thanks for your comment.Such a council is probably sorely needed.The question of course is this,”who will appoint the members of the council?” Given the Nigerian talent for perversion,would this council not become another layer of bureaucracy? If we can get it right though,a body that helps to set short to medium-term targets,would definitely be a boon to Nigeria.This is a good idea that needs,and deserves,further exploration.Thank you.

  3. codliveroil March 7, 2011 at 6:07 am

    The Council could become another layer of bureaucracy, true. They would be subject to the scrutiny of the EFCC, or an equivalent anti-corruption body to cut out insider dealing , corruption and other such practices. This additional layer of bureaucracy would be a price worth paying if the result is to ensure the nation finally gets off it’s knees, besides the Federal character principle would be scaled back considerably,.

    Who will appoint the members? Nigeria as we all know is full of associations, some professional and many which are not. Each relevant professional body, should then appoint members who are internationally recognised to be achievers in their field of expertise and be above corruption. They will be responsible for crafting the blue print, to guide the country to a brighter future.

    We currently have governments which draft a policy only for successive administrations to reverse them or freeze them indefinitely. For instance the Obasanjo administration, wiped out the external debt only for the late Yar’Adua and now Jonathan to plunge the country back into debt. If we had some long term stable policy that would ensure such see-saw policies are stopped once and for all, and a planned coherent policy is put in place progress will come a lot more quickly.

  4. henryik2009 March 8, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Codliveroil,
    Thanks for your comment.Actually,Like the central bank governor,members of the council can be appointed by the president,subject to the confirmation of the senate.And for a term of six years.This way,each council will overlap two presidential terms,reducing the chances of over-weening loyalty to any president.

    Among other functions,the council would regularly publish it’s opinion,on the direction of any administration.Yeah,i think this could work.

  5. codliveroil March 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    I think it would be better if they were not appointed by the president and endorsed by the senate. They must be as independent as possible. That is why the various professional bodies should appoint them. If the president is able to appoint them, they are in effect no better than members of his cabinet, whose views will be compromised, which would defeat the purpose of having them in the first place. As for term of each posting, six years would be fine. Of course each member must be screened by the anti-corruption bodies.

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