From several people across social, economic and religious strata within my ethnic group, all solid and passionate supporters of President Bola Tinubu, including those who before he was sworn in were so close to him personally as not to require a notice to see him, the one common thread opening their conversation in the last three weeks, be it on telephone or when we meet, after the titular salutation courtesy of Egbon, Bros, Doctor, Awe (buddy) in palpably worrisome tone is, “we are losing it”! This is in direct contradiction to the euphoria of the first week after swearing-in with courageous and far-reaching policy decisions that were commended by most Nigerians, the international community and, indeed, politicians across party lines.
While acknowledging the challenge of the Niger coup to his administration at the early stage of his presidency and able to wave aside the complaints of those who claimed to have worked for his success at the last election but are now sidelined, they seem worried by two main issues, namely: media posts alleging payment of huge sums of money to key individuals around the President to influence appointment into political offices and/or facilitate meetings with the President; and the new cabinet in terms of its size and composition. They point to the geopolitical distribution of the portfolios as smacking of a reverse replay of what we accused the last President of, and the non-fulfilment of the promise publicly made to Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as both not reflecting the true Yoruba spirit.
Their “we are losing it” outburst is driven by a sense of collective responsibility and it exudes their true Yorubaness as Omoluabi who want fairness for all, the fear that their expectation of a magic wand by the President is becoming a mirage, and the urgency of a reassurance to the populace as an imperative.
It has become my lot to embark on a well calculated gerrymandering to reassure them that things will begin to fall into place very soon. They all assume that as a former top civil servant living in Abuja and with working experience in the Presidency, I must be one of those advising the team of PBAT behind the scenes and as such should be aware of what’s going on. Yet, I am at sea myself in finding a solid base to anchor the many theses of reassurance that I have been carefully offloading on them on a regular basis, as I am equally worried that the firm steps that are required to stem the tide might be gradually slipping away.
New appointments and deployments demand acculturation: Anywhere in the world, the swearing-in of a new President and his deputy entails appointments of many aides, political office holders in executive positions and cabinet members, based on careful screening and selection processes. Given that these aides and other political appointees are coming from diverse backgrounds, systems and terrain, manifestation of effectiveness and efficiency at their new duty posts is a function of not just the induction protocols they have been taken through but how soon such inductions have been made to take place, ideally before but not later than a couple of weeks after taking office. Otherwise, their entry into the system could lead to other challenges requiring strong efforts to tackle.
In my address at the public presentation of my twin-volume book – ‘Restoring Good Governance in Nigeria’ at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, on Thursday, June 25, 2015, under the title, ‘Of indigenous S
species and the threat of invasive species’ as the rationale for the books, I stated that “In the absence of careful selection and systematic introduction protocols, there is the danger of introducing species that can become systematically destructive and a threat to the survival of the native populations in the ecosystem”. And that “this usually happens when such species are introduced at the top bureaucratic and/or political office holder levels where they are calling the shots and can deploy their own strains of practices, procedures and behaviours in carrying out their responsibilities”.
Induction training and protocols are an important and indispensable tool of human resources management. With the return to democratic governance in 1999, it was the first step taken by the Obasanjo administration. Indeed, so crucial did he consider it that he made it to commence within a week after inauguration, with sitting permanent secretaries and key persons from outside the bureaucracy that he had considered as potential ministers, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, etc., as the participants. It was from the induction that he was able to offload some permanent secretaries and make up his mind on his choice of ministers and advisers in certain states. Prof Adebayo Adedeji, now late, was the principal facilitator. That induction for political office holders lasted 10 days. It was subsequently extended to the directorate level officers GL 17, 16 & 15 as a two-week course that spanned 20 editions, commencing under Abu Obe and concluded under Yayale Ahmed as the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. I was the chairman of the team that synthesised the proceedings of the 20 editions into a single report for the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation for presentation to the President. The establishment of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms is one of the outcomes of that series of induction courses.
Arising from the change of guard that occurred on May 29, 2023 and the transitional imperatives of a near total overhaul of personnel, there were certain inherent challenges that needed to be addressed, namely: how to make the new staff and visitors to the State House appreciate that the respective transitions of Bola Ahmed Tinubu from Asiwaju/Jagaban the national leader of the topmost political party to Mr President, and of Kashim Shettima from former governor and senator to Vice President, demand new sets of etiquette and protocols.
The second challenge that needed to be addressed was how to assist the former House of Representatives Speaker, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, to quickly transit from Speaker, the number four in the presidential hierarchy, to Chief of Staff to the President, a bureaucracy position that is devoid of his old paraphernalia of office but where he is compelled to meet up with the requirements of responding in quick time to the demands of the President.
Also to be addressed is how to identify the weaknesses and mistakes in the implementation of the organisational set-up operated in the State House by the immediate past administration, and put in place new structures, procedures, guidelines and protocols to overcome/avoid them.
In general, the finesse with which State House staff can handle visitors and foreign guests, and the quality of the minutes/submission of the Chief of Staff on memos and correspondence to the President are a function of their mastery of State House etiquette and protocols and how well the Chief of Staff and/or his staff understand the subject matter content of the memos. Getting the right calibre of personnel to man the various desks in the State House and enhancing their capacity to discharge their responsibilities effectively and efficiently is also an imperative to make these happen.
There is nothing in the media to suggest that the political appointees in this administration have been taken through any induction protocols. Rather, actions that depict the absence of it are what seem to be confounding us daily. For example, we are yet to see an alignment in the way the President takes the national anthem with what is prescribed; there is a need to manage the crowd around the President to enable him to perform state duties as efficiently as possible; that “we have done it in Lagos” has serious limitations and is prone to bouts of provincial champion syndrome. The “poster boys” of Lagos now in Abuja will soon find out that Lagos is not Abuja, and that Abuja is Nigeria. Also, the Presidency is one. Accordingly, the President and the Vice President must be seen by all officers in the State House as the snug fit parts of the presidential governance apparatus. In this regard, the Chief of Staff must rise to the occasion in quelling all social media posts of unsmooth flow of communication between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President. Just as the newly deployed Permanent Secretary must be clear in his mind that as Accounting Officer of the State House, Mr President is his CEO and the one from whom he derives authority for every spend in the State House.
Watching the NTA network news some two weeks ago on the visit of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, my heart almost jumped into my mouth seeing that the protocol officer that was to position the President’s chair for him to sit, an assignment that entails guarding that chair firmly like a cricketer would cover his base, abandoned the chair midway to run to position Madam Ngozi’s chair for her. In the process, the President was inadvertently left to carefully situate his own chair for himself and sit (rather, he sank into the chair) with the officer scampering back to him! Where in the world has that ever been condoned?
And then just this week, we watched the ministers resume at their duty posts. I paid attention to the FCT, especially because it was my last duty post as permanent secretary. I was dumbfounded. It was the minister all the way and in a tone that reminded me of the military era. If the minister of state was allowed to utter a word, we didn’t know. The Chief Press Officer of the Ministry already has his job cut out for him, as he has swung into action to walk back on the reportage of that first meeting in the media.
To be continued…
Dr Goke Adegoroye (OON), pioneer Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, and National Publicity Secretary, Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries, writes from Abuja.