Next Level: Between Meritocracy and Politics of Compensation
By Victor Agi
As the waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute his “next level” cabinet continues, expectations are rife and Nigerians would want to see a remarkable shift from what is the politics of compensation, where cronies and political allies are rewarded for their “efforts” in ensuring the victory at both the Presidential and National Assembly polls.
Same is the case at the state level where there is even more likelihood to sacrifice merit and jettison due process in the appointment and confirmation of appointees by Governors and State House of Assemblies respectively.
The assumption of attributing the “successes” of political office holders at the polls to the exclusive efforts of a few individuals who are cronies is even disturbing, because in such assumptions, the silent mass electorates who also contributed to their victories, with some, paying the ultimate price, are left out of the “cabal” that eventually determine the fate of the country. Or perhaps you can point to such instances (which I may not know about), where someone is picked for a political office without certifying the above criteria, maybe, just maybe, one in every twenty of such appointments.
These appointments came by also, if you are a so-called party man. There is certainly no issue with politics of compensation if such individuals can handle the responsibilities of their offices and deliver democratic dividends. But in most cases, there has been little consideration for the suitability of political appointees to portfolios they are made to oversee. Hence, in a country where there are abundant of human resources in different fields of our national and economic lives, it is not uncommon to see misfit appointments, where people who have little or no knowledge of the operations of a particular ministry for instance are given those overwhelming responsibilities, and it is no surprise they deliver poor results.
Well, it will be misguided to conclude for instance that a professional accountant cannot function in the aviation industry, but it will also be an economic mismatch to think that that professional accountant who has no proven record and knowledge in the operations of the aviation industry is made to head the aviation ministry because of his political affiliation. Unfortunately, that has been our dismal story.
In the profession I come from for instance, a lot has been said about quackery and efforts have been ongoing to rid the profession of quacks in accordance with the Act of the Parliament setting the Institute up. Interestingly however, same government that is supposed to be at the forefront in ensuring compliance with this Act of the Parliament have severally flaunt its provisions recklessly. So, you are caught between dealing with same government that is both the enforcer of the law and an enthusiast breaker of the law it made. That’s how ludicrous it can be in our country.
Recently, Festus Adedayo, a revered columnist was appointed as the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity in what was seen by many as break-away from the norm of only engaging party men and cronies in government. Before dwelling on the circumstances surrounding his appointment and the summary withdrawal of same, an understanding of an ideal journalist will help. Consider these excerpts from his (Festus’) well written stinging rejoinder:
“What those who are vilifying me for always writing against government should have done was to rise from their laziness and conduct an x-ray of my writing. In my close to 20 years of public sphere intervention, I am a rabid anti-establishment person. I believe that in establishment lies the plague of the Nigerian state and my writings reflect this much. Even though I am everything but a saint, I believe that government should reflect the highest moral echelon of society and those who run it should make covenant of chastity and fidelity with themselves.
“More fundamentally is that my pen knows no friend or foe. Very early in my writing career, I learnt that I could go far in the people’s heart if I sided with the public against government. This was abetted by my philosophy degree background which teaches me to always look for disorder, even in order. I am a natural pessimist and see pessimism in optimism. Anyone who does a critical assessment of my journey as a columnist will see this without any equivocation”.
This ultimately is the role of a journalist and journalism that is tended towards societal development; a journalism that is the watchdog, nay, a ‘barking/biting’ dog of the society; that which is not caught at two extremes: either as armchair critics or as sycophants of the government in power, as largely is the case in our nation, obviously for political reasons.
It is therefore refreshing when a typical Nigerian politician defies all known norms to appoint someone who is a perfect definition of what journalism is all about; who has been defiant and has not been cowed by the powers that be into praise-singing journalism for cheap political patronage, in the face of glaring threat. I did a quick search to learn more about Festus Adedayo because for one reason or the other, I have not been an ardent follower of his writings, only the rejoinder is enough to convince you that his pen is indeed, “acerbic and rabid”.
How he will be able to be fair, giving his writing antecedent vis-à-vis the seemingly herculean task of professionally managing a Nigerian politician is a story for another day, as we have seen columnists like him turned and are still turning sycophants after finding themselves on the other side of the divide. Managing a political brand is one of the most difficult jobs to take in our clime, as the brand manager is made to throw away those virtues of fairness, truth, balance and objectivity as taught in journalism school, because he who pays the pipe must dictates the tune, and they (the payers) are comfortable dancing all alone.
However, Festus Adedayo is sure to bring professional touch to the media and publicity functions of the senate presidency as a veteran. We expect, against all odd that his resolve and campaigns for good governance, which he has consistently pushed in the last twenty years of his career will, no matter how infinitesimal, add to the value of media information and brand content of the Nigerian senate.
Regrettably, that is not to be, as those who believed they are wiser than the Senate President and glorify mediocrity, with no regard for professionalism and excellence have engaged in campaign of calumny against the person of Festus Adedayo which has led to the withdrawal of his appointment. The concern of well-meaning Nigerians is the implications of such campaigns to our collective good as a nation. What do the Buharists even expect? That all journalists should desist from holding government and government officials accountable through their writings; that all political appointtees should only be sympathisers of the government, even when such individuals are least qualified? How a government critic is seen as a political enemy is even more worrisome, and only show how intolerant the Buharists may have become.
It is worthy of mention again that the Senate President began on a good and exemplary note, and we hope that the most awaited cabinet list will toe same line despite the outcry that greeted this appointment, which is highly condemnable.
While it is understandable for the Senate President to withdraw this appointment in the wisdom of avoiding early rancours and hostilities within the ruling party, it is important for Mr. President to realize that the task of delivering his “next level” agenda is that which can only be possible when technocrats are engaged across board. That’s to say that, getting the Nigerian project on the path of sustainable growth and development is the duty of all of us irrespective of our party affiliations.
Again, this all-important mission of getting “100 million” Nigerians out of poverty in the next ten years as promised by the president will begin with having the right and qualified people at the right positions without recourse to where they come from, what religion they profess and their ethnic nationality.
It’s our hope that Mr. President is taking yet his time to constitute his cabinet in order to come up with a list that will be greeted with applause and positive energy that will redirect the stock market in our favour; and inspire foreign investors interest and confidence in our nation; as we sincerely want to believe that the disappointments of 2015 will not repeat itself.
Certainly, nothing will be wrong with the party rewarding those who worked for its success at the polls, but the party should be wary of such appointments becoming redundant and unproductive, defeating the ‘next level’ agenda, except if they want Nigerians to believe that this ‘next level’ is just a twin brother of the ‘change’ promised in 2015.
Victor Agi is a certified Public Relations practitioner, a researcher and a content developer, based in Abuja.