By EHICHIOYA EZOMON
Dead men don’t bite, writes Robert Louis Stevenson in the adventurous novel, “Treasure Island.” So, why would the Nigerian government appoint “dead persons” into boards of parastatal organizations? Going by official position, they were assigned when alive, but their demise occurred during the pendency of release of the list of appointees.
Fair enough! Yet, the debacle gave foil to critics to denounce the government as “shoddy and incompetent,” and to call for withdrawal of the list “in order to remove a clear and recognizable danger to the integrity of these bodies (parastatals),” said Timothy Adewale, deputy director of Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
In explaining the genesis of the list, and the two-year delay to release it, the Presidency pinned the mix-up to “human errors.” But the public was enraged, and took umbrage with the assertion that, “no human undertaking can be free of mistakes,” and that, “there is no scandal” in the exercise. Really?
That was unnecessary moral equivalency. Rather than rationalizing a seeming mistake, the Presidency ought to offer an immediate apology, make corrections to the list, and move on to guaranteeing a clinical efficiency in the next batch of appointments, for “all parts of the country to be equitably represented.”
Well, the government has “listened to the concerns raised” and toed the path of rationality by ordering the withdrawal, and clean-up of the list, according to Presidential spokesman, Mr. GarbaShehu, who told a national daily that “the entire list is being scrutinized all over again.”
Stunningly, Shehu was quoted as revealing that: “Even after the list was published, one nominee died… There were also complaints about some persons who had left the party but made the list. We are looking at those ones, too, with a view to replacing them.”
While those looking at the list “will be reporting to the President very soon,” let me recall the premonition I had when President MuhammaduBuhari promised many board appointments and cabinet positions were coming: That something might go wrong with the compilation, and release of the names. Remember the hullaballoo over alleged 81 of 100 appointments going to Northerners, and government’s attempts to debunk the claim?
That’s the kind of feeling I had. I was concerned with: Will the appointments be representative of members of the All Progressives Congress, achieve merit, or skewed to favour interest groups? Will likely APC appointees turn out to be opposition stalwarts? Will some persons reject their appointments? Will the compilers duplicate, and include dead persons’ names?
The Buhari administration hadn’t formed the cabinet when pressures began to mount for the dissolution of boards, occupied by members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. So, in October 2015, the president directed APC state chapters to submit equal numbers (50) of nominees.
But months, and a year later, grumbles grew into public outbursts, and schism in the party over the appointments. Interestingly, the president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, arrow-headed the reward campaign on the BBC Hausa Service in Abuja in October 2016. Her championing was two-fold: Compensate APC members and flush out non-members in the government.
Her words: “Firstly, it was people that brought the government into power. More than half of those people are not appointed into the government. Some people that are not politicians, not professionals were brought into the government.
“They even come out and say to people, ‘We are not politicians,’ but they are occupying the offices meant for politicians… Those that know they don’t have voters’ card, they should give chance to those that have; they are the ones that struggled and know what we want to do.”
Similarly, the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), retired Colonel Hameed Ali, parroted the “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” tale last year in Abuja at the commissioning of the national headquarters of the Buhari Support Organizations (BSO).
“When you come in (as the winning party), you shake off everybody and bring in your own,” Ali said. “That is what democracy is all about… But today, we have members of the PDP calling the shots. That is what we will begin to fight for. We will fight for our right position, our vision and our mission for this government.”
Obligingly, President Buhari, at a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the APC in Abuja on October 31, said he was “keenly aware that our supporters are very eager for these appointments to be announced,” promising that, “by the grace of God, these appointments will be announced soon. Especially now that the economy is improving, we will have the resources to cater for the appointees.”
Barely two months after, on December 29, the government released the list of 209 board chairpersons and 1,258 members, which confirmed my uncanny worries last October – possible dead persons’ names, duplications, PDP appointees, etc., on the list.
The attendant uproar has overshadowed an otherwise celebratory moment for the APC members, who believe the appointments would help to consolidate the gains of the party across the country, in the light of the daunting task of defending its mandate in the 2019 general elections.
The rest is now history – history which, as a guide, teaches insightful and useful lessons that humans almost always ignore to their consternation, as the board appointments fiasco has shown.
* Mr. Ezomon, journalist and media consultant, writes from Lagos.