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Between Oshokomole and Onwa: The Public Officer as true exemplar



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By Tunde Olusunle

I called up a colleague in one of the national newspapers to make an editorial suggestion to him, August 2017. Ayodele Peter Fayose who was governor of Ekiti State at the time, was attending the convocation ceremony of one of his children, at the Covenant University, Otta, Ogun State. Oluwarogbayimika Fayose, graduated with a Second Class Upper degree, and his delighted father could be seen grinning from ear to ear, in photographs which were hoisted on the internet, realtime. You could feel Oshokomole’s* (that is Fayose’s popular alias), sense of accomplishment, as a parent. The younger Fayose was the third of his siblings to graduate from the same alma mater. A fourth member of the family graduated from another university in Nigeria.

I had mooted the idea to that colleague, that a good editorial commentary can be developed around the matter. If a sitting governor, with all the resources and privileges at his disposal, could willingly despatch his child to a Nigerian university, where assistant directors in some ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs), were sending their wards to universities in Canada, the United Kingdom, (UK) and the United States of America (USA), there were tangible takeaways from that gesture. Crucially, despite the verified challenges of our educational system, quality instruction is still obtainable in our institutions, afterall.

The nation’s anti-graft agencies, from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, (ICPC), to the Code of Conduct Bureau, (CCB), are characteristically busiest with reports and case files of civil servants, in the main. This is not excusing thieving public officers across board who are usually assisted by the civil servants, to cook the books, by the way. Such fiscal hauls are invested in physical assets (mainly houses and apartments sprinkled across major Nigerian cities and foreign capitals); raw cash in various foreign denominations, stored in secret vaults and stowed away in all manner of inventive storages; even multimillion dollar trinkets, are routine seizures from greedy civil and public servants.

And what better way  to authenticate the reality of subsisting quality in our educational system, than the continued hunt for, and enlistment of homegrown medical professionals, into the medical systems of foreign countries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Canada, the UK and the US, are in continuing quest for Nigerian medical professionals, to make assurance doubly sure. Medical doctors and pharmacists were priority, once upon a time. Nurses have joined the list of coveted professionals now, even as there has been a corresponding rise in the enrolment figures for the nursing programme in Nigerian universities.

And talking about the accentuating figures of medical personnel being lured away to other lands, didn’t Nigerian intelligence operatives last August, storm the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja, to disrupt recruitment interviews being conducted by a human resource agency, reportedly on behalf of its client, Saudi Arabia? This was at the height of a faceoff between doctors and the federal government, over inadequate working conditions, notably facilities and emoluments. The first phase of that recruitment exercise for medical doctors, by the way, was conducted in Lagos, days before the Abuja segment. This underscored the burning desire of the Saudi government, to speedily take on their projected new employees. And this was happening at a time Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s minister of labour and employment, affirmed on national television, that the country had an overflow of physicians, and would not be hurt, by the depletion of its ranks, by the outward drift of its medics. This, however, contrasted with the Gestapo-style swoop of the secret police, on Sheraton, Abuja, to halt emigration proceedings, of Nigerian doctors.

The colleague I gave that editorial hint by the way, would later plead with me about his incapacition in the circumstances. He said he would have been thoroughly misconstrued, if he had proposed such a topic at the editorial conference of his organisation. “They will think I’ve been paid if I had broached it at our editorial meeting. The chief executive officer is perpetually breathing down my neck and someone will ask: What is our special interest in Fayose? They won’t see the merit and genuineness in the subject. The newsroom today is not what you left behind, over two decades ago.” I was aghast.

Sunday December 19, 2021, Andrew Ngige, second son of the older Ngige, and his third child, graduated from the School of Medicine of the University of Abuja. Before him, his elder brother, Ralph Chunny Ngige, graduated September 2020, from the College of Medicine, Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu University, Amaku, Awka, Anambra State. Last July, Ngige’s daughter Marilyn, graduated from the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. The Ngige family as it stands, is fully and roundly a family of medical doctors, since the labour minister himself, and his wife, Evelyn, a permanent secretary in the federal ministry of industry, trade and investment, are both medics. And as a delighted Ngige noted, his family is one of wholly “Made in Nigeria” medical doctors.

I have known *Onwa,* yes, that is the dominant traditional title by which Ngige is known and revered by his people and friends, across the broad spectrum, even before the formal berth of democratic governance in 1999. He was a founding zonal officer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), in the South East. In the course of the cross-country tours and legwork of Olusegun Obasanjo in his quest for the presidential ticket of the PDP, Enugu was a regular hub. Ngige was almost ever present, alongside the Arthur Ezes, JSP Nwokolos, Dubem Onyias and other leaders of the blossoming party, on the Anambra-Enugu stretch, at the time. He indeed vied for the PDP ticket to represent Anambra Central, in the 1999 Senate, but lost.

He would later assume national, even global recognition on account of the controversies which attended the early days of his term in office as governor of Anambra State. Inaugurated on May 29, 2003, there was an attempt to remove him from office by his “political godfathers,” Andy and Chris Uba, less than two months after his assumption of duty. The drama which attended the plot was a phenomenal combination of strong arm tactics by both the state legislature, and the nation’s security officials, led by Raphael Ige, an assistant inspector general of police (IGP), at the time. There was indeed a kidnap saga which kept the chief executive of the state incommunicado, for 12 hours, that July 10, 2003. Ngige fought bravely in the law courts, even physically, to resist every attempt to bully and harangue him.

As parents of children who attended the same secondary school in Abuja, many years ago, Ngige and I saw much more frequently, especially during visiting days, open days, meetings of the parents-teachers association (PTA), and so on. James Bawa Magaji (former deputy governor of Kaduna State); Nkechi Nwaorgu, Ita Enang, (both senators at the time), Stephen Ocheni (former minister of state for labour and employment); Orji Ogbonnaya Orji (executive secretary of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI); Tivlumun Nyitse (chief of staff to the Benue State governor) and the late Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo (former media adviser to erstwhile vice president Atiku Abubakar), were also regular callers at the school’s programmes.

In 2011, Ngige finally achieved his longstanding dream of representing his people in Anambra central senatorial zone, in Nigeria’s parliament, on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The party was the principal component of political parties which coalesced in 2013, to constitute the present day All Progressives Congress (APC), to challenge for the presidency, in 2015. Ngige lost the opportunity to return to the senate, but was compensated following his appointment as minister representing Anambra in the federal executive council, (FEC), constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari, November 2015. He was reappointed August 2019, months after Buhari’s reelection, making history as one of the longest serving ministers in post-democratic Nigerian history.

I remember asking Ngige on a visit to his Asokoro, Abuja home sometime in 2019: “Onwa, where are our people we used to attend their visiting days together those days?” “They are all in school, thanks for checking up, my brother Tunde,” he replied. “They must be out there in the States and in Europe,” I followed up. “No o,” he answered. “They are all here. There is nothing wrong with our educational system. I was trained here, you were trained here and you are one of our topmost journalists. My wife was trained here. So why wouldn’t they school here? They will decide where they will undergo their specialist programmes, but let them get that necessary grounding here. Many countries are envious of the human resource quality we contribute to the world here, but we delight in running down what we have.”

The examples of Fayose and Ngige are most apposite. By Nigerian standards, both men are very privileged individuals, they are”big men,” as we would say in popular parlance. Fayose was two-time governor of Ekiti State, having served between 2003 and 2007, before his return, years later. In the case of Ngige, he has held every notable elective and appointive office in Nigeria, except the presidency. He has been governor, senator and now second term minister. Given the humongous resources available to public officers, where the average civil servants can sustain their children and wards in foreign institutions, and procure pricey apartments in their names, it is unlikely that Fayose and Ngige are resource-constrained.

In many instances indeed, the quest for education in environments with relative stability of the academic calendar for the children of the nouveau riche, is but a veiled device for self-aggrandizement, or bragging rights. Certain individuals cherish that vainglorious announcement across the shopping mall or in the course of a telephone conversation, that “my son is in Harvard, and his sister is in Massachusetts.” It wouldn’t matter if some spoilt brats in this bracket, are more of tourists and holidaymakers in their country of domicile, than serious students. As a dispassionate public engager, my summation is that Fayose and Ngige (who are at opposite extremes of the political gulf), have shown faith in our much-maligned educational system, which nonetheless, has continued to produce internationally competitive graduates. Both men by their preferences, are potential inspirations for politically privileged and affluent Nigerians, to explore and utilise the subsisting quality, inherent in our educational system.

This is no blanket cheque, clean bill of health for our educational system, which is light years away from the impeccable standards of several decades ago. Those were the days when Nigeria was the pilgrimage grounds for the global “Who is Who,” in the academia, arts and culture. The newest Nobel Laureate for literature, Tanzanian born Abdulrasak Gurnah, for instance, was next door to us in Bayero University, Kano (BUK). He taught literature there from 1980 to 1983, at a period when one of the principal benefactors of the career of the Kenyan literary icon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, David John Cook, was grooming a new generation of writers, at the University of Ilorin. Professors and lecturers in our universities continue to embark on industrial actions, because the provision and standardisation of basic instructional materials like adequate classrooms and lecture theatres; properly stocked and up-to-date laboratories and libraries; appropriate remuneration for staff, and grants for training and research, are either wilfully unavailable or ridiculously minuscule. In some instances, our children have entered universities as youths and graduated as men and women, owing to recurring, indiscriminate closures of the institutions.

The country’s international profile is indeed burnished by the investment of confidence in the various strands of our sociopolitical life, by its own nationals. While Fayose and Ngige and similar Nigerians who have continued to show faith in institutions in our country, we must also see such conviction by our officials, in our healthcare system, for instance. All the years he was president, and despite managing a publicly known diabetic condition, Obasanjo’s medical check ups were conducted either in the State House Clinic, or the National Hospital, Abuja, by indigenous medical professionals. This is contrary to extant practice under Buhari, whose exact medical condition is a mystery, and who has virtually treated every headache or migraine, in Europe, over the past seven years. Yet on an annual basis, robust budgets are approved for the provision of facilities and medicaments, in the  State House Clinic. Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was reported to be expectant a few weeks ago, and desired to have her baby in the US. Nothing can be as much a confidence killer, as when those who should lead by example, fail and falter unashamedly at the starting blocks.

•Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).

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Communicating the President




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By Tunde Olusunle

I was opportuned to serve in the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar administration at the beginning of our Fourth Republic. Obasanjo was a rather controversial personality. The media had stereotyped him as unfriendly and adversarial over time. The very fact that he opted for a medical doctor in Doyin Okupe as his very first spokesperson, broadened the hiatus between Obasanjo and the press. Okupe cut his dentition as public communicator, when he was the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Republican Convention, (NRC), one of the two political parties established by the regime of former military President, Ibrahim Babangida in 1991, in the run up to the actualization of Nigeria’s botched Third Republic. He was a good communicator in his own way. Fortuitously, a critical core of Obasanjo’s appointees were tested and respected journalists who added steel and spine to presidential communication in the nation’s nascent democracy.

There were Onyema Ugochukwu, Emeritus Editor of Business Times, West Africa and Daily Times newspapers and Stanley Macebuh, (of evergreen memory) whose footprints straddled several publications, including The Sentinel, The Guardian and Post Express. Haroun Adamu, former university scholar and proprietor of the rested The Nigerian Economist magazine and Ad’Obe Obe who succeeded Ugochukwu in West Africa in London, were also in the loop. Younger elements like Steve Itugbu and yours sincerely contributed to making up for observed lacunae in the management and communication of the voice of the president. I was in my 30s. We made friends for him. Tunji Oseni and Remi Oyo both accomplished professionals, (both sadly transited), occupied Okupe’s position at various times during the Obasanjo presidency, adding perspectives to presidential communication.

The preceding parade of presidential communicators was consistent, actually upgrades in instances, on the qualities of previous holders of the office. They were hitherto referred to as “Chief Press Secretary” to the Head of State, or the President, as the case might have been. Alex Nwokedi who was spokesman for the defunct National Electricity Power Authority, (NEPA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), was Obasanjo’s spokesman in 1976. He was succeeded by Charles Igoh who was once Sports Editor of the Daily Times, upon the ascent of President Shehu Shagari in 1979. Wada Maida who later became chief executive of the News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN), was appointed into the position when Muhammadu Buhari became military ruler in 1984.

Duro Onabule had served as Editor of the now rested National Concord one of Nigeria’s best selling dailies in its time, before he was appointed to the same office by Babangida. Sola Atere who retired a few years ago from the Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA) as Executive Director, occupied the position during the brief stint of Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government, (ING). David Attah a former federal parliamentarian who also had editorial and management stints in the Daily Times, Standard and The Voice newspapers variously was appointed to the position by Abacha in 1993. Haruna Mohammed, a former managing director of New Nigerian Newspapers served in the position during the 11-month transitional rule of Abdulsalami Abubakar as Head of State.

Equally vibrant and respected professionals like Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman of the Editorial Board of Thisday and Reuben Abati, former Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian were spokesmen for former Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, respectively. Femi Adesina was Editor-in-chief of Sun newspapers after working with the Vanguard and Concord newspapers before becoming spokesman to Muhammadu Buhari. Garba Shehu was managing director of Triumph newspapers at 37. Adesina and Garba were both Presidents of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), the umbrella body of Nigeria’s topmost media professionals.

It is compelling, even impelling to establish the foregoing trajectory to properly situate the professional quality, cognate experience and broad network expected of a potential presidential spokesman. Bola Tinubu, present occupant of Nigeria’s topmost political office desires to be seen as very pan-Nigerian in the complexion of his administrative apparachik. He also wants to be portrayed as a believer in the capacity of the youth as important contributors to the Nigerian project. These considerations must, however, not be sacrificed for merit and experience. While attorneys may be assigned to administer the nation’s capital, or a seasoned journalist deployed to the solid minerals schedule, presidential communication requires a lot, lot more. It is neither for greenhorns nor for apprentices. The output of the current holder of the office thus far is at best amateurish, randomly unprofessional and notably un-presidential. The margins of error in this job are thin and minimal.

On two occasions in less than two weeks, Ajuri Ngelale, Tinubu’s spokesman has played the ultimate propagandist. He dished out false narratives and had the unpleasant task of doing a recant on both occasions. While reporting the highlights of Tinubu’s engagements with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, (UAE) about a fortnight ago, Ngelale told the world that the subsisting visa ban on Nigerians travelling to the UAE had been lifted! It turned out to be embarrassingly false. Officials of the country put out a disclaimer. A few days ago, the overly excitable Ngelale told us that Tinubu was the first African leader to ring the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, (NASDAQ) bell in New York. This again turned out a hoax. Jakaya Kiwete a former president of Tanzania rang the NASDAQ closing bell in 2011. Fact-checking has long been simplified by information technology.

Presidential communication is beyond press statements which seem to be Ngelale’s forte. Even here, he is not in the least impressive. His releases are wordy and characteristically riddled with grammatical errors. Sentences wriggle and wind around and about in serpentine motions. Writing is a very intricate vocation guided by strict rules and regulations. Press statements are all about keeping it tight, sticking specifically and holistically to the facts without unnecessary embellishments and gerrymandering. Leave that to us creative writers and essayists. I should know having written quite a handful in my communication handling career on behalf of Abubakar Audu, Paul Omeruo, Bzigu Afakirya all former chief executives of Kogi State for whom I was spokesman at various times. Not forgetting my years with Obasanjo in Aso Villa.

Sentences are best kept laconic, at manageable lengths not exceeding three dozen words. There must be symmetry between the sound and semantics of the written word. Reclining into the big-manism of having press officers generate drafts for his blind endorsement is unacceptable and dangerous. Ngelale needs to get off his buttocks and face the job very squarely. He must forget the fawning aides around him opening his car door and making his coffee. That is if he’s convinced he truly has quality to offer. With every alacrity, he needs to mitigate his wobbling and waffling which are anathema to information dissemination at the highest levels.

Ngelale comes from the background of the electronic segment of the media. He launched out from the African Independent Television, (AIT) and crossed over to Channels Television. He was on the media team of Buhari in 2019 and was rewarded with an appointment as a presidential aide on public affairs. He also functioned on the Tinubu presidential organisation which culminated in his current recognition. At 37, he must be the youngest occupant of the Office of Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, if I’m correct. If he desires to retain his brief and flourish in it, he must deliberately avail himself of the quantum residual wisdoms of previous handlers of the schedule. Growth and perfection come by deliberate humility and diligent questing. Can Ngelale turn a good patch after his initial stumbles and adjust to the responsibilities of his seat? Tinubu by the way has never been in short supply of savvy associates at the topmost pedestal of the media. Where are they?

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)

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Time to serve God of big things…




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By Martins Oloja

It is quite clear that indeed power has changed from the hand of the lanky, foxy, and taciturn one to the hand of a very artful dodger who actually prepared for a strategic state capture.

Yes, it is no longer in doubt that our country’s architecture of governance has been disrupted for another long walk to freedom. I can see that a great deal of feckless arm-twisting is going on in our national capital. Besides, it is getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’ that the governors we want to be the brand ambassadors of federalism, the paradise we often claim we lost and would like to regain for sustainable development are becoming more and more tyrannical. In some southern states, where the poor are agitated, even some deputy governors also cry. One of them has been locked out of the government house the organic law of the land allocates to him. He is now begging his principal to allow him to work in his office. And sadly, no one cares a hoot about the plight of that deputy governor who now walks alone. So it is with another victim of political recklessness in another state where the deputy governor has been put on a slab for impeachment by his ailing principal who has curiously relocated the capital of his state to his personal residence in a neighbouring state capital. And no one is asking for the action photographs of governance (as a process) of the recuperating governor who should be asking for the mercy of the God that can heal him. Not even a correspondent in the southwest state has contextually reported what that governor who fought his first-term deputy till their last day in office has been hiding in the old capital of the Western Nigeria. A lot of news treasures and sorry features are hidden in the pacesetter state capital. No word yet from the civil society organisations, including the classic ones that fought for the birth of this democracy that is being demonised by democrats. A great deal has happened to democracy via a strange electoral justice system that has redefined sovereignty in Africa’s most populous nation. In Nigeria, our Nigeria, a new elective principle, is fast emerging, and it is growing luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the rainy season. Now, our political leaders need the courts more than the electorate to be in power. In our dear country, you can’t get to any elective offices except you have the war chest to fight through the labyrinth of the electoral justice system. Here is the new thing, unless most of the big twelve (Justices) cast their ballot for you in their electoral judicial college, the votes of the millions of voters for you will amount to what Shakespeare describes as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. I hope Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about some of our today’s men whom he described as “greater talkers, little doers”.

Our country is transiting really from darkness to uncertainty as our currency, the symbol of our economic freedom is gravitating towards a precipice that is getting more of our children out of school, signalling another voyage from darkness to darkness. And sadly our state actors who should stay at home to examine the state of their wastefulness and bloated bureaucracy are gallivanting around Asia and Europe to lobby to be part of building bricks of BRICs and G-20 that South Africa joined more than a decade ago. I hope they are re-reading a significant bureaucrat’s recent piece, a warning signal, which sets the tone for more questions, which are pointing to a construct that one hopes it is not “too early to say we are losing it” already after a recent euphoria of the first few weeks after taking oath of office. What can be more concerning than consistent gaffes from the office of the chief executive of the federation from United Arabs Emirate through the state house to the economic capital of America, their America where a mere bell ringing at a stock exchange was inaccurately contextualised by a carelessly exuberant spokesperson. Even as we see hope that the presidential gaffes will be taken care of as soon as possible, what the office of the citizen should be concerned with is this: how to stop our leaders from serving the ‘God of Small Things’. The ancient words have taught us to note that ‘there is a time for everything…’And so, we, the enthusiastic believers in a new Nigeria should begin to inspire our leaders with critical words of hope and encouragement that they should stop serving the ‘God of Small Things’ and begin to learn how to serve the ‘God of Big Things’ immediately. There is nothing esoteric about serving the ‘God of Small and Big Things’. It is simple. I mean here that we have dwelt for so long on this side of the mountain where we serve the God of Small Things that have diminished our stature as the organic giant of Africa and leader of the back race. We have been reported for so long as work in progress. But now we as pilgrims aren’t making steady progress as John Bunyan would have reported.

Let’s explore this construct through The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Published in 1997, ‘The God of Small Things’ is Roy’s debut novel and was awarded the 1997 Booker Prize. The novel has been banned, being considered “obscene” due to the sexual relationship between people of different castes. There are a few things to consider when discussing the novel’s title. On one hand, we can concentrate on the main portion of the title and think about the specific individual it may be referring to – the God of Small Things. All things considered, from Ammu’s fantasy, we get the possibility that the ‘God of Small Things’ speaks to Velutha, the man whom she cherishes, regardless of the way that society will never accept them being together. In her fantasy (which happens in Chapter 11 and happens to be entitled “The God of Small Things”), Ammu dreams of a man with one arm who holds her near him: He could only do one thing at a time. “If he held her, he couldn’t kiss her. If he kissed her, he couldn’t see her. If he saw her, he couldn’t feel her.” (205).

When Ammu wakes from her dream, Rahel and Estha are there with her. Ammu notices a curl of shaved wood in Rahel’s hair and knows that the kids have been to see Velutha. She knows even more, “She knew who he was – the God of Loss, the ‘God of Small Things’. Of course she did.” (206) Velutha’s identity as the God of Small Things is fortified toward the end of the book when we find out about Ammu and Velutha’s first romantic encounters. Since they know it’s impossible for their love to exist, they never talk or consider the future, or what one may consider to be the “big things”; they just adhere to the present. Just as we hardly dream of big things here.

Here is the take-away from this story: Most of us, including our leaders don’t have any problem imagining a big God who does big things. In fact, we prefer it that way. Our problem seems to be believing in a big God who does big things for us. In Nigeria, our leaders seem to believe only in the Gods of small things. We are a big country always planning small things, dreaming small dreams, thinking only of small things. What is worse, we rake in small revenue and use the proceeds to buy big things for public officers who are less than three percent of the population. Our leaders don’t study Israel, a small start-up country that serves the God of Big Things. Our leaders visit United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, small countries with leaders who believe in the God of Big Things. They dream big and the world can not ignore them. They have invested their oil and gas resources in big businesses across the world. Qatar, a small country of about 2.6 million people, just played host to a $220 billion worth of Soccer World Cup without borrowing a dime. They have mostly gas resources. They also have their Almighty Aljazeera, a world-class cable news channel. They serve the God of big things.

Sadly, when you try to pass through our local and so-called international airports Nigeria, we see clear manifestation of serving the God of small things. First, you see shameful, tiny restrooms accommodating sometimes only two passengers. Most times, wash-hand basins are leaking, and ropes are used to tie some components. When you want to clean your hands, you see cleaners handing miserable toilet rolls to passengers, as no tissue papers will be found where they are to be fixed for use. In the entire North of 19 states, there is just one railway line from Abuja to Kaduna. When you disembark in Kaduna, how do you go from there to capitals of the rest 18 states? There is another magic railway line from Lagos to Ibadan. When you alight from Ibadan, how do you connect other state capitals in the southwest? There is none connecting anyone from South East to South South. We are an oil producing country, but because we serve the God of small things, we import refined products because all our four refineries have for years been unserviceable. Even the economic capital of West Africa, Lagos can’t boast of a mass transit system beyond meretricious BRT system and a Blue-line light rail system being tested in one unnoticeable axis. Only people who serve the God of small things talk about these small things as achievements in this time and age. Let’s continue this story of the God of small and big things next week.

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Tinubu’s Cabinet Of Controversy




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By Zainab Suleiman Okino

In all ramifications, it appears the euphoria and excitement that greeted President Bola Tinubu’s assumption of office are gradually ebbing away. Quite expectedly, having started with the tough decisions of fuel subsidy removal and floating of the forex, the President now needs to do more and urgently too.

Both policies have since worsened the woes of the Naira and Nigerians. From accusation of being surrounded by “Lagos boys”, (his cabinet as Lagos State Governor between 1999 to 2003), to policy somersaults to somehow nepotistic appointments (and vengeful dismissal of some CEOs), questions are being asked about Tinubu’s pro-people and pan-Nigerian credentials.

He started with politically correct appointments. The geographical spread of his service chiefs was received positively. His swift policy statements, though criticized, were timely, compared with the sordid silence of his predecessor.

The misnomer became apparent during ministerial nominations flip-flopping into high-wire politics that led to a ministerial nominee in person of former Governor Nasir El-Rufai being dropped at the last minute over a so-called security report after screening. We also witnessed how a nominee from Kano State, Maryam Shetty was refused screening by the senators after she was already seated at the National Assembly lobby, which showed clearly a scene from the playbook of Ganduje’s dirty politics under Tinubu’s government.

Two former governors were appointed to man the Ministry of Defence; former Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, was downgraded to serve as a junior minister under his colleague, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, former governor of Jigawa state. Looks so incongruous. Some MDAs were “reorganized”, and we expected a more compact arrangement. But what did we get? Some ministries were boosted and some downgraded. To which end, except to favour some ministers and appoint others to less juicy or relegated ministries, just to satisfy constitutional provision. Tokenism? Maybe.

The result was a boosted aviation sector renamed Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development under the supervision of an equally controversial figure, Festus Keyamo, while the Ministry of Transportation was debased and can safely be called ministry of railway, after the removal of everything maritime like NIMASA, NPA, Shippers’ Council etc now under the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.

Indeed, inconsistency in pronouncements came too early in this administration. Tinubu made history when he reshuffled a cabinet that was yet to be inaugurated. Engineer Abubakar Momoh was redeployed from Ministry of Youth to Ministry of Niger Delta that the president hitherto ignored.

Imagine the embarrassment that followed the declaration by the UAE government, that they are yet to resolve and reverse their visa ban on Nigerians, after the President’s spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale went to town to announce same. Propaganda should have limits. Why the hurry? To impress who? The disinformation has since taken the shine off the president’s diplomatic engagement with his UAE counterpart. So, after the UAE denunciation, where exactly are we now?

Tinubu does not seem bothered about over-bloated personnel costs or reducing the cost of governance. For the first time, Nigeria now has almost 50 ministers under its low per capital income of 5,200 PPP dollars in 2021 compared to USA’s 25 ministers and per capita income of 70,480 PPP dollars as at 2021.

Consequently, Nigerians have resigned to fate that they may never have pro-people government in their lifetime, since most of the policy initiatives of the new government favour only the rich, the haves, high-end businesses and high class of people and interests. It is obvious that the president must have made many commitments to friends and associates, who in his own estimation must be fixed, regardless of an ailing economy like ours.

Still smarting from all these came the issue of lopsided appointments, which we thought we had seen the last of after Buhari. The protests over Tinubu’s skewed appointments started from “home”, when a group from the Southwest accused him of appointing only people from Lagos contrary to the notion that Yorubas had an edge in his government.

Last weekend, evidence of such slanted appointments went viral. Critics reeled out at least 20 consequential appointments from the Southwest including MDAs like Justice, Finance, Customs, Police, FIRS, Immigration, NIMC, CBN, Power, Digital Economy, COAS, Maritime, Interior and Communications in the president’s kitchen cabinet. Muslim groups like MURIC have also cried out complaining that Christians hold key economic positions. The cry of marginalization has always been part of governance and politics in our clime, and Tinubu is not in a hurry to end it.

In addition to his hard-to-swallow economic direction, Tinubu’s choice of appointees is somehow causing concerns among the elite too. Without a semblance of inclusion and symbolism, the people feel let down by a president they thought was going to be pan-Nigerian, gradually becoming provincial, in deeds, even though appointments only enrich the beneficiaries while the conditions of ordinary people remain unchanged.

I believe competence and capacity should be uppermost in considering people for appointments, but I also know that all regions or ethnic groups harbour such competent people among them. Going forward, the president should be more circumspect, and look elsewhere instead of his “household” in a delicate balancing act that Nigeria needs, and which will surely give him (Tinubu) more support and goodwill. No matter how inconsequential he thinks these issues are, they have already got tongues wagging. As a minority myself, I can’t help but notice this potentially damaging and divisive subject in our polity.

Already an internal revolt is brewing in APC over Tinubu’s style of leadership and appointments. In what a group called “yorubanization of the current APC government”, the “APC members in Coalition for a United Nigeria (CUN)”, said “86% of the critical appointments made so far have been people from your (Tinubu) geopolitical zone, the Southwest.

Moreso, to our greater bewilderment is the fact that 90% of these people are your “Lagos boys”, imploring the president to “drastically balance this prejudice by giving attention to other regions outside the Southwest”. If members of the party are disappointed in their government, what do you expect from the rest of the country?

Okino, is the chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board, a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE), her syndicated column appears on News Point Nigeria newspaper on Thursdays. She can be reached via:

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