FOR two consecutive weeks now, President Muhammadu Buhari has been absent from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. While at the April 12, 2017 meeting, he was conspicuously absent, the one scheduled for the following week was not held at all. Although attendance of the meeting is not a constitutional stipulation for the president who has the prerogative to hold it at his convenience and to attend in the same vein, the rationalisations for his absence fly in the face of logic.
Speaking on the president’s earlier absence, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had explained that the issues on the agenda of the FEC were “light,” ostensibly too light to engage the president’s attention. On April 19, the FEC meeting was not held at all. As a reply to Nigerians who were bothered about this trend, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, Mallam Garba Shehu, was on hand to provide a reason. The culprit, he said, was the Easter holiday. According to him, the FEC secretariat staff had no opportunity to circulate relevant documents for the meeting, due to the holidays. “The staff on the council secretariat resumed on Tuesday after the Easter. There was no time to prepare and circulate memos to ministers. By practice, the ministers receive council memos two or three days ahead of meetings because they must read them and sometimes undertake research. It is not a rubber-stamp council, so everyone must prepare themselves well for debates,” Shehu said.
The two rationalisations from the Presidency are too peremptory and too cavalier to explain an issue as weighty as a meeting that has a bearing on the fate of Nigerians. Even though there is no constitutional provision for a weekly holding of the FEC meeting, providing rationalisations that are not in sync with the reality of the Nigerian situation amounts to insulting the intelligence of the people. In the first instance, to say that a FEC meeting where issues that have to do with the Nigerian people should be discussed was a “light” one, hence the president’s absence, is to demean the FEC meeting itself. To be sure, any issue that traverses the nooks and crannies of bureaucracy to the front burner of the Nigerian decision-making organ called the FEC cannot be said to be light. They have grave consequences for the lives of Nigerians.
The rationalisation of the cancellation of the FEC meeting of Wednesday is perhaps more insulting to the intelligence of the people. The information age has made issues that were addressed by Mallam Shehu so straightforward to tackle in a way that a whole meeting of the FEC would not be kept at bay because of a national holiday. Couldn’t the staff of the presidency, entrusted with the task of preparing memos, have forfeited their holidays for the progress of the nation? In the civil service, such staff are awarded overtime allowance to be able to financially reward the comfort they sacrificed. How come the presidency did not allow this to happen so that issues that affect the lives of the people could be discussed at the FEC meeting and decisions taken on them? More importantly, didn’t the management of the staff know that there would be Easter holidays, and so they had to make appropriate plans for the compilation of the memos? In this age of information, couldn’t the memos have been forwarded to the ministers beforehand, so that, in the words of Mallam Shehu, they could adequately “read them and undertake research”?
We are alarmed that the issues that could not be discussed at the cancelled FEC meeting would now be carried over to the next meeting, making them to go through a longer period of actualisation. We are of the opinion that a better rationalisation, especially of the absence of the president from the FEC meeting, could have been that, since the Presidency is an indivisible whole, the presence of the Vice President should be enough an explanation. The Presidency staff being on holidays is too glib to explain the humongous negative effects of the cancellation on the national life. In a country that is battling meningitis and allied economic and existential afflictions, cancellation of meetings meant to find solutions to these problems or categorisation of the issues as “light” can at best only be presidential gaffes.