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Rejection of political appointments: A new departure?

“I rejected the appointment because my hands are full”

–Dr. Usman Bugaje, October 26, 2016.

“Sir, I, Najatu Mohammed, wish to thank you so much for considering me worthy of being appointed the Chairperson of the Federal University Dutse. It is however unfortunate that I was not consulted before the appointment was made. I also regret that I have to use the same medium to announce that I cannot accept the appointment.”

–Hajiya Najatu Muhammed’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, February, 2016.

 

THE opening quotes sourced from two influential Northern politicians, who publicly rejected political appointments under President Muhammadu Buhari, appear to signal a fresh departure in a polity where the lure and brazen hustle for office have gone gaga. That, at any rate, is my preliminary reading of the recent rejections of political appointments. Recall, for example, that shortly before Buhari commenced his tenure last year, the Senior Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, complained that he was inundated with and revolted by a deluge of office seekers shadowing him, in order to leverage his closeness to the then President-elect.

So, the unseemly jostle for public office is a well-known debility of our political system, dating several decades back. But before anyone can run away with a possible exaggeration of the problem, it should be stated that there is nothing illegitimate about wanting to serve one’s fatherland; indeed, it is an honour to be so invited, or to push oneself forward, in the event of not being invited. Obviously, public office is the political oxygen of the profession of politicians; once a politician loses public office and remains in the shadows for a considerable length of time, he or she tends to go into oblivion.

But then, what would be wrong with political oblivion, or losing public office, if one had a thriving secondary career as a fallback? That may be the crux of the problem in a circumstance where the political class is out on a limb, because there is nowhere else to go, and because the gap in privilege between those who hold public office, and those who do not is obscenely wide, often scandalous.

Taking the recent rejections, some of them hardly polite, it can be argued that the positions offered are hardly substantial, especially when we take into account that those involved can be regarded as heavyweights. In the case of the 46 non-career ambassadors, for example, those who rejected their nominations, namely, a former National Secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, Usman Bugaje, and a former Deputy Governor of Plateau State, Mrs. Pauline Tallen, these can be regarded as heavyweights, for whom ambassadorial appointments should have been offered, in consultation with them. More so, that offshore appointments of this nature are often considered political banishment from the scene of action, for those who have ambition to occupy high political office. Remember, in this connection, that after Prof Jubril Aminu showed his inclination for the Presidency, it was arranged that he should be offered an ambassadorial position. The joke that made the rounds, at the time, was that his political opponents had finally found a way to put him on a long political sabbatical, far away from the main chance which he sought.

So, for someone like Bugaje, who has failed to secure his party’s endorsement for the governorship of Katsina State, and had also failed to secure a ministerial position, having lost it to someone from Buhari’s hometown, an ambassadorial appointment could be read, either as an insult or an arranged political obscurity, to bury his prospects. The same thing can be said of Tallen, who pleaded that she will need time to be with her ailing husband, and that as a believer in political equity, she did not want to take a position, which should have been offered to someone from another part of the state than her. Nigerian politicians are not famous for minding the interest of other ethnic or sub-ethnic groups, when it comes to political appointments, and Mrs. Tallen’s second reason must be read as a manifestation of exceptional political charity.

Another politician who has, with characteristic restraint, not rejected the ambassadorial nomination, but who may feel that it is below his ken and contribution to the party, is Olorunimbe Mamora, who served Lagos State, and the nation in the successive positions of Speaker, state House of Assembly and Senator. The undervaluation of this statesman is a matter for another day.

But to return to the issue at hand, it is regrettable that appointments continue to be announced by media without consultation with the appointees. This does not say much for the sense of purpose and deliberateness of the current government, and is clearly a carryover of the military tradition in which people were appointed, and sacked, with immediate effect on national television. Even if the President cannot himself make these consultations, his close aides ought to be able to, so that the whole thing does not look like shots in the dark. For example, in the case of Prof. Akintunde Akinwande, Chairman-designate of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, who did not show up for the Senate screening, the claim that he was not consulted, if true, is a poor advertisement for our sense of judgment, considering the importance of breaking the national jinx on electricity. In other words, both the stature of the appointee, who has now apparently declined, and the nature of the assignment, indicated a more organised and systematic approach, than was the case.

On a broader note, the tone and character of administration under Buhari, will benefit from more thinking through, more deliberateness, less randomness, and more synergy, among the various departments of government. The test of whether the recent rejections constitute a salutary departure, in a political culture of ungainly hustle and ugly haggling over appointments, will come, when several more Nigerians, in nobility and decency, reject ministerial nominations. That kind of edifying departure will also include the courage of public officials to resign, when they are embroiled in scandals, or when they disagree on principle with their principals.

Overall, however, the growing habit of turning down political appointments, when offered inappropriately and without consultation, should be encouraged and nurtured, for these are the very values that make governance edifying and rule-based.

  • Olukotun is a professor of political communication.