What Nigerians must do to make new ministers perform —ASUU president

Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi, President, Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU), in this interview, by TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE, bares his mind on the ‘bow and go’ screening formality adopted by the Senate and why Nigerians should not expect something different from the ministers. Excerpts:

HOW do you explain the Senate position asking any ministerial nominee who were once state or federal lawmaker to just ‘bow and go’ during screening?

For me, to ask nominees to just bow and go on the floor of the Senate for people who are to become ministers is grossly undemocratic. It is indeed a very funny practice. For the Senate to insist that is their tradition for any ex-senator or House of Reps member is not binding on the rest of Nigerians. They are supposed to be responsive to our feelings. The Senate ought to probe their past and deeds. They should be subjected to interrogation on the floor of the Senate so that Nigerians can actually know the true profiles of those who are going to head one ministry or the other.

And I want to believe that one of the things that might have informed that practice could be because the nominees are not being attached to any specific ministry or portfolio in the documents before them.

And it appeared that the presidency did not also give Nigerians enough room to actually know how well those who are going to administer our various ministries are prepared or equipped for the job and assignments before them.

So, as academics, we believe that there is no issue that cannot be questioned or interrogated. And if anybody had anything in the past and that person is assigned to a leadership role, he or she should be ex-rayed.  Somebody might have even been accused  wrongly of misdeeds while in office in the past and now being pushed forward for another role like that of a minister, the screening should have been a good opportunity for them to defend themselves before the public. So, for me, that so-called screening should have given them the opportunity to clear their names from  the mess because there could have been wrong allegations against somebody. But this ‘bow and go’ system just on the basis of once being a senator and all that is not acceptable to Nigerians. Or is it that the Senate is saying that all senators are perfect human beings and cannot be wrong? That can never be. Though, there are some senators who are not benchwarmers and who performed well,  there are still some even among the current ones who are just benchwarmers and perpetual absentees. So, if such people should come back and as ministers in future, do we say we should extend that same gesture to them? People could have served in any capacity, either as governors or legislators or even ministers and so forth, their past should be subjected to open investigations. That is a normal way to go in an ideal setting.

 

Maybe, the practice has bearing in older democracies in advanced countries.

No. The system does not in any way support democratic ethos. Democratic ethos is about questioning assumptions and allowing reasons to prevail. So, you cannot assume that somebody is a good man and by the time you diagnose that person’s past, you may discover that he or she is a wolf appearing like a sheep.

Similarly, I don’t think that practice is known to other parts of the world.  You know Nigerians can be so funny.  In other jurisdictions, a sitting president can be questioned and that is what democracy is about. Your leaders or potential leaders should not be afraid to answer any question and anybody should be able to ask any aspiring leader questions, especially as regards their visions and how to bring them to fruition when in office. But when you protect or over-protect them as is the case in Nigeria and we say, well in this chamber, they are sacred cows, then the Senate has denied Nigerians the opportunity to actually know their leaders and their true colours.

 

What then are the general implications of the practice to our democracy and to the country as an acclaimed giant of Africa?

The implications are huge and they are all negative. The first one is that we might have elected a leader who would have put ministers in positions they may not be capable of handling well. This is because giving a minister a wrong portfolio is to prepare him for poor performance when eventually in office. And part of that preparation is insensitivity to people’s feelings. You put people in positions they lack capacities for just because they are senators and all that. That someone who should be interrogated and scrutinised to see if they fit into position of authority are not allowed to go through such by the same platform is not a good signal for us as a country.

So, does it mean that once you are a Senator, you are not accountable to anybody? That is why, to me, one may be put in a position one does not fit in.

Another implication is that, they may begin to see themselves as being powerful and bigger than the law and the entire system. The third implication is that we are making a mockery of our democracy. The global community will be watching us and what would be their perception on our ministerial screening model, where you ask somebody to just bow and go when it is not that all is well? Definitely, they will be laughing at us. They would be asking if we are really serious about developing as a country. So, we should stop forthwith this mockery of our democracy and the country at large.

 

Then what about the nominees, I mean their composition?

The composition, generally, I believe, does not actually bring any innovative perspective to leadership in our democracy. When you talk of innovative perspective to leadership, we can use the example of what happened recently in the United Kingdom, where someone below 40 years and a Nigerian for that matter is made a minister.  So, you see when you are looking for innovation, we will not mind where somebody is coming from. But what we are doing in Nigeria is not to look for performers, competency, credibility and integrity, but to look for people who can bring a political mileage in terms of electioneering and voting. So, what I see in the composition are those who can probably help in the next general election. Those who are well positioned to support the ruling party in winning the next elections. And we cannot actually attract the best. There are crack technocrats out there who know their games,  who are skillful, experienced and exposed and who could actually and meaningfully add value to our democratic culture and could deliver on the dividends of democracy without being allied to any political party. But, we could describe the composition as a party-based nomination for election process. But we shouldn’t over-politicise governance. Otherwise, we would not get the brightest and the best people for the system. And we should look for them and bring them on board so that we can have what is good for us as a country in terms of transformation, progress and development.

So, there is nothing new in the composition and nothing inspiring about the list. It is that the politicians are just recycling themselves without electoral values. They were selected based on what contributions they made in the last election and what contributions they can make in the next elections.

 

What then should Nigerians expect from them?

That is a great question. Well, I don’t see them performing much different from what they did the last time. However, if Nigerians can pile up pressure on them, I think we can force them to do something much significant this time round because Nigerians deserve the best.  And what that means is that we should not let down our guards and that we should be active in monitoring and advocating the best from them. And what that also means is that our agitation for continued improvement and development of the country should now be taken more seriously by intensifying efforts in asking for and insisting on the best from them.  That will put pressure on them and if we then need to bring technocrats in to support them, the president should not hesitate to do that. We are far from where we are supposed to be as a country.

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