Nigeria’s looming political appointments’ stampede: Need for order via screening

Introduction
If reports filtering out of Abuja are anything to go by, no less than 600 top-level posts would fall vacant in the coming weeks. This is not surprising. A new party is in power. A change of guard comes with the territory. As has been the practice over the years, and considering the role that technical ‘know-who” plays in the selection process relative to technical “know-how”, those interested in the soon to be vacant jobs have started to line up the support of powerful individuals like State Governors, political godfathers, officials of the ruling party, traditional rulers, and leaders of ethnic advocacy groups.

If care is not taken, the imminent scramble for placement risks frustrating efforts at recruiting the competent personnel that the APC Government needs to respond to the monumental challenges it inherited from the previous PDP Administration. If any one misses the connection between faulty executive recruitment and large-scale mismanagement, s/he should call to mind a few public agencies run aground by a combination of managerial incompetence and profligate behavior.

Far more serious than the threat to merit, of course, is the political fall-out of a mismanaged opportunity—the opportunity to balance the claims of merit with the imperatives of inclusivity. Unless a system is devised allowing for a credible and transparent vetting of candidates’ credentials, the chances are good that the announcement of new appointments would be greeted with grumbles from various quarters—most specially, from self-appointed ethnic advocates, bona fide civic organizations, groups that, right or wrong, feel marginalized, women, Nigerians without political affiliations but with interest in merit, APC chieftains, campaign workers, and predictably, the already disgruntled PDP. Bridging the divides over political appointments is the essence of this post and the accompanying Annex A.

Nigeria’s political appointments—an overview of challenges
Ever since Nigeria became a sovereign nation, no administration (be it at the federal, state, or local level) has succeeded in instituting fool-proof and universally acceptable mechanisms for screening candidates for top-flight management, talk less of political, offices. The practice that has developed over the years is for the winner in a major contest to “take all”, before deciding how the “loot” (or the spoils) would be shared among those thought to have contributed to the ruling group’s victory.

Under the parliamentary system that was operated from 1960 to 1963, the federal Prime Minister and the regional Premiers owed their positions to their political parties. Each head of government remained in office so long as he retained his party’s parliamentary support. To fend off a ‘no-confidence’ vote, the Prime Minister and the Premiers had to bow to the wishes of the dominant blocs in their parties.

Top on the average politician’s wish-list is the right of first consideration for “juicy” posts in government. So it is that at the end of any general election, party elders often squabbled over who got appointed to make-or-break positions, notably, the positions of Cabinet Minister, Corporation Board Chairperson and Member, Secretary to Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, and lesser-order ones like Ambassadorial, Advisory, and Special Assistants’ posts. The political patronage net has since widened to include the posts of Permanent Secretary, Managing Director of a State-owned company, and Director-General of an agency or department.

The military, into whose hands Nigeria fell for approximately 28 (twenty-eight) years, did not need the support of political parties or party elders to acquire or retain power. That was why the military was able to recruit talent, unencumbered by partisan political considerations. However, the mere fact that the military was not elected did somehow foster the “ruling party” culture. Under the military’s authoritarian dispensation, only the fear of God and occasional intrusion of common sense stood between outright nepotism and open, competitive recruitment. Olu Awotesu, a member of the Constituent Assembly established by the military in 1978, pointedly accused the military rulers of filling government positions with their classmates, friends and relations.

When Nigeria replaced the parliamentary with the presidential system in 1963, a few observers had expected that appointment into key government offices would be based strictly on merit—merit, in this case, defined, not as mere possession of “paper qualifications”, but as demonstrable proof of ability to tackle critical challenges facing Nigeria, and by implication, those entrusted with the governorship of the country. The assumption then was that in contesting the office of President (or State Governor), each candidate would have identified what ails Nigeria, and would have, there and then, made a personal pledge to provide remedies. In other words, it is the political party’s flag-bearer, not the party, that is expected to face the public and make a solemn promise to conquer the dominant challenges, including challenges like corruption, insecurity, fiscal and macro-economic instability, over-reliance on the export of a narrow range of commodities, unemployment, land grab and speculation, unending electricity power shortage, the environmental and economic implications of reliance on “stand-bye” generators, infrastructure decay, the rot in the health and the education sectors, Nigeria’s image abroad, and paralysing traffic gridlock at home. If the voting public has faith in a candidate, it will elect him President, thereby conferring on him the mandate to govern.

Unfortunately, the mandate conferred on the President (or Governor) by the voting public is liable to be diluted, if not impounded, by party elders. If truth be told, therefore, the presidential system has not worked in Nigeria as it was intended to. The system has taken off in a totally unexpected direction for one simple reason—the persistence of the parliamentary mindset. That mindset has overpowered and blocked the creative, go-getting, genius associated with truly presidential systems. In the mind of the operators of Nigeria’s brand of “executive-presidential” constitution, the party and its flag-bearer are one and the same, and are therefore, inseparable. Had Louis XIV landed on Nigeria’s shores today and proclaimed, l’etat c’est moi, the “ruling party” would have retorted with a “No! We, leaders of the ruling party, are the state!”

It is this attitude of mind (the “ruling party” mentality and the attendant culture of entitlement) that has posed insuperable obstacles to the faithful operation of the presidential system. The preponderant influence of party caucuses in the decision process has also slowed down the pace of programme implementation. Rather than allow the President (or a State Governor) to deliver on his electoral promises, rival blocs in a “ruling party” cannot resist the temptation to call in their pre-election IOUs, and to confront the occupant of the top office with difficult, sometimes, impossible, demands. The implication is clear: if the system is not working as fast and as effectively as it is supposed to, it is because of the (basically avoidable) need to balance or reconcile competing interests over appointments. More often than not, a Nigerian President or Governor is obliged to expend a disproportionate amount of his time looking over his shoulders and making sure that he does not antagonize or sideline, not one, but many, bickering groups. The question crying for an answer is when the President or Governor would have time to fulfil his electoral promises. If he has to respond to challenges, at least, agonizing over who to please with what “juicy” posts should not be one of his headaches.

The case for impartial screening

To forestall or de-escalate the tension likely to be generated by rivalry for political appointments, it is necessary to institute mechanisms enabling the appointing authorities to identify competent candidates, while at the same time ensuring that no individual or group feels unduly excluded. This is the remit of the Screening Form appearing at the end of this post (Annex A).

The main attributes of the Screening Form are:

(a) Openness: the Form proceeds from the underlying premise that public office is open to every Nigerian who meets the basic eligibility (citizenship, age, character, etc.) criteria;
(b) Transparency: instead of relying on the judgment of a few elders meeting in conclaves to decide who gets nominated for what position, the Form expects every eligible Nigerian to signify his/her interest in a position, and formally apply for it;
(c) Accent on competencies: in vying for any specific post, the applicant must demonstrate what knowledge/skills/competencies/special attributes s/he will bring to the organization in which the post is located;
(d) Link between pledges and deliverables: Just as the President or Governor commits himself to the accomplishment of specific targets, the Form requires each applicant to state explicitly what value s/he will add to the President’s/the Governor’s efforts, that is, what the applicant expects to contribute to efforts at delivering on the larger electoral promise;
(e) Accommodation of political sponsorship: the Form takes a realistic view that political party leaders would continue to play a role in the selection of candidates for government positions. However, where the role was once vague, the Form makes it clear by limiting it to attestation to candidates’ suitability and character;
(f) Insistence on background checks: a candidate that completes the Screening Form has implicitly and explicitly waived parts of his/her privacy rights, and has allowed scrutiny of his/her mental, general health, financial, and police records.

ANNEX A: POLITICAL APPOINTEES’ SCREENING FORM (DRAFT)
General instructions

(Please read carefully before you complete this form. The onus for the accuracy of the information appearing thereon is entirely yours. When you have completed your part of the form, make sure that you obtain your referees’ signatures before returning the form, in duplicate, to_______________________________________________________).

Biographical sketch
1. Name of Candidate (in full):
2. State of origin:
3. Local Government:
4. Nationality:
5. Gender:
6. Married/Single/Widowed/Divorced
7. Party affiliation (APC/PDP/APGA….etc./No party affiliation):
8. Nature of engagement with the electoral process (voting, voter mobilization, electoral observation, etc.)_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Competencies
9. Highest Educational Qualification (and awarding institution):

10. Field of specialization/Profession:__________________________________

11. National experience (national Career History): COMPLETE TABLE

Dates (from start to finish) Organization Position Held Nature of Responsibility Notable accomplishments

12. International experience (if any): COMPLETE TABLE
Dates (from start to finish) Organization Position Held Nature of Responsibility Notable accomplishments

13. Notable achievements (List your notable achievements in order of importance):

14. What position do you want to be considered for (include the organization in which the post is located)? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

15. Why do you consider yourself qualified for this post? (Say in not more than three simple sentences):

16. What challenges face Nigeria in the area of interest to you? (in 300 words or less)

17. EXACTLY HOW do you see your appointment to the post you seek enabling you to tackle the challenges? (maximum 300 words)

18. What special skills do you have (tick all applicable ones below):

a. Computing
b. Research and analytical skill
c. Written communications/Drafting
d. Oral communications
e. Diplomatic negotiation
f. Management, decision-making and organizational
g. Strategic planning/policy formulation
h. Civic engagement (including co-governorship skill)
i. Team building and conflict resolution
j. Other__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

19. Were you at any time indicted for corruption? Yes/No
20. Were you at any time convicted of a crime? Yes/No
21. Are you a fugitive from justice? Yes/No
22. Do you have a history of alcoholism? Yes/No
23. Do you have a history of drug abuse? Yes/No
24. Do you consider yourself physically fit and mentally sound? Yes/No
25. Are you capable of managing ethnic, religious, sectarian diversity? Yes/No

Performance Pledge

26. If appointed, what milestones do you pledge to record:
a. Within the first year of appointment (list a maximum of three/3 pledged accomplishments):

b. By the end of the second year of appointment (list below):

c. By the end of your tenure (list below):

27. I certify that the information supplied on this form is correct (If subsequent to this declaration, it is established that any or all of the information supplied by the prospective candidate is false, the candidate will automatically be disqualified for further consideration. Moreover, in the event that the false information is discovered after appointment, any expenses incurred in relation to the position will be recovered).
Signature_______________________________________
Date___________________________________________

Referees/Sponsors

List 3 (three) referees/sponsors/godfathers ready and willing to testify to your patriotism, commitment to the principles of justice and fairness, loyalty, dedication, competence and integrity.

Your referees will be deemed to have so testified if they append their signatures in the appropriate column below. (Referees are strongly advised to exercise utmost discretion in backing any candidate for key state offices as this will reflect on each referee’s personal integrity):
Name of sponsor Profession/Address Relationship to Candidate Referee’s Signature (testifying to the candidate’s suitability and accepting responsibility for his/her conduct while in office)
Referee #1.___________________________________________________
Referee #2.___________________________________________________
Referee #3.___________________________________________________

TO BE RETURNED IN DUPLICATE TO________________________________________________________, ALONG WITH A TWO-PAGE BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH AND TWO PASSPORT PHOTOS.

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