Creating more jobs for the boys at our expense

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

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Simbo QED“The system will always be defended by those countless people who have enough intellect to defend but not quite enough to innovate.” – Edward de Bono

Engineer Victor Egoh is the Special Adviser to Hajiya (Dr) Baraka Sani who herself is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Schools’ Agriculture Programme. Hajiya, who was appointed to this position about two months ago after resigning from Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso’s cabinet in Kano, probably has other aides apart from the Special Adviser. How a senior special assistant to the President gets to have at least one special adviser, who himself might have his own special assistant(s), who in turn might have his own personal assistant, with a personal assistant also ministering to his own needs, we will never know.

But this is really not about Dr. Baraka Sani or the retinue of aides that one needs to be able to advise the President on Schools’ Agriculture Programme. It cannot be, as there is nothing unusual about that. It is not about the fact that there is in place a full-fledged Ministry of Agriculture, with its numerous departments and directors. There cannot be anything wrong with the existence of other agencies of government also administering to the agricultural needs of the country.  As we know, duplication of responsibilities is no crime in our land. We love fancy titles – Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Supervising Minister of Education. The new one is – Co-ordinating General Manager, Public Affairs, Aviation Parastatals. I did not make it up – it is the new title for Yakubu Dati of FAAN, following on his meritorious service explaining bullet-proof vehicles and allied matters.

But it will be wrong to see Hajiya’s appointment simply as an invitation to come and ‘chop’. The Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Schools’ Agriculture Programme was set up with the important mandate “to implement a comprehensive agricultural programme that will introduce young students to the various opportunities contained in agriculture by promoting skills for life and further contribute to the drive in ensuring the diversification of the country’s economy…” Obviously, the task to establish agricultural clubs in schools to promote unity in Nigeria is such a major one that we need to set up another desk in the Presidency to execute it. Pronto, we poach the Commissioner for Agriculture in Kano to come execute the task at the Presidency.

Did someone not say something about the over-bloated bureaucracy that has made an elephant of our recurrent expenditure? Did the Oronsaye report not make a case for a pruning down of the number of ministries, departments and agencies of government? That report, in fact, recommended the scrapping of 102 Federal Government statutory agencies from the present 263; the abolition of 38 agencies; merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to mere departments in some ministries.  It also recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils. But where is the political will to wield the big stick? All we need do is just to ‘carry-go’. It is our time to ‘chop’. Can we blame the doctors then for aspiring to belong? Prominent among the 24 Commandments carved on the Doctors’ tablet presented to Nigerians at the beginning of the ongoing strike is the demand for the creation of the Office of Surgeon-General, ‘with immediate effect’, they say. Doctors also want appointed four Deputy Chairmen for the Medical Advisory Committee in each hospital, so there could be more jobs for the boys and girls?

This waste is by no means peculiar to the Presidency. It is one culture that trickles down all the way. I once counted 15 Police Traffic Officials ministering to the functioning traffic light at the Allen roundabout in Lagos, their moves carefully choreographed to coincide with the light turning red. No wonder there was no-one on duty at the Ministry of Finance junction in Abuja. Our dutiful Inspector General of Police happened on it, and he was so well-prepared for the urgency of the moment, that he turned out fully-dressed in Traffic Police Uniform. What a coincidence! It was such an epochal moment that photographers showed up magically to capture it. According to CP Frank Mba, “It is the first time in the history of the force that a serving IG would perform such roles.” We must ensure that this goes into the Guinness Book of Records.

Back to what this is about. Everywhere you turn, the mantra is either “It is our turn to eat” or “When will it be our turn to eat?” No one seems to care anymore about the preparation of the meal. The Presidency has become a bed for all comers. ‘No be only special advisers dey waka come o!’ There are special assistants, senior special advisers, senior special assistants, and personal assistants, not to mention that many of the assistants themselves have their own assistants. Yet, apart from these officials, there are friends, family members and hangers-on who are adept at making things happen around power. Some are serving multiple terms in prestigious hotels in Abuja, all on account of helping to move our poor nation forward. It will be tantamount to a breach of protocol not to acknowledge these hardworking men and women.

Truth be told, it did not start today. It probably won’t end tomorrow. In 2011, NEXT published what it claimed as an official list of Presidential Aides.  The 133-strong list was mostly of political appointees with 25 special advisers, 42 senior special assistants, 52 special assistants and 12 personal assistants. Two of the personal assistants were found to be a Malian and Senegalese tailors who sow the president’s clothes. One can only guess that given President Jonathan’s prudent and transformational management of resources, he would have scaled things back by now, and the list will no longer be a mile long.

Activist Shehu Sani had alleged then that “The president is simply wasting our national resources and applying pressure on the economy by settling cronies, bootlickers and parasites on the corridors of power with appointments.”  I will rather not believe that is the case. I choose to believe better things of us. That it is our time to ‘chop’ should not make us lose our senses, should it? Whatever we do, we must not forget there is God o.