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‘Ministerial Nominees Are Saints By Nigeria Standard’

Prof. Bayo Okunade is the Director of Distance Learning Centre and former Head of Department of Political Science University of Ibadan, Ibadan. In this interview with Rotimi Agboluaje in Ibadan, the professor of political science says the ministerial nominees have what it takes to drive the change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari, adding that what he calls the Buhari Effect has brought change to Nigeria. Excerpts:


Looking at the ministerial nominees sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, do you think the nominees can drive change? That’s a very difficult question to really answer because we’re not God. But when you look at their antecedents and credibility based on what we know about them, these are the people with track record of world standard performance.

To me, there is none of them that can’t perform. I think they’ve the credentials of performance and leadership. Of course even if we say all Nigerians have been dented, these people, I think they’ve not been smeared in any significant manner beyond the rumour and the general saying that everybody is corrupt. In relative terms, they’re still acceptable unless you’ll not appoint any Nigerian or you go for inexperienced people. As far as I’m concerned, when you look at this list, a combination of technocrats and politicians who have accomplished in their own ways, they have little blemish compared to most Nigerian politicians. I’ve not read anything that has to do with questioning the credibility of the nominees.

In some states, the announcement the nominees was trailed by protests. Are you saying these protests were unjustifiable?

Let me ask this question: who has the constitutional power to appoint? The Constitution only recognises the President as the Executive; even the Vice President has to be there as the agent of government.

Initially, the practice has been governors appointing ministers and the president confirms. It’s very unfortunate that we’ve been operating presidential system of government like parliamentary system, which is very wrong.

It’s not based on quota system that way. The President should get the best of men wherever he can get them, whether party men or non-party men. When people complain, I think the complaint is borne out of ignorance. They’re many groups that worked for the victory of the president; not only the politicians. Many Nigerians who aren’t known contributed to the victory. Those clamouring do not have credibility to say they worked. Who worked and who didn’t? Some politician’s won because we laundered their images .So there is no way they would say they worked for Buhari. Every Nigerian worked to make him president. Should every Nigerian now be saying it’s time to have a share of office but that’s not the spirit. Buhari’s election was partially done on social media.

Why should people protest? Even when they’re there whose interest are they going to serve? Are they going to serve the interest of caucuses? We must have a change of minds. Let’s know that whoever is there; there shouldn’t be any extraordinary benefit. Policies should be driven by what is needed by the society -our collective interest.

I care less who becomes the minister or whatever?

Nigerians should expect protests. When you pick one person from millions of people definitely there would be protests.

The case you’re referring to in Oyo State. Those protesting claimed that the nominee is not a team player. Is that what should be necessarily considered? One can be different. The majority may not be right. So to me, the protests are unwarranted because they’re many people who staked their lives, names, money and resources on the election who aren’t making noise. Some of those protesting are doing so for their selfish and personal interests. They are only supporting those who’re close to them. Why should that be? A minister is not the minister of Oyo State or representing the All Progressives Congress but a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So the issue should be is the person acceptable nationally. If the Senate confirms the person it means he’s acceptable. The Senate shouldn’t withhold confirmation because some are protesting. We’ve to respect the President. Something informed the choice.

In some cases, it’s not the book lickers: those desperate for appointments that actually get it.

Many are of the view that the long wait for the ministerial was an anti-climax considering the names therein were not saints after all. What do you have to say about this?

By Nigerian standard the nominees are saints. Politics is contestation and retention of power. When it comes to decision- making, there are so many interests. I’m not Buhari’s apologist but it’s not like the only thing the President has been doing is compilation of the ministerial list. It’s secondary. There has been serious work going on. It’s now that people are just properly handling over. People are being made accountable. Opposition parties will always criticize which might not be constructive. But ultimately we’ve got the list and there is no time dimension to when a minister should be appointed. Some states haven’t even appointed commissioners.

When you’re clearing up a mess, appointment isn’t a priority. Clean up the mess first. That’s the role of a leader – an understanding of the starting point. Assuming there is a minister of petroleum now it’s going to be business as usual in the Nigerian way that may be a distraction to change. But now when you’ve ministers here and there you have problem points. Then that’s why there is pervasion.

We must know that a leader who wants things done must be autocratic to extent. During the buildup to the elections, a larger per cent of the Nigerian youths canvassed votes for the president but looking at the appointments made so far, it seems they are not represented. What do you have to say about this?

The youths, I believe they should be represented. We’re talking about the youths as if they’re the only ones that can take care of themselves. I’d not demean Nigerian youths. They campaigned for Buhari but the issue shouldn’t be because they campaigned for him they must be represented. At the same time, they’re youths who are the other side.

Restoration doesn’t depend on any age group but on who can do the work. That’s why the issue remains that Buhari at 72 isn’t fit and proper person but can a Nigerian youth do what he is doing? Would he have the mind to do what he’s doing? Get me right I’m not saying the youths shouldn’t be represented. But I think at this stage of our national development we should look for the people that can drive the change including the youths. It’s not necessary that the youths have to be there before you can make any change. I’m saying this on principles that the issue shouldn’t be that youths be represented. We’re all Nigerians. Let’s drive change positively for all so that no one would see him/herself as the old or the young. We must realise that the policies Buhari is pursuing are for all. Let’s have public-spirited people irrespective of the age grade; people who are national change agents. Nigerian problems are the same.

I think by the time there is a level- playing ground, leadership would crop up from the youths who will clean up political space. The youths are not relevant because of money politics. By the time we sanitize the system and the youths are empowered, they’d no longer be used as thugs. Now it’s not about the youths but about change. We should do away with primordial interest but be nationalists thinking. Let our affection and orientation be to Nigeria not to a group.

President Buhari said he’d take charge of the Ministry of Petroleum as the minister. Don’t you think that the enormity of duties in the office of President may affect the efficiency of the ministry?

I don’t think so. If Buhari can cope as the sole administrator of Nigeria so far, being a minister won’t be a problem. What the administration is trying to do is to hand over a proper and fit bureaucracy that’d drive itself.

Also when you look at the rot in the industry you’ll not oppose the president staying in that ministry. The implication is that people may say is the only the president that trusts himself. If that’s the case, why not. It has what it takes to be the minister. He had been the minister of petroleum before. He knows the nitty gritty of the ministry. We know that NNPC ( Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) runs a parallel government in Nigeria in term of finance. I don’t see anything wrong in the President doing that.

Opposition parties are there to oppose but has to be constructive.

Few weeks ago members of the National Assembly started clamouring for immunity. Do you think Nigeria is ripe for that?

There is immunity clause in the constitution already. But the way we’re operating is scandalous. There is provision for recall and impeachment at executive level.

Why would people recall? If that person is no longer representing their interest, that person should be recalled. If we now say we’ve immunity; that is a contradiction. Number one, because if there is, the issue of people recalling wouldn’t be there.

Secondly, they swore to an oath of allegiance and they shouldn’t do anything regarded as gross misconduct. So, would immunity clause subsist if in a situation where somebody is accused of gross misconduct?

If you want to act as a professional senator why do you need immunity? Of course, we know they’ve immunity within the House; that’s enough. If you kill somebody or committed crimes or stole you do not have immunity. If we can recall the President why do not we talk about immunity for the President? With immunity, you’re not answerable for his actions.

Already, there is immunity for official conduct and some cases official conduct can also be handled in an improper manner that can constitute gross misconduct. So, I don’t think we need that.

Talking about the immunity, Judges themselves are immune in their official conducts not in respect of other things. The Judicial Commission/Advisory body has disciplined many judges and we know that judiciary is independence. But independence doesn’t cover a judge found taking bribe. Immunity in Nigeria is a cover up for misbehaviour. At this stage we don’t need all the social protections.

Some are calling for removal of immunity from the executive. What is your take on this? The executive doesn’t have immunity because there is provision for impeachment.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria we’ve not had a test case. But don’t forget that those impeached so far must have committed one offence/crime or others. But you can’t impeach without an allegation. So, if a President behaves in a way that impugns the reputation of the office that’s the boundary line for whatever immunity he has.

What is your assessment of the fight against corruption by the Buhari administration?

President Buhari hasn’t disappointed Nigerians like me. Don’t forget that his slogan is ‘if Nigeria doesn’t kill corruption, corruption will Nigeria’. We now know what the president meant. The gravity of corruption is very high. To me, it isn’t corruption but ‘ greedy or insane corruption’.

We’ve been seen some changes which people call the Buhari Effect’. It’s instructive to know that there are two levels of war against corruption. One is Buhari Effect that tries to kill corruption because the fact that there would be sanction if detected.

Two, TSA is a way of fighting corruption. Loose money is no longer there. Nigeria can capture its resources and a better financial system is in place.

Some argue that TSA has been there but who has the courage to drive it the way Buhari is doing? When you look at the second level of the war against corruption is now going after those who allegedly stole public funds.

One thing you can credit to Buhari is the fact that Nigeria is no longer a permissive state for corruption. To me he has sent the right signal to the public service.

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