Mahmud Jega: Transition in Nigeria is the political equivalent of Lassa fever

by Mahmud Jega

 

ObasanjoBuhariThe Federal Government and all 36 state governments in Nigeria are right now suffering from high body temperature caused by a political fever called transition.

Fela used to say that different different fever na him dey; this transition fever also varies from one state to another. The first aspect of it, equivalent to shivering, is caused by the Big Boss and his party’s defeat at the polls. The most severe form of fever occurs where the Boss himself contested for another term of office and lost, as happened at the Federal level and in Kaduna State.

The second, slightly less severe type of fever occurs where a second term governor managed to win a senatorial election but his anointed candidate went down to defeat in the governorship election, as happened in Plateau. The third type of feverish feeling occurs where a governor did not contest the election but his anointed governorship candidate was defeated at the polls. This happened in Katsina, Jigawa, Rivers and Ebonyi states. Then there are situations where the governor contested for a senatorial seat and was defeated, and the candidate he backed for the governorship also went down to defeat. Such double-jeopardy haemorrhagic fever occurred in Niger, Kebbi, Bauchi, Adamawa and Benue states.

We can therefore divide the transitions that are taking place in Nigeria into four categories. The first category is where there is no transition in the Government House but the state is gearing up to usher in a new state assembly. In all seven states where this is happening namely Edo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Anambra, Bayelsa and Kogi the incoming assemblies are dominated by the state governor’s party, so this transition is relatively painless.

The second category of transition is where a first term governor is transiting into his second term. This is the case in Borno, Yobe, Zamfara, Gombe, Kwara, Oyo and Ogun. Although this is a relatively simple transition, it might have its complexities. A state governor who is transiting to his second term must still dissolve his cabinet, sack his special advisers and special assistants and dissolve the boards of parastatals. Apart from legal requirements, this move is necessary because after a rigorous election, political calculations in a state have changed.

Some commissioners proved to be ineffective in the discharge of their duties; others proved to be politically disloyal. Some commissioners may be neither ineffective nor disloyal but they must be replaced because in the course of the campaign some other people proved to be more effective politically and were promised the positions. Some godfathers may have fallen aside and their nominees are expendable. A governor who has entered his second term is no longer running for re-election but for the history books so he would be looking for technocratic competence in prospective appointees. Cabinet change is a tricky business in Nigeria because as soon as a man is sacked from the cabinet he automatically becomes the governor’s political enemy.

The third type of transition is where a governor who has completed two terms in office is handing over to a friendly governor-elect that he helped to get elected. This is the case in Sokoto, Kano, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Lagos and Enugu states. This type of transition is generally rancour free but the changes are more radical than when a man succeeds himself. A new governor, however politically indebted to his predecessor, must assert himself. He has his own old circle of friends to please and since he is usually from a different part of the state, he must alter the zoning and balancing policy in the state. This is often the first source of friction between a godfather and his anointed successor. Sometimes it happens with lighting speed such as between Peter Obi and Willy Obiano in Anambra State. The two men began to quarrel within a month of the handover.

The fourth and by far the most traumatic transition, equivalent to convulsion, is where power moves from one political party to another, in all extant cases from PDP to APC. This is the case in Kebbi, Katsina, Jigawa, Kaduna, Niger, Plateau, Benue and Ebonyi states as well as at the Federal level. Ebonyi is a special study where the governor-elect is the current deputy to Governor Martins Elechi but the latter anointed a different candidate in the PDP primaries and he resorted to anti-party activity when his candidate lost. In this kind of transition the jobs of all political appointees and even some senior civil servants are on the line. Many senior civil servants often get involved in ruling party politics as do some judicial, military and police officers. Some royal fathers also join the fray, the best known recent case being Oba Rilwanu Akiolu of Lagos. His was the kind of political involvement that once led to a nasty spat between Awujale of Ijebuland Oba Sikiru Adetona and Governor Bisi Onabanjo in 1979.

By far the most traumatic transition is the one unfolding at the federal level. Since the president and vice president are leaving office, all ministers, the State House chief of staff and all the battery of special advisers, special assistants and senior special assistants must leave as well. A new Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] and a new National Security Adviser [NSA] are usually appointed on the first day of the new regime. In recent years the Head of Service is usually allowed to serve until retirement.  The military service chiefs, the Police Inspector General and the heads of intelligence agencies are most likely to be replaced on May 29. Heads of major Federal agencies such as Customs, Immigration and Prisons have in recent years also had stable tenures, as has the Governor of the Central Bank. However the Group Managing Director [GMD] and all executive directors of NNPC are likely to be speedily replaced, along with the heads of government-owned media organisations NTA, FRCN, VON and NAN.

Other major posts likely to be eyed by in-coming government include the heads of Ports Authority, NIMASA, PTDF, FIRS, UBEC and Tetfund. All non-career ambassadors will be speedily recalled. Career ambassadors may survive but they may not retain their current postings since the choicest embassies such as those in UN, USA, UK, France and Saudi Arabia must have been traded away in the course of the campaign. The boards of government-owned agencies and companies will also be dissolved though the Federal Government has learnt in recent years to respect the tenure of university governing councils.

The jostle for positions in the incoming APC regime will be fought first at the National Assembly. Even though APC allowed a free contest for its presidential ticket, inter-regional balancing was apparent in its choice of running mate Yemi Osinbajo. Even though APC was happy that Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal defied PDP’s zoning formula and snatched the Speaker’s gavel via an opposition-backed insurgency, APC will now adopt a zoning formula and try to enforce it. This is proof of the local adage that a barber does not like the feel of a sharp knife on his own scalp.

While all the jostling for appointments is going on, we hope that incoming rulers at all levels will remember to write a program of rule. There is a lot of handing over notes to study. Then there are many things to probe. In Nigeria new rulers invariably accuse their predecessors of mismanagement and embezzlement and they institute probe panels. Usually there is a wholesale review of contracts already awarded on suspicion that the costs were inflated. Almost every inherited project and program must be reviewed on suspicion that it is a white elephant. While such reviews are going on contractors’ payments are always withheld, making interest on bank loans to pile up and ultimately ruin many a businessman.

At the federal level in particular there are major policies and programs that APC must review in order to expunge PDP self interest. These include import tariffs, waivers, fuel subsidy payments, privatisation of corporations, weapons deals, foreign military assistance programs, security contracts, power sector reforms, foreign exchange regime etc. That is why transition in Nigeria is the political equivalent of Lassa fever.

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