Journalism in the service of society

That Tinubu’s charge to ministers

AT his first full session of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting recently, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu charged his ministers to immediately set to work with policies and programmes that would turn around the country’s diminishing fortunes and provide succour to the people. He advised against distractive politics and divisive tendencies that are capable of taking their eyes off the ball, insisting they must dig and bring out water from the dry well.

Eight key areas of focus were identified and presented at the meeting, among them economic growth, healthcare, security, rule of law and fighting corruption. These are not new to those who have been following the rhetoric of new governments in the country. They have become a familiar refrain, even if delivered by a new choirmaster.

Ordinarily, such a charge, as given by the president, should sound reassuring, but in a country struggling with high unemployment levels, insecurity, galloping inflation, unbearable high cost of living and unaffordable cost of transportation which has been made worse with the recent removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS), the charge is generally taken with little faith as it has become quite familiar. Past charges of like nature did not produce appreciable results, and so people are adopting a let’s wait-and-see attitude.

Although eight priority and some target areas have been identified by the government and a timeline of three years has been set for significant results to start showing forth, it is still considered too broad and not specific enough to hold the respective ministers to account if they fail to perform. It is one thing to give a general charge and threaten sanctions in case of failure, but it is more proper to detail ministry by ministry what is expected to be achieved within a specified space of time. There should be spelt out key performance indicators (KPIs) and timelines.

Rolling out KPIs on a ministry-to-ministry basis would make it easier not only for the president to monitor the performance of each of the ministers but also for the general public to track their output. There must be a basis for effective monitoring and evaluation. The president must allow the ministers a free hand to not just exercise their mandates within the scope of their portfolios but also to come up with initiatives that can speed up the process of achieving their goals.

Even though the president seems to have given the right charge, used the right words and sent the right message, something needs to change, from previous experiences, in the ministries and in the attitude of ministers otherwise it will end up the same old same. What are the innovations that would be brought to bear? These must be on the table. There must be sincerity of purpose; and it must be made clear that the office of minister is not a place of entitlement, that there are consequences for non-performance. The follow-up charge should be ‘perform or get the boot.’

There should be a standard KPI for every minister to enable proper measurement of their performance. There is danger in allowing everyone to set his agenda. There must be synergy for inclusive performance and beneficial results. For the president, it should not just be ‘I have given you a job, go and perform and deliver results.’ The requisite enablement to deliver must be there. For the people, the era of complaining about who should be on the ministerial list is gone, the focus should be on capacity, character and competence. The activities and lifestyles of the ministers must be scrutinised and interrogated. They must be held to account for their respective beats.

In the past, ministers have used their position to dispense favours, particularly in appointment of a retinue of aides, with some becoming cyber warriors whose only task was to fight and abuse the people they were supposed to assist their principals in serving. This should be checked. The number of aides should be on need and relevance basis to reduce running cost and free some resources for provision of needed amenities.

While government is asking citizens to make sacrifices, top government officials should be seen to lead the way. The issue of long convoys is something that deserves serious attention. Ministers cannot be seen cruising in long convoys of gas-guzzling SUVs while the ordinary citizens are required to tighten their belts the more.

In putting out the KPIs for the ministers there should be short, medium and long term goals for each. New ministries have been created, some have been tweaked, and some given new names. These may be part of the restructuring and reengineering process, but the focus must be on performance. The yardstick for performance should include improving the lives of the people within the shortest possible time. We dare repeat that any minister who does not show enough capacity should be asked to go. And this action must not take ages.

We are well aware that some of the ministers come to the scene with some reasonable pedigree. They must know that there are expectations and they risk their professional and historical integrity by not effectively defending their classification or reputation. The finance minister, Mr. Wale Edun, for example, has a good track record and there are lots of expectations from his end. Already he has said the country is not going to borrow again but will focus on both attracting investments and using what is available to get what is needed. The sincerity of this would be in the execution. The tax reforms committee has set out its roadmap and execution timelines. We await the results, even as the proposal looks promising. Edun needs not to be reminded that currently Nigerians are sandwiched between the rock and the hard place and experiencing some kind of shock culture, therefore would appreciate a speedy respite.

The Federal Capital Territory minister, Nyesom Wike, has also set his agenda. Although his approach may sometimes seem brash, we believe that in some situations Nigerians need some hard push to do the needful. His impact is already being felt in the federal capital city. The essence is to get results for the common good. A few other ministers also have some appreciable past and so need to individually and collectively make interventions in a way that will make the people’s lives better.

For efficiency in executing government business, the civil service needs urgent reforms. It is not debatable that the civil service is one of the greatest impediments to the implementation of government policies. Nigeria is never short of good initiatives, the problem has always been in the implementation, and the civil service is the implementation machinery of government policies. Although it is also the greatest guzzler of government funds, its contribution to growth and development is almost not there at all. It has become a waste pipe.

There is a real need to focus on this aspect of government business because even if the new ministers come with the best of intentions and initiatives, these can be frustrated by tendentious civil servants who are only interested in procedures and not results. Workers in the public service are becoming more and more unproductive even though with a sense of entitlement that is fostered by unbecoming protection from labour unions who threaten strike action at the slightest prompting.

There is no way growth and development can take place in an atmosphere where things are done based on entitlement. Labour unions must embrace collective bargaining and follow due process while pursuing their cases. Incessant workers’ strike and threats whenever issues of productivity arise constitutes a distraction and takes attention away from focused plans. Ministers and government officials now spend more time sorting out labour matters than focusing on matters that affect the generality of Nigerians. Workers must know that where productivity is low, welfare is likely to suffer.

This also means that issues on the ground must be considered when interrogating and assessing the ministers because no effective performance can be achieved when the ministers meet loads of unresolved issues as they take over. There are lots of issues on the ground, especially with the Ministries of Education, Health and Social Services, Labour and Productivity, Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, and Oil Resources. New ministries like Marine and Blue Economy, Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Steel Development and Youth Development, and Tourism, among others must be given clear direction on how to proceed. The public need to know their job description to know how to assess them.

We are not unmindful of the fact that given the present state of affairs, within the country and globally, and therefore not expecting miracles, but there should be a clear indication that a solid foundation is being laid in the right areas, particularly areas that will have immediate positive impact on the lives of the people.

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