Governor Bello’s uneasy start

Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello

By Gimba Kakanda

Every day I resist the temptation to dismiss our federal character principles as absolutely retrogressive, witnessing how every government agency and parastatal is populated by the relatives of its head – Minister, Commissioner, Executive Director, Director-General, Chairman etc.

Managing expectations is now the biggest challenge before our Change-advocating leaders, and in Niger, my home state, which the people see as a wasteland of governance, always quick to paint the picture of our underdevelopment and ranking it as worst in the federation, the atmosphere is already tense, the people confused by the new Governor’s first move.

And this new move was the appointment of aides, with the most questioned being the appointment of the Secretary to the State Government. Over the week, I received calls on the appointment, with all expressing fear of the pending, that the new sheriff isn’t going by the script, the formula – in terms of our peculiar “quota system”.

Even though I’ve promised to give the new governor a reasonable time to settle down, in his predecessor’s mud, it’s harmless to start a conversation around an allegation, by two of the callers, that the Governor seemed to have scrapped “fair representation” based on our zoning tradition. They asked, “Why would the SSG be from the same Local Government as the Governor?” One pondered, “Since the governor is from Niger North, his deputy from Niger South, why shouldn’t Niger East have that position?”

I pointed to the Chief of Staff as a representative of the Niger East in the administration, but they dismissed that as irrelevant, that his duties are more of running errands, and not actually of performing key administrative functions. The Niger East senatorial district has become to Niger State, what the Igbos are to Nigeria now; a people to be consoled having lost out in certain political calculations. The consideration of Niger East for SSG is the same in the way Nigerians now expect an Igbo appointed as Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

And when one wishes to advocate merit in appointments of key advisers and cabinet members, certain reality stares one in the face; the governor is equally a beneficiary of the zoning arrangement that the callers allege he wants to scrap, with the SSG seen as a proof. I don’t think he’d do that, on moral grounds. Competence and fair representation must prevail in his appointments.

It is too early to have our unfortunate state divided along zonal lines. What we must do is to form an alliance to fix the mess of the previous government. The governor has the power to manage the imminent grievances and crises, and thus, he owes the people this sole responsibility of not keeping them guessing and groping in the dark. As much as the rotation of power frustrates the adoption of merit as a criterion for appointments, we must not forget that there wouldn’t have been Governor Abubakar Sani Bello too at this point without the zoning formula.

Another appointment that has raised concern and questions is that of the Senior Special Assistant on Timekeeping and Schedule, which has been justified by the Chief Press Secretary, Dr. Ibraheem Dooba, as done to necessitate punctuality in the governor’s tasks. Elsewhere, this responsibility was also criticised as a needless duplication of the duty of one of the appointees, the Director-General of Protocols.

What may douse this brewing tension and project Governor Bello as the man for this tasking job is the appointment of his cabinet, now being eagerly awaited. That will be his actual litmus test, and the definer of his administration, on which so much hope is already registered.

The Nigerian state has impressive human capital, so the excuse of qualified indigenes not found in particular zone isn’t even likely, and I’m sure the “king makers” would not resort to such subterfuge.

However we seek to justify this, to advocate appointments on merit alone in an institutionally undefined country as ours is to be ignorant of the sedimentary nepotism upon which Nigeria is built!

We may get there when our institutions are revived, effectiveness made priority, and competitions no longer tribal or religious vocations. Every day I resist the temptation to dismiss our federal character principles as absolutely retrogressive, witnessing how every government agency and parastatal is populated by the relatives of its head – Minister, Commissioner, Executive Director, Director-General, Chairman.

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