August 26, 2023

Every Nigerian should learn a lesson from the recent nomination and screening of Dr Bosun Tijani as a minister.

When Senate President Godswill Akpabio revealed him as one of President Bola Tinubu’s nominees last week, supporters of the All Progressives Congress did extra work to dig out caustic remarks he tweeted about the President in the past. In their estimation, this should disqualify him from becoming a minister. For many APC supporters, past opposition to Tinubu and the APC or what they stand for is an automatic disqualification for such persons to hold public office under an administration formed by the party.A few Nigerians, including award-winning writer, Toni Kan; frontline journalist, Dr Festus Adedayo; and co-founder of BudgIT, a civic group committed to government financial transparency, Mr Seun Onigbinde, have tasted from this dish served by entitled partisans in the last four years. Following their appointments by different people between 2019 and 2023, internet warriors of the APC unleashed fury from their assumptions of the gentlemen’s non-compliance to the political ethos of the ruling party.They did not relent until they got each of them to resign from their appointments. On each of the occasions, I asked the question: was Nigeria or these individuals the greatest losers in the circumstance? What exactly did any of these professionals lose by having to renounce their appointment by public officers who thought they would add value to their tenure? We shall return to this point because Bosun had more to contend with than his criticism of Tinubu!
Before long, it became evident that the Information Technology entrepreneur had taken a dig at the Senate and Nigeria on Twitter at different times. What is worse? This man did not just criticise; he poured invectives, disparaging the country and its legislature. His emotions overtook him. He climbed the tree beyond the leaves of fair criticism, thereby exposing himself as some impulsive and disrespectful hater of his country and its institutions. Ordinarily, the criticism of the country about the direction the country is going and the ruinous effects of the styles of governance is hardly illegitimate and unpatriotic. As a matter of fact, no one has criticised this country and its racketeering styles of governance as hard as the likes of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, literary icon Chinua Achebe, and legal giants like the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi(SAN), respected intellectuals like Dr Bala Usman amongst many other patriots, who have raised their voices about the disruption and misuse of national institutions by those saddled with the duty to build the country. In doing so, however, they reflected their education, intellectual strengths and love for the country and its people. They neither projected the country as a filthy field nor disrespected its national institutions, regardless of their towering status.
And this is the first lesson that Nigerians can draw from this event. Tijani could explain and apologise for his vituperations, but such opportunities do not occur daily. This is why we must be circumspect in our public remarks. The Yoruba draw a parallel between words and eggs. They say that words are delicate matters that cannot be retrieved once you speak, like eggs, which shatter without redemption the moment they drop. It is the same reason the Bible admonishes Christians: “Be angry, but do not sin…”
In venting the frustration that Nigeria and some of its leaders often drive many citizens to, we must exercise discretion and emotional intelligence. Aside from the fact that human beings can change their minds about things, words have very hurtful, sometimes spiritually generative (for those who are religious) effects, and people often live to regret their exuberant or tactless utterances. This cautionary note is even more expedient in this social media era. We must deploy words with caution, conscious that, as they say, “The internet does not forget,” and that opinions shared on social media could have enduring outcomes.
And this is where the statesmanship of President Tinubu should be a lesson to leaders across the country. Tijani’s previous criticism would likely have come to the President’s attention, but this neither stopped him from being nominated nor caused him to withdraw his name at the point of his screening. In this situation, Tinubu comes across as magnanimous; a virtue that recommends itself to every leader in Nigeria. One of the major drawbacks of our polity is a winner-take-all mentality, which excludes people no matter how competent or ready they might be to contribute to national development. The country must learn to engage the best of its resources for the critical task of national development, devoid of the restrictive dangers of parochial partisanship.
Citizens, especially party enthusiasts, must learn this lesson. We should realise that Nigeria belongs to all of us. While it is global democratic practice for the faithful who worked for a party’s victory to expect opportunities to serve the country, service is not anyone’s exclusive right. In saying this, one must recognise a major misconstruction of the essence of politics and governance in Nigeria. The rabid public confrontation and tension accompanying nominations into public office in the country are because politics has become a meal ticket rather than an opportunity for people to serve. When people are appointed to public office, it is primarily considered as a chance to get a slice of national resources rather than serve. Service is almost alien to many citizens’ contemplation of public office. But this must stop if Nigeria is ever to attain greatness.
We must realise that after elections, there is governance. At that point, a government must assemble the best team possible. Whether they supported the emergence of the government in power or not, it is the prerogative of the elected executive to nominate people who can help him achieve his vision. We should support such leaders if we genuinely want the best for our country. At the moment, more of the huff and puff is about the protection of the party rather than the national interest. And this is nationwide misbehaviour that cuts across all parties. It should stop!
There are arguments about the dignity of rejecting appointments from people you have criticised, but that is an entirely personal thing. Far beyond the capacity of people to change their minds, refusing an opportunity to contribute to improving a situation you condemn is hypocritical and escapist. Everyone with capacity should be ready to contribute their quota if it is about service. Finally, the Senate made more jokes than substance from the ministerial screening exercise. While one cannot detract from the seriousness of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to help the President certify the quality and capacity of those he is recruiting to run the affairs of the country, the Senate trivialises its enormous powers by the hilarity that attends this otherwise solemn duty.
Sadly, they proudly feed the world with this soap opera where institutional ego, personal relationships, and premeditated opinions reigned. The other day, Akpabio ran down what could have been the most pertinent question put to Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. Abaribe wanted to know what the disposition of Fagbemi (who is favoured to be the next Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation), would be if the administration he is serving were to desecrate the constitution or refuse to obey court orders.
The Senate President, who should know that such temptations inspired the principle of separation of powers and that the executive arm is always at the risk of being lured into recklessness, told off the Abia South District senator. Akpabio claimed that the Tinubu administration was corrective and could not desecrate court orders! He then asked Senator Adamu Aliero to reframe the question. Really?
This 10th Senate, lucky to have members from five different political parties, should therefore make itself a chamber of ideas and robust discussions that impact the people. It must embrace rigour and commitment to the task ahead. The lack of quality probing, which should justify the confirmation or otherwise of ministerial nominees’ capacities and their patriotic/pan-Nigerian credentials, was denied by Nigerians by that tiring “take a bow” and go clichΓ©. The Senate should prepare to do much better for Nigerians who voted for them and should have their loyalty and service.
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