Tinubu’s big stick as sign of what to come
By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
“I took an oath to serve this country and give my best at all times. Like I said in the past, no excuse for poor performance from any of my appointees will be good enough…Within the first quarter of this new year, Ministers and Heads of Agencies with a future in this administration that I lead will continue to show themselves.”
– President Bola Tinubu, 2024 New Year broadcast
The mother hen, goes a Hausa proverb, stomps on its chicks not because it doesn’t love them. It is a gesture aimed at passing life lessons and correcting bad behaviours. Some decisions taken by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the past few days have shown that like the hen in a brood, the President is ready to step on erring younger ones in the flock to indicate that bad behaviour is intolerable.
On Monday, President Tinubu suspended Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, from office. The suspension was to allow for a thorough investigation into allegations of financial impropriety against her. A few days earlier the President had directed the suspension of the National Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency (NSIPA), Hajiya Halima Shehu. Her suspension was in response to alleged suspicious movement of cash from the NSIPA account into private purses. While the wrongdoings ascribed to the two do not immediately make them culpable, their suspension was the rightful administrative practice to enable them clear their names and not obstruct investigations.
What is of interest, however, is that these two women were not just mere officeholders. They are individuals who are very close to the President on account of their membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the prominent roles they played in his campaign. Those who know the closeness the two ladies have with the President thought he would dilly-dally and not wield the big stick. In particular, some had placed bet that nothing could happen to Betta, who was a workaholic National Women Leader of the party during the campaign.
But for President Tinubu political relationships and personal debts would have to give way where public interest and accountability are on the table. Someone else could sacrifice the commonwealth of Nigerians and disregard public outcry to save their associates, not President Tinubu.
In the spirit of the heavy words he swore to during his inauguration as the President on May 29, last year, President Tinubu has at various times vowed to put the interest of the public first. He had sworn to protect the national interest “without fear or favour; affection or ill will”. Living up to the wordings of the oath of office means there would be no sacred cows and no one too big or too small to face any necessary sanction. This Mr President had said repeatedly.
In his latest broadcast to the nation on January 1st President Tinubu reiterated the primacy of the interest of the public above anything else in the way he runs the affairs of the country. “Everything I have done in office,” he said in the televised address, “every decision I have taken and every trip I have undertaken outside the shores of our land, since I assumed office on 29 May 2023, have been done in the best interest of our country.”
In talking about public interest, the most primal of it is ensuring that the commonwealth of the citizens is not pilfered or mismanaged by those unto which it is entrusted. Like in a congregational prayer where the congregation takes a cue from the imam, in matters of accountability the rest of the crowd in the lower rungs of the ladder ought to take after the leader at the top. In this regard, President Tinubu has done well to set the example for his appointees. For him leadership is about service and sacrifice. That is his mantra and the code of conduct he’d expect from all his appointees.
At a reception during Eid-el-Kabir in Lagos last year the President cited an example of this self-denial in favour of what is in the overall interest of the country. He used the example of the forex abuse which he met on assumption of office where a few people with proximal advantage to power were cashing out from the arbitrage exchange system. “I could afford to share the benefit by participating in the arbitrage, but God forbid! That’s not why you voted for me,” he had said.
The word service in ‘public service’ means that holders of public office see it as a patriotic call to service and they bend over backwards to give their contributions to the nation. Turning such opportunities to avenues to pilfer the common tilt or paying lip service to the task assigned to one are inexcusable. This is why aside from wrongdoing, another thing President Tinubu marked out as intolerable is laxity on the part of appointees.
He had said it not once or twice that persons who are not ready to offer meaningful service would be shoved off the table. To demonstrate that this was not just empty talk, the President made sure that all ministers were issued with Job Description, Targets and Key Performance Indicators. The purpose of this was to have measurable variables that would enable assessment of performance. Secondly, at the end of the cabinet retreat each minister signed a performance bond with the President committing them to delivering on the expectations outlined for each of them.
The options for everyone are clear. As he said in the New Year’s message, for President Tinubu it is either positive contribution to Nigeria or nothing at all.
Abdulaziz is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Print Media.