It is not often that a writer can see his words travel from the page onto the stage of action. Not the playwright’s stage, which is often in the province of fiction; but when a piece of suggestion or observation translates into government action.
This essayist has enjoyed this rare gift within one month. Not long ago, in the essay, Eye in the Sky, I suggested that the drone as a stealth strategy could radicalise the war on bandits. Barely 10 days later, President Muhammadu Buhari weaponised it as a major policy. Drone in the air, death on earth to goons.
Barely two weeks afterwards, I suggested that the lanky Timipre Sylva be made the minister of state for Petroleum, and in a short, compelling sway, this column homed in on the former governor’s hefty credentials and competence. Again, Buhari’s ears opened and he picked Sylva to assist him in that ministry of ministries.
Even the minister of Interior, the ebullient Rauf Aregbesola launched his service with a policy thrust on how to gather intelligence. As if under the spell of In Touch, he said the National Security and Civil Defence Corps would focus on intelligence gathering to complement government agencies, especially the military. In Eye In the Sky, this essayist also called on the government to domesticate intelligence agencies that could help as Nigeria’s private eye, stalkers and whispers in the fashion of Kashim Shettima’s Civilian JTF. Aregbesola was also borrowing a leaf from himself as governor. His Osun State stewardship refined the idea of youth mobilisation on many fronts, from agriculture to security. He is bringing that chorus to the centre.
It is kudos to the President and Aregbesola that In Touch cruises into policy. It detracts from the view of some cynics, who see this essayist only in the light of a bulldozer. In Touch is a two-edged sword. This writer has, for polemical and patriotic standpoints, stirred some bubbles in the polity. And no apologies. In contrast, some can point to a tranquil record of official engagement as well, which has happened unadvertised several times over the years. I am not puffing and huffing like Norman Mailer who wrote, An Advertisement for My Style. As Yorubas say, Mi o sako. Warri people say, I no do yanga. Just stating the facts.
On grander scales, writers have fuelled rebellions, revolutions, wars. William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper fomented the Spanish-American war. The writer of Uncle Tom’s cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, met American president Lincoln. And the 16th U.S president quipped: “So, you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this war.”
Just as I predicted Sylva, permutations perfumed the air. Intrigues flared beneath the public glare. Some names were thrown into speculative maelstrom and some writers positioned them as inevitable. Jeddy Agba was seen in some quarters as the minister of oil. But they may have overexposed the man. They did not have In Touch’s prose and polemics but the Agba narrative revealed a basic skein of the ministerial intrigues. Names on the burner became targets of incineration. That may have given Sylva the upper hand since the argument of technocracy and politics favoured the former Bayelsa governor.
Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) was another factor of speculation. Part of it was the Ambode factor. How could Fashola, the pre-eminent minister, lose his slot to Ambode, a new arm? Many asked. Ambode, according to reports, had lobbied laboriously. Some even said Buhari would pick him to spite the Lagos bigwigs and repay him for going into the doldrums after only one term as governor. Here again, the man was overexposed. Buhari did not only reappoint Fashola, he also picked another Lagos man and party loyalist, Olorunnimbe Mamora.
Fashola has two ministries. When he was given three ministries in the first term, he was a cynosure of envy and praise. I designated him three-in-one minister which gained traction more than the bellwether nomenclature. Now, he is given two, some have argued why not one? His typifies the contradiction in the debate over whether we should reduce the cost of governance. With one minister in three, he saved cost. One cost has been added. But power is a unique ministry. The fundamental problem of how the DISCOs and GENCOs emerged has to be tackled. The minister, as Fashola pounded into our ears, has no powers other than policy. Most of it has not been ironed out in the deals with the GENCOs and DISCOs. In the words of Prophet Ezekiel, we have to overturn and overturn and overturn until who deserves to run the shows of the agencies and the rules of engagement. Other than that, nothing can happen in power. We will generate and not distribute.
Fashola as the Trojan of Works has opportunity to work without let. Eleyinmi and co did not give him money to work for political reasons. The minister, too, would not yield to blandishments and coercion from the lawmakers who wanted him to veer from his constitutional mandate. I hope the new assembly knows what is at stake.
I am curious about the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management. It is curious. Is it going to take over some of the Vice President’s work, especially the social security part? Or is it bringing in more imagination to welfare?
Many predicted Godswill Akpabio as Niger Delta minister and Festus Keyamo – Government College Ughelli old boy. In spite of Keyamo’s law acumen, few expected him to be attorney general. Malami had it wrapped up for all his failures. So too for Lai Mohammed for Information and Amaechi for Transportation. Amaechi’s job is pruned, but his hands are full with the rail project, though.
Sunday Dare was expected to go to Communications, having served as the poster face of the NCC for the past few years. But he takes on Sports, a virile assignment that he has grabbed with gusto. Thinking legacy, he is talking up the revival of the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja.
In all, the argument that it is a cabinet of politicians, not of technocrats is either ignorant or mischievous. To ignore those who worked for your victory is ingratitude. Yet we forget that many of the so-called politicians came into the fray as technocrats. Is it Amaechi, or Fashola, or Sylva, or Mamora? Or Keyamo or Akpabio? Technocrats became politicians and we forget because political flourish tends to overwhelm the life of a professional.
Well, it’s time to work. Legacy beckons and there is no excuse.
Raring to go
In his swaggering white agbada and sometimes supernova smile, the BOS of Lagos set his cabinet in motion. Many had waited for that moment. In a solemn, sometimes vivacious air, the roll call of the commissioners and special advisers turned the morning ceremony into a foretaste of the years to come.
The governor called his cabinet “unique in diversity.” From the experience of Tunji Bello, to the youthful promise of Olatunbosun Alake to the new voice of a Joe Igbokwe, and my colleague, Gbenga Omotoso, we anticipate a new edge. There are also the women. So, from east to west, the BOS of Lagos is now raring to go. He inspired the team, at once praising and challenging them.
His speech-making is growing from its initial tentative pace to a relaxed, rhythmic control, his pauses holding that power to tease… For instance, when announcing the portfolios, he brought an air of playful mischief when he announced Bello’s portfolio. Knowing the audience expected Environment, he reversed it and said, “water resources,” and the audience resounded through the hall with “ha!!” He smiled and completed it by saying “and environment.” It is the quality of an orator’s stagecraft. He has so far run his affairs with stately poise and dignity without airs.
So, Lagos is unlike some other states in the rear. Governor Sanwo-Olu promises to be on a tear. So much to do, from traffic to environment to the expansion and restoration of infrastructure and education. He knows he cannot be in the rear, but rare. That is the goal he has set and that is the glare he will get.