Given the sort of man Buhari is, he needed a quintessential bureaucrat. But an SGF is not just a bureaucrat. He is the mediator and by-way between the ministries and MDGs on the one hand, and the political elite on the other.
So, while the SGF is a politician, he also bears a bureaucrat in his breast. He is therefore a binary man of government. He should laugh and dabble in the vainglory and thespian affinity of the agbada or babanriga in one moment.
In the next moment, his brow should knot with figures and competencies and visions and roadmaps of projects, etc. In his full profile, he should swivel with almost animal reflex from one to another, as though he were born to speak with the politician and the permanent secretary in equal flourish of data and register.
We know the personage called Muhammadu Buhari. He is tall, gaunt, with a boyish smile that contrasts at times with an intimidating scowl. That scowl reminds me of that moment in his first world press conference as military head of state. “The press,” he roared, if we call it roar with the thin, firm, almost babyish muscularity of his voice. “We will tamper with that.” He probably will say “temper” today.
But that scowl comes rarely now. Maybe because he wears only civilian clothes, has been subjected to the mellowing of democratic ethos, has been subdued by the battering of age and the dew of time. In fact, because of the deliberateness of his actions, many believe he has lost a vital part of his principled fire. They say he is conscious of his peremptory past, and he is more wary of being cast in the mould of a despot.
Whatever the case is, Buhari still bears the carriage of the austere leader with deep pious reserve and disdain for material extravagance. His assets now in public glare reveal a man more in touch with the bounties of nature than of the bank.
So, his secretary to the government must compensate for his “lapses.” He must belong to what Max Weber, the authority on authority, calls “the legal rational” order. Buhari falls into the Weberian charismatic order. People of his class do not rely on position for power. He has what Harvard Professor, Joseph Nye calls soft power.
But it dwarfs the hard power of position. Weber sees it as the “authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace.” But of all the authorities, it is the most mysterious. Even Nye notes, in his The Powers to Lead, that nothing in itself guarantees a person charisma.
Not voice, money, height, carriage, royalty, etc. Napoleon was smallish, Churchill burly, Lincoln tall and ugly, De Gaulle tall and handsome, Mandela tallish and handsome, Roosevelt tall on wheel chair.
Enter Babachir David Lawal. The new SGF is a politician but he has had his experience in industry. Big-boned with an effervescent spirit, his first stark contrast with Buhari is that he is a pastor in the North from a minority tribe known as Tilba. But he worked in the Niger Delta for a few years where he can spin yarns about the men in that region and their habits of fashion and work. He worked with the Delta Steel Company in Aladja in today’s Delta State, after graduating in engineering from the Ahmadu Bello University.
He also worked with Data Science Limited and NITEL. He has traversed the private and public trusts, and he broke out to be an entrepreneur with his own firm, and has been a member of the engineering and computer elites in the country. That is the bureaucrat.
As a politician, he worked in the Northeast and rose to be the All Progressives Congress vice chairman in the region. But the intriguing thing was his role during the Boko Haram high noon of infamy. He was a pioneer in rallying the hunters to fight the bands of militants.
The story of how these hunters mounted counteroffensives against the militants will one day be told. He rallied them with dane guns, bows and arrows. We recall some of their efforts. In one of those battles, the hunters beat the BH boys where our armies failed.
Lawal was also, as a politician, a victim of his support for Buhari, when robbers attacked him and claimed it was because of his support for Buhari in 2011. The irony was that he was alone in his choice as a Buhari supporter when others looked Jonathan’s way.
Some hoodlums attacked his church, The ECWA Gospel Church, and burned down the building. They left a bold picture of Buhari as emblem of their rage. Lawal’s fellow church members accused him of collaborating with the arsonists.
There we go. We have seen how he can be both politician and administrator. The job of SGF is not equals part bureaucratic and political. I daresay it is more political. But it’s bureaucratic component looms. It determines whether the government can succeed or not.
For a charismatic character like Buhari, he leads because he is a leader. But for Lawal, it is the rules, not ruler, who is important. That’s why his job is tricky. Part of his job is to forestall the sort of nightmare that novelist Franz Kafka painted about bureaucracy in his book, The Castle, where a visitor cannot find the chief bureaucrat even after entering the castle.
Some modern theorists of administration, who speak of transactional and transformational leadership latch a good leader to all virtues and categories. He must have a dose of each. Weber identified a third leadership type: the traditional. In Nigeria, it refers to patriarchs and feudalist leaders like kings and emirs. Some have said the evolution of the Catholic Church exemplifies the three types: Jesus (Charismatic), Priests (traditional) the church itself (legal rational).
The same sort of chemistry is required to work in states. A blend is important between governor and SSG. We are seeing that in Lagos, for instance. The secretary is the lingua franca between politics and the bureaucracy. When the connection fails between president and SGF, a great adjustment is necessary.
Powerful bureaucrats change the course of history. We know of Simeon Adebo and Jerome Udoji. Sometimes politicians do it well. A great example was Obafemi Awolowo, who blended the bureaucrat and the politician, although one got in the way of the other at times. In Kenya, journalist-turned-bureaucrat John Githongo was a great anti-corruption warrior.
India has a long list of them but Krishnan Menon is unforgettable for his many work. In the United States, a soldier George Marshall helped rebuild post-war Europe with the Marshall Plan. French man Jean Monet helped turn a steel industry as the germ for building the European Union.
It all depends on how well Buhari will put Lawal to work, and how much visionary and strategic vitality Lawal will bring to the table. We now have the SGF. Hopefully, in a few weeks, we shall have the ministers and the Buhari engine should start to whir.