Jonathan’s appointments: Viewing the bigger picture

President Goodluck Jonathan, on Tuesday, January 21, 2014, forwarded the names of twelve ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening. Except for any last minute surprise, which is very unlikely, these nominations are expected to be endorsed to fill the ministerial vacancies some of which have existed for over seven months. The Senate had also vetted the President’s appointments to fill the vacancies created by the retirement of the chief of defence staff and three service chiefs, namely, chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff. These appointments – the ministerial and military – have elicited varied reactions, some praising the President while others are critical of the president.
For a discerning, dispassionate and patriotic appraisal, these appointments, as some have observed, were made with little or no consideration for national interest. In other words, the appointments were more a reflection of the President’s political calculations having in focus the 2015 general elections. It is therefore a sad climax against the prolonged expectation that President Jonathan was set to make a valid response to the huge national development and governance challenges by appointing people with ideas and the technocratic competences. This is a great letdown to majority of Nigerians, especially those who had connected with him as an “educated” and “young” President and one who claimed to have emerged from a poor background. It was believed that in the last lap of his 2011 mandate, Mr. President would overcome the apparent lethargy of his presidency since the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and spring into action by making a statement in the quality of his appointments.
Mr. President may have thrown away a glorious opportunity to make a deep impression in the imagination of Nigerians and perhaps win back the support of people he may have lost to the sustained criticism that he is “clueless” and therefore not in control. Beyond this is also the fact that some of the ministerial nominees are considered old and have been in and out of government and as a result lack fresh ideas which are dearly needed in this dispensation. No doubt, if Mr. President was willing to search, it certainly would not have been hard to find younger, enterprising and idealistic candidates from any corner of the country to fill any ministerial position. It is even worse that in filling the vacancies, Mr. President even nominated someone whom the EFCC has publicly accused of being corrupt, even if he is yet to be convicted by a court of law.
If Mr. President could be excused on the assumption that ministerial positions are meant to advance political interests irrespective of quality, his appointment of new service chiefs defies professional logic. Though we do acknowledge Mr. President’s discretionary powers on appointments into a variety of offices including heads of the military services, his recent appointments had minimal respect for hierarchy or seniority as Mr. President reportedly bypassed about 50 Generals in his appointment of the chief of defencestaff and the service chiefs. While this was a typical practice under military dictatorships, the approach in more advanced democracies is such that except where there exist specks in the service history of seniors, they are never passed over in crucial appointments where seniority is a crucial consideration. We of course already have that precedence in our judiciary where succession to the position of Chief Justice of the Federation is purely based on seniority, even if it is just by a few months.

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