One of the greatest disservices that Goodluck Ebele Jonathan avoided was his decision not to heed the counsel of some members of his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that Attahiru Jega, national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, should be removed from office before the end of his tenure. This, in their reasoning, would have allowed for a more supportive appointee as new chairman of the election management body and, therefore, a smoother path to victory at the polls. But Jonathan refused to yield. And that is why Jega was able to see through his plan for the 2015 elections which has brought change to Nigeria.
But in 2010, Jonathan was harangued by the same political class to remove Professor Maurice Iwu, before the end of his tenure. Therefore, those insisting on the removal of Jega based their push on a paradigm of one wrong cancelling out another wrong.
But having been elected on a slogan of change, it is understandable if the Buhari government would like to roll-up its sleeve and attempt to denude all aspects of the governance structures that it is about to take over. But this may be the undoing of the government, because the only reason, there has been a sustaining structure of governance despite the variance in policies and leadership of different governments since the colonial government, is because the institutional memory of governance was preserved through the ministries, departments and agencies of government and their tenured chief officials.
The Muhammadu Buhari government must therefore restrain itself from the urge of a vindictive transition, that will deny it the opportunity of gaining full appraisal of the governance structures before applying the “KIDS” principle of deciding what to “Keep”, what to “Improve”, what needs to be “Discarded” or what needs to be “Saved”.
Important reasons to exercise self-restraint especially with the position of chief officials of government, appointed over statutory tenures are twofold.
In the first instance, this transition which is expected to help consolidate the practice of democracy in Nigeria, will be the first time, a different political party, although significantly populated by previous members of the incumbent party, will be taking over government from the incumbent. Politicians are therefore watching to see if a scorched-earth policy will be enacted. The significance of such a policy however justified, will be to send the wrong signal to political groups that, accepting a loss in an election, is a suicidal gesture. The corollary to that, therefore, is to make elections in future a “do-or-die” affair in which political groups will become dangerously desperate.
Secondly, it will also make tenured officials of government agencies who were appointed for a statutory tenure to serve the country and not the political party especially partisan in future, because the precedence will be established that such tenures will elapse vengefully with the political groups that appointed them. Consequently, this will especially rob technical officials of their professional commitment in the service of the nation, as they may now become deeply involved in partisan politicking to preserve the government in power.
So, if the Buhari government does not think these are important factors, it must remind itself that 30years after a previous government he led was purged from office, he is back in charge, while many who purged his previous team, are today political by-standers. Therefore, his incoming government needs no reminder that political fortunes can turn in any direction with time and the huge support now can evaporate over-night.
Two important early signals by significant players in the incoming government and members of the All Progressive Congress, APC, motivates the need to implore the President-Elect to temper zeal with restraint. The first is the zeal with which members of his inner core group inspired a vindictive exclusion of the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering activities of the President-Elect, even before he was sworn-in, an early reminder of fear of likely repression of the press. A second early signal is a recent threat by a leader of his campaign group, in which he threatened to use the power of the incoming government to punish members of the Nigerian Police Service who did not kowtow to his partisan position during the elections. It must be pointed out that irrespective of the positions many people held during the general election, the APC was able to win the election, only because many people remained professionals in their different fields or spheres of governance, despite political urgings or their sympathies for either parties.
If all structures of governance had lent their weight to the ruling party, the dream of change by the APC would have been a mirage; the party must therefore restrain urgings to destroy the governance structures which has endured several transitions, by treading wisely and carefully with appointments made from previous governments, while enacting its vision of change.
Examples from other democracies are instructive.
In the United States of America in the first seven months of most American administrations from John F Kennedy to Ronald Reagan a higher percentage of diplomats and Director-Generals were retained career diplomats. For instance Kennedy retained 61%, Lyndon B Johnson retained 68%, Richard Nixon retained 57%, Jimmy Carter retained 58% while Ronald Reagan retained 61%. The need to preserve institutional governance memories and to avoid drastic denudation of experience inspires an incremental process of recruitment, confirmation, mastering of offices and collaboration with career civil servants in the implementation of the president’s priorities and the execution of extant law.
Moreover, the statutory requirements of due process also justify and lend itself to a gradualist approach to removal and appointment.
For instance, the Aspen Institute in the United states found that between 1984 and 1999 in the United states, only 15% of top appointees of new presidents were actually in place within two months of inauguration. Aspen found that in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, about 50% of the top 75 national security appointments remained vacant about 6 months after inauguration, while 85% of sub–cabinet positions in legislative, legal, management and budget offices, stayed unoccupied. It also found that after one year the Obama administration had been able to only fill 64.4% of key Senate confirmed positions; compared to 84.6% for Reagan, 80.1% for George H.W. Bush, 69.8% for Bill Clinton and 73.8% for George W. Bush.
Hence, in the coming government of President Buhari, a zestful rush to vindictively replace particularly tenured chief officials may leave important governance functions neglected with possible decay in public services. If not done with considered respect for extant administrative rules, particularly for a government that is likely to need some functional period of adaptation, this may engender dislocation.
In the particular cases of DGs, directors and chief executives of federal parastatals and agencies, many appointments were made with statutorily specified tenures of office. Some will lapse during the tenure of the incoming government, while others are supported by law until well into the government. These appointees should not be replaced shoddily in a manner suggestive of political witch-hunting and it will be a terrible start if such development affect people from geo-political zones other than that of the president. A related example is the tenure of judicial officers.
In the United states of America for instance, the Obama administration upon coming to office inherited a United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, also called the D.C. Circuit Court, with a full court comprising six judges appointed by Republican Presidents, three Judges appointed by Democrats, with two outstanding vacancies.
But, the Obama administration had to wait for the attrition of time and tenure lapses before making four appointments to the D.C Circuit which shifted the composition of the court to seven Democratic appointees and four Republicans, an important factor when the Halbig case which decided the fate of a very important policy decision on the Affordable Healthcare Act of the Obama administration was brought before the court. The lessons from other democracies similar to that of Nigeria therefore, is that even when political change has taken place, the necessity to respect institutionally tenured appointments, without introducing drastic and overzealous witch-hunting is important in creating an environment of transition without vengeful politics.