Why do Nigerian Presidents so often fail to make quality appointments? Unlike beauty, quality does not lie in the eyes of the beholder.
Every new president promises to nominate talented, qualified people to fill into positions in their government. Yet, they all make more than a few appointments that do not satisfy the call for “able, creative, and experienced people,” who will serve as “the most important ingredient in the recipe for good government.” Most of the names I have seen on President Buhari’s ministerial list do not represent the best and brightest Nigeria has to offer.
The President might be having problem with the issue of trust, thereby looking to appoint only those that will stay loyal to him, but we also want him to look beyond loyalty. No matter how loyal appointees are to the President, they also need to know what to do and how to do it once they get the jobs. The ability to manage, design, and effectively carry out new programmes, implement key legislation, and deliver services should be prominent—indeed primary—criteria for choosing potential appointees.
Those who have cited loyalty as the reason why mostly northerners have been appointed so far into the President’s cabinet should note that there are no systematic data on how loyalty results in effective performance in governance. I can also argue that loyalty or not, political appointees are often not truly loyal to the President because they also have personal agendas, thereby having multiple loyalties.
Even where appointees are responsive to presidential agendas, some tend to lack the managerial skills to enact those agendas successfully. Most of the names I see on this list are political lobbyists, presidential campaign workers, and trusted aides to political godfathers. Some may have substantial policy expertise, but almost all are essentially soloists, not team players.
It is worrisome that in Nigeria, when it comes to selecting people for the executive arm of the government, we tend to abandon professional standards. The professional standards we do observe are limited to technical and programme expertise. The ability to manage, design, and effectively carry out new programmes, implement key legislation, and deliver services has never been prominent criteria for evaluating potential political appointees in this country. Would any large corporation place at the head of its major operating division a person with no experience in managing funds or supervising people? What enterprise would fill every senior management position with a person with little or no industry experience? Who would accept the mindless notion that any loyal or good-spirited individual can run a government agency?
An appointee’s success in changing the behaviour of a ministry is related not only to their loyalty to the president and commitment to his policies, but also to their managerial skills and experience, their personalities, and their plans for achieving goals. While the environment of a ministry may be outside a President’s control, appointing skillful and experienced ministers with appropriate personalities and designs for achieving goals is not. The President should take full advantage of that opportunity.
You can say that conventional wisdom demands that the President considers personal loyalty and commitment to his programmes in selecting candidates for positions in his government, but you should also consider that the kind of ministers or political appointees we have had over the years shows that loyalty has never helped any Nigerian President achieve his goals.
And whether or not the President appoints political opponents in his cabinet or not, the issue is that quality matters. The greater the administrative challenge, the more sophisticated the design needed to exploit it, and the greater the premium on analytical ability, managerial and political skills, and personality—on those skills that bring out the best in a government.