There were subtle signs at the beginning of the first four years of the All Progressives Congress’ administration that the party and its main strategists were ill-prepared for the serious business of governance in a country as complex as Nigeria.
Many intelligent Nigerians saw the faint lines of uncertainty but held on to a positive stance, even in the face of very early presidential gaffes, owing to the compelling rebranding of the main actor in an era of “anyone but Jonathan”.
By the time the lines of inefficiency became thick enough to uproot misguided confidence in an overvalued ‘Change’ administration, citizens had been forced to take another traumatic trip to the ‘Next Level’ of direction-finding perplexity.
Many loyalists did not have to wait for the scores of interesting apology letters to former President Goodluck Jonathan to change their fairly or misguided antipathy to commendation.
All they needed was the confusion in the corridors of power, which took a progressively annoying dimension by the day.
In fact, if the shows that have been made public since the beginning of the first term of President Muhammadu Buhari were to be scripted for Nollywood movies, winning local and international awards would have been effortless for the producer.
From the other room series, to the multiple seasons of the ‘roforofo’ supremacy battle, shot right in the Villa with members of the first family, relatives and the popular cabal as lead actors; and the Independent National Electoral Commission’s many “inconclusive” blunders, the list of peculiar blockbusters can be endless.
But as much as these and many other unpleasant episodes have revealed a strange leadership vacuum in our influential country, even with the full presence of our dear President, none has been as embarrassing to Nigeria and Nigerians as the conduct and utterances of top government officials in reaction to the controversy triggered by a blurry visit of an ‘imaginary’ 15-member Chinese medical team to Nigeria.
The International Monetary Fund’s report, “The Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression,” projected a massive cumulative loss to global Gross Domestic Product of $9trn between 2020 and 2021, owing to a pandemic that has claimed 363,903 lives as of May 29, 2020.
This should give a fair idea of the depth of the double-edged crisis and leave one with no other choice than to appreciate and encourage the rescue team, right from government officials, on whose shoulders the difficult strategic thinking lies, to the health workers at the forefront of the battle.
But hard as some of us have tried to overlook the flagrant shortcomings of the APC government, right from inception, it increasingly looks like the marriage of strange bedfellows, which gave birth to this administration, has thrived on nothing but well-packaged deception.
Or what term can best describe a situation where, at the beginning of a novel, scary health crisis, Nigerians had been briefed about plans to receive 15 Chinese doctors to help in the country’s fight against the dreaded virus; tempers were raised; Labour, opposition parties, and even the Nigerian Medical Association kicked; the Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, tried to calm frayed nerves, spelling out why the country would need their assistance at that point in time; went himself to receive the very important Chinese ‘Professors of Medicine’ on their arrival at the airport; told Nigerians again, like an efficient leader, that the visitors would be quarantined for 14 days before embarking on their mission; and came back more than a month after to say that his guests were nowhere to be found?
In a country of intellectuals? What manner of insult!
I do not want to think that the minister would not know that he was talking to the world, on national Television, when, in response to questions around this episode, he made an unthinkable U-turn and said the Ministry of Health could not explain what happened to the “doctors” because they were employees of the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) and not guests of the Federal Government.
Who authorised the opening of the airspace for the Chinese team to land?
He even made matters worse by saying, “I heard some of them are technicians.”
If the President cannot query his appointee for subjecting the nation to ridicule, the minister must take the right step
If a professional like Ehanire could be hoodwinked into receiving technicians in place of medical doctors in a crisis situation, how sure are we that some crooks masquerading as friends of Nigeria have not set another trap somewhere, in their own interest, for some inexperienced key policy thinkers in the current cabinet?
If an offensive power play by certain foreign interests could reduce our minister to a clown, how certain can Nigerians be that the over $4billion COVID-19 support inflow, including the IMF’s $3.4billion emergency funding, will be professionally and diligently accounted for? Will another official not wake up tomorrow to weave some incongruous technicalities around a matter as straightforward as accountability?
One of the most circulated gripes against the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, was an allegation that he stripped the Ministry of Health of its procurement powers and transferred same to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
From the inexcusable drama around what has turned out to be a ‘fake’ Chinese medical team in Nigeria, and the somewhat repulsive responses of the minister to genuine queries, the late CoS might have, actually, acted in the interest of Nigeria.
We have reached a stage in our developmental history, where certain things must not be swept under the carpet.
For posterity, there must be consequences for costly blunders, whether unintended or premeditated. We cannot continue to trivialise Executive negligence at the expense of an already battered national image.
If the President cannot query his appointee for subjecting the nation to ridicule, the minister must take the right step.
More advanced countries have had their share of errors in these trying times, but have handled the situations honourably, even in less awkward scenarios.
Turkey’s Minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu, regarded as the second most powerful minister in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet, resigned on April 12, 2020, over his handling of an abrupt nationwide lockdown that led to panic buying.
“The incidents that occurred ahead of the implementation of the curfew were not befitting the perfect management of the outbreak,” he said in a tweet announcing his resignation.
Though the President rejected his move, it would be on record that he acted honourably.
On May 5, 2020, Neil Ferguson, the scientist, whose advice prompted the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to lock down Britain, gave up his government advisory position for breaking social distancing rules to meet his lover; while Victor Costache, Romania’s Health Minister, also quit his job, on March 26, 2020, in the thick of the Coronavirus crisis, for reasons not made public.
Just like Ehanire, but in a different context, he had been strongly criticised for saying, in an interview with the country’s biggest TV station, that all Bucharest’s population would be tested for COVID-19.
The absurdity of conducting two to four million tests, in a country with a test processing capacity of 2,000 per day, put the minister in serious hot water.
But, again, he bowed out gracefully.
Nigerians may not ask Minister Ehanire to resign for now.
A simpleton should understand the peculiarities of this administration and the limitations or vulnerability of its key players.
But he must apologise in a special broadcast for taking us for fools and portraying Nigeria as a nation of clowns before the international community!
Yemi Kolapo is the Group Managing Director of Right Dev Limited, Publishers of The Point Newspapers.