On Thursday afternoon I sat patiently on a stool at the Corridor of the Department of Mass Communication of the Polytechnic of Ibadan, and opened the most widely read newspaper in the country, The Punch. The first thing that caught my eye was a headline that read “Adeleke Appoints Nephew, Aregbesola allys as board chairmen”. This came just hours after international news sites had reported that the same Governor had appointed his sister-in-law. It is one thing for Governors use their personal wealth to look after their family tree, but another completely to try and plant an entire family forest within government to fund their relatives at the taxpayers expense. “There are many thousands of fresh Graduates and qualified individuals from poor family background that could fill the positions. Wealthy people are only interested in sustaining their wealth and sidelining the poor”, I soliloquised and I began research on this article.
Nigeria is a country of 1 president, 36 directly elected state governors, and 200 million people. The political game in this populous West African country lies in her 1999 Constitution (as amended). Either at the Federal or State level, the executive arms of government are given the right under the Constitution and Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) to nominate and appoint people to the position of Commissioners and Ministers. Under the legislation, they are not supposed to appoint just anyone, but those who could qualify for an election. Once nominations have been made, the legislators of the National Assemblies and State Houses of Assembly are given 21 working days to scrutinise them.
There is little evidence that this scrutiny is actually being done, however. Instead, we have seen the executive turning public offices into family affairs, with spouses, siblings, brothers, cousins and even nephews and in-laws appointed to key positions. To see how this nepotism undermines the quality of government, let us review some of the worst examples of the last few years.
In 2017 a report in the Premium-Times brought to light that the then Governor of Imo State in South East, Rochas Okorocha, had appointed his Sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo as the “Commissioner for Happiness and Couples’ Fulfilment”. Despite the widespread criticism the appointment generated, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo stayed in office.
Many Nigerians argued passionately that such a farce should not happen. Yet we now see that Mr. Ademola Nurudeen Adeleke, the Governor of Osum State in the Western region of the country, has appointed three family members to his state cabinet. This includes Mrs. Adenike Adeleke, a sister-in-law to the Governor, who was appointed as a Commissioner at the Governor’s office in Abere. Meanwhile, Mr. Rasaq Salinsile, a nephew to the Governor, was appointed as the Board Chairman of the Teaching Service Commission, and the Governor’s son was named as Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission.
The main problem with the current system is that the executive is so powerful that legislators do not want to anger them by blocking their nominations. This leaves the electoral as the main check on nepotism, but citizens may not always vote out corrupt leaders when partisan loyalties and communal identities come into play in the heat of an election. Yet even when a corrupt leader is re-elected we should not take this as evidence that their actions do not have a negative impact on the public.
One of the things that we have witnessed recently in Nigerian politics is the collapse of public trust in the system. According to the highly respected Afrobarometer survey, the proportion of citizens saying they have “no trust at all” in the National Assembly has increased from just 25% in 2015 to an absolute majority in 2022. This decline has many drivers, but one is likely to be the feeling that politicians are out of touch – and do not care – about ordinary citizens.
Putting this right is likely to require extraordinary measures. One option that should therefore be considered is the introduction of legislation that prevents relatives of the executive from being appointed to key positions while they are in office. The challenge with this proposal, of course, is that Nigerian executives will never support its adoption …