by Emeka Omeihe
States groaning over the debilitating effects of the current economic situation may have been taken aback by recent appointment of 1,106 advisers by Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade.
Before the latest one, the governor had engaged 28 commissioners, 65 special advisers and over 100 special assistants, personal assistants and community relations officers. With this number which is very high compared with figures emanating from other states, one had thought that Cross River has had a surfeit of such appointments. But events have proved that position wrong.
A breakdown of the latest figure showed that 799 were appointed into various boards, commissions and agencies, while the remaining 307 were engaged as special advisers, senior special advisers, special assistants and personal assistants. Others were categorized as personal assistants to paramount rulers, liaison officers and special assistants on religious affairs among other such nomenclature.
The governor had rationalized the humongous size of his political appointees on the grounds of expanding government as a way of reducing poverty; increase democratic participation and improve the value of service delivery. The latest appointments would also seem to find justification on the same grounds.
If with the criticisms that trailed the initial appointments, the governor still found it auspicious to further increase the number to this level, it could perhaps be inferred that those earlier appointed lived up to their billing and the state fared better with them. Having justified their appointments, a further increase, would further deepen democratic participation, reduce poverty and enhance performance, the argument would further go. That may be the irreducible deduction from the recent appointments. We shall return to that shortly.
The governor is within his rights to make appointments as he deems fit. He is also in a better stead to tap the temperament of his people on political matters especially given the promises he made while seeking for political office.
If he fills existing vacancies in the various boards, commissions and agencies or creates new one in keeping with established rules, one is unlikely to have any quarrel with that. What to consider is the capacity of those establishments to add value to the provision of quality public goods and service to the constituents. If this goal is being achieved, the end would have justified the means it would seem.
But it appears some of the commissions and agencies are avoidable duplication of existing ones as their mandate could well be accommodated within existing boards and agencies. For some others, it is difficult to fathom whether they will really find job to do or where they find one, whether the responsibilities entrusted upon them would suffice to justify their existence. Or are we going to be left with a situation where the government will have to subsidize those establishments?
If it turns out that such establishments will not be self-financing, then the aim would have been defeated. One of the reasons for the underdevelopment and extreme poverty in the country is the high cost of running government. This cost stands to be pushed beyond reasonable levels by the craze for bogus appointments. The net effect leaves the state worse off. That is the contradiction.
There is something inherently untidy in appointing more than 472 people as special advisers, senior special advisers and special assistants etc. There is a limit beyond which Ayade cannot possibly go replicating political offices without throwing the entire state into a bigger mess. The recent appointments went far beyond that limit. Moreover, it tends to portray government as merely existing to dispense political patronages.
Apart from the wastages that will result from replicating offices solely for political patronage, it is just not possible for the governor to personally relate with and effectively supervise such a high number of advisers. He may not even know who they are. Neither will any useful advice emanate from them. This should not be surprising. After all, we were recently told by no less a person than President Buhari’s wife Aisha, that the president does not even know some of his ministers. If the president does not have personal knowledge of his ministers even with the limited number, it remains to be conjectured what Ayade wants to make of 472 sundry advisers.
It is difficult to find justification for this level of appointments given the dire economic straits the states are currently enmeshed. Cross River State is neither insulated from the current economic realities nor does it boast of a high revenue profile when compared with its contemporaries. As matter of fact, its revenue has since nosedived having lost 76 offshore oil wells to a sister state in a very protracted legal battle.
Given the facts of the above, it would appear that the appointments were propelled in the main, by political expediency rather than the value appointees stand to add to the delivery of public goods and services. The governor appears inflicted by the stale idea that political supporters must all be accommodated into the government. And that politics has become an occupation of sorts attracting into its fold able bodied men and women who must be rewarded at the end of elections.
This tendency can only be encouraged at a great risk. Not unexpectedly, the volatility and rancorous nature of our politics are inexorably linked to the idea that politics is the fastest means of making quick money.
If the anti corruption mantra of the current government must succeed, there is the urgent need to discourage the lure of public offices as the fastest route to quick money. By reducing corruption in public places, political appointments will become less attractive thereby lessening the rancor associated with political competition.
More fundamentally, if the Cross River State government is really intent in conveying democracy dividends to its constituents, it should invest in social intervention measures and infrastructures that will enable the people create jobs for themselves. That is the trend now. The state must strive to discourage the tendency for all and sundry to look up to the government for employment. This new direction does not seem to find help in the bazaar of appointments just made. Government has no business running business and the earlier the governor gets his people cue into this, the better. It is amazing the high number of youths who now depend on politics as a means of living.
One other way the people of the state can be meaningfully empowered is by according the local governments the autonomy envisaged for them as the third tier of government. For, much of the finances and roles that would have enabled that level of government attend to the peculiar needs of the people have been appropriated by state governments.
With virtually nothing happening at the local government levels, those they would ordinarily have taken care of through sundry activities that ought to go on there, are left with no choice than look up to state governments. Little wonder the governor had to appoint advisers to traditional rulers, an issue the local governments should have handled.
These are some of the issues that should engage the governor rather than replicating appointments of very questionable value. Even then, reports that political appointees are not remunerated in keeping with extant terms, cast further slur on the entire idea.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Emeka Omeihe/The Nation