During the swearing in ceremony of his ministers on Wednesday, 21st August 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari streamlined communication channel to his office from all appointed government officials. He directed that henceforth all communications to, and requests for meetings with him, be routed through the office of his chief of staff. Note that this is only for all appointed officers of the executive branch, meaning from the directive does not affect the Vice President, as some have alleged.
This directive has caused a lot of furore in the ever bubbling social media space – ranging from those who know absolutely nothing of the functions of government in a presidential system, to those who are plain mischievous (those who know but always jump on any ‘opportunity’ to trash the president). Even the official opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) thought it another opportunity to criticize the president.
[For the PDP, yet again it showed that it is yet to master the major issues that require its comment and/or alternative narrative. PDP is not a party to criticize a policy like this. Why? The office of chief of staff was introduced into our governance system by a PDP president – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo! And the two PDP presidents after him – Yar’ Adua and Jonathan followed suit!]
As a sort of enlightenment, the office of the chief of staff was a presidential innovation of America’s 33rd president, Harry Truman; and all presidents after him have all appointed chiefs of staff. Truman formalized the position in 1946 as Assistant to the President. Today, the formal title is Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff. Occupants of the office are political appointees of the president who do not require confirmation of the Senate; and they all serve at the president’s pleasure.
The responsibilities of the chief of staff to the US president are both managerial and advisory and can include the following:
- Select key White House staff and supervise them;
- Structure the White House staff system;
- Control the flow of people into the Oval Office (president’s office);
- Manage the flow of information;
- Protect the interests of the president;
- Negotiate with Congress (our own National Assembly), other members of the executive branch, and extra-governmental political groups to implement the president’s agenda; and
- Advise the president on various issues, including telling the president what they do not want to hear.
Now, because Nigerian operates a presidential system of government COPIED from the US, president Obasanjo decided to adopt the system of having a gate keeper in a chief of staff. Fair enough. And this has become a tradition of sorts. State Governors to now have them. Even the Speaker of the 9th House of Reps has appointed one.
For history buffs, Nigeria has had 5 chiefs of staff in the presidency since May 1999. There was even a brief interregnum between August 2008 and May 2010 when Nigeria’s presidency had no chief of staff because president Yar’Adua abolished the office. The office was reinstated in May 2010 by president Jonathan. The 5 personalities are: (1) General Abdulahi Mohammed (May 1999 – 2nd June 2008) He served 2 presidents – Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua; (2) Dr. Gbolade Osinowo who had the briefest time in office – June – August 2008; (3) Chief Mike Ogiadomhe May 2010 – February 2014); (4) General Jones Arogbofa (February 2014 – 29th May 2015); and (5) Abba Kyari (August 2015 till date).
So please, for Iroko’s sake, the chief of staff is not the creation of this 4th president of this 4th Republic. Even if it were, so long as he has a precedent to follow (as shown above) it cannot be ‘unconstitutional’!
Also, many wonder why ministers must go through the chief of staff, and not have direct access to the president. Real question is why would a minister want direct access to the president in the first place, outside of the administratively laid down avenues of Executive Council meetings and political fora? It is only in these parts that we equate relevance with access to the ‘main oga’. Many of us who have worked in corporate settings, pray how easy is that we have (or had) access to the CEO, without making an appointment? Please!!!!
Another fellow even said the president’s directive is unconstitutional ‘because the 1999 constitution does not recognize the office of chief of staff’. Well, we can as well cancel all agencies and parastatals that the constitution does not specifically mention, but which form a cog in the wheel of governance, while we are at it!
Another of these ‘critics’ who claims to be in the know categorically declared that said some newly appointed ministers do not like the restriction of access! If he is right (and I have no way of knowing for sure), I say tough luck! The solution is simple: any minister who does not like the new chain of command should quit. Chikena. I want to wager none will!!!
There is the reasonable fear though that a chief of staff (if not the present incumbent) can abuse the powers attached to the office. That without doubt is possible. Americans still have tales to tell about H.R. Haldeman. However, just like it happened to president Nixon’s Haldeman, the system always has a way of sorting itself out. I remember the Oghiadome, president Jonathan’s first chief of staff was replaced when it appeared his actions (and inactions) were slowing down the president’s pace.
My point in all this is that It does not take much to research what you do not know before you put out your views into the public space. By openly stating your views, remember that others who have better information will call you out. Just saying.
©️ Adewale Adeniji. 23/08/2019