Are We Having Too Much of PMB?
I am always amused to observe the look on people’s faces whenever I tell them that drinking too much water can kill them. Yes. This same water for which we get several viral posts telling us how we should drink eight glasses daily can be potentially fatal if overindulged. Mind you this is not drowning. The term “water poisoning” or “water intoxication” never come to mind for many people. According to Wikipedia, “Water intoxication, also known as water poisoning, is a potentially fatal disturbance in brain functions that results when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is pushed outside safe limits by overhydration.”
But this write up is not about bio-chemical analysis. The water poisoning part is to underscore the truism that “too much of anything is bad” and I dare say this includes too much of even a good thing. This is precisely my concern about our over fixation and obsession with our President Muhammadu Buhari in our expectations of taming national challenges.
Like partakers in a water drinking competition, oblivious to the potential of dying from water poisoning, we have collectively decided on having too much of President Buhari to the detriment of our collective wellbeing. From the way things are presently configured, Nigerians will gladly refer their marital strain and waning appetite to Mr President if they have the opportunity. Making ourselves addicted to President Buhari as the answer to Nigeria’s needs already poses its own set of dangers if we paused to properly take stuck.
First, I worry that a lot of the people who accepted national assignments under Mr President will hide their ineptitude under his imposing aura. All they have to do is bandy President Buhari’s name and they get the equivalent of their sins being forgiven. Under normal circumstances, the bulk stops on a minister’s table for any failing or inaction in that ministry. The same applies to other appointees of Mr President that are manning government organisations. But if we continue along the current trajectory there is the risk that complacency will set in as the president’s appointees will see no reason to take ownership of their sphere of influence if the citizens already have the mind-set of holding only the president responsible.
Secondly, I already see a pattern of overwhelming the Presidency with demands that should be channelled elsewhere. From where and how I see it, this has the potential to force the nation’s highest office into micromanaging on a scale that can only lead to catastrophic outcomes. For instance, if the transport situation in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory has become chaotic because commercial cyclists, tricycle riders and shared taxi drivers are running riot, this should be the Minister of FCT’s headache. Even though the FCT is the Federal Government’s responsibility, President Buhari already appointed someone as minister and we are at liberty to make the transport situation in the territory part of the minister’s scorecard. Why should the president get bogged down in managing the traffic situation in just one of the nation’s scores of cities?
Furthermore, we should all be afraid of setting problematic precedents. If we presently have an energetic and zealous president who is passionate about making a difference, what happens if we ever come to a situation where the president is unable to function on the scale that the incumbent currently does. I suspect the system will simply shut down in that case. Part of the strategy for building systems therefore is to make the component ministries, departments and agencies of government pull their own weights so that they are able to address issues without overloading the Presidency. Those on leadership at these levels are not there on sabbaticals and we should quit treating them as such.
Fourthly, I currently find it difficult to make fair guesses as to which sector of our economy is not living up to billing. My present perception of the national situation has fused everything – state government, local government, ministries, agencies and commissions – into one fuzz ball that is Mr President. This tendency, for citizens to create an illusion of super-unitary approach, flies in the face of the established concepts of three tiers and three arms of government.
We have to know what is working and what is not for us to make fair demands that will help channel attention to where it is needed. I want to be able to know who has responsibility for what I am interested in: road, healthcare, security and other sectors on a case by case basis. I should even be able to approach the right tier of government as well.
Also, there is the risk of other strategic aspects of our lives being neglected as we all fixate on Mr President’s most pressing tasks – security, anticorruption and economy in this case. I am seeing a situation where appointees who should be running their own organisation stubbornly try to create linkages between their assignments and these focal points even when they are not mutually inclusive.
Some of the challenges we knew before this government came into power are being addressed. In my estimate, Mr President’s well thought appointments of the competent persons as military Service Chiefs with a firm anti-corruption stance that ensure needed equipment were procured has empowered the army to contain Boko Haram terrorists. Clearing the security hurdle has paved the way for us to be talking economic direction. When we have charted the economic direction we must move on to other sectors and it is crucial that they are not caught napping when it is time to make them the national focus.
But what are we saying about the other sectors? We should be asking those tasked with youths employment about what they are doing. We should be tasking those responsible for reviving industry what they have come with so far. We should not wait for Mr President to make pronouncement about fertilizers and grain storage when some people already have the assignment of making this happen seamlessly. We mustn’t face protracted union strikes before we dig into details of plans to bring education up to par with global standards.
When there is economic boom in a secured country we will individually have health issues to deal with so we should ask those running the health sector what we should expect. These things should run concurrently and not wait for Mr President to relocate to their headquarters before they know the urgency of their roles even though they are not on the front burner right now.
My prescription is that while we all join President Buhari in constantly having a helicopter view of the big picture we must also use our expertise and areas of interest to monitor the small pictures. We should as citizens use our constitutional rights to oversight sectoral activities and hold officials to account and possibly flag any failing for Mr President to then act on. This is the way we can save the nation from this our own version of water drinking contest of who is most fanatical about our PMB. It is important we do this because we cannot risk the possibility of “water intoxication” from fixating too much on Mr President.
Attah is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja.