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APPOINTING AGENCY HEADS ON MERIT

By NBF News
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Speaking during the Presidential Award Ceremony for the first batch of winners of the national YOUWIN (Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria) business plan competition on April 12, 2012 in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan announced that all appointments to fill the headship of tenured public agencies shall henceforth be based on merit.

Mr. President directed further that the vacant positions of chief executives of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) be advertised to enable all qualified Nigerians to apply.

This policy pronouncement, coming as it were from the Chief of State himself, represents perhaps, the most fundamental and profound commitment to one of the key precepts of good governance. It is a most welcome development that will enable our public sector to attract the best professionals to fill leadership vacancies in agencies and sectors that are critical to our national development.

The filling of commanding positions based on competency and competitiveness is the sure way to go in order to ensure the superior performance on all the fronts that are pivotal to the transformation of our national economy and the realisation of our Vision 20:2020 aspirations.

But, beyond this presidential directive to advertise and fill the vacant positions in the afore-mentioned agencies, the Government must go the whole hog and entrench it as a standard policy context and governance paradigm. Therefore, the President's proclamation should be translated into guidelines for a definite or clear-cut succession plan that also elaborates the criteria and process for the transparent, open and competitive filling of imminent vacancies in our public agencies. This should be enacted into a law.

All too often, it appears as though the government is caught napping, unaware of and/or unprepared when many of the topmost positions become vacant, and hence has to resort to interim leaderships by 'acting heads'. This practice, which is rife, is certainly inimical to the effectiveness of the affected organisations as no short, medium, and long-term plans or initiatives can be developed let alone implemented by pro tem managements.

Take, for instance, three of the nation's foremost agricultural research institutes which should be in the vanguard of the agriculturally driven expansion and growth of the nation's economy, as envisaged in this administration's Transformation Agenda, have been without substantive heads for the past six months since the tenures of their last Executive Directors ended.

What is going on with regard to the research institutes appointment is a metaphor of how not to go about the filling of top leadership and management positions in the public sector. This is very damaging to the moral standing of a crusading and transformative government as we have in the saddle today.

We, therefore, call on Mr. President to initiate the passage of a bill within the ambit of the Constitution to codify the policy of a defined, merit-based and transparent process; one replete with the criteria, sequence, and timelines for advertising, interviewing, short-listing, and appointment of new chief executives of public agencies.

We believe that this is one way the President can send a loud and clear message that his April 12th proclamation on merit represents a seriously sacrosanct and inviolable policy thrust.