just could not sleep. A borderline insomniac, I have those moments when there is far too much on my mind for me to get a good night’s rest. So, for some unnatural reason, I was wide awake at 4am going through messages on my Blackberry.
“Dude, can you believe they appointed Dame Jonathan as a Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa? Which way Nigeria!”
“Yeah right, abi na April Fool’s”, I replied with a sardonic chuckle.
I thought to myself, I know Nigeria is a crazy place but ‘they’ (interchangeable with ‘cabal’, ‘honorables’, ‘VIPs’, ‘God-appointed leaders’) couldn’t be THAT crazy!
But I had the nagging sensation that it was not yet too outlandish – this is Nigeria we are talking about here!
I went online and, hey presto, there was the article in all its freshness. I visited the websites of several dailies to confirm it wasn’t hallucinations and they all reported the same thing. The rationale proffered by the state government of Bayelsa was particularly fun to read (as I suspected it would be). Something to do with “if she was not first lady she would have become Permanent Secretary by now”. Logic at its truest and most unadulterated.
The role of a permanent secretary is actually a critical one to the functioning of any ministry, agency or state. As the leading civil servant, he or she is effectively the chief administrative officer of whichever government department they serve within. Whether it is signing off on contracts, overseeing the budget, running the human resources program or playing a principal advisory and support role to the elected or appointed heads of the department, the permanent secretary plays a major, integral role in the smooth functioning of the state. It actually is a position that typically needs to be occupied by the most qualified and competent of civil servants, given the level of responsibility it entails.
From an objective lens, the fact remains that anyone so qualified deserves a shot at such a position. Dame Jonathan, as she is called – another friend wrote on her Blackberry status “when did Patience Jonathan become a dame, and who performed this naming ceremony?” but that is a question for another day – supposedly graduated from college in 1992, taught at a secondary school until 1997, and then worked in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education for 2 years, retiring in 1999, to take her husband’s side as his first lady in his meteoric rise from deputy governor to incumbent president. 13 years after her retirement, she is being dragged, nay begged, out of her retirement to attain one of the highest positions in state civil service. According to the state government, this was “routine” and “all the other people being nominated were her subordinates”. Leadership at its very best.
Let us try and ignore the absurdity of catapulting a mid-level state employee with a middling career at best notches above people who had spent the past 13 years working assiduously within the already ineffectual civil service, not gallivanting on private jets with a milling retinue of hairdressers, cooks, and hangers-on, or buying million dollars worth of jewelry at tony stores in Dubai. Let us, for a second, turn a blind eye to the cloyingly sycophantic gesture that such an appointment symbolizes from a governor who owes much of his ‘election’ to the munificence of his benefactor, Goodluck Jonathan, husband to the erstwhile Dame (now Dame Permanent Secretary) Patience Jonathan. Let us not be outraged at the impracticality and cost of flying our First Lady, or Nation’s Mother, between Aso Rock and Bayelsa Government House at taxpayer’s expense, every day, week, month? The logistics behind this actually stand to be quite intriguing. Would she have to set up office in Yenagoa during the day, with her presidential phalanx around her, and then fly back on the presidential jet after work to spend the night in bed with her illustrious, deserving husband Mr. President, only to fly back out at the crack of dawn? Or will she, per her own suggestion, administer in absentia, via tweets, e-mails and Facebook messages to the governor and her new staff – an innovative, virtual model of governance?
The fact that this act is a first in a nation as corrupt and morally bankrupt as Nigeria definitely tells us that we are entering an unheralded and uncertain time in our nation’s political history. Few would argue with me that we have had it so bad so frequently at this stage of the Fourth Republic. Civilian rule (calling this a democracy would be a stretch that I am ill-suited for!) was expected to usher in the dividends of political freedom and economic empowerment, but it seems power has just changed garb, removing the three-striped military fatigue to don the more elegant traditional attire. A weak state with sclerotic institutions has served the purpose of a rabid and kleptocratic political class and their avaricious financiers. The rule of law has become a mere phrase as judges jaw-jaw, without teeth. Enforcement of law has become a by-word for ‘culture of impunity’ as the elite use underpaid federal police instead for their private fiefdoms. The creation of law has been hijacked by a congress that is better known by other epithets such as ‘legisi-looters’ and ‘representa-thieves’. So the foundation of law and order, upon which any civilized society must be firmly grounded on, is nothing but sand and silt in Nigeria. It is therefore no wonder what the quick-sinking, lawless state has engendered: rife corruption, ethno-religious conflict, armed insurgencies, outright state budgetary theft, electoral fraud, and the list goes on. We are going nowhere fast, and are becoming the giant of Africa that is a behemoth only because of the massively adverse impact that a complete failure or breakdown of the state would mean for Africa. In short, Nigeria is like a ship headed for the rocks, with the captains completely inebriated as they drink Champagne and toast to merry times, their lifeboats safely tucked beside the hull, while the rest of the unwitting crew watch mortified, hapless and helpless, at the disaster waiting to happen.
The appointment of dear Dame Patience is just a symptom of the malaise that Nigeria suffers from, in the same vein as Boko Haram in the North, kidnapping in the East, militancy and oil bunkering in the South, pick your poison. As they say, keep it moving, there is nothing to see here people. Did you not hear? We live in a banana republic, so start growing your own bananas already!
As the mother of the most populous black nation, we her many children would be remiss to not join the throng of well-wishers in prayer for her on this happy day. If we know what is best for us, we will join in the inevitable felicitations that will scream at us from the advertisements in daily newspapers, or radio and television ads, and traditional titles inevitably conferred to add to what is already a very impressive array of appellations. Dame. Our Mother. Heroine. Maven. Elocutor Extraordinaire. Permanent Secretary.