PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari recently sacked the chief executives of 26 Federal Government agencies and parastatals inherited from the past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Vice Chancellors of 13 Federal Universities were also disengaged and replaced with other appointees. The President directed the affected heads of government agencies and parastatals to hand over to the most senior officers in their organisations. The sack of the CEOs was confirmed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal.
The affected organisations include the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Voice of Nigeria (VON), National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), National Orientation Agency (NOA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Bank of Industry (BOI) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). While no reason was given for the sack of the parastatal heads, the appointments of most of the affected Vice Chancellors were said to have either expired, or about to expire.
Although the disengagement of the agency chiefs took some people by surprise, the view in many quarters is that it was long in coming, happening eight months after the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari government. It is the tradition in many parts of the world for new governments to appoint new helmsmen for public agencies to implement their programmes, and Nigeria is not an exception.
Since these government appointees have been insinuations in some quarters that some of them might have been sacked for sabotaging the change efforts of the new government, while some are being covertly accused of corruption.
This blanket insinuation of wrongdoing by the sacked political appointees is unhealthy. Our view is that they have been disengaged to pave way for the new government to appoint the people it wants to actualize its programmes, which is very well within the rights of any new government.
If some of the disengaged CEOs are suspected to have misappropriated public funds or committed other offences, their cases should be dealt with on individual basis. Nigeria must be careful not to sully the reputation of persons who have served the nation in such high offices without justification. At the same time, those who are found guilty of any wrongdoing should be prosecuted and brought to justice.
The sack of the Vice Chancellors is also generating ripples in the polity, with some academics and civil society groups asking the president to rescind its decision. They also accused the government of not adhering to federal character principle in the appointment of the new Vice Chancellors.
Although the President has the prerogative to hire and fire the heads of government agencies, the manner in which all of them were relieved of their posts in one fell swoop via the mass media is not the best. In addition, the sacking of public officials with immediate effect as happened in this instance smacks of militarism. This should not be so in a democratic dispensation. The disengagement of the Vice Chancellors, in particular, should have been allowed to follow the due process for the disengagement of the heads of such tertiary institutions, using the institutions’ governing councils.
While a new government has the power to review past political appointments, it must also be added that the country may be better off if the safety of government appointments does not depend on the political party in power at any particular time.
In appointing new helmsmen for these organisations, government should go for the most suitably qualified Nigerians. We say this because some of these jobs require specialized skills and expertise. Government must seek out and engage competent hands who can effectively actualize its change agenda. Nigerians should be made to feel the impact of these organisations. And, the only way to do it is to engage only those who can do the job.
The government must, at the same time, be mindful of the need to adhere to the federal character principle in the appointments, to give every part of the country a sense of belonging. The president should not allow the criticisms that trailed his earlier appointments to rear their ugly heads again. Government should also not in any way try to politicize the appointments.
Let the sacked officers be replaced with competent hands who can assist the government in fulfilling its promises to Nigerians.
We also urge the government to listen to concerned Nigerians and address the issues they raised over the sack of the Vice Chancellors and the appointment of new ones. This is one way the president can demonstrate that he is a listening leader who is ready to follow due process in his appointments.