Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Flattening bureaucracy

In the USA, business reformers often recommend that large companies flatten their bureaucracies, i.e. eliminate layers of managers. What if you eliminate the top layer? (Come to think of it, this sounds very much like the organization of military governments in Nigeria's past, including Buhari's).

Does Nigeria run better without a cabinet?
It is now three months since Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president of Nigeria…

His victory generated huge celebrations and expectations of a new beginning, with many anticipating dramatic changes to follow, and analysts urging him to "hit the ground running".

Most Nigerians expected President Buhari to shake up the security services and make other key appointments in his first few days - as former President Olusegun Obasanjo did within hours of his inauguration in 1999.

But it took nearly two months for him to replace his security chiefs and so far he has only made appointments in about a dozen government offices.

When commentators began to get agitated about the lack of a cabinet, a former newspaper editor and unofficial aide to the president wrote an article entitled What is all the fuss about?

He urged the press, social media and others to focus on the "real enemies of Nigeria: poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor" and not stand in the way of "the most popular president in our history".

[A]n opinion article by President Buhari published in the Washington Post to coincide with his visit to the US last month, [made] further justifications about why the task "should not be rushed".

"It is worth noting that [US President Barack] Obama himself did not have his full cabinet in place for several months after first taking office; the United States did not cease to function in the interim," he said.

"In Nigeria's case, it would neither be prudent nor serve the interests of sound government to have made these appointments immediately on my elevation to the presidency; instead, Nigeria must first put new rules of conduct and good governance in place."

The commentators are now learning to live with President Buhari's pace of governance.

He has been dealing directly with the top civil servants, who run the ministries.

Meanwhile, it is the politicians who are suffering most from the lack of a cabinet.

On a visit to a newspaper a few days ago, a spokesman for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, admitted that no-one in the party knew when the appointments would be.

"The president I know has kept this thing very close to his chest."

Many sectors of the economy await policy direction. Following Mr Buhari's pledges to make tackling corruption a priority, they want clarity on how to proceed.

This is also making foreign investors wary.

So while it is clear that President Buhari has shown that Nigeria can run without a cabinet, there may be an unacknowledged cost.

On the bright side, with the briefings he is getting from civil servants, the ministers, when they are eventually appointed, will find that their boss knows more about their departments than they do - and that should keep them on their toes.

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