The appointment of Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, a political neophyte as the Secretary to the State Government of Akwa Ibom by Governor Godswill Akpabio in July 2013, may suggest the beginning of an usual trend, a situation where certain individuals, who on account of their excelling in their chosen field of endeavours are invited into politics, a far cry from the usual practice where the same set of politicians are recycled in offices which usually comes as a reward for loyalty. Mr. Udom, who until his appointment was an Executive Director on the Board of Zenith Bank, joined the rank of non-professional politicians who at the behest of their political Godfathers were co-opted into the Government of the day for reasons best known to them. What makes Emmanuel’s appointments more interesting is the level of support he is beginning to enjoy from some quarters in the state. For instance, certain groups e.g. Akwa Ibom Patriotic Network (APN) has risen to support his candidacy, urging him to run for Governorship of the state come 2015. More so, certain political observers in the state have opined that his co-option into the government had been part of a series of plans by his principal, Governor Akpabio to return Udom as his successor in the 2015 polls. As far as they are concerned Udom is Akpabio’s anointed one.
Recall also that Willie Obiano, the Govern-elect of Anambra State was an Executive Director with Fidelity Bank and before that we have had Governor Fashola of Lagos State and his Delta State counterpart Uduaghan both professionals in their respective fields of endeavours (Law and Medicine) who were brought into the picture as novices and eventually took over the reign of government. These individuals are referred Private Sector Politicians.
It didn’t begin today. Chief Ernest Shonekan, the erstwhile Head of the Interim Government was an industrialist and the Chief Executive Officer of United African Company of Nigerian (UACN) Plc, until he was appointed as Interim President of Nigeria by General Ibrahim Babangida on 26th august 1993. He was primarily brought in as a political move to placate the Yoruba nation, seeing that he was of Egba extraction as his compatriot M.K.O Abiola who was widely believed to have won the June 12, 1993 election.
On a lower level, we have also had several non-career Politicians since then serving in various capacities e.g. the Obiageli Ezewesili (Madam due process) who until she took up the responsibility of overseeing the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligent Unit worked at the Centre for International Development at Harvard University; the current supervising minister of the economy and minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-iweala, another Harvard Alumni who was a globally renowned economist who had worked for the world bank; former Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili, who was a Senior Lecturer and Consultant Pharmacologist in the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, before she became NAFDAC boss and the former Minster of the FCT, Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, who was an accomplished Quantity Surveyor and Entrepreneur
These Private Sector politicians may come in as greenhorns, but do not assume office until after undergoing some kinds of political tutelage or better put a crash programme. They are first of all thrust with smaller responsibilities pending the time appointed by their sponsors. In most cases they are brought in as Chief of Staff to their principals, a responsibility that gives them a front seat view of the happenings of Government. Recall that Gowon was chief of staff to General Aguiyi Ironsi in 1966 and Ernest Shonekan was the head of government affairs under the leadership of Babangida earlier in 1993, before he was brought in to placate the Yorubas. He was Egba, so also was Abiola (giving credence to the opinion of political pundits who hold that Babangida has always wanted to cancel the 1993 election). Fashola and Uduaghan were not also left out as while Fashola came in as Chief of staff to Bola Tinubu during his second tenure and Uduaghan, throughout Governor James Ibori’s two terms.
FOR AND AGAINST
Professor Pat Utomi opined sometime ago that one of the sources of our trouble in Nigeria today is professional politicians. He argued that because they lived off politics, they end up shy away from the truth and end up living a life of sycophancy. In his words he said “I consider anyone who could not go back to his job, profession or business within days of leaving any office a problem”. He defined it abnormal and pushed for a law that would forestall these so called professional politicians transiting from office to office either elective or based on appointments.
However, Senator Jim Nwobodo, then former Governor of Anambra State had told Reverend Chris Okotie to go back to the Church and leave politics to professional or career politicians, striking their inexperience in the field of politics as being a disadvantage. Which of these arguments hold water? Who is more equipped to deliver the dividends of democracy to people, the career or the private sector politician?
BETWEEN CAREER AND POLITICS
Of all the politicians, who have served in executive capacities in Nigeria since the fourth republic, none compares with Fashola in terms of performance. With the giant strides recorded across the various strata of the society and innovative policies (though sometimes construed as harsh) initiated, coupled with his humble mien, Fashola remains in a class of his own. His achievement has not only been acknowledged by the citizens, it has also been recognized by his contemporaries. For example, Governor Kwankwaso of Kano state, amazed with Fashola’s prowess was said to have come to Lagos to understudy him, so he could go back to Kano and replicate what he has seen.
It is difficult to tell the future of this trend, especially since with the present constitutional provisions, the people does not have a direct control over who is presented as candidates for his political party. In fact, It only happens in states where the incumbent wields overwhelming influence over party machinery, not in states where kingmakers (Godfathers) still hold sway. And more so if you look closely, it is not a general occurrence, it has happened so far, only in the Southern part of the country. So predicting how long this supposed trend will last is not practicable.