Myths About Ministers That Are Not Subject Experts

I would like to commence by underscoring my disagreement with the viewpoints espoused by certain individuals, who argue that the appointment of Mr. Festus Keyamo as the new minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development is mismatched due to his lack of expertise in aviation, whereas his expertise lies in the field of law.

In my perspective, the assertion made is unfounded as there is no historical evidence to support the claim that any president or prime minister worldwide has had prior experience or training in presidential competence prior to assuming office.

If electing a president based on subject matter expertise, such as tackling efficaciously, existential challenges, were true, the experience of electing a retired army general, Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015 to address the acute case of insecurity that had started ravaging the country towards the end of Gen. Olusegun’s tenure as president from 1999 to 2007 has proven that it is a mere fallacy.

This is demonstrated by the fact that Nigeria’s instability spiraled out of control while the country’s most recent past president—a renowned military tactician who was heralded as a messiah—was in office.

With the exception of presidents who are re-elected for a second term, a majority of them assume positions in public administration without any expertise in the field. Indeed, if a prerequisite for the presidency was past experience in the executive office, only vice presidents would have met the eligibility criteria, as they are the only individuals who have presidential experience and therefore have the best opportunity to succeed their bosses (President) in the presidential role.

Nevertheless, there are evident reasons that support the notion that vice presidents are comparable to spare tires, rarely utilized and typically not favored as successors to their superiors. Consequently, it is common for presidents to be elected from individuals who have not previously held the position of vice president. It is a well observed phenomenon, even within highly developed democratic nations, that the occurrence of a vice president assuming the presidency following the departure of a substantive president seldom happens.

Nevertheless, it is significant to note that there exists a notable deviation from this general trend in the case of the United States of America (USA). Specifically, Mr. George H.W. Bush, who previously served as vice president under Mr. Ronald Reagan, assumed the presidency and held office from 1981 to 1989 as the 41st president.

The concept of American exceptionalism may have originated from President Reagan’s trust in Mr. Bush, who, based on experience as ex Director of the CIA, was able to help President Reagan weather the storm arising from Iran-Contra arms scandal and his steadfastness in holding brief for Reagan while he was recuperating from gun injuries following an attempt to assassinate him. That is why President Reagan,the 40th US president who saw in Mr Bush a patient and dogged politician against advise provided backing during Bush’s presidential campaign by endorsing him as his successor, indicating his satisfaction with Bush’s performance as vice president.

Another example that it is not always necessary for the person appointed to head a ministry to be a subject expert is Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon who was appointed Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Development by President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021.

As a highly regarded medical doctor, he could have been appointed secretary in charge of health and medical services. He was, nonetheless, named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Consequently, there exists no rigid guidelines regarding a minister’s level of expertise in the specific subject matter or ministry to which they are assigned. With the sole exception of the justice ministry, which mandates that the minister possess qualifications as a member of the bar or bench,and to a certain extent the health ministry, which necessitates a health professional (though not necessarily a medical doctor), all other ministries, including the finance ministry, are open to being headed by individuals lacking formal training in finance or economics.

In Nigeria, a significant case of the finance ministry not being managed by a subject/matter expert occurred a few decades ago under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration (1999-2007). That was when the finance ministry was run by Mallam Adamu Ciroma, a skilled and respected journalist, rather than an economist or accountant.

Prior to becoming Finance Minister, Mallam Ciroma was inadvertently appointed Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor by then military head of state, Gen. Murtala Mohamed (1975-76), who intended to appoint Mr. Liman Ciroma, an economist with the same surname as Mallam Adamu Ciroma. Despite not being an economist, Mallam Ciroma went on to have a successful career as CBN governor. Sunsequesntly, In 1999, President Obasanjo (OBJ) named him as finance minister.

In light of the aforementioned context, I argue that it is counterproductive to engage in the fallacy of believing that only individuals with expertise in a specific subject should assume leadership positions in ministries. This assertion acknowledges the current situation in the aviation ministry, which is being overseen by Mr. Keyamo, a legal expert, as well as in other ministries like Solid Minerals Development , where Mr. Dele Alake, a seasoned professional in media and communication, serves as the minister.

While the appointment of subject matter specialists to lead ministries may be beneficial, it is not an absolute necessity. The act of harboring diminished expectations for the aforementioned ministers or any other individuals who have been assigned to lead ministries outside their areas of expertise, as perceived by their critics, and who, according to such critics, should not have been appointed to oversee those functions (thus being considered an anomaly), is a manifestation of linear thinking, which, in my estimation, is imprudent.

To bolster the preceding assertion which leadership and management experts would readily attest to, I would argue that the skills required to be president, governor, minister, or commissioner are essentially leadership skills encapsulated in the ability and capacity of the personality bestowed with the responsibility.

This perspective is substantiated by the notion that the upper echelons of an institution or organization can consistently rely on institutional or corporate memory due to the fact that individuals holding positions at the permanent secretary and director levels within ministries are regarded as senior personnel, comparable to executives in the private sector.

These individuals are required to have accumulated extensive experience within their respective ministries, often spanning several years or even decades. Consequently, they possess a wealth of knowledge regarding the organization’s culture and protocol, thereby embodying its essence.Therefore, they are often relied upon to provide guidance for the progress of the ministry, department, or agency in which they possess institutional knowledge.

Based on the aforementioned, ultimate responsibility lies with the president, governors, ministers, and commissioners at their respective levels of leadership. However, it is essential to point out that final decisions of a strategic nature are made by the chief executives only after policies have undergone rigorous scrutiny. These decisions are informed by the advice provided by technocrats such as line officers, permanent secretaries, and directors, as well as the expertise of special and technical assistants appointed by the ministers in their respective subject areas.

By all standards of measure,both Mr. Keyamo, the immediate past minister of state for labor who is now the minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development , and Mr. Alake, an ex-commissioner of information in lagos state (1999-2007) which is about 20 years ago who has subsequently set up and managed media houses, cannot be said to lack the necessary leadership and management acumen to take on national responsibilities.

As Alain De Botton, a Swiss-born British author and public speaker, once noted, “Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.” This means that the strength of human beings comes not just from their educational training but also from their leadership abilities, which can be innate.

Illustrative of the significance of institutional memory, Mr. Keyamo, who has assumed a leadership role in the aviation sector, has endeavored to build upon the established agenda within the ministry as set forth by his predecessors.

This is seen in the prioritization of aeropolis development as a key component within his comprehensive four-point agenda. Remarkably,the Ministry of Aviation has been persistently endeavoring to accomplish this work without success for an extended duration. To the credit of Mr Keyamo, developing aeropolis currently holds the highest position on the ministry’s list of priorities. The idea that aviation serves as a catalyst for economic expansion and the concept of the aeropolis as evidence of this phenomenon are not novel.

In fact, I have a personal anecdote that traces its origins to my tenure as a commissioner within Delta state government, around two decades ago. During that period, specifically in 2005, I was actively involved in the planning and development of Asaba Airport in Delta State.

During the tenure of Chief James Ibori as governor, the Delta state government made the decision to establish an airport in Asaba, the capital of Delta state. This decision was motivated by the desire to mitigate the potential loss of life resulting from road accidents during the approximately two-hour journey from Asaba to Benin City, where the nearest airport was situated. That is in addition to the fact that approximately four (4) hours of traveling to and fro Asaba to Benin City by public servants would also be saved if an airport was set up in Asaba.

As an individual, the concept of an aeropolis as a complementary infrastructure to the proposed airport emerged in my thoughts. Prior to that, I had presented a proposition to then Governor Ibori on the prospect of engaging with China, a nation that was then characterized by its surplus of financial capital and experience, with the aim of securing their assistance in the development of the Asaba airport through the implementation of a Build, Operate, and Transfer (B.O.T.) framework. This proposal was subsequently endorsed by Governor lbori.

Then, in 2005, I had the honor of traveling to China with the then-deputy governor, Sir Benjamin Elue, as head of delegation to negotiate with Chinese corporations with competence in developing airports and other important infrastructure facilities. That was long before the current Chinese businesses that dominate the Nigerian construction industry began arriving on our shores to build railways and airport terminals.

Although the construction of Asaba airport failed to take place during Governor Ibori’s tenure, which concluded in 2007, the groundwork had been established. Subsequently, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, who assumed office as governor in 2007 following the end of Chief Ibori’s tenure, proceeded to construct the airport utilizing funds derived from oil revenue, thus deviating from the original Chinese Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) framework that we had initially suggested.

Since I was already out of government at the time, I reactivated the notion of an aeropolis alongside with my private sector team by acquiring 10.3 hectares of property adjacent to the airport to build Asaba Airport and Convention City.

The proposed concept entailed a diverse real estate project that would incorporate a retail complex in the form of a shopping mall, as well as a convention center that would serve as a venue for hosting conferences and seminars, catering to various professional groups, including lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, and others and capable of accommodating a minimum of 2000 individuals, with the potential to expand to a capacity of 3000.

The proposed development would have also contained a couple of three-star hotels, executive offices catering to large enterprises targeting the southeastern and south -south markets, residential properties including homes and apartments, and a collaborative effort with a renowned Indian hospital to establish an international medical facility sought after by Nigerians engaging in medical tourism, specifically for organ transplant procedures, in India.

However, as is common in Nigeria, the government of the day did not support Asaba Airport and Convention City which would have included the construction of a tunnel from the airport across the major highway linking Benin City to Onitsha into Asaba Airport City, thereby diverting traffic towards Onitsha from the ever-busy highway into the Okpanam, the adjoining town to Asaba. The project, which did not need any funds from the state government but only required the provision of infrastructure such as electricity and roads, ultimately failed to see the light of day for reasons best known to then governors of Delta state.

Rather than providing backing for the project, the administration of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, which succeeded Governor Uduaghan’s administration, appropriated the concept and tried to implement it by itself. That is despite the costly feasibility study that we conducted and presented to both governors.

Under the leadership of immediate past Governor Okowa efforts were made to recreate the aforementioned project in the region of Anwai road in Asaba which was not adjacent to the airport, as such it has turned out to be a white elephant project even as the international hospital component of the project that could have triggered medical tourism in the state was established in the hometown of one of the Governors.

So, the entirety of the initiative, except the hospital was accomplished through the utilization of public funds which went against our original proposal that involved securing financial backing from institutional and developmental entities such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), African Development Bank (ADB), and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Delta State Oil Producing Community (DESOPADEC) intervention funds, among other potential sources.

The proposed Airport and Convention City, which was intended to include dedicated police, Petrol, and fire stations, had the potential to become a significant economic hub that could have boosted the local economy in line with then state government’s mantra: “Delta Without Oil”.

This development would have created numerous employment opportunities for a substantial number of eligible individuals from the Delta region, particularly among the younger population. However, the idea did not come to fruition due to the opposition of the governors who acted out of self-interest.

Ultimately the governors who could have enjoyed the benefit of leaving a worthy legacy of employment generating center turned out to be equal losers with the youths because government in the absence of venture such as aeropolis (Asaba Airport and Convention City has continued to be major employers of labor which is the reason the salary bills is so huge, very little is left as such it is unable to provide infrastructures like schools, hospitals, hospitals, roads etc.

So, my endorsement of Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister, Mr. Keyamo’s initiative to implement aeropolis nationwide is rooted in my firsthand encounter with the endeavor to establish an aeropolis in Asaba. Recognizing the substantial multiplier effects and favorable impacts on the local economy associated with the airport proximity, I express my support for this endeavor.

The potential implementation of a new city surrounding Abuja Airport, leveraging its substantial land area, might facilitate the establishment of hotels, retail establishments, and other aviation-centric enterprises, mirroring similar developments observed in other nations.

The United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, has undergone a significant transformation over the past few decades. Originally a quaint boat building enclave, that had sought financial assistance from Nigeria several decades ago, has emerged through deliberate efforts,as a prominent economic center for the Middle East and Africa, with a focus on tourism, retail, and trade. This development was facilitated by the intentional set up and growth of Emirates airline, which was seamlessly integrated with Emirates hotels, aligning their objectives with the overarching goals of tourism and trade.

In contrast, the aviation policies in Nigeria are characterized by a stance that is unfavorable towards airline operators. Their primary purpose appears to be to impose burdensome taxation on private sector participants in the Nigerian aviation space. The lack of cooperation and collaboration between operators and regulators in the aviation sector hinders progress and the overall welfare of Nigerians. This stands in stark contrast to the United Arab Emirates, where synergy in the sector has led to significant benefits for the people of Dubai.

If Mr. Keyamo is supported to implement his four (4) point agenda, one might imagine a scenario in which the Nigerian aviation industry becomes a major contributor to the Nigerian economy, accounting for a larger percentage of GDP than it does in the UAE and other emerging and developed countries. Based on the huge population and market size of Nigeria, aviation should a much bigger contributor to the economy.

In terms of solid minerals, which are expected to replace crude oil as major income earner as fossil fuel is being phased out due to its harmful effect on the climate, the minister in charge of the sector, Mr. Dele Alake, told Nigerians during his introductory news conference that the era of uncoordinated exploration is ended. “I am giving illegal miners in this country just 30 days of grace to join cooperatives or find another vocation.”

To put his words into action, the minister has pledged to map and track mineral resources by deploying a special law enforcement task force with the goal of restoring order in the mining of the abundant gems ranging from uranium for making nuclear bomb to lithium for producing batteries for electric vehicles, as well as gold for the most prized objects and ornaments such as jewelry.

In addition to his proposal to establish a task force consisting of all law enforcement agencies under the jurisdiction of the ministry, it would be prudent for him to contemplate the utilization of aerial surveillance through drones and cloud-based technologies as an auxiliary means of identifying and monitoring significant sites containing valuable solid minerals.

Otherwise, our country would suffer the same fate as the Congo, whose landscape has been despoiled by unchecked mining activity since the 1960s and continues to this day.

Given his management experience Mr. Alake cannot afford for Nigeria to repeat the mistakes made in the crude oil exploration sector in Nigeria, where the product was exported out of our nation by big oil exploration corporations without adding value via refining locally as it should.

Since the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria in 1958 in Oloibiri, which is currently located in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region, Nigeria has predominantly remained a net exporter of crude oil rather than focusing on refining the products domestically to help improve the Gross National Production, GNP of our country via employment creation and boosting of the economy via value adding activities etc.

At this juncture, l would like to crave the indulgence of readers to allow me deviate a bit from the topic at hand to further reference the oil/gas industry by noting that subsequent to the identification of oil in substantial amounts, exclusive authorization was granted solely to prominent exploration companies such as Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Total, and others, to engage in the exploration of crude oil.

With such exclusive rights, these corporations focused their efforts on major wells while capping the less productive wells that should have gone to the next level of operators such as the likes of Seplat, Midwest Oil/Gas, Aiteo, etc which are local operators that were empowered during the regime of Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015) which is more or less 60 years after oil was discovered in 1958.

The initial arrangement of exclusivity to the oil majors was to our country’s detriment and the chagrin of the host communities, who should have been encouraged to form corporative societies through which they might have formed joint ventures with smaller oil firms to exploit the smaller wells and the proceeds of which would have facilitated rapid development of those areas.

If these necessary steps had been taken, the host communities would have directly benefited from the fossil fuel in their land, and the agitation in the Niger Delta, which has been expressed as militancy and enormous oil theft, would not have occurred. Indeed, the region’s corporative societies might have been able to acquire modular refineries, which could have provided jobs for youths who have been deprived of their former means of livelihood, such as fishing and farming, as a result of crude oil exploration, which pollutes their environment by destroying aquatic and marine organisms.

Furthermore, the implementation of appropriate and fair engagement strategies with host companies could have mitigated the widespread presence of illicit and rudimentary oil refining devices, which present significant environmental hazards on a global scale. This is particularly relevant given the prevailing climate crisis, which is inflicting extensive damage on humanity by depleting the ozone layer due to the emission of gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Drawing upon the lessons learned from the Niger Delta, where the exclusion of host communities resulted in the escalation of crisis situations, it is imperative that engagement in the business of solid minerals exploration and processing incorporates a minimal requirement of value addition activities such refining of the gemstones.

The implementation of value-added activities related to minerals inside host communities can provide local residents with opportunities for meaningful employment. Additionally, this can contribute to the establishment of peace and harmony within the community. The delegation of trickle-down effects, such as the engagement in contracting and the provision of locally sourced inputs, should also be entrusted to the host communities, in order to foster inclusivity and ensure their active participation in the process.

Currently, Nigeria has surpassed the stage of engaging in agreements characterized by oppressive terms, as exemplified by its experience in the oil business during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Currently, our nation has achieved sovereignty and is no longer under the colonial rule of any other country, as was the case at the time of the discovery of crude oil in 1958.

The sorts of contracts that Nigerian government officials must append their signatures to must be those that meet global best practices and the standards obtainable in the UAE, Europe, North America, and the Far East. Nigeria must end its practice of exporting wealth (raw materials) and importing poverty (processed products). This is the subject of my upcoming book, “Africa: Exporting Wealth, Importing Poverty,” which details how the industrialized and sophisticated societies have been exploiting Africa. As it may be recalled it commenced from the days of embarking on sea expeditions into Africa by Europeans (Mungo Park e’tal) in search of our priceless artifacts, natural/agricultural commodities (cash crops) and highly sought solid minerals, that culminated into carting away of our able men and women through slave trade, thereafter evolving into colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism currently being perpetuated through unfair trade practices.

I had planned to debut the book during the current United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, USA. But could not do so owing to the prevailing economic crisis in Nigeria triggered by petrol subsidy and naira subsidy removal.

By God’s grace, I would launch the book during the 2024 UNGA.

In his inaugural speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Bola Ahmed Tinubu emphasized Africa’s commitment to engaging in negotiations with other nations and continents on a mutually equitable footing.

Our president in his speech presented a set of five concerns pertaining to Africa, with the fourth point specifically addressing the continent’s abundant mineral resources that have enticed European exploration and colonization over several millennia. “The fourth important aspect of global trust and solidarity is to secure the continent’s mineral-rich areas from pilfering and conflict.”

Numerous regions have transformed into subterranean networks of suffering and exploitation. Despite the substantial presence of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the nation has endured this situation for several decades. According to President Tinubu “The world economy owes the DRC much but gives her very little.”

The President of Nigeria, who now holds the position of Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), emphasized the need to eradicate the paradigm of subordinate connections between Africa, particularly Nigeria, and other continents, asserting that it should be relegated to the annals of history, declaring “As for Africa, we seek to be neither appendage nor patron. We do not wish to replace old shackles with new ones.”

President Tinubu’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has been widely acclaimed by pundits as an exceptionally meaningful address. And I share the same sentiment. This is due to the fact that the majority of the arguments he presented in his speech were emphasized in my article in my column of 12th September entitled “Africa and the Conflict of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Coups.” The article delved into the issue of military coups d’états in Africa, which serve as a manifestation of Africa’s resolve to eradicate any form of imperialism that has been restraining the continent attaining its potentials.

Back to the issue of ministers being appointed to lead ministries in which they are not experts, the bottom line is that Nigerians who are skeptical about the ability of non-experts in the ministries to which they are assigned to deliver on their mandate must manage their expectations reasonably, rather than despairingly.

Instead of engaging in criticism, a more constructive strategy would involve providing ministers with encouragement and innovative ideas. The recommended approach is aimed at cultivating a positive atmosphere that can enhance the ministers’ motivation and ultimately lead to improved outcomes for the Nigerian population and future generations.