Doyin Okupe: Why do people appear “more sensible” after they leave public office?

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People have very often asked this question whenever I and others who have been in government write something they consider useful or reasonable.

Basically, this is because largely members of the public do not understand the intricacies of how government works.

Firstly a government is an institution where most of the members have visible and invisible entrenched interests.

Hence many advices internally generated may hold sway or not depending on the clout of the giver, those who will benefit from it and those who will be adversely affected by it.

Also, various conclaves and groups exist in every government and more often than not, the rule of majority operates also side by side with those of powerful minority who have the ears of the principal.

Sometimes during Obasanjo’s regime, the president expressed deep concern about how NEPA can be revived and made to run effectively.

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I told the President that the person who will run NEPA efficiently and deliver on service must be:

  1. A very successful business manager and a good manager of men and resources.
  2. He must be someone who the President will have to beg to do the job and most likely for a short time, say three years.

The president agreed with me and asked me that I should give him a name of such a Nigerian.

I pondered for a while and I said, Fola Adeola.

The President banged his table in excitement and said, “Yes! Correct.”

He then asked, “Can you reach him?” I replied yes. He now instructed that I got him to his office by 9 am the next day.

I got Fola and acquainted him with details of my discussions with the President. He was not enthusiastic. He told me point blank that he was a serious-minded and busy person but he would do the job with his heart for three years only. He added that on the condition that he is given a free hand to run the organisation.

9 am we both sat before the President who was extremely warm and courteous. He then informed Fola that he wanted him to help the country by leaving his business and help to put NEPA straight.

Fola explained that I had briefed him copiously and he would do it provided he had a free hand to do so.

Then the president said he would create a management committee that Fola would head. To me and Fola this was news. So Fola asked who would run the show. To which the President replied, ” You and your fellow committee members.” Fola declined and that was the end of the story.

I later found out that during dinner the night the President and I agreed on Fola, he mentioned the decision to a group of close friends and powerful associates who gave him the demerits of allowing the management of such a conglomerate to just one man in a country like Nigeria. They also gave other cogent points that the opposition may latch on which may blur the good intentions of the president in the eye of the public. So they suggested a team or committee to work with the proposed new MD. Of course, each of them had a nominee in the suggested committee.

So given the above scenario, can you truly say that while people are in government they don’t give sensible advice? I can give 100 of similar pieces of advice not just from me but from others that I am aware of that the system swallowed and did not see the light of day.

Also, government is sometimes extremely stratified and compartmentalised. If I am in media how can my advice rate with that of the Minister of Justice on a judicial matter? Or how can very useful advice from a Minister of Health from Borno state outweigh the opinion of a four-star general or Defence Headquarters in a military matter?

But when you leave government you freely express your views on national issues not based on influence or relationship to power but simply as you see it. If it sounds good then people now ask, why did you not do this when you were in power?

When you are in power, there are powers from within that limit your influence and because you are part of and committed to the system, when other pieces of advice overtake yours, you simply move on and hope for better luck or cooperation next time.

People also say, “Why didn’t you resign?” If everybody resigns because their advice is not taken, presidents will change cabinets every two weeks.

In a government, people try to pull in the same direction as team players, not as individual kings whose wishes must always prevail.

*Okupe is a former presidential spokesman

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