Buhari and his cabinet of the square in a hole

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The President is the Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Branch. With all the institutional checks on his authority, the Executive Branch should be his instrument to make and implement policy, but the President is the Chief Executive in ways no corporate CEO would ever imagine. The President’s own Cabinet, rather than enhancing his power, more often forces him to share power with others who may have a different agenda from his.

People are appointed to top Cabinet and sub-Cabinet positions not only because they share the President’s ideology, but often times to serve the need for ideological, racial, or geographic balance and to reward certain constituencies as it is often the case in Nigeria.

Presidential Cabinets are generally filled with people the President little knows and who have worked with him not at all.

The President’s ministers are subject to centrifugal forces beyond those the President can generate. A President’s control over the people he brings to Aso Rock to help him run the Executive Branch is always shared by others whom his appointees see as “multiple masters.”

If different interests in society did not have powerful ministries promoting their interests, they would be unrepresented in the presidential decision making process. Ministers look to their Permanent Secretaries to be advocates for their interests. The permanent bureaucracies which staff the departments in the President’s Executive Branch were there when he came and will be there after he leaves and the next President comes. Their job is to provide expertise and historical memory and continuity. They are the institutional advocates for the minister’s interest groups.

Regardless of the Administration and regardless of the issue, foreign, domestic, or defense, almost every matter coming to the President is laden with conflict between competing advocates within the Executive Branch, each bringing his or her own views and conflicting data to buttress the case. The President is often a judge, deciding between opposing advocates within his own branch of government.

The days leaders could fulfill their roles by passively monitoring the national affairs are far gone.

Today’s evolving national landscape and demands requires that a president take the long view and become actively engaged in strategic issues, asking the tough questions and overseeing institutional outcomes. However, even as many presidencies and presidents seek to enhance their effectiveness and improve governance at their nations, they often fail to deploy an important asset in this effort: the president’s cabinet of ministers and heads of agencies.

Such ministers and heads of agencies are not only supposed to be knowledgeable about their institutions, but they also should understand the complexities and dynamics of where they are meant to head. They, with the president, provide day to- day executive leadership within their ministries and serve in various capacities— chief financial officer, provost, chief operating officer, general counsel, and so forth. Deployed properly, they can serve an important role in helping the president educate, support, and guide the work of their ministries.

With President Buhari releasing the names of his ministers and what ministries they would manage, one is taken aback that the numbness of the president and his feeble thinking is again brought to fore by appointment of people who knows next to nothing about what they are assigned to do. Rauf said it all.

Ministers are required to assist the president in striking the right balance between strategic oversight and meddlesome micromanagement. Essentially, these would-be in-house experts should serve as guides to the government policies and actions by their support by fulfilling the roles of translator and strategic adviser.

Governance is improved and the president benefit when cabinet members help relate government’s priorities and work directly to advance the president’s goals and the nation’s strategic plan, prepare and facilitate the president’s agendas that are strategic and not “in the weeds”; help develop annual work plans for committees and agencies, in consultation with the president.
Serve as communication conduits between the president and the people; work well with cabinet colleagues to promote the president’s objectives, improve governance, and advance the institution; and understand and comply with the president’s rules of engagement for cabinet members.
That is, cabinet members know when to defer to, copy, ask, or refer matters to the president and when to engage with fellow cabinet members.

The Presidency is at one and the same time the most powerful political position in the world and one of great fragility. It equally combines the ceremonial functions of a monarch with the nominal authority as head of government.

But the Presidency has limited power to accomplish what that very opportunity presents. It creates the illusion of far greater power than it actually possesses, even to its occupants. It tempts Presidents to try to accomplish too much in too many arenas and leads them to dissipate their energies and resources in too many directions with too little to show.

A successful Presidency depends on understanding some basic truths: a strong economy is the single most important ingredient to sustaining the presidential popularity necessary to g

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