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Nigeria: A Nation of Many Actors ~ By Olusegun Adeniyi


Acting is the main job today. The man who runs the country is Acting President, supported by the Acting Secretary to Government of Federation (SGF). 
Seven governors paying homage to President Buhari in London on Wednesday

Acting, according to Wikipedia, which is what most Nigerians rely on these days, “is an activity in which a story is told by means of its enactment by an actor or actress who adopts a character” while an “actor (often actress for female) is a person who portrays a character in a performance.” 

Again, according to Wikipedia, Acting can also mean “temporarily doing the duties of another person” and some of the examples cited are: Substitute, reserve, fill-in, stand-in, caretaker, surrogate, stopgap, transitional, etc.

While we all know about Hollywood or to come back home, Nollywood, where Acting is the main profession, it would seem that under the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of ‘Change’, Acting has moved beyond the big screen to important government offices. 

That our country has been reduced to the world of make-believe can even be seen from the Aso Rock excitement over the photograph of President Muhammadu Buhari and some APC leaders at a lunch table in London. 

A Twitter post by my brother, Abubakar Ibrahim (an award winning writer and journalist, by the way), captures the drama: “When sighting your president becomes international headlines, you know you have issues.”

Meanwhile, a WhatsApp message I received last week reads: “Acting is the main job in Nigeria today. The man who runs the country is an Acting President ably supported by the Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). 

Then you have the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Acting Director General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA); Acting Executive Secretary, National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS)…”

The ‘WhatsApper’ took time to list several agencies of government that are currently being headed in acting capacity—from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) in the critical power sector to NAFDAC in food and drugs administration. 

Yet, there is an ironic twist to the metaphor of ‘acting’ in Nigeria that is not lost on discerning observers: 

Most of the people in such positions, no matter how glorified, tend to actually ‘act’ or put up a show either to justify their role or impress on the approving authority/audience that they deserve the more substantive positions.

However, against the background that leadership is about having the authority and confidence to take tough decisions, the uncertainty created by holding a job in acting capacity will quite naturally affect judgement calls.

In the particular case of Nigeria, it is very clear that Acting begets Acting and that perhaps explains why, in the federal government today, there are too many “Acting this” and “Acting that”, essentially because the president could not, for more than two years, appoint substantive heads to those positions.

Whatever the gloss being put on the state of the nation, it is difficult to vouch for both accountability and productivity when the person holding a job is doing so under an indeterminate Acting capacity. 

Anne Joseph Connell, a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, captures the situation aptly when she argues that “agencies without confirmed officials in key roles will be less likely to address important problems and less equipped to handle crises”. 

That is because, according to Cornell, with acting officials lacking sufficient authority, “nonpolitical workers will have insufficient direction. In this context, careerists may not know what to do or may be unmotivated to invest needed effort, which contributes to bureaucratic inactivity.”

There are also legal dimensions to the issue of holding a critical appointment in acting capacity that we have not even considered despite the fact that there are lessons to learn from other climes. 

For instance, in March this year, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling in the case, ‘National Labor Relations Board v. SW General Inc.’, held that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA) prevents a person who has been nominated to fill a vacant office requiring Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation from performing the duties of that office in an acting capacity. 

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr. said the responsibilities of an office requiring Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation “may go unperformed if a vacancy arises and the President and Senate cannot promptly agree on a replacement.”

The drama leading to the case started in January 2011 when President Barack Obama nominated Mr Lafe Solomon to serve as the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel and it was returned by the Senate in 2013 following expiration. 

But in May of the same year, Obama submitted the name again before withdrawing the nomination later in August. 

Within the intervening period, SW General, a company that was deemed to be flouting labour laws, filed a suit that since Solomon himself was not holding the position of General Counsel in substantive capacity, any pronouncements and sanctions from his office should be void and of no effect. 

Interested readers can look up the case online for the rest of the story.

Given the foregoing, I support the idea of the presidency seeking the intervention of the Supreme Court on the issue of executive appointments with specific reference to that of the EFCC Chairmanship as well as the question about whether the legislature can initiate projects in the appropriation bills. 

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