By Sufuyan Ojeifo
I was privileged to know that Sunday, March 28, was going to be the 57th birthday of the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba. I had, therefore, closed in on him to learn about what he had in the offing. The status of minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria offers an opportunity to “make some noise” and give some pointers to the next political move. So, I thought.
Disappointingly, as the day approached, I learned that he had no such plan. For him, as I got to learn, while there had been so much to celebrate, personally, the enormity of some presidential tasks had consumed his attention, such that it was difficult for close associates and aides to get to pull off a “birthday coup”, which was being contemplated for Monday, March 29, 2021, in Abuja.
In fact, he was not going to be in Abuja that weekend and the subsequent week. And, indeed, he was not. Therefore, the Monday, March 29 “birthday coup” that the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning were planning to stage was not going to work. Agba, the celebrator, had headed for Edo State on Friday, March 27, early enough, to throw the birthday bash planners into some confusion. Significantly, he had his eyes fixed on some scheduled presidential assignments in Edo State that week.
In the stead of a planned birthday bash, on Monday, March 29, Agba led an entourage to Uromi in Esan Northeast Local Government of the state to inaugurate and hand over to the community the Uromi Road Rehabilitation and Erosion Control works at Okhele, and Gully Erosion works at the National Institute of Construction Technology (NICT) Uromi (Phase 1). The projects were executed by the Federal Government through the Ecological Fund Office/Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation as part of the 16 ecological intervention projects approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the third quarter of 2018.
On that same day (March 29), the minister undertook an inspection tour of some new facilities provided by the Federal Government through its Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) funding at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital where he was received by the Chief Medical Director, Professor Sylvanus Okogbenin and other management staff members. With the interventions, the capability and capacity of Irrua Specialist have been strengthened to handle testing and treatment for many more diseases other than Lassa Fever and COVID-19 infections for which it had hitherto built treatment capacity.
On Tuesday, March 30, it was the turn of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) to receive an inspection visit from Agba. The storyline was not dissimilar. UBTH is one of the fifty-two health facilities being upgraded with the COVID-19 intervention funds approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Professor Darlington Obaseki, took Agba round on inspection tour of the facilities on ground. He also, thereafter, headed to the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Uselu, where he was received by the Medical Director, Dr Imafidon Osama Agbonile, who conducted him round the recently acquired equipment at both the old and new sites of the hospital.
The presidential mandate was clear and precise: to assess the progress of ongoing works in those facilities he inspected and other facilities countrywide. In a chat with journalists after the inspection tours, he reaffirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to strengthening the capacity of health infrastructure across the country and building resilience in the health sector. Agba assured the audience that Nigerians would soon be directly involved in the monitoring and evaluation of federal government capital projects being executed by Ministries, Departments and Agencies through the deployment of a web-based application-“Eye-Mark App” that the Ministry of Budget and National Planning is working on.
Evidently, Agba was preoccupied with carrying out the presidential assignments. He therefore resisted the temptation to be distracted by mundane birthday celebrations. Nevertheless, something significant happened a week after the completion of the presidential assignments in Edo that, indeed, confirmed Agba’s real mindset about his participation in the Buhari administration. While in his Victoria Garden City home in Lagos, his former colleagues at Chevron Oil from where he retired, stormed his place to felicitate him on his birthday, albeit belatedly. A few other political associates, with whom he quietly set up the Next Level Group for the re-election of President Buhari and election of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in 2019, were also there on that occasion to spend some time with a jolly good fellow.
Amid and beyond the euphoria of social interactions, being the only one occupying a strategic position as a cabinet member in the federal government, Agba took the opportunity of the occasion to showcase and highlight the policy direction and the legacy projects of the administration. Otherwise, we didn’t know much about the rural area development policy and projects of the federal government, as well as the nationwide health and ecological projects and how dear they are to President Buhari. The good thing is that Prince Agba is very clear-headed about his mandates and deliverables in the federal government as the minister of state for Budget and National Planning, to wit: early budgeting, planning and reinforcement of the monitoring and evaluation system.
In the discussions that ensued on the occasion, he was quite precise and very lucid in his explication of the mandate areas. He provided illumination on the mandates within the context of the bigger picture of the Buhari administration. The takeaway from that muted gathering was unmistakably significant. Having charted a trajectory from the private sector into government, most people had expected him to quickly immerse himself in the waters and currents of politics, politicking and strategic positioning for post 2023. But the truth is that he is showing scant interest in politics prelude to 2023 and for good reasons.
The real McCoy for him, for now until President Buhari finishes his second term in 2023, is how to make his significant contributions to help the President to build enduring legacies for posterity. It is in this corollary that Agba has, perhaps, resolved, not to get distracted by local politics in Edo State. As he confided in a significant other: “You stand the risk of falling, turning over and failing in your mission if you do not set your heart and vision on your assignment. I do not perceive appointment as opportunity to prepare or strengthen me for Edo Politics. The best I can offer Edo, for now, is to take whatever opportunity that avails me to make the State stronger economically.”
Agba is sharply focused on providing leadership to the Ministry of Budget and National Planning to deliver on its core mandates. Working in concert with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, and in collaboration with the other stakeholders, especially the National Assembly, the strong believer in the Buhari administration has, for instance, been able to return the country to the January to December budget cycle. This will consistently enhance timely budget implementation with a positive domestic investment and an overall positive impact on the economy. The new budget cycle was achieved in 2020, the first time since inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999; and was repeated 2021. Beyond not being a fluke, the philosophy behind early budgeting is being systematically internalized and the process is gradually being institutionalized. If this is not a Buhari legacy, I pretty wonder what it is.
Agba is in the driver’s seat, providing the enabling environment for the private sector-driven process of producing new Medium-Term National Development Plans (MTNDPs 2021-2025 & 2026-2030) and the long-term perspective plan, a National Development Plan, christened Nigeria Agenda 2050. Significantly, the MTNDPs align with and incorporate President Buhari’s desire to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years. There is a proposition to get the National Assembly to legislate the MTNDPs and the National Development Plan once they come on stream to check against policy and plan summersault or non-nationalistic review by successive governments. This is a game changing move by the Buhari administration. Agba is superintending over this with his eyes on the ball.
Perhaps, an equally unique game changer is the ongoing move to strengthen the National Monitoring and Evaluation (NM&E) system, which is a core mandate of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning. Agba has initiated the development of a web-based application- “the Eye-Mark” app to strengthen the M&E system. The app is to enable Nigerians monitor execution of capital projects countrywide by Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Once launched, Nigerians would be able to download the app in their android mobile phones. This tracking helps to ensure that over 300 federal projects are delivered according to specifications as well as promote prudent and accountable expenditure of public funds. This is yet another Buhari legacy that Agba is committed to building.
Prince Agba’s vision and focus are to help President Buhari to build legacies and not to promote selfish political interest or personal ambition. It is a pristine objective conceived by a largely apolitical mind; although from the perspective of watchers of the Agba leadership exemplar, this passionate identification with President Buhari’s desires could become pregnant post 2023. Whereas, Agba has circumscribed his tenure as a cabinet member for the building of the Buhari legacies, the future- post 2023, when he would have bowed out of office with his boss, is in the hands of God. The good thing is that he is not allowing the politics of the future to distract him from his present focus and exertion to help build a body of Buhari legacies. For him, to show gratitude to God, the President and the Country, he can do no less than put his all into the things that are to be done in the NOW. That, to him is the way to go!
▪︎Ojeifo sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org