A yawning gap which existed in the government of Governor Udom Emmanuel until recently was the non-existent Office of the Chief Of Staff (CoS) in Government House, Uyo. In fact, a lot of folks, particularly digital natives who do not know much history and how presidential executives function lived comfortably with that aberration and didn’t understand the noise surrounding the work of the late Abba Kyari, erstwhile chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock.
A lot of Nigerians even became agitated when the President, at the start of his second term in office last year, reeled out the job schedule of his chief of staff which included handling of his appointments, routing of mails meant for him through the chief of staff and the directive for ministers to clear with the chief of staff before accessing him. Incidentally those are simply and truthfully put, the most basic roles of the chief of staff in the system. The fact that those who served Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan in that position were not quite visible did not detract from the fact that they performed those responsibilities.
In the case of Chief Obasanjo, he is a very strong personality and drawn to the limelight as moths to light. There was no way he could have been overshadowed by any appointee and he is not a man to live under the shadow of anybody except during his years in the military with its well known strict command structure. Occupants of the enviable position under Yar’Adua and Jonathan were not loud executives given to throwing their weight around. They were subdued and like chameleons, adjusted to the colour of their operational environment.
Entered the old soldier, Muhammadu Buhari, a man who leads by delegating his powers and so whoever served him in that role was going to be powerful and controversial because such an appointee must soak in all the tantrums, absorb the blows, brickbats and dirt thrown at the boss. Now that comes within the territory of that assignment.
In Akwa Ibom State during the administration of Governor Victor Attah, the permanent secretaries in Government House served in that role. The first was Mr Sunny Akpadiaha, presently the chairman of the Civil Service Commission and he was succeeded by the late Mr Effiong Akpanenang. Both were seasoned bureaucrats even though their formal designation of permanent secretary and chief of personal staff to the governor (PS/CPSG) were carryovers from the Military dispensation. However, their offices were the clearing houses of mails meant for the governor. Though civil servants, they also acted as close advisers and sounding boards to their boss, especially on public service matters.
In the government of Chief Godswill Akpabio, a retired director-general, Cornel Udoh, got the slot but he sailed into troubled waters by embarking on ethnic cleansing of staff of Ibibio origin from Government House. He did not last long in that office. Mr Godwin Afangide succeeded him and was in turn replaced by Sir Etekamba Umoren who later served as the pioneer secretary to the nascent administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
The chief of staff must be steely courageous, have contacts all over, possess executive and emotional intelligence, be in top physical condition, a consummate workaholic and go-getter. He must know the mind and character of the boss and must understand public policy.
The chief of staff must work miracles around his boss and for his boss in the overall interest of his boss. Let nobody be carried away, the interest of the state comes a distant there. The chief of staff is the face of the leader, his minder and monitor. He serves as the overall enforcer of the directives of the governor.
The demand here calls for 100 per cent loyalty and devotion from the appointee. Not less. The chief of staff must be ready to serve and save his boss often from indiscretions or miscalculation on all fronts, especially politics.
The chief of staff must be one who shares the vision of his boss completely. He must embody the agenda of his boss because if he doesn’t know the vision and has not bought into it, he won’t be able to read the game, understand the mindset nor the body language of the leader.
In this, he performs the functions of a captain in a football team who communicates the game plan of the manager/coach to the players on the pitch while the game is on. To achieve results, such a person must believe in the supreme and refuse temptations to undermine and be disrespectful or disdainful of the leader. He must shy away from competing with his boss for the limelight or for the success of the administration. Though he is the spine and face of the governor, he should try to be faceless, work quietly but effectively.
The chief of staff is in a good place to help reshape the government house and present government for beneficial outcomes now and sustainably for future generations. This is an invitation to keep faith with the vision, agenda and ultimate political direction of the governor.
There is a proclivity and temptation for powerful appointees to be brash in dealing with colleagues, former colleagues and subordinates in the discharge of the responsibilities of high office but at 55, the new chief of staff to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State is mature and should be able to earn rather than command the respect of those he has to interface with daily.
It is required of occupants of such an office to be good team players so they could organise and co-ordinate all the aides of the governor to work in one accord with a view to stemming the tide of discordant voices and messages from the government. Hitherto, some aides carried on as sheep without shepherd. There is a shepherd now at the frontline. The sheep must follow his lead or be shipped out of reckoning.
This writer has interacted with the brand new chief of staff to the governor and some immediate takeaways include his strong conviction as to what is right, capacity to work under pressure, his energy and equanimity in the face of challenges, his uncompromising spirituality, his gift of discernment, his willpower and capacity to deliver on set targets. Just look at the miracle of Ituk Mbang as an example.
His training and experience as a senior staff officer in a para-military, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), has imbued him with the aptitude and attitude for his new role in the service of the governor because he has had the command of men and materials in the past.
Just one tip, no subordinate, no matter the skill set in possession must outshine the boss. Here, the ultimate source of executive authority is the governor always.
As the most visible surrogate of the governor, one commends the example of Apostle Peter who brought out a knife to cut someone’s ear in defence of his master Jesus Christ. The final hurray for a successful outing on that schedule would only resound when the chief executive delivers on his mandate and/ succession.