Are Technocrats Smarter than Politicians?

by Bayo Olupohunda

Should a government cabinet be made up of professional politicians or skilled technocrats, or a combination of the two? What special qualities distinguish the politician from the technocrat? Why should a technocrat who had no idea of the rigours of party politics and how the battles of elections are fought lost or won be invited to form a cabinet even landing plum positions both at the state and federal level? The frenzy of public discourse on the caliber of men and women who qualify to be selected into political positions was stringent in the days leading to the selection of Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet. This task should have been simple enough isn’t it? Not anymore. Now this seems to be the beginning of worries for elected leaders who now face nightmarish dilemma and are caught between the choice of parties’ members or technocrats at home and the Diaspora to fix the myriad of problems that face us as a nation. The thinking is that technocrats are better placed to proffer solutions to the various ills plaguing our nation, as against those in the political class who they consider as greedy and incompetent. Those clamouring for the cabinets to be dominated by technocrats have based their argument on what they consider to be the effective leadership they bring to planning, executing and monitoring of projects.

They are said to have clear vision of what they want when there is a task at hand and unlike politicians, they will not award projects on nepotism or other mundane considerations. A technocrat is said to be painstaking and frugal and will never allow for a situation where projects are abandoned after mobilization fees have been collected. Another argument is that a technocrat will never give a road contract, for example, to political contractors because his professional ethics abhor this. So are technocrats better than politicians? Who among the two should be preferable to leaders and the nation? Can it be said that all politicians are bad and incompetent to steer the precarious ship of state from its present decadent state to a desired Promised Land? Are politicians totally hopeless? Should they take the blame for the present state of our country? Who made the present democratic government we have had in the last twelve years possible? Is it the technocrats who are holed up in their comfort zone both at home and abroad or the politicians who in spite of their excesses have ensured the current political system works even with its inadequacies? Why should a leader bother about technocrats who are known to be apolitical?

Why should a political leader appoint somebody who never campaigned for him or showed any interest in politics? Is it just enough to have distinguished oneself in one’s chosen field while turning a blind eye to the political affairs of one’s country? Can Nigerian technocrats make any difference to the current state of things in the country? This is question seem to be relevant when one consider the aloofness of Nigerian elites who are known to detest politics which they have often referred to as a dirty game. Has Professor Pat Utomi not shouted himself hoarse about the detachment of Nigerian elites who have sworn never to have anything to do with politics? They find it easier to embrace the warmth of their comfort zone while they watch politicians fight dirty and winning elections only for people to clamour for their inclusion in the cabinet they never worked for. It looks easy doesn’t it? So how will the party settle thousands of men and women who laboured to win the elections for the party? Are they to go back home after the battle has been won and not enjoy the fruit of their labour having committed their time and money into the elections? My argument her may sound simplistic or even pedestrian for the pro-technocrat crowd but isn’t this the home truth? Now we want leaders to neglect their kit and kin in the party and go to the Diaspora to pick cabinet members? Does being a technocrat automatically translate to instant success in political appointments? Have we not had examples of technocrats in the past that failed woefully and were even charged with corrupt practices?

Those who are clamouring for a cabinet dominated by technocrats miss the point. It is high time our teeming elite in the private sector both at home and in the Diaspora took interest in politics. This is the time to participate in politics either as a member, a financier or mobiliser When Professor Pat Utomi and fellow technocrats-politicians were campaigning for elections in the 2007, many elites sneered at them for wasting their time. These so-called elites must stop the attitude of looking at politics as the job only meant for professional politicians alone. It is not enough to be referred to as a technocrat only in your field. A technocrat must strive to be relevant in the political affairs of their country. The quest to include technocrats in the new cabinets would not have generated so much controversy if the technocrats themselves belong to the parties. Now with the current controversy over who makes up the cabinet; one is tempted to ask; who will make effective cabinet member? Is it the politician or the technocrat?

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