He made history after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu appointed him chairman of Federal Roads Maintenance Agency in mid-October. Fresh from university without experience, Imam Kashim Imam was only 24 when the unsolicited plum appointment landed on his lap like an apple from above. Citing his youth and inexperience, Nigerians panned the presidential appointment almost immediately leading to withdrawal barely a week after.
With the offer, he would have been the luckiest lad in Nigeria today. A first class graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Brighton University in the UK, Imam finished his mandatory national youth corp service in August 2022. With the scents and sounds of Mammie market still fresh on his olive green regulation “kopashion” uniform, he was named board chair of a sensitive post and juicy appointment millions of graduates like him would’ve compulsorily gone on dry fasting for, kept vigil at mountain top prayer sessions for the infinitesimal chance of landing such a lucrative job.
One can imagine the goodwill calls from family, frenemies, mates and fellow corp members to the appointee soon after the announcement by Ajuri Ngelale, Senior Special Adviser Media and Publicity to PBAT. There would have been plenty of backslapping too, the mandatory congratulatory messages following the job offer from so high above without necessarily soliciting for it. What luck for a 24-year-old!
handy, pounding the pavement for years on end for the average Nigerian graduate post-youth service is part of the experience leading to gainful employment in the public or private sector. A cossetted child, Imam had no such experience. The presidential offer probably got to him in his father’s well-appointed living room in Abuja. Who can blame him?
As is very well known, the gods choose those they wish to bestow their favour on and not necessarily who is most qualified. After all, Esau hunted, worked as hard as his donkeys from sunup till sundown but it was idle Jacob who got the blessing from a half-blind Isaac in his dotage.
In that sense, you couldn’t really blame Imam for his appointment. Without having to go through the Senate for confirmation, his appointment as FERMA chair was almost a done deal. It was a purely presidential prerogative and if the lot fell on him, whose fault?
And that was precisely the point. There was a fault somewhere because soon after the announcement by Ngelale, Nigerians began to question it. Ironically, it was not even the agency he was to helm that began the grumbling which rose to a national murmur. No! It was ordinary Nigerians who called out the president himself for the choice of a 24-year-old to oversee such a sensitive government agency.
If the appointment brought smug satisfaction to the immediate family and close friends of Imam, it was not so in the public space. Newspapers ran headlines disapproving of the offer from the get-go, quoting sources from social media platforms. @kennyNuga declared frontally that the “appointment is not worth it. A fresh graduate to oversee the entire FERMA board. Absolutely unworthy.”
@Dipo_Bello felt the same way, suggesting that “this doesn’t seem right. We want young for young-appropriate roles. This role seems the type that requires a lot of experience. A board member could be more suited to him” while @aminsaad mused that “political expediency should not be a factor in making appointments where experience and even expertise could be called upon.”
The rumour following PBAT’s job offer to the lad was that his father campaigned vigorously for a Tinubu presidency. Kashim Senior it was who got propositioned to head FERMA as reward for his labour. (Kashim the elder is the current chairman Board of Trustees of Tertiary Education Fund TETFUND appointed by ex-president Muhammadu Buhari on May 14 2020.)
It was said the father declined Tinubu’s offer, favouring his son instead. Others suggested that First Son Seyi Tinubu also had a direct bearing on the chap’s appointment. Apart from the Kashim’s campaign contribution to BAT’s success in the February presidential polls, Seyi and Imam are close friends on first name terms. Besides, during his campaign, Tinubu pointedly said he would co-opt young people into his administration to give them a say and usefulness in government.
“Good to see young and vibrant people occupy places of authority,” @adamsaleemm proclaimed, referencing Imam’s appointment. “Despite his inexperience, which raises ethical concerns, he could be the catalyst for the transformation we have longed for.”
@aminsaad was not so impressed, commenting on the appointment that “Ferma is all about construction. An experienced civil engineer could make a better choice. True, the Mechanical Engineer could as well marshal, channel knowledge into ensuring the heavy equipment of the agency are in top shape” but “those in authority should try to make the country work by prioritizing expertise and experience. These two are essential commodities to any struggling economy like ours.”
For @JALLO71424757, the presidency’s choice for the FERMA job “is an absolutely silly appointment!” In his criticism, @AtahiruAbdulka1 referenced Imam’s privileged status thusly: “NYSC completed in 2022. Congratulations to you o. But if it’s me and another common Nigerian, they will ask us for 5 to 10 years working experience. I know that God will surely judge us all.”
Another writer hinted at Imam’s privilege. “His father is currently the chairman of the board of the TETFUND. That’s not even the issue. Yes, it is good to appoint youths into positions of responsibility. Nonetheless, appointing a fresh graduate with no cognate experience into such a sensitive position is ill-advised. The truth is that Tinubu doesn’t seem to be getting it right with appointments made so far.”
Corroborating this square peg in round hole appointments, Ochereome Nnanna in his column in Vanguard of October 18 wrote inter alia. “President Bola Tinubu has continued to ruffle feathers in the polity with the manner of individuals he is bringing into high positions of his government. What I can see running rampant through most of these appointments is that he is still trying to say “thank you” to people, particularly his kinsmen, cronies and Northerners, who helped him to controversially realise his presidential ambition.”
While taking Tinubu to task for his presidential proclivity, Nnanna however thumbed up for giving young people a chance to prove themselves in government and then listing youngish and dynamic Nigerians who distinguished themselves in leadership roles in the past.
According to the columnist, “the appointment of young people into big political offices should be seen as a positive sign that the Tinubu regime wants to bring in young men and women into his government as he promised during his campaigns. It is also in step with the spirit of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run, NTYTR, Act signed by former President Muhammadu Buhari on May 21, 2018.”
Dr. Sam Ikoku, first republic politician and member of Action Group was only 34 when he was elected into the Eastern Region House of Assembly, Ochereome wrote. So with Navy Lieutenant Alfred Diete-Spiff, a mere 24 when he became military administrator of Rivers state in 1967, the same age with Imam. Head of state Yakubu Gowon himself was only 31 while Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who battled Gowon for a separatist Biafra region was just 34.
For Ochereome therefore, it is not so much a question of age that is the problem with recent presidential appointments or nominations but of sacrificing competence on the altar of loyalty and ethnicity.
But that, again, has raised hackles for PBAT over his withdrawal of two nominees, one as minister and the other as chairman. Nominated by PBAT as a minister, Dr. Maryam Shetty from Kano state was already awaiting screening at the Senate chambers when news reached her of Mr. President’s withdrawal. The minister-designate took it in her stride, declaring that “the sheer joy and pride I felt at my nomination were beyond words. It was a validation of my capabilities, a nod to my vision, and a sign that our great nation was ready to embrace a future where young women like me, even from the most traditional parts of Nigeria, can hold positions of influence and power.”
On PBAT’s revoking her nomination, she also took with equanimity. “Life with its characteristic unpredictability led to the withdrawal of my nomination,” Shetty mused. “To some, this could seem like a setback, but my faith as a devout Muslim guided my understanding. I saw it as the divine will of Allah, who I believe grants power as He wishes when He wishes. His plans are always superior to ours.”
But some northerners are not amused with the withdrawals coming very close. A recent headline news from The Whistler an online publication was “From Maryam Shetty to Kashim Imam’ — Northerners Fume Over Tinubu’s Withdrawal Of 24-Year-Old FERMA Chairman Nominee.”
The publication even went as far to document the nomination of former Kaduna state governor Nasir el Rufai as a minister only to be dropped by Mr. President. Then Shetty and now Imam. But the newspaper itself neglected to mention that another woman and classmate Mariya Mahmoud was almost immediately nominated to replace Shetty.
But the bigger question for some was didn’t the presidency conduct background checks on the nominees before announcing their names? Even if they did not, what about the random security checks by the dozens of intelligence agencies, starting with the DSS, DMI and the Police?
Appointing and revoking appointments of individuals within days of announcing them, a security analyst suggested, is making a mockery of the Presidency and not the appointees. What it shows is that the person making the appointments know little or nothing about the appointees themselves – their track records, disposition, competence and work experience.
“Our public offices belong to the Nigerian people,” Ochereome submitted. “They do not belong to the person(s) currently occupying them. Our presidents and governors should be properly schooled on this. The prerogative that the Constitution gives them to make appointments also assumes that strong elements of decency, maturity and patriotism are factored into making these choices. Track record of performance, character and probity must be tested before greenhorns are plonked into public office. It is not a toy for toddlers.”