Since the release of the first batch of ministerial nominees by President Muhammadu Buhari early last week, the mood and tempo of politics in the country have changed. Having been a closely guarded secret over which spirited speculations were rife, the release of the list enjoyed a robust welcome, for offering a refreshing insight into who and who will join the President in calling the shots with respect to the present administration. Yet while the names on the list may enjoy significance, the main task shall be accomplished when each of the nominees is matched appropriately with the most compatible area of deployment, in the machinery of government. That is in other words, placing square pegs in square holes.
It is trite to recall that President Muhammadu Buhari was elected into office on the strength of public expectation of a reversal in the status quo. By the same token he is seen as the face of change which Nigerians have since yearned for.
In fact in the eyes of many Nigerians, the cult figure of President Munammadu Buhari i so strong that even ahead of his establishing the administrative paraphernalia for his government, remarkable changes have been recorded in several areas of the nation’s public life.
For instance, not a few members of the public easily point to the noticeable improvement in the supply of electricity across the country; that is in locations where it already is ordinarily available. For the larger part of the country which is still in darkness, light for them is a story for another day.
Although the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Power Dr Godknows Igali attributes the new deal to improvement in gas supply, not many Nigerians are convinced. As far as these compatriots are concerned, the fear of a Buhari tsunami is the beginning of wisdom, for many non-performing officials in nation’s public sector. It needs to be asked why whatever factor Igali lamely cites now was not resolved in the days of the past administration. At least thanks to Buhari’s appearance on the stage, the macabre dance of ‘one step forward two steps backwards’ which marked the pace of developments in the nation’s power sector, is hopefully giving way to a new and more animating beat.
The heightened public interest in who makes Buhari’s ministerial team is therefore predicated on the expectation that such an individual will serve as a change agent that will help the President take this country to a new level. It is in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, that each of such individuals is usually selected by the President to represent a particular state of the federation.
It is also for the purpose of protecting the President from the vagaries of erroneous judgment in picking members of his or her team that the Constitution provides for screening of such nominees by the Senate before they are deployed to ministries. By implication therefore the onus of providing the country with a qualitative complement of ministers on whom rests the responsibility of delivering the dividends of democracy, is actually vested in the Senate as a clearing house, and not the President as may be held erroneously in some circles.
Even from a cursory perspective, the caliber of personalities on the list testifies that the President invested time and energy to fish out the nominees he sent to the Senate. None of them (judging from the first batch) is known to be bereft of the basic constitutional requirements being the possession of a West African School Certificate (WASC), attainment of a minimum age of thirty years, membership of a political party and declaration of assets. Known to be Nigerian citizens, each represents at least one state or the other. Beyond the foregoing, each of these nominees parades personal antecedents of active participation in the leadership circles of the country.
Yet in presenting them to the Senate the general public is by extension invited to accept or reject them as fit or unfit for the task ahead, as the case may be. That is where and why the Senate remains duty bound to go beyond the mere ritual of poring over the credentials of the nominees and be regaled by the synopses of their antecedents.
It will serve the better interest of the President and Nigerians for the Senate to demand a disclosure of the ministry of deployment for each of the nominees, in the course of screening. In that manner the Senate and Nigerians would be better equipped to read most lucidly, the competencies of any would be minister with respect to the area of deployment. It is high time Nigerians are treated with insights into what to expect from ministers ahead of their advent in office.
So far, by the provision of the Constitution only the Ministry of Justice has enjoyed the benefit of having lawyers serve as Minister of Justice, with the rest of the ministries making do with whoever catches the fancy of the President as minister. The situation is even more pronounced at the level of the states and local governments, who take their cue from the federal government and fix anybody anywhere, as it suits the powers that be.
Yet this anomaly which has dubiously assumed the status of a norm, lies at the base of the syndrome of mismanagement of the nation’s public sector, with consequences that include the state of lament which every regular Nigerian faces today. Nigerians need to wonder why, if the engagement of a chief executive for a bank or any other corporate entity, routinely demands a rigorous process aimed at matching candidates’ competencies with desired levels of performance, the bigger situation of fielding ministers that will head government ministries and determine the destiny of the citizens, should fare less. Outlandish as this brainwave may seem with respect to the extant processes in this country, it is standard practice in virile democracies which many Nigerians admire for their integrity and stability.
For the Buhari administration there are several reasons why this approach commends itself for immediate adoption. Firstly the administration, in pursuit of its mandate for change is introducing a complement of wide ranging reforms that will require deft management of the public resources to execute.
The situation clearly does not provide significant room for learning on the job. It demands the placement of the right person on any job. Secondly the President is ordinarily not clairvoyant, hence may not possibly boast of intimate acquaintance with the personal endowments of all the nominees. By availing the Senate the responsibility of screening the nominees against the backdrop of their likely areas of deployment, the President will be arming himself with adequate grounding of the potentials of his ministers.
Beyond the foregoing the disclosure of the portfolios of the ministers will help them promote whatever vision they have for the country thereby endearing themselves and the administration to the citizenry. This is just as the exercise will provide invaluable assistance to the Senate and the House of Representatives in the course of their constitutionally derived oversight functions.