Inappropriate delay in appointing Ministers

President Muhammadu Buhari

Four months after his re-election and weeks after being sworn in for a second term, the Senate is yet to receive a list of ministerial nominees for screening and confirmation from the President. Section 147(6) of the Constitution gives the Upper Chamber 21 days to complete their task so it’s unlikely that there will be Ministers before recess on July 29th.

The situation is reminiscent of 2015 when it took six months to appoint Ministers and the economy nosedived during the period. The role of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is outlined in the Ministers’ Statutory Powers and Duties (Miscellaneous Provision) Act. FEC meetings are backed by law under Section 148(2) of the Constitution which provides that the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and all Ministers for the purposes of determining domestic and foreign policies.

The problem is that this provision leaves room for diverse interpretations by not stating how regular the meetings should be. This perhaps explains why since 1999 various Presidents failed to hold weekly FEC meetings on several occasions. Nigerians had a right to expect their re-elected President to hit the ground running by immediately re-appointing those Ministers and Aides who he feels did a good job first time round.

Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa both appointed Cabinet Members within days of being sworn in. All indices in Nigeria have deteriorated since re-election, but rather than re-appointing returning Aides and Ministers a day after inauguration, the nation had to wait until July for Aides to be reappointed and still awaits Ministers. Time is of the essence. Lost time can’t be replaced and there are just three years and three months left of PMB’s second term. The first term witnessed needless controversies, ill-considered policies, and insensitivity towards public opinion. There was no noticeable improvement in power supply; no appreciable growth in the economy; no visible reforms in the transport, education and health sectors; and there were no legacy projects.

During the period mass killings became an almost daily occurrence and there was no official reaction unless one of the victims happened to be an “important personality”. Very little premium was placed upon the lives of Nigerians and this must not be the pattern for the remainder of the second term. There’s a lot of work to be done, and little to smile about. The recent photograph of the President and leadership of the National Assembly dining and grinning from ear to ear gives the impression that they are happy with the state of the nation. Yet truthfully the only thing they can celebrate is their personal prosperity and progress. While making an effort to explain the delay in appointing Ministers, PMB said “the last cabinet which I had, most of them, a majority of them I didn’t know. I had to accept their names and recommendation from the party”.

This raises several questions. Does this mean that the Party forwarded the names of incompetent people, while those with the ability to conceptualize lasting solutions to the nation’s problems were sidelined?  Does it mean that technocrats and experts have been barred from Ministerial office because the positions are now “shared” amongst politicians? Is this why several Ministers were former Governors who didn’t distinguish themselves while in office, and really had no good record to recommend them? Is this why square pegs were put in round holes with a Medical Doctor being Minister for Labor, a Lawyer Minister for works etc? To what extent should Presidents’ expect to “know” Ministers personally? If PMB discovered that he couldn’t work with these people, then why didn’t he reshuffle his Cabinet or drop any Minister during his first term? Lastly why should the Senate waste time and money screening Ministers if the President decides that he can’t work with them simply because he doesn’t know them personally,?

In the real business world Chief Executives routinely succeed when working with people whom they didn’t know previously and have no power to appoint or dismiss. Paradoxically during the valedictory session of the outgoing FEC, PMB said that his decision to retain Cabinet Members despite pressures from some quarters was because of their unique strengths, skills and leadership qualities. Now he is singing a different tune! Despite the absolutely unnecessary delay of six months and the costly and time wasting process of Senate Screening, those who were evidently unqualified still slipped through the cracks and were appointed during the first term.

After prevaricating the Minister for Finance Kemi Adeosun resigned in disgrace for her criminal act. She was given a soft landing and shielded from facing the full wrath of the law. Another Minister in the same position as her decided not to resign and sat tight for the complete period of the first term also without sanction! When PMB said he was under “tremendous pressure” over the issue of Ministers he appeared oblivious to the fact that the average Nigerian is under far more pressure. A leisurely approach can only seem in order to a man shielded from all the evils currently pervading the land. Although re-elected the president must begin to work like a man who has got a new job, rather than continuing in the manner in which he did the old job!

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