Despite the euphoria that greeted the submission of the names of ministerial nominees and their screening by the Senate, DIRISU YAKUBU examines the task ahead of the chosen men and women who will soon be sworn in by President Bola Tinubu
The performance of any government is directly proportional to the quality of its officials, elected or appointed. Heads of government particularly in presidential systems often look out for the right men and women to manage various sectors of the economy as ministers or secretaries, aware that sectoral excellence positively affects the entire structure of government.
Many public affairs analysts in the land agree that part of the failure of the Muhammadu Buhari government (2015-2023) derived in part from ministers who stayed on in their posts despite their glaring inadequacies. With the exception of Rotimi Amaechi, who superintended over the Transportation Ministry with relative success, Buhari’s ministers left their offices without ovation or any significant performance.
Adamu Adamu, the brilliant back page columnist sermonised well on how best to make governance count for the people, but when given the Education Ministry to man, he left millions of Nigerians disappointed as public universities shut down for the better part of the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 academic sessions.
Bello Mohammed and Hadi Sirika are the two other officials in the Buhari government whose tenure as Federal Capital Territory and Aviation ministers respectively left many Nigerians wondering if there was any official policy for the whole eight years aimed at making those ministries better.
Not unaware of public expectations, Tinubu, during the electioneering campaigns promised to unveil his ministerial list within two months if elected President of the country. He would follow it up a few weeks later with another pledge to assemble a team of competent men and women whose experience, education and antecedents would help drive development initiatives in the country.
A little over a week ago, the President forwarded the first batch of 28 ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening and confirmation. On the list were Nasir El-Rufai, Nyesom Wike, David Umahi and Mohammed Badaru, immediate past Governors of Kaduna, Rivers, Ebonyi and Jigawa States respectively.
A week later, the final list of 19 ministerial nominees was transmitted to the Senate and like the one before it, had former governors in Gboyega Oyetola, Atiku Bagudu, Bello Matawalle and Simon Lalong of Osun, Kebbi, Zamfara and Plateau states respectively.
But apart from Wike and El-Rufai, none of these former governors left indelible developmental imprints in their respective states for posterity. Despite unsolicited counsel by a legion of civil society organisations for the President not to reward the ex-governors with ministerial portfolios, President Tinubu has shown with his nominations that ‘food for the boys’ is not a phrase likely to go out of the nation’s political lexicon anytime soon.
No doubt, names such as Wale Edun, Muhammed Pate and Nasir El-Rufai, whose nomination has not been confirmed, elicit hope in a country where public administration has been associated more with looting by government officials than delivering public good. Edun, a financial wizard is being counted upon to bring his years of experience to bear whether as Minister of Finance or National Planning. Pate, a Professor of Public Health and one-time Minister of State for Health in Nigeria is globally acclaimed for his works in promoting nutrition, women and child health in the past few years and is speculated to have bagged the Health Ministry portfolio already.
Wike did a fairly good job in Rivers State and despite his reckless utterances, is seen as a performer who is more of an asset than a liability in the soon-to-be-assembled cabinet.
With nothing much known about many of the nominees and some of the ex-governors whose performance has left many Nigerians wondering what they can bring to the table, Saturday PUNCH sought the opinions of experts, some of whom have doubts about the capacity of the new ministers to make a difference.
Speaking exclusively with our correspondent, public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, said the number of ministers set to be unveiled is too large given that the call in most societies was small government for the effective and efficient use of material resources.
He said, “The list of 48 ministers is very disappointing. All over the world, the emphasis is to cut down the cost of governance, and here we are, expanding and wasting our scarce resources. Are we going to have two ministers of state in some ministries? Forty-eight ministries are too large for effective supervision. All this notion of jobs for the boys should have ended with Buhari.
“It is shameful that all the governors of the All Progressives Congress that lost election were accommodated. Why should ministerial positions be compensation for people who lost elections? I am not saying that people should not be elevated or appointed to serve but we have not seen the service in their past appointments.
“Obviously, what the President has done is that he gave jobs to those who helped him to win the election. This does not inspire confidence because, in a situation where you have a minister and a minister of state, there is often a cold war. For someone like Bello Matawalle, what was his track record in Zamfara State? What qualifies Oyetola to be a minister after he lost his re-election bid?
“Recall what happened between Godswill Akpabio and Festus Keyamo to the extent that Keyamo had to ask Buhari to move him away and that is how he landed in the Ministry of Labour and Employment.”
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Ojo, who doubles as a newspaper columnist, also faulted the designation of minister of state, arguing that regardless of the brilliance of the occupants of that office, it is the substantive minister that often does the job, relegating the minister of state to the background.
“How many people heard of Gbemisola Saraki while she was Minister of State for Transportation? It was all about Rotimi Amaechi. It appears we are back to the era when it was difficult to access government officials. Let us not forget that Ibe Kachikwu, the then Minister of State for Petroleum said he could not see Buhari who was the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources for six months. It appears we are worse now than where Buhari left us,” he added.
He further pointed out the age of Tinubu, who at 71, might struggle with the task of supervising 47 ministries.
“Given the age of Tinubu, to pay attention to 47 persons in a way that will make governance count may be difficult except he is going to delegate some of his duties to the Vice President, Kashim Shettima. Now that he is the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, this is not going to be an easy job,” he said.
For rights activist, Abdul Mahmud, expecting much from the ministerial designates is a wrong way to start. Mahmud, a Senior Counsel at Ephesis Lex, Abuja, told Saturday PUNCH that the pedigrees of the appointees did not leave much room for confidence.
He said, “I don’t believe they can do anything different. What are the pedigrees of the appointees? What’s stellar in appointing people with dubious track records, doubtful qualifications, and bagmen of corrupt military rulers? Amid declining oil revenue, a comatose economy, deepening poverty and the pauperisation of citizens, Tinubu is ballooning the size of government and cost of governance. Why is a slim government an anathema in Nigeria? Why?
“With a budget deficit, as of July 2022, of N4.63tn, the government has proposed to spend N4.99tn as personnel cost in 2023, with capital expenditure standing at N5.35tn. Only a country that has become an asylum of mad people can undertake the type of expansive government that blunts real development.”
On her part, a good governance advocate and founder of Women Arise, Joe Okey-Odumakin, urged the ministerial nominees to be patriotic in order to make the most of their appointments. According to her, this is the only way they will be different from their predecessors.
“They must place the people’s interest above their personal interest, bearing in mind that public service is a social contract of rendering service to the people and not to serve self. It is not a call to enrich their pockets at the expense of the greater good of the people. They must remember that Nigeria is our only country, and we are the ones that can make it great,” she said.
Taking a different position on the issue is a chieftain of the Labour Party and 2023 senatorial candidate for Edo North District, Anslem Eragbe. According to him, there is a need for the Federal Government to come up with a policy aimed at reviving the nation’s economy in such a manner that ministers unable to make a difference in their respective portfolios should be shown the exit door.
“President Tinubu needs to put out a clear policy direction for implementation. Nigeria needs fiscal policy restructuring so that every ward, local government area, state and Federal Government can generate their own revenues and pay taxes.
“This country can rise again if resources are utilised with minimum waste. To ensure this, we must have the right ministers in the right places. The ministers are to implement the Federal Government’s development agenda and should be assessed quarterly so that those who do not live up to their billing must be replaced immediately,” he stated.
Given the right environment to function, there is no reason Tinubu’s appointees will not deliver on their mandates. This is the submission of former Special Assistant to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Mr Roland Igbadumhe. A member of the APC, Igbadumhe urged the President to periodically subject his ministers to give an account of their stewardship.
“President Tinubu must ensure that unlike the government of Buhari where ministers stayed on their jobs despite their glaring failures, monitoring and evaluation should be given premium priority in the current administration. Those with aptitude to perform in other ministries can be redeployed while those with average or below-average capacity should be shown the way out. There is no doubt that they will perform but they must be put on their toes. The appointment is for them to work, not to intimidate the public with their positions,” Igbadumhe stated.
Following the successful screening and confirmation of most of the President will soon assign portfolios to the men and women he has chosen to assist him in driving his Renewed Hope Agenda for the next four years.
As it were, Nigerians expect their Commander-in-Chief to assign portfolios in line with the expertise of his nominees if only to make their job easier. It’s time to shift away from the era when a pharmacist was made a Minister of Information and a man with little or no interest in farming, was appointed as Minister of Agriculture.
However, in the next few months, Nigerians will watch keenly how the new ministers will prove their mettle after being assigned portfolios. To many, it should be a simple task to many of the appointees who have had different experiences in administration, while to others, no excuse will be entertained in the renewed vigour to put Nigeria on the right track of development.
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