The burden of political patronage
The headlines of a number of major national dailies last week, including this newspaper, told the story in a nutshell: “Saraki announces 65 committees for 109 Senators.”
At a glance, the reader immediately surmises that all 109 Senators, irrespective of their political party affiliation, whether All Progressive Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are “taken care of” as a standing Committee chairman or deputy chairman.
Clearly, most of the Senators had emerged as chairman in one committee, deputy chairman in at least one other and each Senator is “entitled to” or “opportune to enjoy” his sojourn in 8th Senate by being a member of one to three committees. Clearly, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki played his cards to consolidate his leadership of the Senate.
It was not different in the House of Representatives where the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, also upped the calculus by announcing 96 committees. Try as he could, however, he could not take care or placate all “vested interests” with chairmen or deputy chairmen of standing committees in the 360-member House.
Of 96 standing committee chairmen and their deputies appointed, the APC caucus got 48 while the PDP caucus harvested 45, indicating that Dogara had set out to reward his PDP supporters who stood with him through the power tussles in the chamber. The Speaker had had to appeal to members who had picked up a fight “to take it in good faith.” Dogara may have realized that he could never please the “interests” fighting for rewards and advantage in the Reps.
The thing about the committee system in the National Assembly is struggle for rewards, whether monetary or otherwise. Chairmanship and membership is about what they would get and access to various opportunities. Their oversight function, an important part of the legislative business, often plays out as avenues to blackmail ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) whose activities they are to supervise.
It is not different in the states and at the centre, Abuja. Reward of supporters with appointment as commissioners is a forte of state governors. Ever-smiling Enugu state governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi appointed 24 commissioners and 12 advisers. His buying Prado sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for his commissioners at N11.5 million each, however, drew flak from social activists.
In Abuja, Buhari may have realized that there is more to appointing ministers than merely getting the job done. After the screening and confirmation of his ministerial list, people are now waiting to see how he will distribute portfolios among his cabinet of 36. All eyes are on the so-called “blue-chip” or “juicy” ministries and departments such as oil and gas, defense, power and energy, works and aviation. It is about their budgets and other precocities connected to or associated with them.
There is something of a “Casino-Effect” in the sharing and compensation in the Nigerian power politics that Nigerian. For all shades of financiers, political godfathers, party founders, sponsors, backers, foot soldiers, supporters, promoters, thugs who serve as private armies and mobilizes for demonstrations, it is an investment. They demand rewards and gratifications. They constitute both a blockade and drain to economic and social order.
Remembering the 2014 confab and some of its useable recommendations
With a cabinet of 36, Buhari may have discovered that it is not an easy task to implement a lean and effective government under the current democratic arrangement. In the United States, which system Nigeria tries to copy, the federal cabinet of “senior” executive branch of government under the current President, Barack Obama is only 15. George Washington, the first President of America, had set off with a cabinet of four secretaries (America’s name for ministers), a small, effective and purpose-built advisory group.
For political expediency and other vested considerations, very little is these days heard about the 2014 National Conference or its recommendations, including those which could have come handy for Buhari in his anti-corruption campaign and effort to improve the nation’s economic and social welfare.
For example, the body recommended that the President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo-political zones. Having made it clear to everybody that the government was in no financial position to run many ministries with substantive ministerial portfolios, Buhari could avail himself of this recommendation and back it up making the remainder ministers of state or cabinet executives without portfolios.
Buhari is already doing a number of others like reduction of the cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary. The President has been working with permanent secretaries. Last week, he cautioned his ministers-designate over impunity and unnecessary official showmanship, especially in large retinue of assistants and long convoys.
The 2014 confab had indeed recommended the reduction of ministries to between 15 and 18 at the centre, Abuja, and a maximum of 10 at the state level while pegging appointment of Special Advisers at six for the centre and not more than three at the state level.
While few people talk about these, mainly southern supporters who still recall some of the key recommendations, designed to “address crucial national issues,” its mainly northern critics would come out with a counter, not necessarily against all the recommendations, but more on the grounds of improper constitution of the conference.
Buhari has so far avoided the report. He has never said a word on it in his speeches. Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, his immediate predecessor in office who set up the 492-member body and received the report and recommendations after it held between March and July last year, had handed them over, urging President Buhari not to throw them away but consider them on their merit.
During the 2015 election campaign, neither the APC nor the APC/Buhari campaign tours of the country was anything about the recommendations ever said. As a party, the APC had not participated. Till now, the APC and Buhari seem not to see the need to revisit the output produced “to be utilized to settle the nation’s myriad problems.”
In recent times, only few leaders mainly Afenifere, the South-west-based pan-Yoruba socio-cultural cum political group of elders and their North-based counterpart, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) exchange political brick-bats over the confab recommendations.
Afenifere says it would continue to mount pressure on Buhari “to consider it in his effort to effect change in the political and social order.” The body believes some aspects of recommendations, if implemented, could “make immediate development impact” on the country. It sees some of the recommendations therein as “only meaningful way corruption can be fought in this country.”
The leaders would often insist that until the sharing of funds to the Federation Account among the three-tiers were based on the 42.5 percent (centre), 35 percent (states) and 22.5 percent (local councils) as recommended by the confab, “the anti-corruption would remain propagandist with little or nothing achieved.”
The views from their northern counterparts are however mixed. For example, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, wants the National Assembly to provide a legal back-up for the report, while also calling on Buhari to implement the recommendations.
On the other hand, northern leaders of the Northern Reawakening Group (NRG) led by a former member of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Muhammed Kumalia, says Buhari should convoke another conference that would “take into cognizance the challenges” facing the North.
He argues that a fresh conference is needed to discuss and recommend solution to the economic, social and security problems facing many parts of the North.
The 2014 confab was concerned with issues of equity, fairness and justice for all parts of the country. It had also noted that the 36 states structure is too expensive and went on to recommend that states willing to merge should do so based on certain conditions.
On the legislature, the conference had endorsed the existing bi-cameral National Assembly, but with a proviso that elected members of both the Senate and House of Representatives should serve on part-time basis. Again, this was marked for dead on arrival at this Assembly. Politicians having faced the huge expenses and the rigours of getting elected into the legislature, cannot be fairly expected to accede to this.
Athough Buhari had spoken in favour of reduced costs in terms lowering representation and running costs of the legislature during the presidential campaign tours, he may have now realized that he could never push them.