On ministers and portfolios
WITH the long delay in the appointment of his ministers, President Muhammadu Buhari was correctly accused of hurting the economy and the well-being of the citizens. Now that he has appointed them, received Senate’s approval and articulated his vision to them at a retreat a few days ago, he should not further inflict pain on the nation’s psyche or engender an unnecessary controversy by carrying out his plan of having some ministers without portfolios. The work of Nigeria is too enormous and daunting to have under-utilised personnel.
The President had told foreign journalists the other day, that he would not give all his ministers portfolios because Nigeria was broke. Intriguing as this sounds, there is a need to situate it within the context of what the president previously said about ministers and his scant regard for collegiate governance. Before he submitted his ministerial nominees to the Senate, he had stated that he did not really need ministers, as they could be nothing more than noise-makers as against civil servants who, according to him, do the real work.
Therefore, the necessity imposed by the constitution that a government must have ministers was the only reason Buhari has appointed them after many months of dithering. These facts show that Buhari is not simply avoiding assigning all ministers portfolios because the economy is weak. Rather his latest position is the climax of disdain for such details as a college of ministers and, of course, the president’s predilection for running a one-man or few-men show.
For if Nigeria is broke, as Buhari has disclosed, does it mean that the ministers without portfolios would not be paid salaries and other allowances? Does the fact that they would not work but earn salaries and other allowances not further harm the economy? A huge joke, indeed.
Buhari should rescue himself from this path of befuddled thinking that only betrays a certain lack of preparation and come to terms with the fact that, with the challenges before Nigeria and as long as all his ministers would be paid, they must gainfully contribute to the nation’s development.
The nation’s constitution does not envisage that ministers would be spectators at the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Besides, even on a superficial level, what are the criteria the president would use in selecting the ministers who would have portfolios and those who would not? Clearly, no matter the criteria, the move would remain contentious as states whose ministers would not be given portfolios would feel alienated. The president should only encourage what would bring harmony to the entire country and make his government work cohesively.
More importantly, the reality of Nigeria today does not lend itself to ministers without portfolio! How? While it is a good move by the Buhari administration to prune the number of ministries to reflect the nation’s plummeted revenue and the need to cut the cost of governance, this should not automatically translate to making some appointees redundant or any less productive than others, having had to obey the constitution in appointing them. If the practice of designating some ministers senior and others junior cannot absorb all of them into ministries, there are many other responsibilities to which many can be assigned effectively for efficiency and quick service delivery.
Contrary to the notion of the president that the ministers are just an unnecessary burden on government, they are needed for effective governance. This is especially so in a country like Nigeria that has many problems to solve. In this regard, the ministers who are not assigned ministries can effectively function as ministers as long as they are solving some of the nation’s problems.
For instance, Lagos occupies a unique place in Nigeria and as the founders of Abuja, the new federal capital, promised Lagos would be given a special treatment in the envisaged new Nigeria. One of these new ministers could, therefore, be designated Minister of Lagos Affairs. Such a move would be in line with the vision of the nation’s leaders to retain Lagos as a world class commercial capital even while relocating the political capital to Abuja.
In his 1976 speech on the relocation of the nation’s capital from Lagos to Abuja, the then Head of State, Murtala Ramat Muhammed, said that Lagos State would be given special assistance of the Federal Government on account of the challenges it would face as the nation’s commercial capital and its economic nerve centre.
Indeed, commercial activities in the state have spawned huge infrastructural, security and transportation challenges, among others, that the state alone cannot handle. For instance, the Apapa port has created transportation problems that have almost become intractable even with the huge revenue the nation garners from there. Therefore, a minister should be appointed to solve this and other problems in Lagos in concert with the state government.
Buhari’s passion for Nigeria is palpable and it is commendable that he is keen on running a lean government so that enough resources can be freed to execute programmes and policies that would improve the citizens’ well-being.
However, he must realise that the task of rebuilding the nation is too tough for anybody to undertake alone. For him to translate his change mantra into reality and improve the well-being of Nigerians, he would need the assistance of other Nigerians from every part of the country. This is why he should not treat with levity the contribution the ministers can make to the development of the country. Having received the approval of the Senate, President Buhari should put all his ministers to work to deliver the change so urgently needed in Nigeria.