Ministerial paralysis caused by presidential inertia
One year after they were grudgingly assembled, Nigeria’s federal cabinet ministers are already weather-beaten and work-weary. It took a scathing remark from the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari in faraway London for fresh attention to be trained on the performance of the federal government in the past 17 months.
It would also be recalled that it took another scathing remark from the president for Nigerians to look forward to the present crop of ministers as a bunch of lousy layabouts. The president actually called them noisemakers. Ever since he made that regrettable quip, the journey into squander of time and opportunity began, culminating in the vacant score cards of the ministers. The general lack of distinction is so pervasive that it is hard to point at any particular minister and endow him/her with a garland of merit and excellence.
Blame It On Purpose
WHATEVER anybody might say about the federal cabinet, blame or credit should go to the presidential purpose. From the onset, Buhari had identified fight against corruption as his major talking point. And in his avowed determination to crush graft, the president left nobody in doubt that nothing else mattered.
That stance could explain why for six months after his inauguration, the president became a constant airborne citizen, scouting for partners and signing agreements for collaboration against illicit money and free income. As he engaged in the junket, weeks ran into months and suspense matured from speculation to disgust and irritation. In answer to the swelling sense of dejection in the country, the presidency announced that the president was taking his time to empanel the cabinet because he was doing background checks to ensure that only the best and spotless make it to his executive council.
Three months after inauguration, the president varied his reasons with the excuse that work was going on and the federal government was in place, stressing that he had seen that civil servants do the bulk of essential duties, while the ministers make all the noise.
While on a trip overseas, President Buhari told Nigerians in the United Kingdom that he would appoint ministers by September 2015. From September 1, 2015; each day broke with anticipation and speculations of whom and who have been penciled down for what ministry. The polity was kept alive by the conjectures, so much so that disappointment dominated national life.
And just about the very last day of the month, in apparent haste not to lose what remained of his integrity, the president rushed some names to the senate, in what was described as the first batch of ministerial nominees. The President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had to wait into the night to receive the presidential communication.
In the end, it took three of such correspondences to complete the piecemeal announcement of the ministerial nominees. Of the motley crowd that the senate revealed, most Nigerians did not see evidence of great effort or discovery of new talents. It happened that the president merely recycled mostly well-known old faces in the polity with a sprinkling of the so-called technocrats.
Until his wife spoke through the British Broadcasting Corporation, the general impression was that the federal cabinet was a Buhari creation. But playing up the old frustrations in the minds of Nigerians, Mrs. Aisha Buhari disclosed that the president couldn’t vouch for the ability or capacity of over 85 percent of his appointees. “We don’t know them,” she had declared.
But while the nominees went to the senate for screening, there were subtle hints that the president may have acquiesced to exigencies of political considerations, especially the morality of not biting the fingers that fed one, to compile the names. And as he did that, perhaps, seeing his apparent helplessness, having been out of circulation for a long time; his immediate aides decided to smuggle in their preferences.
Apart from the problem of lack of unanimity or common ground for the selection of the ministers, it was obvious that the president was reluctant about the purpose of the ministers. The fact that the tentative portfolios for the nominees were not prefixed to individual nominees, did not help the senators to assess the suitability or otherwise of the would-be appointees. Most commentators wondered what happened to the change promised if the president would, in making his cabinet appointment hide their intended ministries, departments or agencies from the lawmakers.
However, acknowledging the national frustration and suspense from the delay in composing the federal cabinet, the senate played along and allowed the nominees the liberty of less rigorous scrutiny. Only a handful of ministerial nominees gave the senior lawmakers reason to believe that they were not on the list to draw political gratuity.
Mr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu and Babatunde Raji Fashola brought about the beauty of elenchus during their screening in the Senate. But for the decision of Mr. President to appropriate the ministry of petroleum, it was evident while the senators pelted Kachikwu with questions that he could be the prospective Minister of Petroleum. At least, the fact that the former Executive Vice Chairman was appointed the Group Managing Director of Nigeria national Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), three months into the Buhari presidency fed that speculation.
In the case of Fashola, it was generally acknowledged nationwide that he did a spectacular job of improving the state of infrastructure and governance in Lagos State where served as governor. As such, given the fact that the Senior Advocate of Nigeria manifested evidence of competence in infrastructure, most senators searched him for plausible answers to the failing road network in the country and what to do in the area of quick dispensation of justice. Their guess: he may be headed to Works, Justice or Federal Capital Territory!
On November 11, 2015, all guess were proved out of the mark. As the president allocated portfolios, the imagery of lucky dip loomed in the minds of most Nigerians. For instance, former Anambra governor, Dr. Chris Nwabueze, a medical doctor was slammed with Labour and Employment. And from the man’s attire, it was possible that he zeroed his mind away from the possibility of heading the Health ministry, but to that of Culture and Tourism.
The surprise appointments were legion. Instead of Defence, Abdurrahman Dambazzau was sent to the Interior and at a time the president was accused of skewing appointments to favour the north against the federal character principle, most Nigerians, particularly those in the academia could not understand why the president appointed Professor Anthony Anwuka, a former University vice chancellor; as a junior minister behind Malam Adamu Adamu, a former journalist.
Yet, while a lot people speculated that Amina Mohammed, based on background as a development expert, could be made to take charge of Finance or Economic Planning, it was a former Commissioner for Finance in Ogun State, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun that was so appointed to the key ministry of Finance. Further surprise was expressed when former Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi was sent to the omnibus Transportation ministry, a far cry from the Niger Delta or Culture ministry a lot of people speculated.
Notwithstanding the huge expectations from the new administration, it was apparent that the cabinet could not go far in their attempt to reach the moon on barefoot. To worsen their chagrin, the ministers were drafted into the national expedition at a time the budget was still in the works. Within the three months following their appointment, the ministers could not understand what they were expected to do without as much as the monthly imprest. In their agony, they were forced to join the lament and finger pointing at the preceding administration for their unenviable lot.
Blame It On The Budget
As the ministers strolled to and from their offices without much to do, the 2016 budget estimate was suffering the pain of the executive-legislature face-off. Allegation of two versions of the appropriation bill crept up as a subject of expensive joke on the troubled political economy. And when the Senate alleged that the insufficient copies of the bill were missing, the story changed that a different version from the very one submitted by the president was given to the senators.
When the dust settled, a new lexicon had entered the legislative lexicon: Padding. The question of whether the budget was padded and if so, by who took much of legislative time. Those who wanted to humour the president and exonerated him of responsibility for the lingering effect of lack of clear policy direction and administrative thrust, alleged that the lawmakers were dillydallying to extort money from the president.
To further drive home the blackmail against the lawmakers, the presidency had to send back the budget document to the senate, expressing doubts that the figures bore semblance to what he proposed. As fresh contentions broke out, the President had to make consultations meeting with former senate presidents to find out whether what was done in the National Assembly was how the things are done in democracy.
While the dingdong continued, the pointer had run full circle on the calendar and President Buhari was standing face to face with Nigerians full of regrets and assumptions about where the nation was headed. One full calendar year gone! But the president assured that he would still fulfill his electioneering promises. After all, he must have reasoned, there were still three more years in the four-year mandate.
Budget Is One Thing, Cash Release Another
HAVING crossed the chasm left by non passage of the budget, when the president eventually signed the bill into law, the foreign exchange standing had started dangling dangerously such that dollar parity weighed heavily against the naira.
Based on that new challenge, not minding that that the dollar benchmark had been overtaken by revenue, the price of oil in the international market continued to slide. Furthermore, fresh militancy broke out in the Niger Delta.
In the final analysis, as the financial year drew to a close, the budget looked more of a voodoo document. Not much is known about how far the budget has been funded. Of the N6.07tr budget estimate, N1.8tr was allocated to capital expenditure. But nothing seems to have been done as the fiscal year draws to a close. Infrastructure remains a mess and power supply more frustrating.
The government hinged the budget on oil price benchmark of $38 per barrel at a 2.2m barrels per day production estimate. Although the president revealed that the budget deficit was to be financed through domestic borrowing (N984bn) and N900bn external borrowing, amounting to N1, 84tr.
Out of the estimated expenditure, Works, Power and Housing had the highest provision of N433.4b followed by Education (N369.6bn). The minister of Power, Works and Housing, Fashola, stated that the works ministry would not embark on new roads until ongoing projects are completed.
Change Of Style
As happens in the game of football, a coach is expected to study the game and make readjustments in his team selection. Not minding the economic and political difficulties facing the president, most Nigerians feel that he needs to tinker with his cabinet. Some state governors have done such reappraisal and shuffled their cabinets to fit into the functional perspective of their administration.
But, reading his body language and utterances, President Buhari appears to evaluate the cabinet from its aesthetic perspective, rather than the functional. The philosophy of function of his administration is centred on fighting corruption. Unless there is evidence that the appointment of ministers, which he expressed initial misgivings about, cannot stop his determination to strangle corruption, there is no constitutional provision that says the president should not reshuffle his cabinet.
Moreover, there is the fear that reshuffling the cabinet may move certain appointees to ministries that have been reserved for a certain group of persons, either the 97 or five percent. What parameters would the president use to determine who moves to where that he did not apply in allocating portfolios?
The presidency recently indicated the unlikelihood of cabinet change. What this means is that the president feels satisfied with the performance of his ministers. He knows that the buck stops on his table; as such, they are where he wants them to be.
It is this seeming obduracy to see things from the partisan prism of All Progressives Congress (APC) or recognise the genuine complaints of citizens against the performance of the administration that the president’s wife complained aloud in the BBC interview. There are people who are not supposed to be in the cabinet, but are there just as some who merit their place in the cabinet, are placed in the wrong wing.
Consequently, if the president believes in the Latin maxim: vox populi vox dei, Nigerians do not think his cabinet has any pretense to responsible or excellent performance. From the way it was configured, the present cabinet stands like two left legs.
Mr. President needs help, because it does not seem as if he has taken his party men and women into confidence in the management of the government. So far, what is in operation does not resemble what obtained in Lagos State, which the party pointed to as evidence of what it would replicate at the centre if voted into power.
The crafting of the change mantra was not the making of one man, President Buhari should do himself, APC and Nigerians a favour by allowing all those hands to combine in moving the federal government to another level.