Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The cabinet change

President Umaru Yar’Adua’s long-awaited plan to rejuvenate his administration through the replacement of under-performing ministers in his cabinet eventually got underway with the sack of eight ministers and 12 ministers of state, on October 29, 2008.

The move ended almost six months of dithering over the decision to bring new life into governance in the country but offered little to cheer as there was no discernible pattern for the selection of the dropped ministers even as no immediate replacements were announced for their offices.

A statement from the Presidency simply stated that some of the retained ministers had been mandated to serve as supervising ministers for some of the affected ministries until new ministers are confirmed by the Senate and sworn into office. No date was fixed for the replacement of the dropped ministers.

The reshufflement of the cabinet has, indeed, been long in coming. The replacement of ministers, ordinarily, is a routine administrative exercise which could happen two or three times in the life of an administration with the objective of ensuring that the best persons are brought on board to achieve the government’s goals. In this instance, the process has taken the better part of six months, the nation having first been intimated with the plan by the president in May 2008. We would have expected that five months were long enough for the Presidency to have perfected the confirmation of replacements for ministers that were to be sacked but this has not been the case.

The tardiness in the replacement of the ministers is in tandem with the widely acknowledged, painfully slow pace of the Yar’Adua government. It is a further reinforcement of the people’s perception and complaints over the sluggish pace of this administration. This is rather unfortunate, especially in the face of the growing impatience of Nigerians with the government in the quest for the benefits of democracy.

The cabinet change has involved a lot of time-wasting. The wheel of government has been very slow in turning and the government has not shown itself to be in a hurry to quicken the process of service delivery.
With almost eighteen months already gone in the life of this administration, we advise the government to buckle up and inject some verve into governance. The patience of Nigerians is being overstretched.

The people need to feel the impact of this government. The much-touted 7- point agenda of this administration needs to be brought to life. The machinery of government needs to be seen to be working at top speed to positively improve the lives of the people.

The government should therefore cast away the cloak of lethargy in which it appears to be ensconced and quicken the process of appointment of new persons who can deliver quality service into the cabinet. We expect a list of nominees to replace the sacked ministers to be announced soon and the Senate to expedite the process of their confirmation.

In selecting the new ministers, the presidency should pay attention to the need to appoint persons with the right qualifications and experience to add value to their portfolios and get government’s programmes off the ground. Appointment of persons into the cabinet should not be based on base, primordial considerations or the need to pander to the whims and caprices of political godfathers .

The nation, which appears to have been in a flux in the past 18 months, should be kicked out of the government-imposed lethargy, using purposeful persons who can deliver on the mandates given to them.
Nigeria should learn useful lessons from the recent American presidential election and pick the best persons for the task at hand, irrespective of political and tribal affiliations.

We think the president should also use the opportunity of this cabinet shake –up to reduce the size of his cabinet. The sheer size of this cabinet, with a minister and a minister of state in virtually every ministry, is unwieldly and a drain on the resources of the nation, considering the fact that there are also permanent secretaries with administrative responsibilities in all the ministries.

Governance is a serious business and the hitherto phlegmatic approach to decision making by the president can only set a bad example for the ministers. For instance, the Federal Ministry of Health has remained without a substantive minister since the exit of Professor (Mrs) Adenike Grange, about ten months ago. The boards of parastatals that were dissolved several months ago are also yet to be reconstituted.
President Yar’Adua should demonstrate leadership to bring the urgency of the task of national development to bear on the cabinet.