Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The sack of 20 ministers

AT last, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua fulfilled his promise to reshuffle his cabinet of ministers on Wednesday, October 29, 2008, when he gave the sack to 20 ministers. The President had made this promise well before his one-year anniversary after it became clear to him and to countless Nigerians that the overwhelming majority of his ministers had become such stifling liabilities and a drag on the nation's prospects.

It had become clear to the President, a few months after he was sworn in, that a sizeable crop of the coterie of ministers in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) were ill-equipped to deliver the dividends of governance, which the preceding administration failed to serve up. He then expressly promised the nation that a cabinet reshuffle would be effected on May 29, 2008, his first-year anniversary. Between then and October 29, 2008, when he eventually announced the termination of the appointments of 20 ministers, was a period of exactly five months.

Of the 20 sacked ministers, 12 were Ministers of State and only eight were substantive ministers. The sacked Ministers of State included those for Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy (Power), Energy (Gas), Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Foreign Affairs, Information and Communications, Interior, Solid Minerals, Transportation (Aviation) and Transportation (Maritime). The preponderance of Ministers of State on the list of sacked Minister suggests that it was the Ministers of State rather than their bosses who were to blame for the near-absolute non-performance which characterised those Ministries. Not a few Nigerians are itching to know how failsafe were the yardsticks the President had used to determine which of the ministers should go.

It is clear to well-meaning and clear-sighted observers that the inefficiency and ineffectiveness which have issued forth in non-performance in the various ministries are ascribable to the fact that the Ministers - senior and junior alike - are the products of a tradition of political brinkmanship in which some godfathers, including the governors hand-picked "good" party men and women for ministerial appointments at the expense of the overwhelming majority of other Nigerians.

Aside from the inordinate delay in announcing the less than good cabinet reshuffle, it is baffling that some above-average ministers, such as those of National Planning, Mohammed Sanusi Daggash, and of the Federal Capital Territory, Aliyu Modibbo Umar, were unaccountably turned adrift, whilst some notoriously incompetent and unscrupulous ministers, who have incurred the wrath of the Nigerian electorate, were spared. Some of these anomalies arose, Nigerians were told, from the fact that some Ministers and Ministers of State had disagreements with their sponsors and godfathers!

In sacking the 20 ministers, the President appointed existing ministers and Ministers of State to oversee the ministries from which the sacked ones were removed, suggesting that it would take an aeon again for the cabinet to be fully reconstituted. It is difficult to understand why President Yar'Adua is action-shy and diffident, wanting in proactiveness, and why he is so different from his counterparts in other parts of the world: It took President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, less than 48 hours, after they were sworn in last year, to constitute their cabinets. And less than 24 hours after his election as President-elect of the United States, Barack Obama started forming his administration, which takes off on January 20, 2009. Indeed, he has appointed his chief-of-staff and some advisers.

Five months after the President announced the establishment of the Ministry of the Niger Delta, that Ministry remains in the works. The President should put his best leg foremost and hunt for competent professionals even among politicians. It has been argued that section 65 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 makes eligibility for election to the National Assembly contingent upon card-carrying membership of a political party, whilst section 147, which makes the appointment of a Minister conditional on his confirmation by the Senate, also in subsection (5) of the same section, provides that "no person shall be appointed as a Minister of the Government of the Federation unless he is qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives".

Thus, by the combined effect of sections 65 (2) (b) and 147 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, a Minister must be a card-carrying member of a political party. This is an area of the Constitution that is crying for amendment. But even before then, we are sure that there are thoroughbred, capable and top-flight professionals in the political tribe whom the President, upon his own objective assessment and without reference to godfathers and the chief executive officers of states, can appoint as ministers.

Not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that the appointment, by the President, and confirmation, by the Senate, of Ministers of the Government of the Federation are inadequate. To carry the electorate along, and even to assist the Senate in its task of assessing the capabilities and suitability of any ministerial candidate, it is proper that the names, portfolios and cognate experience of all the ministerial nominees be precisely delineated and publicised to avoid the occurrence of round pegs in square holes.

As Nigerians await the appointment and confirmation of new ministers, the duties of the sacked ministers in the respective Ministries suffer additional want of attention. Yet the magic year 2020 remains the target date for squaring up to 20 of the most industrialised nations of the world in spite of the fact that the Nigerian economy, according to experts, does not fall within the top-10 economies in Africa.

The President should expedite action on the reconstitution of the cabinet with competent and tested hands and to draw attention to the fact that, in view of the provisions of subsection (6) of section 147 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that an appointment to the office of a Minister "shall be deemed to have been made where no return has been received from the Senate within twenty-one working days of the receipt of nomination by the Senate", the President cannot be heard to blame any delay on the Senate.