Why there can be no excuses over Ministers, By Teinye Akobo

By Teinye Akobo November 12, 2015 11:33

Why there can be no excuses over Ministers, By Teinye Akobo

I am one of the many critics of the President for his sluggish pace in getting his government running. However, I was delighted like many, when he made his intention known of streamlining the number of Ministries. For a start, the monstrosity we have, enabled by a constitutional provision for a huge amount of Ministers has been a source of resource depletion and inexplicable leakage in government.


The need for inclusion that informed the constitutional mandate of having a minimum of 36 Ministers representing 36 States through section 147 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) was further compounded by successive government that went over and above by adding as much as 6 extra to represent the geo-political zones, as a way of averting the pule we see as regional activism, leading to an overblown budget and oversized government too big to manage and too ineffective in governance.


Just as an illustration, we are forced to deal with additional and duplicitous Government Ministries and Agencies just to find work for these Ministers. To buttress this folly, we are made to cater for their needs and wants-salaries, allowances, maintenance and general servicing. These Ministers don’t even come alone, they come with a litany of aides, apparatchiks and complacent yes-men that do nothing but draw salaries and massage the egos of their bosses.


To make matters worse, these insensitive and unproductive methods of pandering to every narrow or parochial interest have been transported into states government. Just of recent, the Governor of Cross-Rivers State, Prof. Ben Ayade became the latest enabler of this mundane and wasteful system of running government. Ayade, while proposing a jaw dropping N350bn budget for 2016- leaving many wondering how he will fund the budget- gave indication of his intention to appoint state envoys to the UK, the US, Japan, and many other European and African countries.


As he basked in hubris to defend this humongous budget and gratuitous decision, he said “My intention is to expand governance beyond the ordinary level, which is the reason I am creating new and more ministries, and appointing vibrant, young and intelligent persons as our envoys to foreign countries and international institutions.”


This is coming in contrast with the N149bn proposed by his predecessor, Liyel Imoke for 2015. Ayade and his cohorts in other states hardly give any justification for the massive increase in budgets, acting as though they are acting in service when it is in fact, disservice.  What was so astounding was the announcement by Ayade that he was creating a State Ministry of Petroleum to be managed by him; summing up the total number of ministries to 28. One wonders what in the world Ayade hopes to achieve with such bloated government or what petroleum resource is there to manage.


Why the conduct of Ayade and other states seem most infuriating is because they are not under such strict constitutional mandate as the President. Unlike the states, President Buhari’s belief in slimmer government is very renewing. At least, one can argue he understands the basic need to keep government small but effective; however we will have the time to examine the value of his selection at a later date. When the news broke of “portfolio-less” ministers, I was glad for many reasons.


One main reason for my joy and commendation of the President’s decision is that he has finally found a way around the constitutional requirement. The President said the Ministers are only mandated to attend Federal Executive Council meetings and advice, which can be done without any portfolios attached.


As we debate this further, we need to take this conversation a step further as we find ways to better serve our nation. One way to further meander the constitutional provision is to-in line with the job description for Ministers as enshrined in section 144 (5) and 148 (1) of the constitution is to- assign very large departments and agencies to some ministers while ministries to others.


For example we can give the job of tax collection to a Minister and put him in charge of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, as we now have a Minister serving as NNPC Group General Manager. This can also be done for Nigerian Postal Service, NIPOST, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and others. By this, we will need to amend the various laws enabling these agencies and department to make appointment of their heads more liberal and less onerous and definitive.


However, the greater benefit for us as a nation will come by way of an emendation to the constitution as a whole to reflect the new reality on the ground, which is reduced revenue to run an expansive government. We cannot continue to act as though we have so much resource to waste on political appointees when it can be spent building infrastructure, creating jobs and opportunity. Now that we have gotten to this point in public debate, we hope it can be enhance by the assignment of portfolios to the Ministers.


For now, we are hopeful that judging from how many of them castigated their predecessors; they would have an incentive to display stellar performance during their term impacting on the lives of the people. It is audacious, but achievable.