Waiting For Our Ministers | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Waiting For Our Ministers

Posted: Sep 24, 2015 at 12:28 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Sometime in 1991, in a theological reaction to a raging controversy, Rolf Preus, a Minister of St. Cloud in Minnesota, USA, tried –in a short but well researched essay – to answer the following questions concerning Ministers: What is their job? Who is their boss? Why do we need them? I acknowledge that Preus’ essay offered the impetus for this outing, though my approach is not theological, and therefore, quite different from his.

Nigerians are waiting with bated breath for President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial appointments. For the politicians, the anxiety is understandable. It is reward time.  It is also time for them to measure their worth in the eyes of Mr. President. If you are an influential member of the ruling party, then your nominee should be considered worthy of ministerial appointment. If you lose out on the coming appointments, you are more likely to slip down the priority ranking in the party, besides losing social and economic relevance. This is so because even the option of contracts has a correlation with the executive appointments. I will return to this latter. For now let us answer the first question. What is the job of Ministers?

Ministers are first mentioned in Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which states that: (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation (a) shall be vested in the president and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the  National Assembly be executed by him either directly or through the Vice President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the Federation; and (b) shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to make laws.

Section 147 of the Constitution provides that (1) There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President. It is section 148 that answers our first question, as it provides that (1) The President may, in his discretion assign to the Vice President or any Minster of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of Government. (2) The President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purpose of (a) coordinating the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation; (b) coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions with respect to which he is required by this Constitution to seek advice or act on the recommendation of any person or body.

With the exception of the Attorney-General, who is the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, and Minister of Justice, the President has the discretion to assign specific portfolios to his Ministers. Constitutionally, Mr. President can establish a Ministry of Gossip and Rumour Control and appoint a Minister to run it. We can therefore say that besides the broad responsibilities stated in section 148, the precise job of a Minister is determined by the instrument of appointment. To accommodate the requirement of appointing at least a Minister from each state of the Federation, who shall be an indigene of that state (Section 147(3)) two or more Ministers can be appointed to a Ministry. To avoid clashes and ego contests, appointment letters from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation often come with job description. The distinction between Senior and Junior Ministers or between Minister and Minister of State is unknown to the Constitution.

Now, unto the question as to who is their boss? It may seem simplistic but it is not entirely true that Mr. President is their boss. Theoretically, their boss is the “people”. That is why their nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate (section 147(2) of the Constitution). Just like the President, they are a creation of the constitution for smooth and efficient running of the Government. It can be said that since he has the power to appoint and fire them, Mr. President is their boss. But by virtue of section 147(5), they must be first recommended to Mr. President by their respective political parties before they can be eligible to be appointed as Ministers. In reality, ministerial and executive appointees have three masters – Mr. President, the Ministers’ godfathers or sponsors, and, of course, their relations and associates. Serving these masters with equal love and fidelity is what makes or mars them.

Why do we need them? The answer is obvious. Mr. President is an executive president, not an emperor. For the nonpolitical elite, the anxiety over the issue is generated by the expectation that Mr. President will constitute a team that will, on the face value, give the conviction that he indeed and altruistically means to effect the change that the electorate voted for. Every sphere, every department of Nigeria requires emergency response; and the chief executives to supervise these responses must be competent and knowledgeable, besides possessing demonstrable, cutting-edge leadership skills.