By Ochereome Nnanna
IN my article here this past Monday entitled: Buhari And Other Ministers: Random Musings, I touched briefly on this issue but because of its increased topicality I have decided to bring it back today for a more detailed interrogation.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari announced his intention to head the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian marketplace of ideas has been vibrating with people’s reactions to it. The questions are as follows: Does he have the right under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to do so? The other resting on political correctness says, should he? My answer to both is: No.
I am not a lawyer but I can read and understand the constitution enough to offer an informed opinion on any section of it. Let the lawyers go to court and bandy their “learned” viewpoints, and let the judges deliver their rulings to “settle” the issue and guide our future application of the constitution.
Even the lawyers are divided. The side that supports the president’s intention points to Sections 5 and 148 of the Constitution, which vest the executive powers of the federation in the president. He may decide to exercise it through the vice president, ministers or any other person of his choice. They posit that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources is one of those executive offices, and the president is at liberty to take up the job or delegate it to a minister.
The opposite legal view torpedoes this by pointing out Chapter 6, Section 138 which is short, direct and unequivocal about the president’s ineligibility to appoint himself minister: “The President shall not, during his tenure of office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever”.
I believe that Section 138 has said all, though we must still wait for the courts for their final say. Garba Shehu, the presidential spokesman (as opposed to Femi Adesina, the more civilised gentleman) has already launched a vituperative verbal attack on those who say no to Buhari’s intended executive impunity thus: “the criticisms are coming from deal makers and briefcase carrying crooks…” Oh yeah? Using his own logic, are we to assume that when Garba Shehu, as Atiku Abubakar’s spokesman and as the media manager of the Buhari presidential campaign was criticising former President Goodluck Jonathan, maybe it was because he was a “crook and deal maker”? When you leave the substance of an issue to chase after rats you come out smelling like a rat.
The substance of this issue is that though the constitution vests the executive powers of the nation in the president, it also provides for checks and balances to prevent him from becoming a dictator. The constitution gives the president express discretionary powers to appoint whoever he likes as ministers, but they must be screened and approved by the Senate before they can be sworn-in. But if the president ignores Section 138 of the Constitution and appoints himself as Petroleum Minister, then he must submit himself to the Senate for screening.
Perhaps, they will then remember such better-forgotten but yet unanswered issues as the “missing” $2.8 billion oil money, his controversial assets declaration that provided no details and monetary value, the school certificate scandal and others, based on which he will be ignominiously dropped as minister. I don’t think we can afford such demeaning distraction now that Buhari is finally setting up his cabinet. If the President appoints himself minister and also refuses to appear before the Senate for screening, he would be in flagrant violation of the constitution on two fronts.
More importantly, as I pointed out on Monday, the nation will be denied the benefit of the president being routinely invited by the Senate to explain matters arising in his ministry. It will be a repeat of the Obasanjo experience whereby he occupied that post for six years of our immediate past oil boom and did not render account of his stewardship to anyone. I am convinced that Buhari can still “clean up” the oil sector with a competent and resourceful minister. He will even do a better job of it.
I am surprised that after four months of searching for saints even among Nigerians in the Diaspora, Buhari was unable to find someone who can hold that position and help achieve his visions for the benefit of Nigerians. I am also curious that our president, who moaned that he would have liked to be elected while he was younger, has suddenly found the surplus energy to take on presidential and ministerial duties at once!
I am firmly against the naïve, even foolish notion of the nation placing its trust on any politician of which Buhari is one. Whoever is handling the nation’s cash-cow must be available for legislative oversight as the constitution demands. No human being should be allowed a freehand to do just as he likes with the resources of the nation because absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Some are quick to remind us that former President Obasanjo did the same thing. Obasanjo can never be a credible yardstick for our democracy. Buhari is coming at a point where our democracy has been refined in many ways and should not drag us back to the ugly past. The unsaid truth is that these former military heads of state-turned elected presidents always prefer to grab the oil ministry because they know they will soon be politicking for a second term in office, and the oil sector is where “loose” money abounds.
On the political and moral fronts, his ministerial appointment may mean two ministers from Katsina State. The state will be having more than its fair share. The constitution makes ministerial appointment a big federation balancing act. Katsina and the North will worsen the sectional domination of the Buhari government.
My people have a funny but insightful way of describing a greedy person: “he carries an elephant on his head and yet uses his toes to try to pick up a beetle”!