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BRAND NEW EXCOF: The Politics of Portfolio Sharing

Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor, and Daniel Idonor, Asst. News Editor
This report examines the reason why politicians are usually preferred to technocrats for ministerial assignments in a country that is yet to come to terms with the real essence of true nationhood.  It also looks at the first hours of the newly constituted Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF.

Just before ministerial nominations began to roll in from different quarters to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, something instructive happened.

During a private meeting with a south-west governor at the Presidential Villa, the governor had asked  Jonathan what he would do and how he would handle the plethora of interests he has to service while he acts as President, Commander-in-Chief.

Ag. President Jonathan

“The Acting President said he would consult as widely as possible and would not relent consulting.  He went as far as saying he would consult the IBBs of this world, the Abdulsalam Abubakars of this world, the Olusegun Obasanjos of this world and as many people as he would need to consult.  But he said in consulting with all these people on many issues, he said ‘I would then take my decision’”, the governor told Sunday Vanguard..

The governor added “what may have happened in the instance of the ministerial nominations as we see it now is that certain things are not the way they should be”.

He declined to go further.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that Obasanjo not only put forward his choice of ministerial nominations but was also insistent on the portfolios he wanted for them.

With the new Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, in place some are still wondering why politicians are preferred to technocrats.

Not to be deceived by the academic qualifications paraded by the ministers, most of them are politicians through and through, albeit of different hues.

With a total of four professors of international repute, one Phd holder, six lawyers including three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, five architects, four seasoned business administrators, two journalists, in the rank of editor; a medical doctor, and a qualified nurse and two pharmacists, among other graduate Nigerians – including two biochemists, a physicist, a historian, and an engineer, under the direct supervision of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, a Phd holder, himself, this brand new EXCOF would not be permitted the luxury of giving excuses for failure.

But in this pack are seasoned politicians, academicians and educationist, managers of both human and resources, legal luminaries, information technology experts and many more. This perhaps explains why their principal, Jonathan, while inaugurating them declared that he has absolute confidence in their ability to deliver on assigned mandates.

Speaking at the ceremony which was attended by a capacity crowd at the Aso Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Jonathan told the new cabinet members that he would continually monitor them to ensure that they are accountable for all their actions. “At the outset let me say clearly that I have confidence in this team, which I believe reflects the ambition of the Federal Government to take bold steps in all sectors. Our people demand the best because mediocre performance will not be enough to meet the high expectations of the moment”.

He however, promised that in order to ensure that the new appointees did not fail “I will, therefore, continually monitor and evaluate your performance. Each of you has a portfolio but our responsibility will also be collective. This means that we must support one another, because together each achieves more. To me, the best instrument for the measurement of development is the yardstick of a steady improvement in the quality of life of our people in all areas.  In the next two weeks my office will work with you to determine and agree on ministerial goals and targets including milestones”.

Already, as part of directive to cabinet members by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to hit the ground running the maiden meeting of the new EXCOF focused on the orientation of the Ministers on procurement guidelines and related matters. The orientation of the cabinet members is coming on the heels of perceived friction and bickering that have hitherto existed between ministers and their permanent secretaries who are the accounting officers of their respective ministries.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that as part of plans to ensure that there exists a harmonious working relationship between civil servants and political office holders, the Acting President approved that the  meeting be used to orientate the new appointees on standard practices as far as due process is concerned. Briefing State House Correspondents, Minister of Information and Communication, Mrs Dora Akunyili, in the company of her State Counterpart, Mr Labaran Maku, the Head of Service of the Federation, HOSF, Mr Steve Oronsanya and the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement, (BPP), Mr Emeka Eze, said the meeting was to brief stakeholders on government’s expectation on due process.

She said “the code of conduct is the same for everybody.  What we did was to bring out certain rules and regulations to their attention and did advise that they should be conversant with these rules and regulations because the permanent secretaries who are the accounting officers will always play by the rules. You will find out if you come with a certain perception or expectation and that expectation maybe real and you don’t find out you will be constrained by the rules and regulations and you are frustrated. So, it was thought that from the very beginning these rules should be placed squarely before them so that they know what it is until those rules are changed if they do not meet the intention of government.

“The relationship between ministers and ministers of state came up during the discussion because it is a very important factor in ensuring that we work amicably to ensure that we deliver the dividends of democracy to the good people of this country but I want us to know that this problem actually depends on individuals.  They are not created per se by the job; they are created by the individual and as such when the individuals decide to work with one another as a family knowing that you are working for the same people, the same government, the same country, friction shouldn’t really arise. So we believe that this time around, those differences that were noticed would be sorted out since we have started the discussions today. In the future we are going to come up with more details”.

With a new cabinet already in place, and members are well equipped on their expectations.  Indeed one can convincingly say that this cabinet would have no excuse to fail in terms of delivering on its mandate.

But in making the postings, certain interests and concerns were assuaged.  For instance, it was learnt that some of the oil majors wanted Mrs Deziani Alison-Madueke as Petroleum Resources minister.  They had their way.

Then there is the debonair Mr. Henry Odein Ajumogobia, who now heads the Foreign Affairs ministry.  Jonathan, Sunday Vanguard was informed, wanted a clear departure from the type of representation that Nigeria has had lately.  For Josephine Anenih, whose contribution to womanhood is well known, no other ministry would have been more appropriate for her than the Women Affairs ministry.  Olutoyin Aganga, who heads Finance, was boss of Goldman Sachs International, London, the world leading global investment bank.

The other issue Jonathan had to contend with even as the EXCOF was the feeling in some states that though politicians were appointed, most of them were distant politicians from whom the benefits of the appointment might never percolate to members at the state level.

But Jonathan’s concern is not the concern of some party apparatchiks.  For the Acting President, it is all about performance in the light of limited time.  An example is the appointment of southerners to some ministries otherwise perceived as reserved for northerners.  The reason for this is because Jonathan is more concerned with results and achievements than geo-political masturbation.  Portfolios like those of Defence, Finance were assigned to northerners.


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