By Tonnie Iredia
During Nigeria’s second republic, certain ministers and a few other political office-holders who paraded the corridors of power as close associates of the President were loathed nationwide for their perceived roles in the conduct of government business. There was the generally-held opinion that such persons and not President Shehu Shagari were responsible for whatever went wrong with the nation’s governance.
Indeed, the then President was seen as simple, humble, un-ambitious and a God-sent leader who could not hurt even a fly. We were among the few who at the time disagreed philosophically with that popular but simplistic reasoning. We were, of course, conscious of the adage that ‘birds of the same feathers plummage together’ and since as our people say, ‘a goat does not give birth to a dog,’ we reckoned logically that a President with so much virtues should have no business appointing dubious aides or be comfortable in their company.
The mathematical assertion ‘that quantities equal to the same quantities are equal’ is probably a better way to make the point.
Buck-passing in any event is a common human phenomenon.
While everyone seeks to explain why he is not at fault or how he played his own part well, the buck stops at the table of the leader. For this reason, a leader should neither get involved in buck-passing nor should he use whatever strategy to build the image of a great man who happens to be unfortunate to have bad aides; yet he appointed them.
Accordingly, as Nigeria is today in the hands of President Goodluck Jonathan, what becomes of the nation during his administration is his personal challenge. To succeed, he must bring on board, persons who have a track record to perform well. Ministerial competence must, therefore, be the basis for selecting our next set of ministers.
First, there is a need to keep the figure small knowing that too many cooks can spoil the soup. Yes, our constitution provides for a minister from each state. In line with that provision, the President should stick to no more than 37 instead of the 42 ministers we had in the past.
To appoint additional six ministers to represent the six geo-political zones is not only wasteful; the constitution did not demand that. Several ministers in one ministry does not also suggest prudence in the handling of government business. So is the case with ministers who are usually assigned to what is described as ‘special duties’ when all duties can be arranged to fall into the available ministries.
Actually, the President should leave his name in gold by sending a bill to the National Assembly to amend the constitution to reduce our ministers to a manageable figure of less than 20. That would also reduce the large army of special assistants that currently drains our resources.
The next set of ministers should not be drawn from a list sent in by state branches of the ruling party. If that is done, as the current rumour on the subject suggests, we can hardly get a good team. Party executives, most of whom are stark illiterates, will, as usual, nominate themselves. Some of them will nominate their relations and friends who will be obliged to sacrifice good performance through satisfying the ‘godfather’. Some of them will be so distracted that they would be unable to comprehend the contents of a simple memo.
We recall one such minister in our service years who said he could not approve our request because the cost of the project was not indicated in our memo to which we attached all the relevant tender documents including the approved due process certificate for the project.
If, however, President Jonathan is anxious to prove to be a good party man by deferring to his party on this matter, he should at least provide a set of criteria for nominating ministers which everyone has to abide with. Every nominator, for example, should indicate the best ministry for his nominee together with evidence of his previous excellent performance in the sector. If this is done, everyone’s appointment should speak for itself.
Imagine an Okonjo-Iweala in Finance. While there is nothing really wrong in being a loyal party man, the Nigeria of today with its infrastructural challenges requires a competent operator even if he is a party man. We indeed, need to be careful about undue emphasis on party membership because many party members are usually engaged in anti-party activities during elections as some members of the ruling party did during the last elections to the extent that some people wanted them disciplined.
In addition, some party members often vote against their own candidates as the Action Congress of Nigeria did in states like Lagos, Edo, Oyo, etc. where they massively voted for President Jonathan instead of their own Nuhu Ribadu. Therefore, a man like Jonathan with a ‘pan-Nigerian’ mandate has no business with party sentiments.
Confused persons should have no place in our ministerial list. A good example of a confused person is someone who supposedly loves the legislative arm so much and fights hard to be in it. He then becomes a senator and while there schemes to become a minister in the executive arm.
Such a serving senator that finds his way into the executive arm is obviously an interloper with an agenda different from the need to serve. His appointment to that arm makes sense only if he is to serve as a liaison between the executive and the legislature. We must also be careful about the number of persons in the ministerial list from only one profession. In the last cabinet, we had as many as five eminent lawyers who should really come in because of the ministry of justice. Of course, lawyers are learned and can be useful in many places, but to have as many as five of them with due respect to those my learned colleagues may not necessarily be an advantage. Rather, it can provoke prolonged arguments and indeed reduce the merit of aggregating diverse knowledge and experience.
What about patronage or job for the boys? Nothing is wrong with that, especially seeking to reward the army of thugs that usually helps our politicians to violently win elections. Our premise is that everyone should be rewarded according to his ability. Thugs as we all know can hardly serve well as ministers except if fighting will be on the agenda at executive council meetings. Friends too, may not be particularly useful as some of them in our nation often see their appointment as an invitation by their friend to become wealthy. So are those who lose elections.
When they are appointed into office, the impression created is that their loss was wrong hence they are being compensated with a post to recoup election expenses. To appoint ministers could thus be tedious. It is, therefore, expedient to take time to do it while the watch word must be ministerial competence. So, let us remember the treatise of erudite Jerry Gana and appoint ministers who would minister well. It’s Goodluck to President Jonathan.