By Tonnie Iredia
Professor Grace Alele-Williams is ever positively in our thoughts not only for her invaluable services to the University of Benin as Vice-Chancellor but also for her series of publications many years earlier, on ‘Mathematics Made Easy’. The publications we must confess rescued many of us from the burden of poor performance in examinations which in our days had mathematics as a compulsory subject.
Bearing in mind that society and its people are the better for it whenever those with knowledge choose to bequeath it to posterity, we resolved that our wide experience in public enlightenment on elections and politics should guide today’s article. We imagine that those who since May 29, have been lobbying to become ministers would find some useful hints in this piece.
Nigerians are no doubt justifiably tired of countless years of non-performing governments and now that we have for the first time, a doctorate holder like President Goodluck Jonathan; it is time to bid farewell to mediocre ministers.
Thus, in our First Lesson on the subject, we cannot over emphasize the advantage which very well-qualified candidates can have over others, especially those who in addition also have a track record of excellent performance. So, aspirants who fall short of these traits should go back to the drawing board and work harder for the future. But can we really say that illiterates cannot make it? Not exactly; a few can still pass through zoning and federal character.
In Lesson 2, we admonish every ministerial aspirant to belong to the ruling political party. This is critical because the President who is the appointing authority of ministers belongs to it and with Nigeria’s bread and butter type of politics, the party will for a long time to come continue to win every national election.
Yes, it is true that we all voted for President Jonathan and as such he should be able to appoint any strong candidate from among us irrespective of political affiliation moreso, if he is to meet his transformation agenda, but he has a duty as a loyal party man to watch the body language of his party. By the way, he belongs to a party whose numerical strength is so overwhelming that to manage it has been an illusion.
It is, therefore, expedient to sensitise ministerial candidates to the fact that the said party to which they must belong accommodates every type of Nigerian-the good, the bad, the fine, the ugly, the rich, the poor, the religious, the criminal etc. Indeed, many politicians in the other parties are at the same time members of our ruling party-they are only away on leave of absence though for unspecified periods and are allowed to return, and leave again according to the vagaries of political weather.
Most importantly, the policy making body of the party is not only top-heavy and unwieldy but is populated by hawks, ethnic chieftains and local war lords. Incidentally, these are the people whose recognition of any person as a member of the party in a state is crucial making them the ones to determine the 10 names to be forwarded from every state for patronage. Here, sycophants and blood relations of the local heroes have advantage. There is nothing any aspirant can do about this aspect of state of origin requirement because, the supreme law of the land-our constitution affirms it in its Section 147(3).
If what we have said so far implies that to be a minister is a hard nut to crack, it probably would not be so for women in this age of affirmative action. During electioneering, women politicians used music and attractive dance steps to illuminate the rally venues and got assurances that they would constitute 35 per cent of the next set of ministers.
While it may be hard to renege on those assurances at this point, our Lesson 3 stresses the need for women to be weary of their own ranks because their chances may be blocked not by men but by their fellow women. The political culture of our womenfolk seems to confirm this, as no woman delegate voted for the only female candidate during the presidential primaries of the ruling party. We hear that female legislators were in the forefront in the defeat of the female candidate for the post of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
What about if a ministerial candidate is the nominee of a head of government? Our Lesson 4 accepts that as an advantage but cautions that these days; party members can defy constituted authority at whatever level. If not, the speaker of the house of representative and his deputy would have been different from the present holders of those offices.
Nominees of state governors are similarly not guaranteed of becoming ministers. Otherwise, Plateau elders would not have objected to each of their governors two nominees. Any Berom candidate needs ample prayers to overcome the machinations of those elders.
In the case of the Taraba State nominee, the three senators from the state blocked the re-nomination of their former minister notwithstanding his backing by their governor. What this suggests is that any former minister who wants reappointment must in addition to being sponsored by a powerful leader, prove that during his first appointment, there was no disconnect between him and his constituency. How best should this be done? From the current posture of the Senate, it does not appear that the Taraba senators wanted any material inducement from the former minister.
This is a convenient point to unveil Lesson 5 on the confirmation of ministerial nominees by the Senate. A few years back, a nominee who later became minister of the Federal Capital Territory scandalised the Senate when he publicly named the ‘distinguished’ members who asked him to bribe them before he could be confirmed. Gone are those days; the present Senate has integrity- N900,000 only is the monthly salary of the Senate Leader.
Despite this new low economic profile, one senator, the other day alerted the nation that some money-bags were chasing them about to materially influence the confirmation of certain ministerial-nominees. Any nominee who chooses to disbelieve this story because the money-bags were neither named nor reported to EFCC is simplistic. Those of us in journalism believe the story because the senator to whom it was credited was our former president. In addition, the Senate started well by confirming 14 nominees in 48 hours!
We need to warn ministerial-nominees not to assume that the lessons in this article have been overtaken by events because the process is still on as some nominees are being replaced. Besides, the next ministerial appointments may not be too far away- it could even be next month going by the history of cabinet reshuffle in Nigeria.
We, however, admit that our lessons certainly do not concern nominees who are present or former members of the National Assembly and their campaign coordinators. They only need to take a bow and go.