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Scrap the post of Minister of State

By Tonnie Iredia
When Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of State (Health) resigned his appointment last month to assume the position of Professor in an American university, President Goodluck Jonathan, was reported to have seen it as evidence that “his star-studded cabinet was attracting global attention”.

For some reasons, not many believed that Pate’s departure from the cabinet was an all-is-good affair. To some, it was like Andrew checking out. First, that the resignation was with immediate effect looked suspect. Second, it appeared he did not have enough time to give proper notice and undertake a fairly detailed handing over process. Meanwhile, the same university reportedly offered him the job as far back as 2009.

An important stakeholder in the health sector – the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) believes that the minister was forced to resign. According to the PSN President, Mr. Olumide Akintayo, President Jonathan should “be bold enough to tackle the forces that frustrated Pate out of the system by reacting appropriately.”

Pate is believed to have resigned because of irreconcilable differences between him and the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, on the delegation of duties and power in the ministry. To corroborate this, Pate did not in his exit statement, give Chukwu any mention but glowingly acknowledged the contribution of his driver, security aides and other personal staff to his work.

There is even the allegation that Chukwu and Pate were hardly seen together. According to unrefuted media reports, both ministers did not sit together as one delegation to share thoughts during the last World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland. Yet, President Jonathan’s admonition is that, each minister “must know everything about his ministry”.

As members of the federal executive council who are entitled to participate in the weekly meetings of the council, one is tempted to see some level of equality among our ministers.

After all, they were all cleared by the senate as fit and proper persons to hold the post of minister.  Interestingly however, as soon as portfolios are shared, those designated as ministers of state suddenly become spare tyres like deputy governors in the states. Even the legislature that had found them worthy begins to despise them.

A good example being the case of Dr. Yerima Lawal Ngama, Minister of State (Finance) who was once disallowed to present to the legislature, certain information needed to deal with a finance matter. The legislature had insisted that the information could only be presented by Minister, Okonjo Iweala.

Why can’t any of the 2 ministers in a ministry provide any information about the ministry? Why was Ngama nominated and cleared as a Minister? Again, why does he attend the federal executive council meetings and more relevant to this article, why should he know anything about his Ministry?

What the posture of our law makers suggested concerning the ministry of finance issue was that the minister of state was not a real minister and that he was not actually needed in the ministry. Even if we dismiss the action of the legislators as egoistic, we may not be able to adduce enough evidence to convince workers in our ministries that a minister and the minister of state in a particular ministry have any ambience of compatibility.

President Jonathan was humorously accurate during the signing of the Performance Agreement with his ministers in 2012 when he said: “If Minister A does not know what Minister B is doing and Minister B does not know what Minister A is doing, but the Permanent Secretary knows everything that all of you are doing, the Permanent Secretary becomes a boss of the two ministers and the Permanent Secretary can use your heads to hit yourselves and just laugh at you”.

As at today, the reality is that a minister of state does not know what happens in his ministry as ministers hardly involve their ministers of state in the activities of the ministry.  Even if ministers are disposed towards teamwork, their aides invent several stories to hit their heads against each other.

While some work to ensure that the minister of state shakes off any inferiority complex, others brief the main minister daily on the need for him to at all times establish that he is in charge. In the ministry of my sector – information – a staff once told me that the rebranding project was known to only the minister and her personal staff. Does that explain why the project was not sustained by the current minister of information who was previously the minister of state in the ministry?

When insecurity heightened in the nation in 2012, Dr Haliru Belo was dropped as the minister of defence but Olusola Obada, the minister of state was saved. What did the 2 ministers do or not do together? Could it be that only one of them was supposed to be vicariously liable for the problem at hand?

If so, that is the only minister we need. There is however the argument that because we have 42 ministers – a figure that is more than the number of ministries, more than one minister will have to be in some ministries. Why do we need 42 ministers? If it is so that every state can have a minister, we should not lose sight that as at today we still have only 36 states and Abuja. Those who argue that some ministries are too large for one minister should remember that our large nation has only one President.

In addition, if a ministry is very large, appointing for it, one minister and a minister of state cannot ensure decentralization for efficiency. What such a situation calls for, is a specification of each minister’s exclusive jurisdiction.

Two points are made. First, 2 ministers in the same ministry in Nigeria are hardly compatible notwithstanding some postures at public functions to hide their infighting.  Second, we only have idle ministers of state. But is our minister of state (Education) not quite visible these days?  He is, but not in his ministry which not having been able to settle its disputes with lecturers has left our universities in limbo for longer than makes sense.

 


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