By Ochereome Nnanna
IT is three days to the end of September 2015, the magic month within which President Muhammadu Buhari promised to appoint his ministers. It is expected that in spite of his foot-dragging and reluctance, he will publish the names of the nominees before Friday this week.
We saw him display the same foot-dragging and reluctance in fulfilling his pledge to make his assets declaration public “within the first 100 days”. After sending his spokesmen to deny he ever made such a pledge, he and his Vice President unveiled their assets on the 87th day, though Buhari did not allow us to know in concrete terms how much he is worth.
Mind you, that he unveils his ministerial nominees does not mean they will start work soon. In fact, it is not certain when the Federal Executive Council (FEC) will become functional. The president’s open disdain for the offices of ministers of the federal republic shows he won’t care a hoot how long it takes for them to fully come on board. The president and some leaders of his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are seen to be spearheading the rift with the leadership of the Senate, the very body constitutionally empowered to approve his ministerial nominees. If the president were eager to have his cabinet in place as soon as possible, he would have stayed true to his earlier undertaking to work with whoever emerged as the leaders of the Federal Legislature.
Since Buhari took over four months ago, he has fallen in love with Permanent Secretaries and Directors in the Federal Civil Service; the very nest of corruption. No political appointee can take a dime out of government coffers without the collusion of civil servants. According to him in an interview with a French television station while visiting France recently, these dutiful civil servants are the ones “doing the work” everyday. Ministers, he added, are mere “noisemakers”. Left to him, he will prefer to work with the civil servants and dispense with ministers.
Some Nigerians have applauded him for this outburst, saying he was “brutally frank” while some even said he displayed “courage” in calling ministers dirty names. Unfortunately for him and them, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, at Section 147, directs the president to appoint ministers from each state of the federation. Section 148 spells out the functions of the ministers and makes it clear that he must meet them regularly.
Ministers and civil servants have their jobs clear cut out for them by law. None can take the place of the other. It is strange that a man who ruled this country thirty years ago as a military officer and had no problem with appointing and working with ministers is now displaying open hostility to those offices. During his military days, he suspended the constitution. He was thus not bound by any law to appoint ministers yet he did without being prompted. But now that the constitution binds to appoint ministers, why is Buhari bellicose and spitting fire?
Before we offer our insights into that, let us make it clear that ministers are very important in every regime, irrespective of the type of government in place. Apart from the efforts of the Nigerian constitution to make it a mechanism to carry every state in the federation along even by a regime that heavily tends to monolithic sectionalism such as Buhari’s, they are there as agents of the president and his ruling party within the machinery of governance.
The party (APC) campaigned based on a set of manifestoes and promises and the electorate gave their majority votes to it instead of renewing PDP’s mandate. Buhari is expected by the constitution to appoint qualified APC members from all parts of the country to mann his cabinet as ministers. Though most people often clamour for “technocrats” (rather than “politicians”) to be given ministerial jobs, Section 147(5) of the constitution says such nominees must be qualified to be members of the House of Reps, which means they must be card-carrying members of political parties.
The implication of these are obvious: the Federal Executive Council (FEC) chaired by the President with the Vice President as the vice Chairman is a body made up of elected and appointed members of (largely) the ruling party. If ministers are “noisemakers”, then so is the president. It is the same constitution that insists that the president and his deputy must be politicians that also affirms that ministers must be party members. The job of ministers is to act as the political heads of the ministries and drive the president’s (and ruling party’s) domestic and foreign policies, programmes and visions. They are also to advise the president and carry out any instructions he may dish out to them in their respective ministries.
Civil servants, on the other hand, are permanent staff of the state whose job is to carry out instructions issued by the political heads of their ministries and departments in line with the strict rules of the civil service. They are forbidden to belong to political parties or betray allegiance to any political group. This makes it possible for them to serve under the regime of any president and political party that wins election.
So, why is Buhari suddenly reluctant to appoint ministers when he showed no such trait as a military ruler? The answer could be discerned from the way he has approached governance so far. In constituting his “kitchen cabinet” or the “inner circle”; people whose jobs demand that they see him every day (Service Chiefs, personal advisers, assistants, heads of sensitive federal institution that control revenue and the economy, elections, and the security of state) Buhari picked only people he knows and “trusts”. These people have tended to be mainly from his own part of the country. He calls them the “long suffering” loyalists who worked for him even when there was no hope of success.
He has also, in the past four months, courted and secured the direct loyalties of top federal bureaucrats, a potentially dangerous aspect that could predispose them to political influences of the president. These are the people he now feels “comfortable” to work with.
What about his fellow APC leaders; those who jumped on the bandwagon in the past eighteen months during which the merger took place? What about the “new” PDP which swelled their ranks, thus tilting victory to him? He felt “comfortable” receiving the “rogues” and “saints” among them; accepting their billions in campaign funding, smiling for the cameras while they dressed him in borrowed robes to entice voters. He swam in their hyperbolic propaganda. Everything they brought to help him win he collected; no one who came forward, and nothing they brought was considered too “dirty”.
As soon as he achieves his objective of becoming an elected president he reverts to his old mode of seeing “politicians” as “dirty” people, forgetting that he is now one of them; has been since 2003.
Buhari may well be building a very strong personal power base, sidetracking the vehicle that brought him to power and using his personal disciples and the federal bureaucracy to run a civilian dictatorship. Even when the ministers come, they may find themselves mere figureheads and passengers in Buhari’s government.
The fact that a crowd of ill-regarded ministers (“noisemakers”) is brought in might not douse the regional dominance and agenda (rather than party agenda) that have been unfolding.
It might well be a fostering of the “97%/5%” formula that makes Buhari a president who belongs to some Nigerians and not to the others.