By Ishola Balogun & Ebun Sessou
The view of many Nigerians is that President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial list read out by Senate President Bukola Saraki did not worth the long wait. But Constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Robert Clarke, has a different view.
In this interview he says there is wisdom in the wait which enabled the President to have a grasp of what is actually going on in the ministries before knowing who to appoint.
He however cautioned the Senate not to embark on a vendetta course as it will boomerang on the entire members of the upper chambers, adding that the idea of involving the anti graft agencies in the screening of nominees was only a huge joke. Excerpts
Nigerians have waited more than four months for these ministers; now that the wait is over, we are going to have more politicians than technocrats becoming ministers. Are you satisfied with the list?
First of all, let us make it clear to everybody that under the Nigeria Constitution, the President is not under obligation to appoint ministers if he does not want to. Section 5 of the Constitution says, “When a President is installed after having won an election, having declared his assets and having taken the oath of office, all executive powers in the federation is vested on him”.
What it means is that every act necessary for good governance in this country is vested in him. Except for the post of Attorney General which the Constitution has clearly designated, he can decide to handle every other ministry. The Attorney General is the only post the President can say, ‘I do not want to handle’ because it is a professional post and has been so designated in the Constitution.
But other posts that he feels he cannot handle, he will appoint ministers, and then send the nominees to the senate for approval. So, Nigerians should know that there is no law that makes Buhari to appoint ministers except he must appoint an Attorney General.
But in appointing ministers, the Constitution says, you must reflect the federal character in the sense that, you must appoint ministers from each of the 36 states. That again is if he wants to appoint. So, Buhari has said: ‘Look, since the buck stops on my table, before I appoint ministers, let me have an insight into what is going on in every ministry first.’
He has used this period to call the Permanent Secretaries to ask the position in the ministry, so that when he appoints a minister, it is not what he hears from a minister alone about that ministry, but he already knew about the ministry.
So, there is a wisdom in the delay. He wanted to be briefed of all the facts in the ministries and so, you cannot blame him for the delay. Now, back to your question; after all the delay, we should understand that ministers are political appointees and they must be politicians.
Rarely in any democracy do you find technocrats being appointed except a few of them. In America of today, many of their ministers are politicians. Although in one or two areas, they appoint technocrats. And if we must define technocrat, a politician who has governed a state, or a politician who has been a commissioner in a state has become a technocrat.
An accountant who has occupied a political post has become a technocrat. So, I believe that we need somebody who has been in government or has been in charge of governance to be appointed as minister.
And in the real sense, politics is a divisive game in Nigeria. In America, it is even worse. The Republicans do not want to see Obama or Hilary Clinton around them. They are divided on ideological ground, but here in Nigeria, the basis of our division is on ethnic and religious sentiments.
So, I see nothing wrong in all the people who have been appointed. I don’t see reasons why Nigerians should challenge the appointments. In the Nigeria’s context, these people have the rights to be appointed ministers and Buhari has not done anything wrong in appointing them. He can use technocrats as advisers.
He has not appointed his advisers and I am sure many of his advisers will be technocrats. He has done one in the Ministry of Petroleum, although he wants to handle the Petroleum Ministry himself. Obasanjo did it during his tenure for eight years even without background knowledge in the ministry.
Buhari has background knowledge in the petroleum industry. So, there is nothing wrong with that. It is a pity that Nigerians have short memory.
We have heard a lot of comments about the nomination of Chief Audu Ogbe who was a minister in 1983, over three decades ago, and now coming again as a minister?
If tomorrow, I am appointed a minister, will you use the element of age against me with all my experience? Age does not affect the ability to perform as minister. He was relatively a young man of 36 then. Now in his 60s, he is not an old man as you have portrayed. You cannot wither the background of the experience he is bringing in.
He is somebody who has been a chairman of a party and armed with the ability to relate with people. These are what you need to perform well as minister. In the law profession, the older you are, the better judge you are on the bench.
You can’t buy experience; a young man who is brilliant but without experience will first have to learn when you put him in a position. He will start first to accumulate experience. So, knowledge without experience is nothing. People who relate age with appointment do not know what they are saying.
With the floodgate of petitions against some of the nominees at the national assembly, do you think the screening will not be used for settling scores?
If I write petition against the Senators, all the 103 Senators as constituted today may not be free. No Nigerian who has held office in this country can be absolutely be free of one offence or the other. There are several Nigerians who have enough information about each one of them.
From the declaration of assets alone, not all of them will be free. I know a particular Senator who has been a member of the house before and who has been showing himself in the pages of newspaper and social media how rich he is.
If you ask a few Nigerians to write petition against him, it will not be a difficult thing. The petitions submitted against them are not borne out of god intention; they are based on personal animosity.
The leadership of the Senate recently vowed to do a thorough job to ensure that persons with questionable characters are not confirmed as ministers. Now, there was a report that they might involve the anti-graft agencies in the screening of the nominees; what is your take?
They must be joking. If the Senate believes they can bring in EFCC and ICPC in screening of the nominees, they will be threading on a very dangerous path. If that is true, my advice to them is to stop it because it is going to backfire because none of them will pass if they are subjected to the scrutiny of the EFCC.
Once they do it, people will write petitions to EFCC against them. I am afraid that they are starting a game which they don’t know the end. What do EFCC and ICPC have to do with the screening of the nominees? Nothing, except it is a vendetta and the earlier we stop that kind of politics, the better for us. The President has brought them in after doing his own check.
I am aware that certain proposed ministers today have been a thorn in the flesh of the APC during the campaign and they don’t want to see them. The anti-graft crusade of the President is highly appreciated by a lot of Nigerians and the international community is helping us. A lot of our monies are going to be retrieved from overseas.
So, why shouldn’t we be happy? Those who are not happy are those who are afraid that very soon a searchlight is going to be beamed on them.
Do you see this new crop of nominees as the agents of change Nigeria needs at this point?
I am not a magician. If there is a change in the mold of governance which we are seeing from President Buhari, I believe it will reflect down too. They cannot afford not to do that which the President is doing. One of the problems in the past was that ministers assumed the control of accounting process in their ministries.
They awarded contracts to themselves; in the process, they diverted funds merely because the circumstance in which they were serving permitted it. With Buhari in the saddle, things will change. Before their appointments, he had studied every ministry, and now he knows what is going on in every ministry. So if a minister is not doing what is expected of him, he will be sacked.