By Tonnie Iredia
The announcement a few days back by President Muhammadu Buhari that the present federal executive council would soon be expanded to bring in more ministers must have come as a welcome relief to some Nigerians.
Members of the ruling All Progressive Congress APC are understandably likely to be the most excited, because apart from the assurances of the President that they would be the major beneficiaries, it is in the character of political systems particularly in developing societies to use government offices for partisan patronage.
We also know that Nigeria’s political class harbours an exceedingly high level of unemployed persons who are in dire need of means of livelihood in addition to a large team of dependents who have no expertise to convert to gainful employment.
But the question of whether the president’s decision is politically right or not is superfluous because he is legally covered by Section 147 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, as amended, which empowers him to appoint at least one minister from each state of the federation. So, it might appear indiscrete to question the legality of the decision bearing in mind that the current numerical strength of our ministers is the least allowed.
However, since the purpose of the constitution is for it to be used in the best interest of the nation, we need to convince ourselves that the express words of the constitution are never used against the spirit upon which they rest. Accordingly, an increase in the current number of ministers can only be supported if it can improve the well-being of the nation.
Put differently, we need to be assured that whatever problem the nation is currently facing is attributable to a shortage in its ministerial figure. But because that is not our current problem, our appeal is for the president to review the intended expansion of the list of ministers with a view to solving our current problem which happens to be “big government.”
We do not need a list of ministers big enough to equal other peoples’ parliament. An unwieldy executive council is not the only problem, we also need to reduce our bloated bureaucracies because of the correlation between obesity and lethargy.
Whereas some Nigerians may have chosen to understand what is coming to be a rejigging of government through the injection of fresh blood, it appears that the real intention is to add to the present big government made up of good performers. Which minister is in all honesty not doing well now? Is it super Agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh whose commendable ministerial report provoked a vote of confidence by the ministers on Buhari’s leadership the other day?
Could it be any of those in the economic team that have virtually taken Nigeria out of recession and given us a pride of place among nations internationally recognized as places with ease of doing business? However, because the public is not privy to the specific targets handed to the ministers, we may not know those who have not done well to question any replacements. Cases calling for review such as the often mentioned ‘one-man- three ministries’ can strategically be re-drawn but to increase the figure by adding to the current list is in our view ill-advisable.
As a developing society, Nigeria must in her search for growth and development endeavour to peep into what those who are getting things right are doing. To seek to quench the thirst of APC members through covert pressure by the ruling party may not in the end be salutary because Buhari was neither elected by only APC members nor was he mandated through popular votes to govern the APC by meeting the yearnings of its members. It is therefore incontestable that the interest of our polity must be uppermost in whatever Buhari elects to do as president of Nigeria. The implication of this is that being the president of us all, including those who voted against him, an increase of ministers where necessary which is not the instant case should be for all Nigerians to fill with those best capable of doing a particular job coming first in the president’s consideration. In other words, being an APC member should serve only as an added advantage. Even at that, many of us know too many so- called APC members with both legs also in other political parties!
Interestingly, President Buhari is not just a typical president but one who having come into office through a rejection of the indulgences of the past must do things differently. With his eyes clearly on the verdict of history, he must distance himself from the profligacy of after selecting one minister per state, the president goes ahead to please his party by adding another set of six ministers supposedly to represent what is called geo-political zones.
This created divisiveness, disharmony and lethargy in our ministries. For instance, it led to the posting of 3 ministers to foreign affairs who never synergized to meet the standard created by General Joseph Garba who was sole minister in the 1970s in the same ministry during Nigeria’s glorious years of diplomatic activism. In line with global realities therefore, President Buhari should reduce our big government to 19 ministers selected from the old 19 contiguous states including Abuja.
All he needs to do is to send a bill to the legislature to amend the constitutional provision which presently compels him to appoint no less than 37. With Nigeria holding the enviable record of having a constitution whose title includes “as amended”, honesty of purpose of the executive will see it through. Another president may not succeed in the venture
The decision of the president to quickly conclude the constitution of boards of agencies and parastatals, is probably a softer ground where the alleged contribution of party members to the success of the party can be rewarded.
Even at that, it should not be a harvest in which agencies’ scarce budgets are diverted to self-serving board members. Painfully, the politicians are already celebrating the president’s statement that the appointments will be made soon because “the economy is improving and we will have the resources to cater for the appointees.” Except controlled, the forthcoming board to be made up of Buhari’s party members will embarrass the president and the nation.