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Undue secrecy over ministerial list

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Perhaps it is too late to expect President Muhammadu Buhari to deviate from the path perfected by his predecessors and toed by himself in 2015 – keeping the portfolios of his ministerial nominees secret until they have been cleared by the Senate.

President Muhammadu Buhari signing of the 2019 Appropriation Bill to law at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 27/05/2019

Section 147 of the Constitution 1999 (As Amended) simply gives the President the power to appoint his ministers subject to the confirmation of his nominees by the Senate within 21 days of receiving the ministerial list. It also directs that each state must have at least one minister and that the spread must reflect the Federal Character principle enshrined in Section 14.

Before the truncation of civilian rule in the Second Republic, the ruling parties openly negotiated the sharing formula of ministers (along with their portfolios) with other parties or groups with which they were in alliance or accord in winning elections.

The military made a great fetish of keeping the lists secret and only attached portfolios to the appointees after the military ruling councils approved the list of ministerial nominees.

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That culture is one of the military legacies that have remained with us in our 20 years of democratic rule. Another residue of the military era is the tendency of presidents to appoint themselves ministers, usually over the petroleum national cash-cow portfolio.

They never present themselves for screening nor do they give an account of their stewardship to the Senate as constitutionally mandated.

We claim to practice the American-style Presidential System, and yet we tend to pick and choose from among the time-tested traditions associated with it. In America, the ministerial nominees are announced together with their portfolios.

This gives the public and media ample opportunity to discuss the suitability or otherwise of the candidate for the job based on track records.

Nominating ministers and attaching portfolios to them only after the Senate has approved the list amounts to ambushing of the public and therefore undemocratic.

We call on the Senate to break this unwholesome practice by screening only nominees whose portfolios were attached together with their nomination. They should also desist from approving the President as a Minister.

Ministerial appointments must be more democratic and accountable.

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