By Tonnie Iredia

Two Nigerian Ministers, Mohammed Nanono and Saleh Mamman, were last Wednesday relieved of their appointments. The two who were previously in charge of the Ministries of Agriculture/Rural Development and Power respectively ceased forthwith to be members of the Federal Executive Council. As if to establish that the subject had been concluded, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Minister of Environment, was assigned to take charge of the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, while Engr. Abubakar D. Aliyu, Minister of State, Works & Housing was asked to assume office as the Minister of Power.

According to President Muhammadu Buhari, the changes were effected in a bid to reinvigorate his cabinet and consolidate legacy achievements. This was done after the contributions of Nanono and Mamman wereconsidered weak following a strategic review of performances in the executive council.

Although commentators and analysts were not privy to the criteria for the assessments, opinions were divided as to the usefulness of the exercise. Many critics felt it was too late in the day to make changes with about a mere 16months to the end of the tenure of government. Some analysts however think it’s better late than never adding that they had actually looked forward to such a review for so long in view of loud criticisms of the government on what was believed to be poor performance.

Under the circumstance, the exercise was considered salutary as the two ministries affected were quite critical to good governance. The subsisting across-the-board pain of poor power supply must have no doubt been exacerbated by huge increases in the prices of food items occasioned by an underperformed agricultural sector of the economy.

No wonder many supported the changes even without understanding their rationale. Indeed, it is good that for once, an attempt has been made since 2015 to establish that some in-built review mechanism exists in the executive council that could make ministers accountable. This became clearer when the President while explaining the basis for the sack revealed that “the tradition of subjecting our projects and programs implementation to independent and critical self-review has taken firm roots through sector Reporting during Cabinet meetings and at Retreats.”

If truly this was also done at about the same time during the President’s first tenure of office, does it mean that everyone passed the test at that time? If so, that is likely to be difficult to buy because complaints at the middle of the first term were no less loud. For this reason, the changes made this time were received with mixed feelings.

If some citizens were not excited about the negligible nature of the cabinet reshuffle, many more disbelieved the reasons given for the sack of the two ministers. There is the speculation that the President finally found direct evidence to remove ministers with questionable conduct. While this could not be immediately ascertained, perhaps the speculations gained ground on account of the widely held belief that there was corruption in a government which came to power amidst hopes by the people that it was best positioned to fight corruption. Yet, allegations of corruption against highly placed top office holders in government were largely discountenanced. For example, several controversial and negative reports were made against Nanono, the former minister of Agriculture and Rural development.

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Such reports included the alleged use of N1billion to renovate an old office after N7billion had been spent on getting a permanent office that was abandoned. During his tenure, his ministry came under investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ICPC over an alleged misappropriation of N16 billion. The outcome was yet to be made public before the minister’s sack was announced. But despite this, Nanono reportedly recorded some achievements prominent among them being his ability to champion the National Fertilizer Quality Control Act 2019 as a vital component of the Agricultural Policy of government.

The goal was to reposition Nigeria fertiliser industry and the agro-economy from oil and gas to agribusiness. During the lockdown, the ministry also procured fertiliser, seeds and some farm implement for a number of farmers to mitigate the challenges of COVID-19 impact on farmers across the country. Nanono was also credited with increasing the capacity of the quantity of seed and seedlings produced in the country to up to 81,000 metric tonnes in addition to policies he introduced to strengthen the seed sector.

Some of these reports may have helped the minister to be in high spirits, notwithstanding the sudden end to his tenure. Apart from the fact that the President was said to have met with the two sacked ministers to thank them for their contributions while in office, the former minister of Power Saleh Mamman, one day after his sack, was quoted to have stated in a post on social media that he achieved “giant strides” within his two years as minister. This has made it more difficult for Nigerians to understand the exact nature of assessment which informed the removal of the ministers.

Could it be that they were merely assisted with soft-landing? The argument is that if it was just a matter of performance, there are several other areas where performance has been consistently low, yet nothing happened to those in charge of such areas. Here, the Defence sector comes readily to mind. Insecurity has not only been our greatest challenge of the decade; it also largely accounts for poor performance across other sectors. For instance, insecurity has been a major barrier to farmers’ productivity, thereby leading to short supply of foodstuffs and an increase in the prices of food items. 

The point in emphasis is that governance in Nigeria has, in difficult times, been tied to systemic issues that could make it difficult to properly assess ministers. Two examples can be cited here. First, uniformed officials of different agencies extort money on the highways from vendors conveying foodstuff from the rural areas thereby increasing the landing cost of the items.  Second, Electricity Distribution Companies cherish estimated billings and create artificial scarcity by reselling to consumers, hoarded meters already paid for by government thereby complicating the polity.

These two examples can hardly help us to identify the real performing Agriculture and Power Ministers. We may therefore need to mitigate the situation by taking further steps to ensure that only fit and proper persons with requisite cognate experience are assembled and appropriately targeted. This will be difficult to attain with our current political arrangements in which the legislature premises the clearance of nominees simplistically on political expediency only.

Our current National Assembly which boasts as the first to attain ample harmony with the Executive branch ought to use its good working relations to get the President to send along with the list of ministerial nominees, the proposed portfolios for each for proper identification of who is best to be minister of what. Without that, the clearance of ministerial nominees would remain a matter of trial and error.

Secondly, the system of ‘bow and go clearance’ would continuously leave in the sub consciousness of nominees that they are free to perform as they feel with nothing to hold them against after the point of clearance. Without prejudice to an internal mechanism of review by which the government says it now assesses ministers, Nigeria must ab initio depart from the mundane practice of appointing persons to execute functions for which they are largely ill-equipped.

The Nigerian people that government is expected to serve deserve without doubt to be part of an open assessment framework for top office holders. Any member of government that is found wanting should not remain in office for longer than necessary or be given soft landing after much damage.

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