For the love of us, I hope the noisemakers, sorry, ministers are allowed to settle down to work. For the love of country I pray the ministers themselves realise the enormity of their responsibility. And I pray they appreciate the fact that they are deemed to have been in place since May 29 and that is how they would be judged. In case they don’t realise, the government they are serving in has a four-year mandate that is nearly six months gone, that is one-eighth of the tenure!
Straightaway, I can identify two sets of people who may not allow the ministers settle down to work. On the one hand are those who would go celebrating that some persons they know or whom they believe to represent their (often primordial) interests have become ministers. That, as we know, is the basis of prebendalism. They are the ones who would roll out drums (including in regular and social media etc.) to announce the excellent quality of those persons and thank the president for his ‘benevolence’ in appointing those ones.
There is also the category of citizens who would be criticising who has been assigned to what office. Suddenly, we would hear terms like ‘juicy’ ministries, ‘grade A’ ministries and all sorts of outrageous descriptions. There is never a dull moment for us Nigerians to consider everything and anything through different prisms, including ethnic, religious and state of origin lenses. Soon, we are going to hear about the grading of ministries and which ethnic group or geopolitical region has been better positioned than others. We are going to dwell on why a state ought to have been assigned substantive ministerial position, not minister of state and all that bla.
While I appreciate that there may be very good reason to question some of the positions, I think we should give the appointing authority the benefit of the doubt and realise that there is no way every interest could be satisfied. The choice of those to appoint and what to assign to them is, after all, the prerogative of the president.
One fact I would want us to appreciate is that for the first time, the list of ministers is limited to just 36. This satisfies the constitutional requirement to select a minister from each state, even though technically, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has been left out. Many of us had over the years canvassed for the limitation on the number of ministers but were always ignored. One is equally happy to see the streamlining of ministries, albeit with room for improvement in terms of alignment.
Just thinking, what ever happened to the quest for similarly lean governments in the states? In this era of dwindling resources, one thought it was a no brainer that lean government should be one of the natural consequences of the crisis. But that is not so in some states which have still come up with a bloated governance architecture. A good example is Cross River State where the new governor has increased the number of ministries there to 28! Yes, you read that correctly. There are 28 ministries and 28 commissioners in Cross River State. In doing so, the state executive council is larger than the state house of assembly. That is some record in Nigeria’s governance.
Back to our new ministers, one hopes they hit the ground running, if you permit the cliché. Nigerians waited nearly six months for their emergence and during the wait, it is expected that all the groundwork ought to have been accomplished to allow the new officers a smooth running of the administration. It is important for the new ministers to create opportunity for civil society input and citizens’ feedback to their work. Nigeria certainly has an active citizenry that should be involved in policy development and implementation. The days of operating the public service as a secret organisation should be over. There is also the burden for civil society with information and alternatives that may be useful to each of the new ministers to come forward with such.
We equally expect the legislature to help keep the ministers in check. However, I am sore worried for the conduct of the legislators so far. Just when I thought they have given us enough headaches with their wrangling and truancy, they throw up another reason to fight and actually do so. The reason again is about ‘juicy’ committee leadership. One hopes they soon overcome their bickering and get back to real work in order to hold the executive arm to account.
The worst that could happen to any democracy is for the legislature to be weak or ineffective in providing check on the executive arm. The leaders of the legislature should call their supporters to order and allow the parliament carry out its legitimate duties with the urgency the present situation has foisted on us.
(First published in The Niche newspaper on November 15, 2015)
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