A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON AUTO PILOT

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By Armsfree Ajanaku
THE framers of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution must have taken the enormity of governance into consideration when, in their wisdom, decided to create a space for ministers of the government of the federation.
And as if a pointer to the inclusiveness and broad character that must underlie governance, the Constitution makes it mandatory for each of Nigeria’s 36 states to produce, at least, one minister to work with the nation’s helmsman.
While the ministers hold their offices at the pleasure of the President, the constitution has envisaged them as inseparable components of the entire governance architecture.
Added to this are the various provisions that give the body of ministers, designated as the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) in the Constitution, wide powers to take certain fundamental decisions that go beyond policy making and implementation.
If, for instance, the President is incapacitated, the Executive Council of the Federation is one body the Constitution gives the powers to rescue the situation.
It is, therefore, apparent that the Constitution does not intend any form of sole administration in the governance of the country. This is why Section 147 provides, “there be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.”
The need for ministers as important parts of the governance architecture is reinforced by the provision in Section 148 (2), which holds that the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation. The purpose of those meetings include, determining the general direction of the government, coordinating its activities and advising the President in the discharge of his executive functions.
In the light of these clear insights as provided in the 1999 Constitution, the President’s leisurely pace with respect to the appointment of his cabinet is becoming a cause for concern. This posture runs contrary to what was promised Nigerians in those heady days of the campaigns, when the current governing party talked so glibly about hitting the ground running.
Frustration is building that the President who swept into office on the back of a near hysteric demand by the electorate for a decisive, urgent and clinical approach to governance, is somewhat pouring cold water on the momentum, thereby frittering away an important resource without which governance will be a nightmare: good will and public support. Going by the reality on the ground therefore, a convincing argument can be made that over one month after President Buhari took over the reins, the machinery of government is yet to begin running.
Talks about permanent secretaries being in place to carry on in the absence of minister miss the point. While it is true that the core civil servants, who have the technical expertise relating to their ministries are in place, the task of providing a broad vision around set goals, and coordinating all efforts, belongs to the minister.
As appointees of the President, the ministers are deemed to be people who understand and have ruminated extensively on the specific plans of the President, and are able to guide the implementation of those within the context of available resources. Significantly, there are specific ministries in which the civil servants cannot afford to be second-guessing the actual governing party position relating to what to do.
The delicate task of policy coordination and balancing requires that in these ministries, an appointee capable of interpreting the President’s and the governing party’s vision should be in place.
The ministries of power and that of health are cases in point, where someone who understands the issues from the outside is needed for things to run efficiently. If the section of the health workers union, which is already warming up for another round of strike decide to call for an industrial action, would the President jump into the fray to begin negotiations with them on his own?
On the other hand, it would be somewhat incongruous for a permanent secretary, who is merely concerned with the execution of decisions to be at the negotiating table to make promises that only political decision makers should make.
Even in the area of scrutinising ideas and policies, the core civil servants may want to be to appear to overbearing in directly critiquing the ideas of the President. A minister on the other hand, if he knows his onions can argue with his other colleagues and with the President on a particular policy direction. How about the close monitoring and supervision required to achieve results and get value for money?
Whatever may be going on at the moment cannot be coordinated in the sense in which it would have been, if there was a team of ministers. In fact, government business will be more efficiently coordinated with the presence of an efficient Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
The SGF is like the clearing house from where the streamlining of the multitude of policies, and plans, is done. In the absence of these key functionaries, it will not be difficult to discern that the machinery of government would most likely function below par.
If the nascent Buhari administration allows this state of things to continue, it would be read as a blatant lack of regard for the sensibilities of longsuffering Nigerians, who voted for him with the expectation that there would be a giant leap in terms of how government conducts its business.
Consequently, there are obvious implications of what is coming across as dithering on the part of the President. In the first place, the massive supply of goodwill and the ‘feel good’ period within which certain important things could have been put in motion would have been lost.
In other words, the aura and the inspiring factor that fired the imagination of the electorate, is gradually wearing off from the minds of the citizens. There is a price to pay for not seizing the moment, especially, when it comes to mobilising the people to support some signature policies and programmes of the government.
Similarly, the time lag provides ammunition for those with negative narratives to spin about the government. The disconcerting reality, as the emerging pattern of communication from the seat of power shows, is that the government would have to be on the defensive, so early in its tenure.
This can already be gleaned from the number of statements the President’s spokesmen have had to issue to refute unwanted narratives being peddled by those who have a long term interest in seeing the President flounder. It is in this light that the recent unfriendly exchange between the opposition and the President would be viewed.
Another manifestation is that a section of the public is creating its own perspectives of what should be happening in the seat of power and is crediting the result of the spin to the President. Specifically, the story about Buhari’s alleged order that nine planes in the presidential fleet be sold falls into this category. The moral in these examples is that a leader carrying a huge burden of expectation cannot afford to keep the people in suspense for too long.
Incidentally, if the time being projected for the ministers to come on board were anything to go by, it would mean that President Buhari has decided to take the unenviable record for the longest time spent before appointing minsters.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo took over as President in May 1999, he needed just one month to appoint his cabinet. And even before Obasanjo’s cabinet came on stream, he had sent the service chiefs packing, and had made several important appointments to consolidate his hold on power. In his second coming in 2003, Obasanjo appointed his cabinet by July.
Similarly, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had his cabinet in place by July 2007. Even President Jonathan, who emerged as Acting President in February 2010, under very difficult circumstances, created by the high-wired politics and intrigues of those heady days, initially named Policy Advisory Council made up of elder statesmen. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan went on to name his own cabinet by March 2010.
As such, if the pace of the Buhari Presidency and the indications coming from his information managers are anything to go by, it would then mean that the President who was given a clear mandate and who has no legal challenge to his election, would be appointing his ministers sometime around September, four clear months after his inauguration on May 29.
This would certainly paint the administration in unflattering light. The other fallout of this languid approach to governance is that by the time the ministers arrive, they too could take a cue and claim a similar time frame to settle in and get themselves familiar with the fine details of their ministries.

Another dimension to it is the crisis at the National Assembly, where the President’s party, the APC is seemingly yet to come to grips with the enormity of holding power at the centre. Inaction in the face of growing calls for the cabinet to be constituted would rile many Nigerians.
In the eyes of Nigerians, the massive expectations built around the mantra of change of the APC would have been dashed if the President doesn’t move quickly to douse the emerging cloud of doubts that have come up on account of the delay in constituting the cabinet. Failure to heed the voices of the people, on this and other sundry issues would imply that the ‘governing’ party is still far from governing in the sense in which many Nigerians look forward to.

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