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THE PRESIDENT’S TEAM (PART TWO): THE PROBLEM OF DONATED MINISTERS; by Prof. Tunde Adeniran

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‘’The way Ministers are donated suggests that their primary loyalty would be to the Governor, godfather, or party chieftain that nominated them; rather than the President who gave them the job. ‘’Granted there are some Ministers who could make an about-turn to ditch their Governors for the President, in the final analysis, there is no reason why the President should take such a risk.’’ Tunde Adeniran

”The lesson of good practice in successful implementation of civil (public) service transformation strategies is that the implementation Unit should be located in the Office of Head of Government…. The Unit should also bear overall responsibility for monitoring, evaluation and reporting of activities carried out under the strategy.” Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun

PREAMBLE: In his Preface to my publication titled: ‘GOVERNANCE AN INSIDER’S REFLECTIONS ON THE NIGERIAN POLITY, eminent political scientist, Prof. Tunde Adeniran asserted that: ‘’Participant-observers are among the most challenged of researchers, social analysts, and commentators. ‘’They readily stand the risk of having their heads in the clouds, becoming servants of power chroniclers; or even victims of cognitive dissonance. ‘’They could also turn out to be conscientious commentators, creative counsellors and intellectual advocates of change.’’ Prof. Adeniran has also at some point in time been a participant observer, having occupied coveted positions of Federal Minister of Education of the Federal Republic; and Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. In this second and concluding part of a paper he presented a few years ago, Prof. Adeniran takes a look at some fundamental issues in the governance of Nigeria from the perspective of an insider.

THE PROBLEM OF DONATED MINISTERS: The consequences of allowing any cabinet to be dominated by other politicians could be grave for any President. First, it goes contrary to the principles and practice of Presidential democracy. In Presidentialism, the President is the only elected individual with a nationwide mandate. In the case of Nigeria, this mandate empowers him to take decisions on behalf of every Nigerian with regards to governance. This literally means that all the bucks stop at the President’s table. He must be ready to take the credit for good performance and the flaks for anything untoward. To be effective, the President needs a cabinet that fully understands what he wants to achieve, the way he wants to go about it and the time he wants to achieve it. In short, the President needs a cabinet that shares in his vision of development for the country. And he cannot get this cabinet if he allows other people to choose most of his Ministers and cabinet aides for him.

As Lee Kuan Yew put it in his famous book, From Third Word to First, choosing people into the cabinet is a very serious business. Writing about his experience in Singapore, Yew stated: “I systematically scanned the top echelons of all sector in Singapore – the Professions, commerce, manufacturing, and trade unions … “l Not only that; Yew also got the services of a globally renowned psychologist to help him with psychological tests “designed to define their (Ministers) character profile, intelligence, personal background, and values”. Yew noted further:

I also checked with corporate leaders of MNCs how they recruited and promoted their senior people, and decided one of the best systems was that developed by Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil company. They concentrated on what they termed a person’s “currently estimated potential”. This was determined by three qualities – a person’s power of analysis, imagination, and sense of reality. Together they made up an overarching attribute Shell called “helicopter quality”, the ability to see facts or problems in a larger context and to identify and zoom in on critical details.’

THE SINGAPORE EXPERIENCE: Beyond these techniques and factors, the Singaporean leader also used the services of a panel of assessors, “at least two of whom must know the person being assessed”. Although Yew’s methods may have become a little obsolete today with the development of modern recruitment and assessment methods, there is no denying the fact that recruitment into a government cabinet needs to adopt a more rigorous process. The putting together of Jonathan’s cabinet obviously did not benefit from this kind of stringent process we are describing here. That perhaps explains why it is obvious that many of the Ministers do not understand the dimensions of his vision or appreciate the degree of passion and commitment required. Some do not ever understand the meaning and depth of the President’s “transformation agenda” beyond mere echoing and re-echoing it in their speeches and public statements so much so that the Agenda has been elevated to the level of a mantra meant for looking good in the eyes of the President.

Apart from the lack of deep understanding of the President’s visions, the way and manner the President’s cabinet was assembled do not give adequate hope of superior performance from the Ministers. In fact, much of the criticisms that the President is facing come from the perceived non-performance of some Ministers, which has led to incessant calling for a cabinet reshuffling. The truth is that many of the Ministers were nominated or donated as it were by their, principals, not because they are competent as to add adequate value to the tasks before the President, but for their own selfish reasons. These include the cornering of contracts and other perks of office as well as positioning for higher elective offices. By mid – 2013, many of the Ministers are distracted from their jobs as Ministers as they plot for elective offices despite the warning of a rather worried President. He is very concerned about their level of performance due to distraction.

POLITICAL DISTRACTION: Besides the low level of performance related to political distraction, there is also incompetence as a result of not being qualified for the position a Minister occupies. Some of the Ministers are clearly inadequate for their offices based on their education, experience and disposition. This explains why the Senate has always preferred a situation where the President attaches designations to the list of Ministerial nominees sent to the Upper Chamber by the President. There is, of course, the weather-beaten argument in public administration between generalists and specialists. The fact remains that some aspects of life and government require specialized attention and skills. This specialization was not taken into serious consideration in the constitution of President Jonathan’s cabinet. One of the major advantages of a presidential system is undermined when appointive positions are not filled to professionally add Value to governance.

There appears to be an attempt to make up for this in the President’s decision to have a “Coordinating Minister of the Economy”. This, however, seems to have created a problem of its own. When analyzing coordination of government implementation process with regard to the civil service, Ladipo Adamolekun stated that:

The majority of civil service transformation strategies are championed by the head of government or a senior member of government designated by him/her. It is crucial to have a designated champion at the apex of government. Then, the different clusters of reform interventions (most often referred to as components) also have champions who join the lead champion to constitute the leadership of the transformation implementation Unit. It should be run by a small number of officials who could be joined by outside experts to assist in ensuring effective implementation of the transformation strategy. The lesson of good practice in successful implementation of civil (public) service transformation strategies is that the implementation Unit should be located in the Office of Head of Government…. The Unit should also bear overall responsibility for monitoring, evaluation and reporting of activities carried out under the strategy.”

In his magnanimity and legendary humility, not only did the President make his Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, she appears to have been given a carte blanc i.e. making the public wonder the extent of the President’s delegated authority!  There is also the question of loyalty when the President accepts Ministers donated to him by Governors, godfathers and other party chieftains. Given the high-stake nature of Nigerian politics and the fact that Goodluck Jonathan is not in perfect control of his political party as his predecessors, one would at least expect the President to have in his cabinet people who would be loyal to him come rain and sunshine. The way the Ministers are donated suggests that their primary loyalty would be to the Governor, godfather or party chieftain that nominated rather than the President who gave them the job. Granted there are some Ministers who could make an about-turn to ditch their Governors for the President, in the final analysis there is no reason why the President should take such a risk.

ALLOCATING MINISTRIES TO STATES  Another striking feature of the Jonathan cabinet is the pattern in which some ministries appear to have been allocated to some states. What the Constitution stated was for a Minister to be appointed from each state and not that a particular ministry should be allocated to a certain state for that matter. There have been instances where a Minister from a state is removed and the position will be left vacant waiting for the state involved to fill the vacant ministry once again. For instance, when Professor Bart Nnaji the former Minister of power was removed from office by President Jonathan, the position was left vacant until Professor Chinedu Ebo, also from Enugu State, was appointed as Minister of power as if to suggest that not only is the ministry reserved for Enugu State but also that only Enugu people are qualified to handle the ministry. This kind of restriction and discrimination may create a serious problem of performance as the President limits for himself the possibility of finding more capable hands from other states.

GENDER EQUITY  Another feature of Jonathan’s cabinet is the fair representation of women in the federal cabinet. While this represents continuity with Obasanjo’s practice regarding gender, it is certainly in fulfilment of one of Jonathan’s campaign promises which presently make the womenfolk see him as worthy of their trust. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, there are as many as thirteen women Ministers, in line with the 13% quota the President promised the women in his cabinet during the electioneering campaign. Apparently influenced by Dame Jonathan who pursues women’s interests aggressively, husband and wife have focused on the electoral dividends. It is noteworthy that not only are the women well represented in numbers, they are equally assigned to key ministries. As noted previously, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Minister of finance as well as the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Alison-Madueke is the Minister of petroleum, Stella Odua is in charge of Aviation, Ms. Ama Pepple is Minister of Lands and Housing, Hadiza Mailafa is the Minister of Environment Ruqayyat Alkali is Minister of Education, Sarah Ochekpe is for water resources, Viola Onwuliri is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Jumoke Akinjide is Minister of State for the FCT, Omobola Johnson is Minister of the newly created Ministry of Communication and Technology, Erelu Olusola Obada is Minister of State for Defence, Hajia Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi is Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs and, of course, the Minister of Women Affairs is a woman, Hajiya Zainab Maina. While many analysts applaud the fair representation of women in the cabinet, however, not a few have raised the question of creating a balance between gender equity and competency. Thus some questions relating to the suitability of some of the women to the positions they were appointed to have been raised. Well, the same questions can be raised in relation to some of the male Ministers as well.

BETWEEN TECHNOCRATS AND POLITICIANS: Another feature of the Jonathan cabinet is the apparent low ratio of technocrats to the regular politicians in the ministerial cabinet. The technocrats include Ngozi Okonjo-lweala, Akinwunmi Adesina, Omobola Johnson, Ama Pepple, Onyebuchi Chukwu, Olusegun Aganga, and Olugbenga Ashiru. This was probably due to the calculation that while some of them have the capacity to contribute professionally to the realization of the policy goals of President Jonathan, they lack electoral values, as they are not sufficiently connected to the grassroots as to be able to promote the partisan political interests of the President in the states they represent. They are also seen as “gate – crashers” by core members of the political class who see pure technocrats in Ministerial positions as aberration which frustrate the benefits of zoning political offices among members of the ruling party. This is quite understandable. As John Ayoade has observed:

’Zoning was intended to usher in an inclusive government in a multi-ethnic society. The Nigerian experience has shown that it easily becomes a charter of employment and a Canonization of bourgeois privileges. The intra-bourgeois dynamics does not necessarily even produce people who are representative of the zones or States. It is not uncommon that candidates rejected at the polls are appointed to positions to represent constituencies that rejected them.”

Ayoade’s contention is buttressed by the practice of appointing Ministers from the President’s Party in states where he won less than 25% of the votes. Such Ministers cannot be said to truly represent such states but is there an easy solution given the dynamics of Nigeria’s party politics and the complexity of the contending interests in Nigeria?

IDENTITY CRISIS  In spite of President Jonathan’s very liberal disposition, there is an apparent identity crisis among many of his Ministers. For, far from an imperial Presidency,” an institution which has cut itself off from constitutional checks and balances to which a predecessor of his could be equated to some extent, yet watching some of Jonathan’s Ministers as a drama in servility. It is difficult to know the source of this tendency as an observer who had been an aide in the Presidency for almost a decade remarked during the 2013 Democracy Day (29 May) that the era was the best to be a Minister. It was a subtle reference to the scope of latitude that the Ministers had for action and inaction.

Scholars and observers generally would encounter some difficulty establishing the basis of what appears to be crisis of identity in some Ministers who demonstrate low self-esteem and confidence. While the team parades some excellent individuals that could serve creditably in any cabinet, it is undeniable that a good number of the Ministers are provincial people coming to national political limelight

 

 

 

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