PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari is on the one hand, irritated by calls on him to appoint ministers. ‘I don’t know why people are so anxious about ministers’, he said. On the other hand, he has, more appropriately, explained the ‘delay’– in the opinion of some – to appoint ministers as due to his desire to get things right.
He explained that ‘the main reason’ was the untidy as well as tardy manner the outgoing Jonathan administration handled the process of handing over to Buhari-appointed interim committee but that ‘since I have [pick] ministers from politicians and technocrats, I wouldn’t like to make the mistake of getting somebody who has been involved on account of accountability’. While not in a hurry to appoint ministers, he said however that ‘eventually we will have [them]’.
Having witnessed the way and manner that ministers carried about in the last administration, Buhari has good reason to form a cabinet of persons of both the competence and the integrity that he can vouch for. It would be no exaggeration to say that much of the problem with the Goodluck Jonathan government was created by his ministers. But of course, all said, the buck stopped at his desk for he appointed them and he was duty bound to keep them in check. He didn’t.
The All Progressives Congress government is expected by the electorate that put it in power to do things differently. And this includes, it bears repeating for the umpteenth time, that it ‘hit the ground running’. Of course only the ready, the willing, and the able can do this. Nigerians chose to believe that the Buhari-led government of a change-promising party understood the expectations of Nigerians, knew ‘the rules of engagement’, and accepted it. So, to the question of why people are ‘so anxious’, it is not about anxiety, it is about expectations being met, about being responsive, about doing things differently and better.
It is a constitutional requirement that under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, an elected President must appoint Ministers of the Government of the Federation to, as spelt out in Section 148 (2)(a-c), assist in the running of government business. But this aside, a President cannot possibly govern effectively alone. The pressure of the work is enormous for a younger man, it must be even more so for a 72-year-old President. Nor can permanent secretaries as civil servants perform the full function of a minister of the republic. So, there must be ministers. The question of how soon is neither here nor there, but for a number of reasons, it should be as soon as possible firstly, in order to communicate with the various internal and external publics that a government is fully in place to do business with.
Secondly, without ministerial heads, official decisions and actions in the ministries can only be taken at limited level of authority. With work waiting to be done, the efficiency and effectiveness of government is compromised and good governance that is promised the people suffers.
Thirdly, whereas apologists for Buhari chide the ‘impatience’ of those who think a cabinet should be in place nearly a month after the President was sworn in, it is precisely for reason of his age vis-à-vis the quantum of the work to do that Buhari should appoint his ministers to take some pressure off him.
It is conceded that wisdom dictates that one makes haste slowly; but that is no excuse to move at snail’s speed when and where the situation demands quickness. Pray, what excuse can justify the non-appointment of a Secretary to the Government of the Federation, of a Chief of Staff to the President, of a Foreign Minister to guide the President who, for obvious reasons, has been engaged in international relations, of a National Security Adviser especially at a time like this? At least, three suitable candidates should have been pencilled down for these and other high level posts as early as when a determined- to- win APC went into the elections. That would indicate a preparedness of an APC government to ‘hit the ground running’. Clearly, there is no indication of this.
Given the unwholesome interests of governors and other kingpins in the appointment of ministers, the procrastination in appointing key government officials exposes the President to meddlesomeness by persons and interest groups driven by motives that may be at variance with his own. This may in turn affect the quality of his cabinet. It is a matter of relief though that the President has said he will not allow governors’ interference.
No one in recent times has sought the presidential office more deliberately, more determinedly, than Muhammadu Buhari. And as stated in an earlier editorial by this newspaper, Nigerians voted more for him than for his party. Now that he is fourth time lucky, the President must not lose the momentum of the change that the people yearned for, that his party promised the people, and that the people await with great expectation.
Only the best and trustworthy aides can help him achieve those many promises contained in his inaugural speech. But they must be hired without delay.
This President is duty bound to show both motion and movement because this country can no more afford to settle into the usual debilitating routine.