ONE of the most brilliant lawyers in Nigeria, Chima Nnaji (you will see him from time to time on Channels and the African Independent Television discussing current affairs) once said: if you close your fist everybody’s eyes will be attracted to it. Everybody will want to know what it is you are hiding in that fist, until you open it and they find it is a mere piece of paper. Hiding that piece of paper creates suspense, a heightened sense of expectation and yearning for you to open that dratted hand.
You must have noticed that President Muhammadu Buhari’s handlers, since the Bola Tinubu camp became part of his political life, adopted the strategy of creating myths around him. They make him the stuff of fables and legends and the gullible and unwary (that is, most Nigerians) are thus charmed and blown away. But in the end, it turns out to be what Ben Gbulie, in one of his writings described as “figments and nothing”.
The latest of these snake-charming antics which ended as a stupendous non-event was the ministerial saga. It was more than a saga: it was an odyssey. When in June 2015, Femi Adesina, Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media, broke the rather melancholic news (especially to All Progressives Congress, APC “investors”) that our new president would not appoint ministers until September, he and his fellow presidential image cosmeticians tried to douse the uproar by saying it was because Buhari needed time to search for immaculate and angelic Nigerians unsullied by corruption. No need to appoint just anybody only to find out he is a looter. Buhari is keen to avoid soiling the pristine government that he seeks to establish.
Enthusiasts said: “Ah, if that is why he is delaying, then let him take his time”. The bewildered grumbled: “What?! A man who retired from the army as a general, was once our head of state, ran for president FOUR times, and yet he needs FOUR months to search for suitable materials for ministerial positions?” I wrote a two-serial article entitled: “Brand Buhari’s Encounter With Diogenes”, likening this quixotic search for Nigerian angels to Greek philosopher, Diogenes who searched for an upright man, going round the streets of Athens with a lighted lantern in daytime!
As Buhari’s painstaking search nudged toward the end of September, he travelled to France and gave a television interview. He shocked us all when he contemptuously declared that ministers were mere “noisemakers”; that civil servants are the ones who do the real work. Yes, the same civil servants who are the acclaimed engine room of corruption, some of whom own the overpriced, unoccupied mansions up for sale or rent in
Abuja! This open preference for civil servants portrayed a certain disdain for ministers which we found somewhat incompatible with his search for “saints”.
When, at the proverbial eleventh hour on the 30th of September 2015 Buhari sent his Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari and his Senate liaison officer, Senator Etta Enang to deliver a letter to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki (whom some APC chieftains had sworn never to recognise) the bunch that was unveiled as his ministerial nominees was a whimper not a bang. In his Independence Day national broadcast, the president no longer said the delay was because he was looking for angels. He told us: “it would have been haphazard to announce ministers when the government had not finalised the number of ministries to optimally carry the burden of governance”. This was the better and more honest justification for the delay rather than the fib that he was searching for nonexistent “saints”.
A game for mortals
I have no headache about the few, highly familiar names peddled as Buhari’s ministerial nominees. I am realistic enough to know that party politics is not a game for angels, and it should not be a game for devils either. It is a game for mere mortals. Jesus Christ was the only mortal that walked the face of the earth without blemish, and that was because he was not a “mere” mortal. Section 147 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, makes it clear that no person can be nominated as a minister unless he is qualified to be a member of the House of Representatives. The simple interpretation is that he must be a card-carrying member of a political party.
So, when you see some ex-governors who promoted Buhari’s aspiration financially, logistically and otherwise surfacing as ministerial nominees and other positions, it is not strange. That’s what the constitution envisages. After all, this is an APC federal government. They campaigned for our votes and a majority of the electorate voted the party and its flag bearer to run the affairs of the nation for the next four years. Buhari is the leader of the party, but not the sole proprietor of the APC nor the sole administrator of Nigeria as he has been for the past four months. I am relieved that we are now exiting the military-like sole administratorship of the past four months. We are easing into a proper democratic atmosphere, where the National Assembly and the ruling party will bring their impacts to bear on the new administration and show us the difference between our PDP past and our APC present.
Finally, I muse over PMB’s decision to double as Minister of Petroleum, opting to appoint Minister of State to assist him. This could, indeed, help him straighten things on that front, being a former occupant of the post and founding father of the NNPC. Buhari taking up a ministerial post, however, proves me right that ministers are not “noisemakers” as he erroneously postulated. That is why Ministers are called “Honourable”. Buhari, I am sure, is not a noisemaker, whatever else he is.
But president as minister could also be bad for the country. He is unlikely to present himself to the Senate for screening. Even if he does (I am sure he won’t) nobody will ask him old questions such as his school certificate or what not. He will be told to “bow and go”. He is unlikely to be summoned by the National Assembly committees on the oil industry and subjected to queries during public hearings. This is one Minister who will be untouchable, not only because of his overwhelming presidential powers but also because of his immunity.
I would have preferred that the person that oversees our primary source of federal income should be subject to accountability. When Obasanjo became president in 1999 he also made himself Minister of Petroleum. He ran that ministry for six years and he never gave account of his stewardship to anyone till date.
Come to think of it, I wonder why these military chaps are always angling to take over the Petroleum Ministry. Some say if there was no oil, there would have been no Nigerian civil war. Why are presidents not similarly attracted to the Agriculture Ministry (particularly Buhari, who owns farms and so many cows)? Why not Power or Defence or Police Affairs? Why always the proverbial “honey-pot” of the nation?