Intrigues, cash crunch delay cabinet in 24 states ….. NATION

Intrigues, cash crunch delay cabinet in 24 states

For more than 100 days now since they were sworn-in, most of the state governors are yet to appoint commissioners. In this report, Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu with Austine Tsenzughul in Bauchi, Bisi Olaniyi in Port Harcourt, Yusufu Aminu Idegu in Jos, Okodili Ndidi in Owerri, Okungbowa Aiwerie in Asaba and Sunny Nwankwo in Aba, uncovers some of the reasons behind the delay in the constitution of cabinets in most of the states

Although there may be no section in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which states categorically that a governor must appoint commissioners or form his cabinet within 100 days of assumption of office, some Nigerians, who spoke to The Nation at the weekend, are worried that most of the currently elected governors have run their states without commissioners in the first 100 days of their administration.

Out of the 29 states where new chief executives were sworn-in on May 29, 2015, only about five, an insignificant percentage, have formed cabinets as at Friday. The five states where the new governors have appointed all or significant number of commissioners and special advisers include: Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Enugu, Kano and Kaduna.

There are few others that appointed only a small number of commissioners. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for example had to submit list of his commissioners to the Delta State House of Assembly in two batches. In June, he submitted a list of twelve commissioner nominees to the lawmakers for screening. It took almost a month before he forwarded another list of eight commissioner nominees. In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike has only appointed few commissioners thereby heightening the pressure on him to name the remaining members of the cabinet.

As at yesterday, the states where the new governors are yet to name their commissioners include, Lagos, Oyo and Ogun in the South-West; Imo, Ebonyi and Abia in the South-East; Cross-River, Delta and Rivers in the South-South; Kwara, Plateau, Niger and Nassarawa in the North-Central; Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi and Jigawa in the North-West; and Borno, Bauchi, Taraba, Gombe and Yobe in North-East.

Even before the inauguration of the new governors in question, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State in the South-West has been running the affairs of his state without commissioners since last year when he was re-elected in office. Since then, he has been making use of permanent secretaries and heads of departments to run the government, explaining that the tactics is a reaction to the challenging economic realities of the time.

Nigerians who spoke to The Nation over the matter said it is necessary for a governor to appoint members of his team as quickly as possible “since two heads are better than one.” As some of them reasoned, a governor that has his team is likely to provide better governance to his people than a sole administrator, who is prone to act like a dictator.

But spokesmen of most of the governors have defended that the law did not make it mandatory for their bosses to constitute a cabinet within their first 100 days in office. Their position seems to be drawn from the provisions of the Constitution in Section 193 sub 1, which says amongst others that the governor of a state “may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor of the state, or any commissioner of the government any business of the state, including the administration of any department of the government.”

Wide consultations, cause of delay in Bauchi

In Bauchi State, where Governor Mohammed Abubakar, a lawyer-turned politician, is presiding over the affairs of the state, some people expressed concern that 100 days after the inauguration of the current state government, the governor is yet to announce his commissioners.

Our checks during the week show that there is no hint that a cabinet will be in place in the next few days.

Faulting the argument that the governor was not obliged under any law to appoint commissioners within 100 days after assumption of office, critics of the development in Bauchi said “for purposes of honesty, accountability and transparency, leading to good governance, there are certain provisions in our law that require Executive Council’s resolutions, especially, on issues of bilateral agreement or issues that concern fiscal responsibilities.” This being the case, it is pertinent, they reasoned, for a democratically elected governor to appoint his cabinet as quickly as possible.

Leading the critics of Abubakar over this matter are members of the opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They have alleged that the delay in the constitution of the cabinet in the state was because “the governor wants to get back the funds he expended on his election campaign”. Since the publication of N8.60 billion bailout for the state, the critics have not ceased to express concern over the possibility of Abubakar’s just utilization of the resources without a state executive council.

But Governor Abubakar’s Director of Press, Alhaji Ibrahim Sani, said such criticisms have no substance and that the governor is only being meticulous in approaching issues in governance.

His words, “the absence of commissioners is not strange to Bauchi State. The delay is to put square pegs in square holes, besides, many states and the federal government are yet to appoint commissioners or ministers. But Bauchi’s case is based on wide consultations.”

“It is also, meant to form a cabinet that will stand the test of time, have commissioners or advisers that would assist the governor to fast tract deliverance of the contents of the people’s mandate.

“In order to make a well informed decision, there has been ministerial, departmental and government agencies’ briefings to the governor. This is being done so that Gov. Abubakar will understand the operations of government, its challenges and formulate right policies and people-oriented programmes with the correct people to ensure their adequate implementation”.

Abubakar’s spokesman also stated that “the act of governance is not as easy as people see it from afar. Abubakar was a senior civil servant in the state civil service and knows what the government is and has to work policies in compliance with the change mantra.

Therefore for now, it is a game of ‘wait and see’ or, as they would say, it’s “sit down look” kind of situation in Bauchi.

In Rivers, Wike awaits tribunal judgment

The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is one of the governors yet to constitute a full cabinet. His critics have attributed the delay to the fear of losing his position at the tribunal.

The governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the April 11 election in Rivers State, Dr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, who described the poll as a sham, dragged Wike to the tribunal, sitting in Abuja

Wike, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is insisting that he won the election and he is admonishing Rivers people to support his government.

Besides appointing ex-Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Kenneth Kobani, as Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG) and two-term Chairman of Emohua Local Government Council of Rivers State, Emeka Woke, as the Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, the state governor has so far appointed four commissioners: Dr. Fred Kpakol (Finance), Emma Okah (Housing), Onimim Briggs (Agriculture) and Emmanuel Aguma, SAN (Justice and Attorney-General).

The Rivers chapter of the APC then noted that “Wike’s 100 days celebration kicked off with so much self adulation, distorted facts and misrepresentations in the media.”

Rivers APC, through its Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, in Port Harcourt, declared that Wike was not ready to deliver good governance to the peace-loving people of the state.

It reiterated that President Muhammadu Buhari, as someone who is focused and with a clear plan for governance, shortly after his May 29, 2015 inauguration, announced that he would appoint ministers in September.

The party stated that the same could not be said of Wike, a former Minister of State for Education.

The Party therefore called on Wike to constitute the state’s cabinet by appointing commissioners and make other statutory appointments, irrespective of the fact that his stay as governor was highly likely to be truncated by the tribunal, since government is a continuum.

The party declared that the excuse Wike offered that he would wait till the tribunal in Abuja gives judgment before constituting his cabinet was only a facade to pull his grand scam on the good people of Rivers state and deceive even members of his PDP.

Mixed reactions in Abia   

In a recent chat the Chief Press Secretary of the Abia State Government, Godwin Adindu had with members of the Aba Federated Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), he promised that the state government would soon appoint commissioners for various ministries.

However, the inability of Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu’s administration to appoint the commissioners after 100 days in office has been causing a lot of concerns among Abians.

While many respondents condemned it, others believe that appointing commissioners to head ministries is a waste of the state economic resources.

They advocated for the use of permanent secretaries or good hands in various ministries in order to save cost and limit people with no or less experience from heading the activities of various government parastatals in the state.

According to Mr. Chukwuma Ngama, “I am not a politician, but I believe that even if the governor fails to appoint commissioners and the state functions well under the leadership of permanent secretaries, that will save us (the State) a lot of wastages. The truth is that some of these commissioners may not really know much about the ministries they are appointed to head. Imagine when they appoint a bio-chemist to head say ministry of works. I am of the opinion that government should scrap both ministerial and commissioners’ positions. Let them use permanent secretaries. That will save us the dangers of putting square pegs in round holes”.

Mr. Nwogu, who do not agree with Ngama’s position, opined that the importance of commissioners and ministers cannot be over emphasized as he noted that both governors and the president need to have commissioners and ministers respectively to oversee some of the ministries to avoid “gap in governance”.

“Those who are against the appointment of ministers and commissioners by the President and governors should ask God why he went about spreading the gospel during his own time with His disciples. That shows that the importance of ministers and commissioners for every government cannot be over-emphasized.

Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Godwin Adindu, in an interview said, “It is not only Abia State that has not appointed commissioners. If you look around, many states have not appointed commissioners and even the federal government has not appointed ministers. So that should not be an issue for anybody. At the right time, the governor will appoint his commissioners.

On the insinuation that the government might be doing it to cut cost of governance, Adindu said, “I don’t think that is the case. It is just that the governor is taking his time; he is doing things according to his own time table. So, at the right time, when he must have identified the right people to work with him, the appointments would be made”.

On the vacuum lack of commissioners is creating in governance, he added, “the absence of commissioners is not causing any hindrance or having any negative effect on governance. Abia governance is going on smoothly; our projects have been going on smoothly. The governor has mapped out the things he wants to achieve. The permanent secretaries are there working with the governor to achieve those things. The governor is acting as the overall supervisor and director of all his projects. He equally has a body of aides, special advisers and inspection officers, the SSG, the Chief of Staff and other aides. They are all busy working. He is following his own timetable; there is a template which he is following. So, at the right time the appointments would be made,” Adindu said.

Ayade’s meetings with interest groups, cause of delay

In Cross River State, where Governor Ben Ayade is yet to constitute his cabinet, we gathered that the delay is primarily because of wide consultations. A source close to the Government House, informed that the governor had just concluded the consultation exercise with important stakeholders and as a result, expectations are high in Calabar that Ayade will likely name his commissioners anytime from this September.

Our source said “because of the hard fought elections, the governor thought it wise to consult widely in order to carry everyone along. He consulted with wards and local government caucuses. The local government caucuses were asked to nominate two candidates each for consideration.”

Lalong may first reduce ministries to manageable size

Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, has been unable to constitute his executive council members within his first 100 days in office.

Though Lalong never promised he will appoint commissioners for the government before the expiration of his first 100 days as governor, it has been the expectation of citizens of the state who cannot wait to see a full APC government in place in the state having used their PVC to effect a change from PDP to APC.

This has given most citizens a lot of concern and most of them are already expressing some measure of disappointment in the Lalong-led administration. The PDP-led opposition has decried the absence of commissioners and has therefore described Plateau as a state without a functional government.

But it seems Lalong is not bordered by such criticisms over his inability to constitute his cabinet within the first 100 days in office.

Among the earliest appointments made by Lalong so far are Secretary to the State Government, Hon. Rufus Bature, Chief of Staff, Government House, Mr. John Dafan, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Lalong, Samuel Nanle, Director-General, Research and Documentation, Prof John Wade.

Apart from these appointments, Lalong has appointed new leadership for the 17 local governments of the state and also reinstated the Vice Chancellor of the state university, Prof Danjuma Dognaan Sheni, even as he reconstituted the governing council of the state university under the Chairmanship of Professor Attahiru Jega.

According to Mr. Samuel Nanle, the Director of Press and Public Affairs to Lalong, there are three major reasons for the delay in the composition of the state executive council; first, the state governor set up a transition committee to ascertain the true position of the state, it has taken the committee over two months to complete the assignment and submit its report. That report was needed for the smooth take off of the administration.

Secondly, government thought of restructuring the entire state; we need time to study all government ministries, agencies and parastatals, there could be need to merge some of them, there is the need to scrap some of them to a manageable size. And until that is done carefully, government cannot just appoint commissioners without knowing its numbers of ministries.

Thirdly, the issue of availability of funds, the government inherited empty treasury and the first thing to do is to raise the revenue profile of government because that will determine how many commissioners you can pay. They require official vehicles, furnishing of office and other logistics. The poor state of government’s purse as at the time we took over, made it difficult to think of appointing commissioners. Government also had to give priority to the seven month salary arrears it inherited so as to boost the morale of the state civil servants who were on strike before May 29 when we took over. Government had to source for funds from wherever to pay that liability before talking of appointing commissioners, the commissioner cannot resume office when civil servants are on strike.

The fourth and most important reason is the need for wide consultations on who to appoint as commissioner. Such appointment should be community-based, this government resolved to allow the people to do the selection; this government will not want to impose any commissioner on any local government. And so government asked the people to do wider consultations among themselves and select for government. That is the standard in a democracy like ours.

Cash crunch, reason for delay in Kwara

In Kwara State, where the governor is also yet to name commissioners, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed said publicly that with the financial crisis in the country and with the current difficulty in the payment of salaries of civil servants, it would be out of place for him to appoint commissioners and other office holders who would become another financial burden to him.

He explained that the current financial situation “called for proper planning on how to prudently run the government.” As a result, since he assumed office,he had made only five appointments.

Speaking during his monthly media chat broadcast live on the state radio stations, the governor said “Ordinarily as a second term governor under a smooth running system, where you don’t have financial constraint, I would have appointed commissioners the next day I was sworn-in. But you see, no matter how much plans you have in running government, resources must be available.

It is interesting to note that as a result of this position, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State has threatened to drag Ahmed to court over his delay in appointing commissioners and other political appointees. Iyiola Oyedepo, Chairman of the party in the state, said the governor, being a second timer, has no excuse not to have appointed commissioners, alleging that the action of the governor can breed autocracy and fraudulent practices as the work to be done by many is being done by one.

Okorocha still consulting stakeholders in Imo

The non appointment of Commissioners by the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, one hundred days after he was sworn in for his second term in office, may not be unconnected to the cash crunch that have hit most of the states.

According to a reliable source close to the state government, who preferred anonymity, “there is no portion of the constitution that mandates the governor to appoint commissioners within a particular time and moreover with the current state of the economy, the appointment of commissioners is not the immediate priority of the state government”.

The source continued that, “the state government is more interested in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people than appointing a new set of commissioners, when it is still grappling with the payment of workers’ salary”.

The delay may also not be unconnected with the plan by the state government to reduce the number of ministries by merging some together to reduce the cost of governance.

However, the governor, in a recent media chat with journalists in the state, promised to announce the list of commissioners as soon as possible, but noted that the number may not be the same as in the past.

The Nation also gathered that the challenge of carrying all interest groups along, especially members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who supported the governor against their party’s candidate, may be responsible for the delay as the governor may be making wider consultations.

Okowa’s example

Although Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, now has commissioners to work with, the way he formed the cabinet explained, to a very large extent, why many state governors are yet to name the commissioners and advisers they would be working with. Reports from Imo, Plateau and many other states have shown that most of the governors, faced with the current economic realities are consulting widely and may have resolved to restructure and reduce the ministries and departments with the view of reducing cost of governance.

That is why, in spite of the fact that Delta is one of the oil-rich states in the country, sources confirmed that cash crunch informed Okowa’s resolve to appoint his commissioners in a way an analyst described as ‘piecemeal.’

While some state governors, who are facing severe cash crunch, are still unable to appoint their commissioners since assumption of office on May 29th, Okowa assembled his cabinet in a novel manner.

He resorted to appoint the commissioners in two batches. He also reduced the number of commissioners from 32, as was the case during Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s administration, to 20.

It would be recalled that in June, Okowa submitted a list of twelve commissioner nominees to the Delta State House of Assembly. He forwarded another list of eight commissioner nominees two months later.

A source confirmed that the main reason behind Okowa’s ‘piecemeal’ appointments of commissioners “may not be unconnected with the economic situation,” adding that had Okowa appointed all the commissioners  in one fell swoop, he would have had to provide accommodation, vehicles and pay their salaries and other emoluments.

To further compound the dire financial situation, is the fact that residences allocated to commissioners was stripped bare by their past occupants.

Aside from financial worries, pressure from political stakeholders also conspired to slow down the process of appointing commissioners as many interest groups are jostling for key positions.

In a bid to appease stakeholders, it was learnt, that Okowa is taking his time in fully constituting his team.

Another source informed that the delay in appointing more commissioners may be plans by the present administration to downsize the number of ministries from the unwieldy 32 to 22 in a bid to reduce duplication of duties by ministries and save cost.

This seems to be the same picture in most of the states in the country, especially the states where the governors are foot-dragging before appointing the commissioners and other members of the state executive council. Our investigation shows that most of the affected governors resorted to this style of governance primarily to save some funds following the economic downturn that has affected their states.

The reasons given for the delay in appointing commissioners and other members of cabinet notwithstanding, most Nigerians are worried that the current situation may lead to a form of quasi-dictatorship. As a result, they are calling on the governors who are yet to name their commissioners to wake up to the aspirations of their people and constitute their cabinet as quickly as possible.