Recently, leading Nigerian newspapers reported that President-elect Muhammadu Buhari was straining at the leash to abolish Minister of State positions. He would turn the page on the aberration of a minister of this coexisting with a redundant spare gratuitously designated Minister of State for This.
The fact that Buhari was in a hurry to inaugurate an era of modesty, of one ministry, one minister sounded like good news. That he has already sent a proposal to that effect to the National Working Committee of his party, the All Progressives Congress, as an earnest of his intention captured the fetal shape of the change that majority of Nigerians lingered in the sun and in the rain to vote for on April 11.
But reading the story further, with a craving to collect other details that would reinforce your expectation, you encounter a killjoy! The spokesman of APC, Lai Mohammed. And he spikes the attribution.
Mohammed cheekily says, “I think you have been listening to a lot of gossips; nothing like that was discussed. All these issues of ministers and MDAs are your own imagination’’
Well, Mohammed’s defence boils down to flight and escapism. He ran as though he must put as much distance between his party and the circulating idea as possible. He responded as though he was confronted by the need to defend his party against a grave allegation, the need to stress that his party knows better than to entertain the idea.
In a sense, Lai Mohammed’s outright renunciation, the absolute rejection of the suggestion together with its apparent merit, depicts the proposed load shedding as a no-brainer, too prohibitive a course of action to be acceptable for debate. To countenance the pruning means forfeiting some tokens of appreciation that should be handed to certain individuals who sacrificed a lot for the campaign. No, some people must not be offended in the afterglow of this Presidential victory even if the price would be the retention of one of the signposts of Nigeria’s malfeasance.
This is somewhat scary. Because it doesn’t portray Buhari as a reformer poised to demolish a dysfunctional construct. It represents him as some cartoon Moses tiptoeing, as commanded, on the holy ground of the Burning Bush.
It’s almost incredible that we have to remind the APC why its candidate won a mere few weeks after the polls held.
Buhari won because the electorate could not bear the thought of enduring a President Jonathan second term. Buhari was elected to govern differently. He was elected to effect drastic measures that will register on the standard of living of the people. Not to act as a substitution obligated by the strictures of the script to prolong the character of his predecessor.
In case Lai Mohammed and the movers of his party wanted to warn that they take exceptions to citizens “listening to a lot of gossips’’ and exercising “your own imagination’’, Nigerians have earned the right to project their hopes on the incoming Buhari administration. Nigerians gave Buhari their thumbprints; that makes them his employers. And employers have a right to set standards of expectation for their hires.
Nigerians have more than enough justification to preempt Buhari’s first Presidential acts. He ran on the promise to redirect government to the service of the people. Nigerians know it is superfluity in high places that accounts for the misery at the grassroots. They have a right to imagine that Buhari would alter the order, not preserve it.
Again, with the perfect storm created by the drop in oil revenue and a mix of pressing problem, it’s only natural for citizens to discuss solutions to the dilemma. It is shameful that APC’s discussion ‘’on how the government can hit the ground running’’ did not prioritize, or even include, the subject of reduction of the size of government and curbing waste.
While it is too early in the day to make projections, APC must avoid the temptation of playing Buhari’s puppeteer. The party should freely contribute inputs to policy formulation and implementation. But it should not assume the power to veto Buhari’s plan. That would be trivializing the President: And it would be subjugating the country under one party.
The drastic reforms that Buhari needs to effectuate within his first 100 days in office and beyond should not be at the mercy of partisan opinion. APC’s part in Buhari’s Presidency should be to encourage him to take steps that telegraph the dawn of a new governance philosophy. Not to examine his proposals based on which one suits the interests of its biggest sponsors.
In all probability, Buhari, a man of lean frame and ascetic taste, recognizes that stopping the bleeding of resources is a choice he has to make in order to have a viable country to administer. His aides may have divulged the proposal so that they can gauge the tentative backlash of the political class, the potential immediate victims, and to secure the buy-in of the people.
But just in case Buhari is still mulling the decision and weighing it against the political cost, he can be sure that he will have the backing of the Nigerian people. The support of the masses will swallow up the reactions of the aggrieved politicians.
Let’s face it: It is pure foolishness to hire and retain ministers in excess of distinct spheres. No private firm harbors high maintenance executives with no distinctive job descriptions. But we have long accepted that what doesn’t make sense in a small company is okay for a grand concern such as a country, our own country.
The Constitution provides that all states be represented in the Executive Council of the Federation. The intent is to impact a feeling of equality and inclusion. The problem is that successive administrations do not stop at the prescribed number. They have always added extras to the cast.
At times, the President identifies a brash fellow and makes them Minister of State so that they can convert the advantage of their new weight into some set electoral results in their home states.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one example of a place where the joke of Ministers of state is very serious. There you have (count: one, two) three ministers. One is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the second is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 1 and the third is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs 11.
Now, by the virtue of the presence of a trinity of Ministers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be a literal heaven. But it is hardly one of the best run ministries in Nigeria today. A more vibrant conduct of foreign policy has not resulted from their synergy. Their voices make no case for the pardon of a Nigerian on death row overseas. They have not enhanced the functionality of Nigerian embassies or made the renewal of passports there easier.
Still, they live and move and have their Ministerial being at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer. Their wages, their long motorcade, their retinue of aides, are all on our money.
Again, lack of circumscribed borders (an institutional lapse) and jealousy (a propelling human vice) often makes the Ministries with plural Ministers theatres of internecine wars, with junior ministers battling their seniors for territorial control. Staffers have to take sides. And official routines suffer.
Buhari needs to scrap the Minister of State positions and prune ministerial positions to the essentials. The proliferation of the role across Ministries, judging from the principle of mathematical probability, increases potential loci of corruption. The number of people creating or maximizing opportunities for personal enrichment has to be reduced to the barest minimum. There are civil servants with many years of experience who can fill the putative vacancies the so-called Ministers currently occupy.
President Buhari doesn’t need a huge crowd besieging the Vila every Wednesday. This is a time to elevate governance over patronage.