Yesterday, 45 Ministers took the oath of office as Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pursuant to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu exercising executive powers as granted under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, and in line with Section 147(3). These Ministers of the “Restored Hope Agenda”, we are told have a mandate to deliver Tinubu’s eight-point agenda as stated in his election manifesto to wit: national security, economy, agriculture, power, oil and gas, transportation, education, and healthcare, with special emphasis on economy and security.
What immediately stands out about this cabinet is that it is the largest since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999, and given Nigeria’s current economic situation, this is somewhat disappointing as it signals a resort to “big government” with heavy cost implications. President Olusegun Obasanjo began in 1999 with a cabinet of 42 Ministers (1999 – 2003), which he later reduced to 27, and had increased to 30 by the time he was leaving office in 2007. In 2007, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had a 39-member cabinet. President Goodluck Jonathan appointed a cabinet of 33 Ministers (2011-2014), and later 37 just before the 2015 general elections. In 2015, President Buhari appointed 36 Ministers, later increased to 42 in 2019. Although 45 Ministers were sworn in yesterday, it must be noted that President Tinubu actually nominated a total of 48 Ministers – three of whom were told to await further screening – Stella Okotete (Delta) Senator Abubakar Danladi (Taraba) and Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna). El-Rufai has since announced that he is no longer interested with a cryptic Marley-an “Who The Cap Fits” declaration that “man to man is so unjust…your best friend could be your worst enemy”. That is another interesting matter worthy of full commentary. But if you were to add a list of 45 ministers, which may possibly increase to 48 later, to the 20 slots for Special Advisers earlier approved by the Senate for the President, and the accompanying appointment of Senior Special Assistants and Special Assistants, President Tinubu is set to run the most bloated government since 1999. This is curious in the light of the fact that many Nigerians had expected a lean government, to save costs and increase efficiency.
The current state of Nigeria’s economy is frightening, with over 113 million Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty; headline inflation at 24.08%; food inflation – 26.98%, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is about 41%, debt service to revenue ratio is calculated at about 90%, total debt is over N81 trillion, the available band for more borrowings is extremely narrow. Under such a scenario, the basic expectation would be for government to trim its size at all levels and tighten its belt. The only thing we have heard is the Federal Government asking the people to make sacrifice: fuel subsidy has been removed, resulting in increase in the pump price of fuel, the fuel exchange rate has been harmonized resulting in over 16% depreciation of the Naira, and a rampaging epidemic of empty pockets among the people, with the people trooping to the streets in Yola, Port Harcourt, Ibadan and elsewhere pleading with the government “to please allow them to “breathe”.
On top of it all, the Federal Government has announced plans to achieve an 18% tax to GDP ratio by 2024, and even if Taiwo Oyedele, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy Reforms says this would not mean higher taxation, the simple logic is that the people would be required to make more sacrifices to help government generate much-needed revenue. What is shocking is that whereas government is imposing a regime of austerity, the Nigerian government at all levels is not showing a similar commitment in the governance process, and this much was confirmed again yesterday by the sheer size of the Federal Government. Many would recall that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abass upon assumption of office recently announced the recruitment of 33 aides! The Senate President also has a similar number of 33 aides, and in total, the 10th National Assembly members have since June appointed about 3, 000 legislative aides! It is worse at the state level. The Governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Fintiri recently appointed 47 media aides; the Governor of Kano State Abba Yusuf has appointed 97 persons as special advisers and assistants. In Niger state, Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago has 131 aides, all of them women. Whereas the President may claim that he is exercising his powers under the Constitution, he has in actual fact created more Ministries. Obasanjo at a time had 27 Ministers, and still fulfilled Constitutional provisions. Jonathan had 33, and still did not violate the Constitution. It is to be expected that Tinubu’s Ministers would soon announce their own aides, further bloating the size of government. Under Tinubu’s government, the cost of governance would shoot through the roof, with the expansion of size, staff and bureaucracy.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), the media and other informed groups in society had urged before now, that one of the main priorities of President Tinubu’s “Restored Hope” agenda should be the implementation of the famous Oronsaye Report – an 800-page 2012 Report on the Restructuring and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies which stated that the Federal Government alone has 541 parastatals, 929 MDAs, and that there should be mergers, complete abolitions, and rationalizations to block wastages and duplications and ensure efficiency. It is obvious that President Tinubu has no intention to take a look at the Oronsaye Report. In its June 2023 Nigeria Development Update (NDU), the World Bank had also recommended that for Nigeria, it was now “time for business unusual”. It seems so obvious that well, business will remain as usual in the governance arena, and our fear is that a day may well come when Nigerians will begin to praise President Buhari as things currently stand! And that will be a completion of our worst nightmare.
The process of appointing these Ministers was not impressive enough. Those who know Tinubu and his antecedents were convinced that he would hit the ground running and that he would have no difficulties identifying strong talents, a team of the best and the brightest that would help him deliver on his mandate. But it has been one big anti-climax. It took close to the 60-day deadline, and additional days for the President to come up with a list of party loyalists, former Governors, close advisers from his days in Lagos, and a few technocrats. Nine former Governors, with one of them grudgingly withdrawing conveys a veil of staleness, no matter the experience that the former Governors may bring to the table. The kind of unsureness that governed the list is also embarrassing. During the screening process, the President had to substitute the name of the Kano nominee, Maryam Shetty. Nobody even had the decency to inform her. She only got to know when she got to the Senate for her screening. Nobody deserves to be treated so shabbily.
To worsen matters, it only occurred to the President on the. eve of the inauguration of the Ministers to make last minute changes. He reassigned the 66-year-old Abubakar Momoh whom he had named as Minister of Youth to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. Young Nigerians had complained that a 66-year-old politician as Minister of Youth was an odd choice. The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) had also raised an alarm about the non-inclusion of the Niger Delta in the list of Ministries. Then the Ministers-designate for Transportation, Interior, and Marine and Blue Economy were reshuffled. The Ministry of Environment and Ecological Management was renamed as the Federal Ministry of Environment. This back and forth looks untidy. It shows lack of preparedness, someone certainly was not paying attention to details about credentials, nomenclature and vested interests. If the President’s excuse is that the last-minute reshuffling is to ensure that the right persons are in the right places, then his attempt does not go far enough. It is one of the reasons why we argue that portfolios should be attached to Ministerial nominations to provide enough room for adjustments before the nominees are eventually confirmed. Further, there are fewer women than expected on the Ministerial list, and there are persons who think that the women have been given decorative positions. This is feedback that the President should pay attention to and address as he makes other appointments into the MDAs. And why is there no person living with disability on the list?
For the most part, the Ministerial list looks like an attempt by the President to settle political IOUs. Every President in appointing their first cabinets feel obliged to settle those who worked for their victory. But even at that, there are many aggrieved APC members and foot-soldiers who must genuinely feel left out, because they believe they deserve to share the spoils of victory. However, Nigerians are not interested in “jobs for the boys”. They want a quality team. This is why the present cabinet must be rejigged within a year or 18 months at best. President Tinubu must constantly move people around and recruit only the best. Ministerial positions must not be treated as chieftaincy titles. The kind of sit-tight, “Kabiyesi syndrome” that we witnessed under President Buhari, with some Ministers staying in office for eight years and remaining anonymous and ineffectual throughout - must not be allowed to happen this time around. Nigerians want Ministers who are ready to serve, not traditional chiefs of Aso Villa.
The President has talked about giving the Ministers a Performance Index. This is also known as Key Performance Indicators (KPI), very important but it must not be couched in general terms such as the emphasis on the eight-point agenda. It must be Ministry and sector-specific, and if any Minister does not show enough promise or capacity within the next 18 months, he or she must be turned adrift without fear or favour. Nigerians are impatient. The Federal Executive Council must be seen to work truly in the best interest of the people. It is standard practice to organize seminars and retreats for newly appointed Ministers. Whatever syllabus may have been chosen for the class of 2023 certain specific subjects must be addressed. It is not enough to pack documents inside conference bags – a copy of the Constitution, Public Service Rules and Regulations, the Procurement Act or some other briefing notes – NO. There must be a proper breakdown of expectations Ministry by Ministry and robust discussions. Nigerians don’t like to read except when there is an examination to be passed; putting documents together and hoping that the Ministers would read on their own would be presumptuous. Many of them probably don’t know what their Ministry is all about. They have to be taught and guided.
As is often the case, they are probably thinking of the contracts that they will award through their Ministries and what would be in it for them. They need to be given a crash course in the details of the Procurement Act and Public Service Rules. Out of ignorance, many past Ministers depend on civil servants who lead them by the nose and astray. Having sound knowledge of procurement is part of the process. It is tied to budget performance and defined regulations.
These Ministers also need to be told that they are Ministers of the Federal Republic with responsibility to all the people and parts of Nigeria, regardless of religion, political affiliation, class or gender and the President was right in stressing this yesterday. Cronyism, nepotism, prejudice are the major afflictions in Nigeria’s governance process. New Ministers would come under severe pressure, both external and self-imposed, to use their positions to settle their own incurred political costs. The party in their wards, local governments and states would call on them to remind them that it is their slot they are using and that they owe them an obligation to fund the party in the state, employ children from the state, award contracts to contractors from within the party and ensure major projects are brought to the community that produced them because “it is their turn”. Nigerians are very good at blaming leadership but the followers themselves are mean. A Minister would be asked to come and help pay hospital bills for newly delivered babies, even when he had no knowledge of the pregnancy: “Honourable Minister, we thank God oh, your wife has just put to bed”. The Minister is likely to be confused because his wife probably gave birth to his last child 15 years ago! But every woman in his state would suddenly become his wife, every pregnancy his own, every wedding must receive his blessing. Some other pressures are self-imposed. To keep the job, for example, some Ministers think that they are obliged to build goodwill among the informal circle around the President – very dangerous people - who exploit their proximity to the President to amass unmerited wealth. They promise appointments and access, and bear tales by moonlight. Many Ministers make the mistake of focusing more on this informal ring of vipers, but others commit the crime of thinking that they must take every project to the President’s home-town or state, to gain favour as a result. Tinubu must discourage such sycophancy.
Pastor Tunde Bakare has already warned about an emerging pattern of “imperial Presidency” in his recent State of the Nation Address. The term as described in a book of the same title by Arthur M. Schlesinger (Houghton Mifflin, 1973, 2004) refers to the abuse of power, its reckless use, and a President getting carried away with his own importance. No government can break the law without the President’s consent, because the buck stops at his desk. Nigerians have a way of misleading their Presidents with excessive sycophancy and Aso Rock is the headquarters of sycophancy. Even the best of men can be tempted like Samson, the Israelite. There are those men who in the President’s presence would immediately go down on their knees and start crawling towards him from a distance, bowing and scraping the floor and intoning “rankadede sir”. Others would prostrate. Oftentimes, such persons are clutching a file under their arms. They want the President’s signature. Whoever acts in that manner should be asked to stand up immediately and stop scraping the floor! Tinubu must make it clear that such flattery would not work with him. Work has begun for the Ministers. It won’t be long before the misfits among them will be exposed.