Ministerial appointments: Not a party affair

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By Tonnie Iredia

The argument that President Muhammadu Buhari should bother more about Atiku Abubakar’s petition against his re-election rather than concentrating on forming a government, loses sight of the ‘no vacuum in government’ philosophy. It would therefore be irrational for Buhari to await the verdict of the election tribunal before inaugurating his government. Besides, being the declared winner of the contest by the election referee, gives him confidence to act with the presumption that he is more likely to also win at the tribunal.

However, that does not rule out the possibility of another candidate upstaging the earlier declared winner, more so, as election controversies in Nigeria often create room for any contestant to be the lucky one in the end.

Either way, by May 29, 2019, a new government must take-off to run the affairs of Nigeria whether the election tribunal has or has not concluded action on petitions. Thus, the current search for ministers who are constitutionally empowered to implement the policies and programmes of the president is in order.

What is likely to be in contention is the quality of persons that would constitute the Council of Ministers. A look at the powers of that council would readily show that Nigeria has never been inspired to pick persons with the requisite strength of character for the job. Can Nigerians in all honesty identify ministers that have, as required by the constitution, been able to question the health status of a president even where the failing health was visible to the blind as was the case with late President Yar’Adua?

Instead, there has always been the temptation to appoint malleable persons who would covertly be controlled not by the president but by other persons in the corridors of power better known in Nigeria as cabals. Such appointees can hardly ensure successful execution of projects. Unfortunately, the current search for ministers may follow the old order of appointees with ample deficiencies in courage, vision and integrity. The quantum of noise so far made about the ruling party compiling a list of loyal party members for appointment confirms our contention.

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A report in the media last week quotes the National Working Committee of the ruling party as impressing on Buhari “to ensure that only members who have been faithful to the party are appointed into executive positions.” With due respect, such criterion cannot be the prime factor for appointment. It can however be an added advantage. The main factor is capacity, made up of competence and track record. While there is no problem with appointing a member of the APC as a minister, he should ordinarily be qualified even if he was not a party member.

We also need to make the point that because Buhari is not the president of APC but of all Nigerians, his leadership needn’t be so derogated from. As is seen in other parts of the world, even opposition politicians are invited to serve in government only because they have unrivalled expertise in specific fields. That is what should propel our president especially if he must make a mark in his last opportunity to be president and leave innumerable legacies. For that to happen, Buhari must serve as the captain of our governance national team, made up of the best eleven.

Only experts can make remarkable points in governance, not party loyalists with questionable credentials. This is more obvious in a developing society like Nigeria with a gamut of physical and infrastructural challenges that are begging for redress. Today, many Nigerians remember, the excellent performance of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as minister of finance. She was not even a party member let alone a loyal one when she made landmark decisions for which the leadership at the time took credit.

The same can be said for Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nasir el Rufai, Charles Soludo etc. who served in the past as outstanding cabinet members and left a mark yet to be met thereafter. How to re-enact the glories of the past is what should be uppermost in Buhari’s mind now and not how to reward acclaimed worthy loyalists who may end up being in office without value. This point is neither original nor new, following the recent prayer of Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly that President Buhari should “in his second term appoint the best, the brightest and the fittest, to maximise the potentials of the nation.”

Any Nigerian president can constitute with ease, a strong, viable and above all, a balanced ministerial team for the good of the nation. All that needs to be done, is to insist on the best hands. In line with the constitutional provision of federal character, such outstanding hands abound all over the country as there is no part of our nation whose products cannot be among the best. We therefore disagree with those who argue that certain sections of the country which did not vote for the president should be punished. To start with, it has become increasingly difficult these days, to determine which sections belong to which party. For instance, Sokoto voted APC in the presidential election and PDP in the governorship.

In Edo, the APC did not win the presidential election but won all the seats in the state legislature. So, which party can we say Sokoto and Edo belong to? Again, at the end of an election, the winner becomes the president or governor of all. If the South East that is more of PDP is shunned today as not worthy to benefit from Buhari, we shall produce a lopsided government that runs counter to the federal character principle in Section 14(3) of our constitution that prohibits the “predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in government or in any of its agencies.”

The constitution did not provide for favours to states which voted for the president. An over active leadership of the ruling party should thus not mislead him. Indeed, Buhari should appoint as ministers, competent persons from all over the country made up of a) the APC as the president’s channel to power; b) youths – the undisputed owners of potentials and in line with the ‘not too young to run’ initiative of the president; c) women, in furtherance of the global reality of affirmative action and d) experienced technocrats as drivers of the engines of development. Governors who freely pick their own commissioners should not claim the power to nominate ministers from their states.

Buhari needs to remember that if Nigerians are angry over inequity in government, all eyes will look towards him and not the party leadership or governors. In any case, history has shown that any list compiled by a Nigerian political party is not likely to be credible as it usually contains objectionable names such as those who absconded from the compulsory national service and even names of dead persons as we saw in the past. Buhari must change the narrative and produce a viable team.

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