Beyond Keyamo’s Pontification On ‘Minister Of State’ Designation
Two cabinet members of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration this week opened up on what they considered to be an aberration nay even a constitutional breach in the commanding heights of government. These members, Festus Keyamo and Ramatu Aliyu, who would have served in the entire life of the current administration as Ministers of State for Labour and Employment, and for the Federal Capital Territory, respectively described their designation as a contravention of the Constitution, lamenting that they get to share in the fallings of the substantive ministers even when they made no contribution to such failures.
In Nigeria, the Minister of State is a euphemistic nomenclature for a junior minister, an equivalent of an under-secretary in the United States. With a limited number of ministries available, successive Nigerian presidents created the positions of Minister of State ostensibly to accommodate loyalists and political interests in the cabinet. The position was introduced in the First Republic under the pretense of constituting a Government of National Unity where members of the opposition were co-opted into governance to serve under the ruling party’s Ministers. Over time, the contraption took root and was adopted even in a cabinet populated by the same party.
At the outset of his second term in 2019, Buhari appointed 44 ministers out of which 15 were designated to serve in one ministry or the other as ministers of state. This is despite strident calls for a leaner federal government by concerned Nigerians in the spirit of the Stephen Oronsaye report on public sector reforms. The 800-page white paper submitted on April 16, 2012, recommended the abolition and merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals, while some were listed to be self-funding. It added that 263 of the statutory agencies should be reduced to 161. 38 agencies should be abolished while 52 agencies should be merged.
The Oronsaye white paper also recommended that 14 agencies should revert to departments in various ministries. With this report gathering dust on the shelf at Aso Villa, the President went ahead to appoint a large contingent of cabinet members which has the highest numbers of ministers of state yet. And in their valedictory session presided over by President Buhari to mark the end of this Federal Executive Council (FEC), Keyamo and Aliyu pointedly told the President that he erred in designating them and their colleagues as ministers of state, stressing that many of those appointed in such positions by successive governments suffered in silence for fear of sounding ungrateful to the President who gave them an opportunity to serve.
Keyamo pointed out that the minister of state portfolio is practically not working for many of those appointed for the post, stressing that the schedules of duties leave so many gaping holes that often pitch ministers against ministers of state. On the legal front, the senior advocate argued that section 147 of the Nigerian constitution which establishes the offices of the Minister created no roles for the Ministers of State. He asserted that while the 7th Schedule to the Nigerian constitution provides for the ‘Oath of Office’ which each Minister must subscribe to, “there are no different Oaths for ‘Minister’ and ‘Ministers of State’ as they all take the same Oath of Office.
On her part, Aliyu stated that the minister of state designation does not do justice to those appointed nor to the constituency they represent in the cabinet. According to her, “If you are appointed, if you serve your state, if you underwent the same training, you attend the same FEC representing your people. Why then is your voice hinged upon another minister’s voice? Why is the lack of planning on another minister’s part an emergency on yours? Why is the label ineptitude now the label you will carry if he should fail?”
While lots of flaks have been hurled at Keyamo for waiting to enjoy all the perks of an “unconstitutional” position before speaking up, there are merits in his submission that must not be lost on the country. His hypocrisy in not throwing the towel or returning all the salaries and emoluments so far received should not becloud Nigerians of this teachable moment. Naija News regrets that a country in dire financial straits would appoint and keep Ministers of State who “are largely redundant, with many going to the office for symbolic purpose and just to while away the time.” How can the government inspire productivity in the citizenry when there is redundancy in the highest echelon of government?
Our reading of this situation is that it is in keeping with Buhari’s lackadaisical and nepotistic approach to governance. If only he put square pegs in square holes, it wouldn’t have been this bad. Here is a President who in 2015 appointed a former vice-chancellor, Prof Anthony Anwukah as minister of state for Education while Columnist Adamu Adamu was made the substantive minister! Only yesterday, Adamu who Buhari allowed to be Nigeria’s longest-serving Education minister, confessed: “I didn’t know anything about the education sector when I was appointed Minister”. With the benefit of Keyamo’s revelation, one could see how Nigeria was shortchanged by the absurdity of a former vice chancellor playing second fiddle to Adamu in the very important Education ministry.
Sadly, Adamu’s admittance is not the only example of such flawed placements. After being sworn-in in 2019, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola told officials of his ministry that he was ignorant of how the ministry operates, adding that “What I know about the ministry is what I read in the Newspapers”. Such shoddy appointments would have been more bearable if Buhari was the kind of President who keeps a close eye on his appointees to make the necessary reshuffling or substitution when the need arises. But as the minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, recently remarked, Buhari “is the type of football coach that will prepare his team, sit in the dugout and watch them play for 90 minutes”. Politicians will always speak tongue in cheek hence the “prepare his team” part.
Whatever may be their motive for speaking out at this time, the incoming administration stands to benefit from Keyamo and Aliyu’s pontifications. Although the Nigerian Constitution demands that ministers must be drawn from each of the 36 states, it’s pointless creating 36 or 37 ministries if the FCT must be counted in. While those with the least experience can be deployed as ministers of state in complex ministries, key performance indicators and periodic peer review mechanisms should be instituted through which underperforming ministries can be redeployed as ministers of state and vice versa for the latter who prove their mettle. This will be enough motivation for members of the cabinet to be diligent and result-oriented. Naija News also demands that portfolios should be assigned to nominated ministers whenever the ministerial list is sent to the Senate for a confirmation hearing.
27 May 2023 at 3:33 PM
Coming to say now that minister of state is unconstitutional when you have stayed and completed your eight years as a minister of state is un call for.you should have tell thisto Buhari in 2015 then we will believe you.