After keeping the nation waiting and guessing for over a month after being sworn in as President, Goodluck Jonathan finally put together a cabinet to assist him in achieving his electoral promises and transformation agenda. Of the 34 names that made the first batch of nominees he sent to the Senate, about 28, at press time, have been endorsed by the Senate and 14 have been sworn in as ministers. Twelve of those sworn in are returnees, not only to the cabinet but also to their old ministerial posts. Some of those cleared by the Senate last week are also returnees to the cabinet.
If the President targets 42 as the total number of ministers he requires as is being generally believed, only eight nominees are left to complete the team. It is assumed that the remaining eight, (excluding Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, finance minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo and until recently managing director of the World Bank), are either being screened by the SSS or the President is still casting his net wide in search of more men and women. As at now, the President's team is almost complete except if there are upsets from the Senate.
For us, Jonathan’s ministerial lineup is a disappointment, to say the least. It is certainly not what we expected and we doubt if it is what most Nigerians prayed for. We expected a cabinet of credible people and achievers in the private and public sectors, men and women of redoubtable integrity and candour with a ‘can-do’ spirit. Although the list has a sprinkle of these individuals, particularly from academia, they are not enough to bring about the much needed and urgent transformation that the Nigeria of today requires. From the look of things, the quality of the cabinet may give a lie to Jonathan’s promise that things would change. So far, nothing has changed and, we fear, nothing may change.
What the President has done is to put much of the old wine in a new bottle, giving Nigerians a diluted, tasteless brew. He did this, as he explained, in the name of ensuring continuity so as to curb frequent policy changes and somersaults that have characterised governance over the years. He may well be right, if some of these ministers had performed wonderfully well in their first coming, but the fact is that they didn’t. By returning more than half of this lacklustre team to their old beats, it is doubtful if Mr President considered the issues of merit and integrity in his choice of ministers as we canvassed in our editorial (TELL, May 23, 2011). We suspect that he caved in to pressure from his party and the notorious godfathers in the garb of governors and party leaders. Now on the cabinet are men and women owing allegiance to present and former governors, party leaders and elders whom they see as their real benefactors.
Expectedly, some of them, in their statements, have been showering praises and gratitude on their godfathers and the President for returning them to their posts. What this means is that Jonathan and his party have turned ministerial jobs into sinecures for political jobbers, opportunists and favour seekers and not an opportunity to look for the best as it is done in other lands, and as was done under former President Obasanjo in his second term in office.
It is unfortunate that Jonathan has unwittingly foisted on the nation people who cannot perform to expectation because of their personal shortcomings, their antecedents as former public office holders, or their link to dubious party men and leaders. We are bothered that on the cabinet are people who cannot fight corruption, men and women who generally cannot challenge the status quo because they are hobbled by their antecedents and the heavy political IOUs that trail them.
It is on record that one of them accused of scandalous deals and corruption scaled the screening hurdles with such baggage without the government and its security agents making efforts to convince the people that such weighty allegations have been found to be baseless. At the Senate screening sessions, some of them, in spite of being in government for more than one year, gave contradictory figures about the rate of employment in the country while another claimed that he refused to prosecute some past leaders accused of corruption just because in his own magisterial opinion, the suspects' trial might fail in court due to lack of sufficient evidence! This nominee, now minister, apparently forgot that some foreigners involved in the same deals had been found guilty and jailed by their home governments while the companies involved were indicted and sanctioned. The senators, too, conscious of this development, allowed the puerile explanation to go unchallenged.
At the Senate hearings, some of the ministers-designate adroitly employed sophistry, distant surmises, a good dose of grandstanding and much of subterfuge to cover their incompetence. With their divided loyalty, we suspect many of them will end up doing nothing other than “settling” their friends and loyalists, many of whom have taken advert pages singing their praises in the belief that they (ministers) have been certified fit enough for the looting spree associated with public office in this clime. We had thought Jonathan would rise beyond this level and fill his cabinet with star-studded Nigerians just like he did in the case of his choice of members of the Theophilus Danjuma-led Presidential Advisory Council, PAC. Even then, what stopped the President from appointing some of the dedicated and able persons on the PAC into his cabinet? It would have been an opportunity for them to implement some of the brilliant ideas they espoused in their economic blueprint for the nation.
The President should know by now that modern governments do not require for their competence and effectiveness much of political party patronage, spousal input or some other mundane factors that tend to lay governance prone to corrupt influences and the possibility of being crippled at birth. We hope that he has not shot himself in the foot or done much damage to an administration from which so much is expected especially now.
Apart from being widely off the mark in his choice of many of his ministers, the President has also ignored the wise counsel of concerned patriotic Nigerians in the area of cutting the cost of governance. With 42 ministers and 20 special advisers in addition to the burden of a big bureaucracy and a money-guzzling National Assembly, President Jonathan may be unwittingly driving the nation into an economic disaster. Even though the constitution requires him to appoint 37 ministers to take care of the nation's 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, the President has no business hiring more than that figure, at least for now. Thereafter, he should seek to get the National Assembly and the state legislatures to amend the Constitution to enable the country, in line with modern thinking, have a small and nimble government. Taking care of the six geo-political zones in ministerial appointment is unconstitutional and even superfluous and so can be ignored. Also, appointing 20 special advisers of cabinet rank, we believe, is quite wasteful.
For instance, we find that the appointment of a special adviser each for Energy and International Relations is absolutely unnecessary since ministers and ministers of state have already been pencilled down for the Ministry of Power and that of Foreign Affairs. The ministers in these two ministries as well as the special advisers will be performing the same functions. Worst still is the appointment of a special adviser on Ethics and Values. This is perhaps the most redundant sinecure any President can make. To appoint Sarah Jibril, a former presidential aspirant in the President’s party into such position certainly amounts to ingratiating party members at the expense of the state. It is another wasteful exercise.
With the current cabinet profile and with bloated costs becoming a sine qua non of government, the prognosis reveals a disturbing likelihood of Nigeria having to go through four long years without growth and development let alone pursuing with vigour the laudable Vision 20:20-20 programme. To assuage our fears, the President must either review his ministerial list or devise a way to make his ministers hit the ground running. Although we believe he has put a wrong foot forward, President Jonathan remains Nigeria's de jure and de facto leader on whose shoulders the country's future lies. The buck certainly stops on his desk and, of course, he cannot afford to fail.