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The Muhammadu Buhari Presidency is taking Nigeria on a familiar but unpleasant journey in the matter of delay in the selection of a cabinet. Two months into his second tenure, President Buhari has yet to form a cabinet or even give indications of establishing one. The consequences have ranged from the sad to the ridiculous.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu was forced to issue disclaimers when some media organs unveiled a list of ministers. He suffered severe backlash on Twitter as many respondents ridiculed his statement.
The Senate taunted the Presidency on July 9 saying it would go on its vacation at the end of July whether or not they get the nominations for ministers. Senate spokesman Senator Adedayo Adeyeye stated, “It is the prerogative of the President to send his ministerial nominee list to the Senate and when he does that we will consider it.That is our constitutional mandate. It is not even within our powers to even advise. We will wait until the matter is transmitted to us.The executive is aware of the timetable of the Senate. There is a particular time the Senate will go on recess. That being in mind, they should be mindful of when they carry out this constitutional responsibility.”
The matter goes beyond the optics. A similar delay in 2015 by about six months contributed to economic stagnation followed by a descent into recession. Every reasonable expectation was that such a situation would not arise again.
Since May 29, 2019, President Buhari has operated as the sole administrator of Nigeria. A single administrator is ultravires the provisions of the constitution that stipulates that the President would run the business of the country with a cabinet of ministers appointed to reflect national spread and interest. The constitution, among others,insists that the Government must have an Attorney General. There is as yet none in office.
The economy suffers the inertia arising from the absence of ministers. Ministers sign off on policies. They are central to conversations with bilateral and multilateral missions and agencies. Without ministers to sign off on agreements and plans, policy implementation also suffers.
Experience from the first cabinet of the President shows that a long wait before appointments does not ensure a better cabinet. Not in the least. Across the world, governments elected after the Nigerian elections appointed their councils on inauguration or immediately after. This was the case with South Africa and India.
The presidential system ought to be easier for cabinet formation. The cabinet is the prerogative of the President but with contributions from his party. He only needs to do so and to ensure compliance with the 1999 Nigerian Constitution on representation and spread. In 1999 at the dawn of this democracy, President Olusegun Obasanjo did not waste any time in nominating his cabinet. This was a man out of circulation by the matter of his imprisonment by the previous regime.
Permanent Secretaries and their subordinates in the Civil Service currently run affairs of state. While the Permanent Secretary remains the Chief Accounting Officer of the ministry, he does not take responsibility for all actions. That duty falls on the cabinet appointee.
We run a grave danger with running an administration without anadequately constituted cabinet. One of the risks is that persons without authority would initiate and take actions. The RUGA settlement scheme that blew up in the face of the country is one such example of persons without cabinet responsibility initiating and implementing policies.
The policy environment in the absence of ministers is so foggy investors cannot see. Investors are making it clear that they cannot commit to the country in the absence of policy heads with whom they can discuss. A similar consideration is affecting the stock market because of uncertainty in the lack of a cabinet.
It is unacceptable that placements announced by the Presidency are for positions that would report to ministers. It is putting the cart before the horse. The appropriate procedure is to have policy heads and then work with them to appoint heads of agencies under the ministries. The current situation is a recipe for indiscipline as the appointees would tend to see themselves as beyond the control of the ministers eventually appointed. It happened under this same government with the now-dismissed boss of the National Health Insurance Scheme.
We urge Mr President to act quickly to turn this situation around. He has had four years to work with various Nigerians and to study the situation. He should by now have identified persons with whom he can work to develop and implement policies for the second term.
Name your ministers today, dear Mr President. Jumpstart this second term now.