Many Nigerians wouldn’t have believed anyone who told them that President Buhari would end up appointing 36 ministers. Before May 2015, Nigeria was being run at an outrageously high cost and this man’s message on every pulpit he stood to preach was “CHANGE”. Then vice president-elect Osinbajo gave astonishing figures of how neck-deep in debt we were and PMB himself not only promised to cut costs but also appeared to be fully acquainted with the need to do so when he said the 2015 budget was 90% recurrent expenditure and 10% capital expenditure.
To state it analogically, a man who spends almost all his money on day-to-day living expenses isn’t on the right path because he has little left to make life-changing expenses.
In an article I wrote before we ushered in PMB entitled “Cutting the Cost of Governance”, I advised against appointing ministers of state if indeed we were worried about costs. To say I am disappointed is only stating the obvious as there wouldn’t be 36 appointees if we didn’t still leave room for “deputy ministers”. Even before things got this bad, I never saw any need for them.
The same Constitution which provides for an indigene from each state to be appointed minister also empowers the president in section 147 (1) to establish such offices of ministers as he deems fit. If you apply the right rule of legal interpretation, that supersedes the “every state” proviso to Section 147 (3) despite the presence of the operative word “shall”. Contrary to a widely held belief, the president isn’t obligated to have 36 ministers in one fell swoop. There is no better “deputy minister” than the permanent secretary. He, in conjunction with his directors, is enough to provide all the assistance any minister could possibly need. Believe it or not, the monies allotted to ministers of state as part of our “recurrent expenditure” over a four-year period is enough to fund a tangible project worth remembering any government for.
There has been a lot of talk about diversifying our economy; the president himself has said the 2016 budget will be geared towards that. But only a few realize you need money to open other doors. To have a second means of livelihood means to invest towards that. We just can’t get into agriculture or any other source of income and expect to be major players overnight. We need to develop and have enough to survive on till it becomes a viable second means. And we can’t do this if we are struggling to pay salaries and ward off petroleum marketers. Please note that these salaries are not those for senators, governors or the president but for civil servants. The recommendations of the committee set up by the Senate to review its entitlements look set to die the “Nigerian death” — gradually being ushered out of our consciousness. You wouldn’t argue much if the president said he was helpless over that, but he certainly isn’t when it comes to the ministers.
I had already started to dream of a Nigeria that would cut its coat according to its cloth before the lists of ministers were submitted to the Senate. And I envisioned us without a women affairs ministry as all it does can be effectively delegated to others, and a Nigeria without a Niger Delta ministry that has clearly outlived its usefulness. I thought we would no longer laugh at the joke called the special duties ministry and its sister in “beautiful nonsensicality”, the Ministry of National Planning. We might as well create a ministry of civil defence affairs if anyone thinks it’s wise to still maintain the police affairs ministry.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying they aren’t in any way useful; all I am saying is that their functions can be properly carried out without their being in place. For someone who has always had that belief to retain them during these trying times is madness. Well, they are likely to still be around for a long time, from the look of things, and without any alteration to their structure if we are going to have ministers and their deputies. With both sets of lawmakers still commanding way more than N10 million a month, the president has effectively shot down all hopes of a drastic reduction in the cost of governance by appointing this many ministers. All other measures would only amount to emptying a river with a cup.
— Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano.