Cabinets are important in a democracy. Without a cabinet, governance will be very difficult. The concept of cabinet was motivated by the knowledge that presidents, governors and local government chairmen are incapable of executing all development tasks alone. So, they require the assistance of others, to oversee other strategic assignments. That is the centrality of cabinet in the affairs of the modern society. We know it but in practice we seem to devote minor attention to it. We hardly talk about cabinets, the processes, the impact on our development and ways of strengthening the concept except when general elections are over and winners are ready to form government.
The president and governors have been expected, long after they were sworn-in on May 29, to constitute their cabinets and begin to run with the task of the governance. But for more than three months nothing significant happened in this regard. In the president’s first tenure it took him six months to form a cabinet and in the second that began last May it took him more than three months if we add the fact that he was declared winner in February. The people did not like it and still do not; the expectation is that those elected into executive offices should be able to release names of nominees to executive positions 48 hours after they have been sworn-in. The governors are not better; they also take very long time before constituting their cabinets.
These and more are some of the issues we would have discovered if we made constitution of cabinets a cardinal matter and kept it on the front burner as one of the issues of national importance. By now we ought to have straightened the processes leading to cabinet constitutions, the question of time for nomination after swearing-in and attachment of portfolios alongside names of nominees. These ought by now to have been settled matters. It is wrong to send names of appointees to the legislature without portfolios. We do the country great harm by walking that road and we have insisted on walking on this wrong path because our understanding of the concept of cabinet has been flawed from the beginning.
We see cabinets as tools for compensation, patronage; something when leaders like your face they give to you; we see it also as instrument for our ethnic and religious promotion. It has become a great incentive for winning the future elections. Former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was the first president of minority extraction. When he was in power, one of the major criticisms against him was that he packed his administration full with people from his area. Just two weeks ago, President Buhari who rode to power in 2015 on a mantra of change told the country that he gave more ministerial offices to Kano and Kaduna states because they gave him the highest number of votes. This should not be so; it is the prevalence of such obnoxious practices that has prevented the constitution of sound cabinets. In recent times, we have seen the nomination of many lawyers; you look at the list and you ask yourself what for? It is the distortion in the composition of cabinets that leaves us with a situation where square pegs are inserted into round holes with lawyers becoming ministers for power, works and housing or communications and even lawyers or pharmacists managing information.
This is an aberration of a first order and it has been responsible for failure of most cabinets and by extension the governments that put them in place. There has been this argument that anybody who is well read can handle any administrative position. Fine thinking, but why go for good when better is possible? Which one makes more sense to cognitive reasoning: to have the right engineer head power, communications and mining ministries or have a History or English graduate? The strings around cabinets make them susceptible to failures. Appointing powers see appointments as favours, so the beneficiary is expected to be contented, grateful and calm. Some writers have termed it the art of “Not talking while eating.” President Obasanjo once told his advisers, “Your job is to advice and my own is to take or not to take.” The truth is that our presidents, governors and local government chairmen behave like emperors or demi-gods once sworn into office. Some appointees never see them at all throughout the tenure or before they are relieved, while some have the privilege (mind the word, privilege) of only meeting their bosses between two and five times.
When President Buhari directed ministers to always interface with the Chief of Staff or Secretary to Government if they wanted appointment with him, he didn’t give a fresh directive, he was rather bringing to public knowledge a terrible practice that has been in place across all tiers of government. The post of Chief of Staff has been an aberration but it has been there because it serves the negative intensions of their bosses. The closeness to the governor or the president confers on these guys enormous power very far beyond what authority can give. The Secretary to the Government who should have the authority is instead somehow relegated. The ideal should be that cabinet members should be able to walk in to see the president or governor as the case may be. They should also be able to put through a call; in fact chief executives should have a line dedicated to cabinet members.
One big truth is performance and results do not happen in a vacuum. It has long been said and we agree, that where there is no vision the people perish. As it is today our country has no national vision. Those that have ruled hadn’t any just as those ruling today have none. They rig themselves into power and then the search for what to do begins. It is a kind of rollercoaster journey, as we do not have a picture of the destination, everywhere looks like it. The Minister of Power’s first step to steady electricity supply is increase in electricity bills; he is not concerned whether citizens spend longer period in darkness than they do in light or whether over 160 million citizens are out of job and wallowing in abject poverty. Minister of Internal Affairs told us he doesn’t even know about the ministry and Minister for Niger-Delta has said he will have to go on a tour of the area before he can submit a programme to the President for approval. Last week, he began talking about probing. A presidential blueprint would have prevented this kind of rigmarole.
Often times we assail ministers and commissioners over stewardship accounts and achievements but we don’t take cognizance of the role which financing plays in posting achievements. Chief executives said budgets are estimates; this definition has its constraints. In most cases, these bosses determine what is done many times without the contributions from their appointees. Approval is not equal to pay; sometimes it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for some ministers and commissioners to receive funds for approved projects. Cabinets will run proficiently if the country has a vision and the chief executives are ready to commit to it.