Yar’adua Cabinet Restructure: Redefining Or Redeeming Wrong Tools?

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

The bureaucratic structure of Nigeria’s Colonial Civil Service is a good example of where one could find dignity remains far from any justification to choose silly and shallow-brain ministers.

Whichever way one looks at it or one chooses to characterize it, the billion dollar question is Can Nigeria’s economy really afford all these Ministers? Criticism of what I call “shadow ministers” has also reached critical mass among sections of the public because of the inclusion of certain personalities who clearly lack the qualities, qualification and expertise to be named Minister or Minister of state but have wound up on the list precisely because of the desire of the ruling party to please certain political allies.

A “shadow minister” equals shadow spending, waste of government revenue, which invariably works into higher deficit and ultimately snowballs into higher taxes on the already highly taxed working class. Try to think of where the government would find the money to cater for dormant ministers whose position entailed free accommodation, free transportation (free petrol coupons), free access to public utilities (electricity, water and telephone) among other benefits without giving us equivalent input and changes required from the ailing ministries.

These incentives were definitely coming from our pockets. Another name for that if you need to be jolted is-“more taxes”. Nigeria is shedding the enormous and oft-times over-bearing, financially draining, non-performing shadow ministers which deters saving money for national development.

The constitution splits Federal Government capacity into granulated ministries Department and Agencies (MDA), which exercises the function of state-house to manage, oversee and control overall development of Nigerian nation. The federal Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA) form a constitutional convention in Nigeria government using a system whereby a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. This means that if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions. A minister is ultimately responsible for all actions by a ministry. Even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates the minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants. If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.

The sack of the former Minister for Health, Professor Adenike Grange following allegations of graft is a free example. For Professor Grange, there was a possibility that once she received the order she was prevailed upon but the norms of that institution which probably was steeped in corruption and headed previously by such incompetent buffoons that she found it hard to overcome the weight of their insistence. Given that, it was still her responsibility to run that ministry and it is merely semantics to try and separate her responsibility from her culpability in allowing illegal actions to take place under her watch.

The principle is considered essential as it is seen to guarantee that an elected official is answerable for every single government decision. It is also important to motivate ministers to closely scrutinize the activities within their departments. One rule coming from this principle is that each cabinet member answers for their own ministry in Question Time/Question Period.

Some of our learned and honourable members of the national assembly may still like to bury their heads in the shame for the kind of people they endorsed to become our ministers,” bow and leave” but the reality is, if we might re-echo it to them, that there is a chronic lack of leadership and expertise in these strategic development organisations to such an extent that any dealings that the ordinary citizen has with them, e.g. making applications, processing official documentation, seeking information, getting someone to take ownership of a problem, ends up in sheer frustration. This situation is killing our country and retarding its progress.

We know some ministers have done relatively well, but it should not be so much their mediocre initiatives, energy and dynamism but for God’s sake there is the need to respond to real world concerns of the downtrodden ordinary Nigerian in our broken cities, towns and villages up and down the country. As far as the ordinary Nigerian is concerned the chaos and lack of proper management of most ministries and departments is proof that the Ministers are unable to manage their departments to deliver the services that will positively impact on their lives.

In recent times some opinion analysts have argued the notion of ministerial responsibility has been eroded in this country. While the doctrine is a constitutional convention there is no formal mechanism for enforcing the rule. Today ministers frequently use ignorance of misbehaviour as an argument for lack of culpability. While opposition parties rarely accept this argument, the electorate is often more accepting. Our Courts of Laws have become less likely to find ministers guilty when their individual knowledge of or involvement in a crime cannot be proved.

For all these ill-sided transpirations, Nigeria inherited a very weak infrastructure base. The existing infrastructure are generally aged or outdated and in need of renewal. Much of our infrastructure was built in the early 20th century to support the colonial administration and has not been updated much since. For instance, the railway network is deplorable and inadequate and exists in only 3 out of 10 regions having been built originally to support the movement of goods in the colonial era.

The infrastructure base of every country is one of the greatest determinants of inwards foreign investment. As a result, Nigeria’s quest to become a major economic force in the West African sub-region hinges not on the numerous slogans and dreams but on how solid our infrastructure base is. We can dream of becoming the gateway to West Africa, enticing some of the outsourcing market away from India etc., ultimately, we need to have the infrastructure to back up our claims.

The most recent development of public services took place in the 1960s on attainment of independence. At the time, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo embarked on an ambitious programme, which gave us most of the things, which currently constitute the mainstay of our infrastructure. The post-colonial legacy includes the Kainji Dam, the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos, Port Harcourt,Kaduna and Warri Refineries, Afam iv Thermal-Genrated Electricity Plant, Oyigbo, amongst many others. Since then, there have not been any major significant additions to our infrastructure stock. The easiest bit, which is pure and simple maintenance of these facilities, has also been handled woefully as they have been subject to years of neglect.

There have been several comparisons made between Nigeria and countries like Malaysia whom at the time of independence, we appeared to be at par with economically. In Malaysia’s case, the visionary leadership of President Mahathir Mohammed catapulted the country to new heights. Leaders, I believe, have a moral obligation to leave their countries in a better state than they find it. One might argue that in Azikiwe’s time, Nigeria was rich and had the resources to invest in infrastructure development. Yes, but as demonstrated by Malaysia, it does appear to me that the single most influential factor in all this is not just money but LEADERSHIP. Visionary leadership really is what in the first place sensitizes us to what needs doing and enables us to develop the strategy to address the needs.

Whilst we as a people may accept whatever service we get, investors have a choice as to where to place their money. So whilst we have come to accept perennial power cuts as a normal part of daily life, investors will not take that. But you see, in reality, no one should put up with such situations. If there was no way out, then we could accept it as our fate but up to a point, it becomes more of poor management and bad service.

Currently, we have just a little over 50 percent of our population who have access to potable water from the Nigeria Water Corporation. This means that at any point in time, some areas do not have running water. I do not know the current situation in places like Utako area inside Abuja where taps experience periods with no running water more than the periods when water runs. So in our homes and offices, toilets are left unflushed because there is no water, which in itself presents a health hazard. In villages, school children travel long distances before and after school when they should be reading and doing their homework, in search of water and the water they find is disease infested. Dangerous!

Waiting for a new telephone connection can take several months if not years that is if ever you can get it, despite the advent of mobile phone networks, which cannot still be entrusted. It is a serious situation that even in Abuja, there are people who can afford a mobile line but who cannot own a handset due to poor network services. The capacity of our telecommunication network even as privatized, is simply not large enough. We need more players and possibly an expansion of the capacity of the network.

Once cannot ignore the Lagos-Ore road which remains a single carriage road ridden with potholes. All knows that this contributes largely to the high incidence of accidents. What is lacking is the leadership of competent ministers, which will take the bull by the horns and take the decisive action to CHANGE this for the better.

Our health system is in a deplorable state? Hospitals are few and under-equipped leaving the poor with little access to good healthcare. Where healthcare is accessible, it is unaffordable. Hospitals are understaffed with healthcare professionals leaving in search of greener pastures.

I understand that we are going to build new stadia to host the U-17 World Championship come 2009. But I have not forgotten the last games we hosted, when we simply put plastic seats on the concrete seats in the Abuja and the Surulere Stadia and that was it. I do not discount the possibility of this happening again. How about our railway system? At the last count, the sector Minister was reported to have pleaded that it is taken from the divestiture list. But can the government ever find the funds to develop our railway network?

Talking about leadership in our federal ministries, I believe that we should explore innovative ways of raising funds to develop our infrastructure. I know that generally, the private sector has been touted as serious partners in this wise. I see a new segment of the federal ministries and ministers, which I believe, can do a lot in this wise. I refer to Nigerians in the Diaspora. I know for a fact that most people can never return to Nigeria purely because we lack the infrastructure to back the new tastes and lifestyles that they have acquired. One cannot blame them because most off the things that they take for granted are seen as luxuries here. For instance, some of them, in the years that they have been away from Nigeria have never seen a power cut or water shortage. Some of them have never washed anything with their hands- they use washing machine. For some of them the only single carriage roads are the ones that lead to their driveway. For them, Nigeria looks like a big village. Some of them make an effort to come for good only to return after a short while.

There should be no more excuses this time. It is time for the presidency to listen to ordinary people in vim to discover which of their policies should change to create an opportunity for all of us in terms of improved lives of communities and families. Ordinary people however, and their hopes and aspirations, generally haven’t featured, because they haven’t risen through the ranks of political parties, they don’t have doctorates. They are a bit- well ordinary so we shouldn’t be shocked after all that the establishment has found it hard to listen to their experiences, harder to accept that their difficulties often stem from inept government policies and non performing ministers and harder still to do much about it. The current focus is not good sense and is programmed to fail.

Today, in an apparent move to consolidate power, President Yar’Adua has made sweeping changes to the federal ministries. It is believed to play the part of efforts of this administration to fast-track and effectively coordinate the implementation of her seven-point agenda. Mr. President approved the rationalization and restructuring of federal ministries. One area that generated applause and excited for this administration is the creation of the ministry of Niger Delta, where the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) stands as a parastatal.

Again, to make sure that the workload is given the necessary focus, two ministers are being proposed. One will be in charge of development of Niger Delta area whereby construction of roads, electricity, etc instead of being handled by ministry of works or power will now be aggregated in this new ministry for better focus, quick implementation to demonstrate the seriousness and commitment of this administration. The minister of state will take charge of youth empowerment because the Niger Delta has a twin problem of development of youth empowerment.

Again, the Ministry of Police Affairs has been restored to give necessary attention to the security imperatives of the nation within the ambit of the Seven-Point Agenda of the present regime. It is in line with the reform of the police as an institution and also because the police is the largest employer of labour in the public sector now. There are nearly 400,000 police officers and men, which must be given the necessary focus and attention.

The Ministry of Energy has also been broken into two ministries – the Ministry of Power to be manned by a substantive minister and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources with a minister and a minister of state. The ministers in the Ministries of Education, Mines and Steel Development, Science and Technology have been reduced by one each.

A committee that will determine the new mandates of the ministries, their roles and relationship is expected to be inaugurated by the SGF. The committee comes up within one week the actual structure in terms of the number of departments and parastatals in each ministry. Under this new structure which is expected to engender greater flexibility, direction and focus, there will be 28 ministries and 42 ministers to cover the constitutional requirements for federal character while addressing the issues of equity and affirmative action.

Other ministries in the new dispensation are Finance, Health, Justice, Commerce and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Information and Communications, Labour and Productivity, Youth Development, Women Affairs and Social Development, Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Interior and Federal Capital Territory Administration. The National Planning Commission and National Sports Commission retain the same structure.

The new federal ministries should be channeled to produce research of outstanding quality on the core issues of the democracy including law and order on the right balance between government and all of us; and again, reinvigorate it‘s resources to politicians and opinion formers in all parties including every Nigerian, in order to create a consensus for the national reform.

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