Why some ministers can’t perform
The weekend outburst by the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, over a cabal hijacking her husband’s government merely reinforced the fear of most Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari may not be in full control of his government. That will be most unfortunate because once a cabal takes over a government, nothing works. The politics of cabal in government has been with us since the beginning of the present political dispensation and the result is disastrous.
We didn’t hear much about a cabal holding government to ransom during the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration because that was a man that cannot be dictated for. But as soon as Obasanjo handed over power to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a cabal quickly took control. The politics of Yar’Adua’s ill-health and eventual demise was dictated by a vicious cabal that kept Nigerians in the dark even when it was known that the president was deeply incapacitated.
A more formidable cabal resurfaced under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and held it hostage. The cabal was so powerful that Jonathan did practically nothing without their approval. The irony is that most of the time, the persons that constitute themselves into a cabal may not hold any official position but are persons who deem themselves so close to the president; people who think it is their turn to control the affairs of Nigeria including how money is spent and who spends it.
It is from that angle that the issue of ministers comes to mind. Whereas the ministers and other political appointees are made based on diverse criteria from different states, they are often at the mercy of a cabal that must decide how funds are released to any official. A minister can do little or nothing if he/she is not in the good book of the “ruling cabal”. Such a minister may not be able to complain as that would mean incurring the wrath of the cabal. The cabal decides who sees the president. A minister who finds himself in such tight corner simply stays there while nothing is happening on his job front.
It is not unusual that barely a year after President Buhari appointed his ministers, Nigerians are clamouring, once again, for him to rejig his cabinet by dropping the “non-performing” ministers. Some of the ministers have done practically nothing. There is nothing wrong in reshuffling a cabinet. There are two ways of doing it. One is to reshuffle, in which case, the ministers are simply reassigned new portfolios and no one is dropped. The other way is to drop the “non-performing” ministers and make fresh appointments to replace them. Either way, one is reassigned or dropped if he/she is adjudged not to have performed well. A minister who is adjudged to be performing may not be reassigned or dropped. He is left to continue with his good work.
That brings me to the issue of ministers and non-performance syndrome. I have always queried how the ministers are evaluated and the criteria used. But before I continue, I would like to digress a bit into the way and manner the ministers are appointed in the first place.
It is common knowledge that quite often, ministers in Nigeria are not appointed on the basis of ability to perform but on political patronage. The president doesn’t appoint people he knows can help him achieve his goals in the public interest. Instead, persons, who may not be known to the president, are appointed as ministers just to satisfy vested interest. There are cases of people who have since retired from public service and are not abreast with current happenings that are handpicked, dusted and appointed as minister. Such persons wonder why they are invited after so many years in the cooler.
The prospective ministers are not told the portfolio they are going to hold. The so-called Senate screening is a jamboree that adds nothing to the quality of the appointments. The screening ought to serve as quality control if only the nominees are screened on the basis of the ministry in view. But that is not the case. Just as the screening is blind, the nominees are led blindly to a ministry they know nothing about.
Once a minister is assigned portfolio, the next thing is how he is evaluated. For me, there are three criteria that could be used to evaluate a minister’s performance. First is a national development plan that clearly articulates what the country wants with specific targets. Take for example electricity. A national development plan would have mapped out step by step what the country wants with time specific targets. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not operating on any known national development plan, such that ministers can’t be evaluated based on that. How then do you evaluate a minister without a work template?
The second is the annual budget, which, in a way, represents the plan for a given year. Nigeria’s budgets are plagued with crisis of the global oil price. The availability of funds depends on what oil is selling at any given time. At a time when oil price is down, with government borrowing to meet basic demands, it is not known how a minister, who has to literally beg a cabal before any fund could be released to him, would fare in his duty. What a minister does in a budget depends on the interest of the cabal.
The third has to do with ministers who take it upon themselves to formulate new roadmap for their ministry. There have been ministers who came on board to formulate new road map for power, education or even roads. While such ministers give the impression that they are working hard, the roadmap or whatever they formulated on their own volition is trashed no sooner than they left office. Some other ministers just make a lot of noise with media coverage that puts them in the limelight while in actual fact nothing is happening.
The president does not need to know his ministers and other appointees personally for them to perform. The president’s job is to manage the people. Once the president knows his onions, he will be able to steer each minister in the right direction to do his job, especially, when there is no template.