Not The Best Time To Be Minister
I TEND to forget, sometimes, that ministers have been named and assigned portfolios. There is a silence that is most unusual. Since the inauguration of the 36 ministers on November 11, three Wednesdays have come and gone without some ministers coming out to proclaim in front of television cameras what was discussed at the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC).
Although, things have changed since May 29, it has not been announced, officially or unofficially, that the date for the FEC meeting has changed from Wednesdays to another day in the week. And so, I want to believe that in one of the Wednesdays ahead, the FEC will resume and a minister, preferably, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, for a start, shall emerge after a marathon session, to announce to anxious newsmen the projects that have been earmarked for delivery in the short medium and long term development plans of the All Progressves Congress (APC) government.
Individually, the ministers are silent too. Not even Babatunde Raji Fashola, who had the big luck of a treble portion in an allotment that had many under valued is talking of the many challenges in his three ministries. I had expected Fashola to visit all the locations of the new power plants being built in the country and draw a timetable of when each plant shall come on stream to quicken the production of 40,000 megawatts (in four years) as promised by the APC.
Fashola is also not saying when ongoing reconstruction of federal highways nationwide, notably the Lagos –Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja-Lokoja-Benin Road, Onitsha – Enugu Road, Enugu – Port Harcourt Road and the Calabar – Itu Road will end. Neither is he announcing the commencement of the reconstruction of other federal highways that are in bad shape.
There is silence everywhere as if we are in Ikoyi Cementry. Maybe, I am the one missing the point. Before their inauguration, President Buhari had branded ministers as noisemakers. Today, the ministers are silent like obedient pupils to prove the president wrong. If anything, it is the president, who is making greater noise with a self assigned global campaign to redefine Nigeria as the most corrupt country in the world. He has made about 15 international trips since May 29 in furtherance of this campaign. Even as we speak, he is not at home. He is in South Africa for the second time this year to continue the campaign.
To be fair to President Buhari, he had said from the beginning that he didn’t have need for ministers and that he could run efficiently with only permanent secretaries and other cadre of civil servants. The 36 ministers were imposed on him by the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which says the president must work with a cabinet of at least 36 ministers.
A brief flashback. I wouldn’t know how many people watched the swearing-in ceremony on November 11. I did and I can report right away that the men and women on parade on that day didn’t inspire too much confidence. They did not look like the gathering of a people who had something to offer Mr. President, or who deserved to be appointed ministers outside partisan considerations. They looked tamed and subdued and ready to accept anything under any condition. As names were read and ministries assigned, a good number of them struggled to remain happy in spite of palpable dissatisfaction, just to please the Commander-In-Chief.
Something tells me that if some of these fellows had had the full picture of what was on offer from the beginning, they would have backed out. Take for instance that young and brilliant lawyer from Kogi State, who, all things considered, might have thought he was good enough for the Justice ministry. He ended up a junior minister in the ministry of labour and he accepted the offer with both hands.
He didn’t have an option of refusal in the first place. The ministerial recruitment was not meant to offer platforms for self aggrandizement. It was meant to change Nigeria and Buhari who exclusively holds the franchise for change also understood who would be where to bring about the change. And this was exactly what he did with the ministerial postings. There was also the quiet understanding amongst all that whoever that was short-changed in the postings, should in the new spirit of national revival, accept whatever shortfall as a sacrifice.
It is the reason that a professor and former Vice Chancellor who is a junior to a veteran journalist in the ministry of education is going about his work quietly without complaining. In the same spirit, the one they call JKF is happy combing the savannah belt for solid mineral deposits instead of attending upscale international conferences as foreign affairs minister. The man who thought none understood the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as himself was asked to contribute to the change programme as a junior in the ministry of environment.
In the immediate past, the woman who manned the finance ministry, had enough in her bowl to qualify for the super title of “Coordinating Minister of the Economy (CME).” Today, much of the content of the finance ministry that bestows fiscal control on the minister has been migrated elsewhere and the current occupant, the fone lady from Ogun State, instead of coordinating is actually a compromising minister. The ministry has been contracted into a cash office, where the new minister is just a little better than an osusu treasurer who disburses money as directed.
Now, for all the work a minister will do to change Nigeria, his/her monthly salary is about N169, 000.00. This is even for a substantive minister; a junior minister is a little lower. All the other allowances, including a furniture allowance of N6,079,200, which comes once in four years, amount to just about N13.4million. And so, plus, minus, the economy of a full minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall revolve around less than N1.5million a month.
I must note that, this is not small money in an economy where a minimum wage of N18,000.00 is under serious threat of a downward review as a result of the prevailing gloom. The ministers are also not to fly first class when travelling outside Nigeria. They are forbidden from signing on any of their many hangers-on as special advisers or assistants. They are strictly on their own. This is most strange; just no privileges but sacrifice all the way!
Buhari should be told that some of the ministers are not ordinary. The whole thing that he is calling annual package for ministers is probably the tea allowance of Dr Ibe Kachikwu at Exxon-Mobil. Why he accepted to leave his well paying job for the pittance in government is perhaps the hidden content that is never fully declared beyond the desire to sacrifice for the fatherland in this whole matter of government appointment.
There are also ex-governors who had been used to large paraphernalia and spending. How do you cage them within these austere parameters, and tell a Rotimi Amaechi, who once had a private jet for instance, to fly in some compartment less than first class for 12 hours to the US just because he is a minister under President Buhari? When he was governor, his commissioners, SAs and PAs were the ones flying business class not himself.
Buhari can make his show a little more interesting by relaxing the rules. The 36 ministers, especially the politicians among them cannot survive for long under this harsh public service climate. They are carrying on in spite of themselves and the President should not take this for loyalty to his change agenda.
For now, their options are slim, because the 36 ministers are riding the tiger. At the slightest opportunity, many of them will unmount and scamper to safety. The PDP, which understands the game better is there to receive them with fanfare!
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