Ministerial screening: What the constitution says
FOLLOWING the acrimonious noise and rancour trailing the release of 21 ministerial nominees by President Muhamadu Buhari, it is imperative to examine the constitutional provisions guiding such nominations and screening by the Senate. The venom flaring from left, right and centre over what ordinarily should be routine in the Senate is worrisome, misplaced, unnecessary and uncalled for.
It is as if this is the first time ministers would be nominated and forwarded to the Senate for confirmation; or that Senate doesn’t want ministers in this government. Whether or not the nominees are confirmed, a government is already in place and running. It is not that their non-confirmation would stop the government from carrying on. It is in the national interest for the Senate to do the needful and let the ministers be by confirming them without putting unnecessary wedges.
The Senate is at the centre of the storm. Its members, particularly, those of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are the ones generating unnecessary tension by making inflammatory statements over some of the nominees.
It is not that the Senate is made up of angels who are now called upon to screen mortal men. As a matter of fact, the ministerial nominees are no lesser mortals than members of the Senate. Everybody is in the same troubled Nigerian ship that needs rescue. Pointing accusing fingers to your fellow sailors instead of finding a way to steer the ship away from wreckage is senseless.
I say this because nobody is making noise over the delayed appointment of commissioners by the state governors. The commissioners have more direct impact on the daily life of the people than the ministers. Not all the state governors have appointed commissioners since the elections were concluded in April. The state governors are taking time to select the right people to work with just as Buhari is also doing.
So, what is special about the delay in appointing ministers? I am not saying that the delay is ideal. But the President explained the delay in his October 1 independence anniversary speech. So, why can’t we allow peace to reign in the national interest? I find it strange that people are breaking their heads over the ministerial nominees. Who do they want?
Section 142 (2) gives the President power to nominate persons for the post of Minister of the Government of the Federation, who in turn have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Section 147 (1) says, “There shall be such offices as Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.” This means the President has the discretion to handle the issue of ministers as he likes. There is no time frame as to when the President must nominate his ministers. The President has the discretion to nominate the ministers as he deems fit.
This provision lays to rest the clamour that the President has delayed in nominating ministers. A President may decide to nominate his Ministers as soon as he is sworn into office. He can also decide to take his time before making any nomination. The President has the freedom to nominate his Ministers in batches or at once. Whatever the Senate receives at any time is what they should confirm. According to Section 147 (5) the only qualification for one to be appointed as Minister is that the person must be “qualified for election into the House of Representatives”.
Having made the nomination and forwarded same to the Senate, it is left to the Senate to do their job by confirming the nominees. The Constitution did not specify the way and manner the Senate should confirm a ministerial nominee, they have the prerogative to decide. But Section 147 (6) gives the Senate 21 days to complete the screening. The Senate has no right under this Constitution to refuse to confirm any list of nominees sent to it on account of not being complete.
Furthermore, Section 149 says, “A Minister of the Government of the Federation shall not enter upon the duties of his office, unless he has declared his assets and liabilities as prescribed in this Constitution and has subsequently taken and subscribed the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of office for the due execution of the duties of his office prescribed in the Seventh Schedule of this Constitution.”
This provision rules out the threats by the Senate that no Minister would be confirmed unless he or she declares his/her assets and liabilities. The declaration of assets and liabilities comes after confirmation and the nominee has taken the Oath of office. The declaration of assets is not done on the floor of the Senate. And a person who has not been appointed cannot go the Code of Conduct Bureau to declare assets.
It is illegal and unconstitutional to demand that ministerial nominees must declare their assets prior to confirmation and taking the Oath of office. As lawmakers, the Senate should save us time and allow the rule of law to prevail.
If anyone has grudges against a nominee, the right place to channel the petitions is the President who made the nominations. But again, I doubt if President Buhari would entertain such distractions when he has already taken time to make his nominations. It is wrong not to confirm any nominee based on mere frivolous allegations that have not been proven.
Constitutionally, the only thing lacking in Buhari’s list of 21 nominees is Federal Character. Section 147 (3) requires the President to “appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be indigene of such State”. Some states don’t have nominees yet. But the President has promised to send another batch of nominees, which we hope would reflect all the states.
The plan to restructure the ministries has nothing to do with the Federal Character demand in the appointments. That is to say, even if the President decides to reduce the number of ministries to 10, he is still duty-bound to appoint one minister from each state. Since we have 36 states and Abuja FCT, there should be at least 37 ministerial nominees.
It is not constitutional that every minister must be assigned to a ministry. Section 148 (1) allows the President to use his discretion to assign Ministers to any business of the Government, including administration of any department of government.
That is to say, any Minister could be assigned to a ministry, department or agency of government. There are enough businesses in government to be assigned to the Ministers. The impression that ministers must be assigned to ministries is wrong and has to change.
There are complaints that some ministerial nominees are not indigene of the states assigned to them. The President should look into that and correct the anomaly if true.
Those screaming that Buhari nominated more politicians than technocrats are beating about the bush. There are politician technocrats. People like Babatunde Fashola, Chris Ngige, Ogbonnaya Onu and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo are technocrats in politics.
Senate should remove sentiments and emotions and follow the law. It is in the national interest for it to confirm the ministers so that they could get to work. There is no list that would be presented by the President that would not attract contentions. Moreover, if a state nominee is not confirmed, that state loses; the running of government won’t stop because the state has no minister. Therefore, senators who are gearing up to frustrate the nominees from their states are not doing so in their people’s interest.