Friday, 1st December 2023

Ministers: A mandate to take charge and rescue Nigeria

By Editorial Board
01 September 2023   |   4:04 am
Now that President Bola Tinubu has constituted the Federal Executive Council (FEC), with portfolios assigned to respective ministers, his government should settle down to serious work. There is so much to do in so little time.

President Bola Tinubu and his ministerial team.

Now that President Bola Tinubu has constituted the Federal Executive Council (FEC), with portfolios assigned to respective ministers, his government should settle down to serious work. There is so much to do in so little time. Nigerians are understandably impatient and ministers cannot afford to loaf. Every ministry is important and indeed, should take charge of the numerous issues affecting the country in the particular portfolio. If every minister works assiduously to overcome challenges in his sector, it will translate to the country’s progress and provide reliefs for hapless Nigerians who are directly on the receiving end of government bitter economic policies, topped by removal of petrol subsidy. Ministers should set an achievable agenda for themselves, and put a time frame for achievement, along with means of assessment open to the public. It will be disastrous for the ministers and the government if the new cabinet should steer the business as usual of the old.

It is noteworthy that the President is yet to assign a supervising minister to take charge of Petroleum Resources despite having two ministers of state, Ekperikpe Ekpo and Heineken Lokpobiri to supervise Gas Resources and Petroleum Resources. It is curious for the President to leave the position vacant just as his predecessor Muhammadu Buhari had done. President Tinubu should resist the temptation of allocating the portfolio to himself. This is because Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo did the same thing without any concrete or visible impact on Nigerians or the oil economy, on which the country is dependent. Besides, allocating the position to himself is immoral and illegal. The Constitution of the Federal Republic (1999 as amended) at Section 138 clearly provides that: “The President shall not, during his tenure in office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”

Moreover, Section 147 (2) requires the Senate to confirm any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation. If the President refuses to send a nomination for the Minister of Petroleum Resources for confirmation, it means the office does not exist and he cannot act in that capacity through the back door.

It is instructive to remind the President that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) is the law regulating oil and gas production, export and downstream operations in the country. The President has, by the removal of fuel subsidy, indicated the desire of his government to implement the PIA to the full and we urge him to do that. We reject the piecemeal approach to implementation of the law because it creates opportunities for opacity, rent seeking and non-disclosures of actual crude production and revenues, a climate that rendered oil and gas endowment in the country more of a curse than blessing. President Tinubu should not travel that route. Nigerians cannot accommodate a situation whereby the President cocoons himself in his Aso Villa closet to exercise political decisions on oil and gas matters. That is contrary to the intent of the PIA and Nigerians demand transparency.

Reflectively, in 2017, Olisa Agbakoba, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) went to court to challenge the constitutionality of President Buhari to hold office as minister of Petroleum Resources. The lawyer argued that the President was not fit to double as Petroleum Minister while remaining as President of the Federal Republic, in view of Sections 138 and 147(2) of the constitution.

“By virtue of Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which disqualifies the President of Nigeria from holding any other executive office or paid employment, can the Nigerian President simultaneously serve as Minister of Petroleum Resources, which is an executive office?

“By virtue of Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution, if the President is not disqualified, can the President hold the office of Minister of Petroleum Resources, without confirmation by the Senate of the National Assembly? the lawyer queried.

On November 16, 2018, the Federal High Court in Abuja delivered judgment in the suit and declared that Buhari cannot be president and Minister of Petroleum Resources at the same time. Justice Mohammed said, however, that there was no evidence of violation of Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution as the word “hold” as contained in the Section meant to preside, act, to possess, occupy or conduct the actual day to day running of the office of minister.

In other words, merely proclaiming or announcing that he (the President) was minister for petroleum was not enough to conclude that he holds the office of minister and that if the President had not appointed anybody to see to the day-to-day running of the office, for instance, Ibe Kachikwu, the Court’s decision would have been that the President cannot be Minister of Petroleum Resources.

The Court further held that, unless it can be shown that the President is directly conducting, directing, occupying the office of the petroleum minister, then it cannot be said that the President actually holds the office of petroleum minister.

However, Nigerians knew that former Buhari acted in the capacity of substantive minister of Petroleum Resources. His minister of state, Ibe Kachukwu and later Timipre Sylva merely shadowed him, and that was dubious and illegal. That is not the type of ‘smartness’ Nigerians expect of Tinubu. It’s a crooked thing to do.

Apart from the additional workload Petroleum Resources will add to his day-to-day schedule, the challenges of the sector require hands-on experience which the President clearly doesn’t have; and which can be sourced adequately from Nigerian professionals in that sector.

Nigerians rue the fact that the two former presidents who added that portfolio to their executive functions did not achieve anything remarkable for the sector. Under them, crude production was not sufficient to meet the quota allocated by the oil producer’s cartel, Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), for the country. Under Buhari, the crime of oil theft became an untamable phenomenon and the opacity around the oil industry burgeoned.

Again, while the President may possess a prerogative to appoint and designate ministers in whatever manner he deems, such appointments are expected to have been guided by provable competence and capacity to deliver. It is curious that appointments were done without consideration for track record and field experience. In most cases, it looked more like jobs for the boys.

It is important that all monitoring experts and the civil society pay close attention to this Federal Executive Council and set out parameters to do periodic assessment on their activities. Nigeria cannot afford a business-as-usual attitude to public service.