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The missing state cabinets

By Dan Agbese
01 November 2019   |   3:00 am
The Nigerian constitution does not stipulate for how long a president or a state governor could run the affairs of the country or the state alone, all alone, without constituting his cabinet. It must be taken that the framers of the constitution left this to individual discretions..

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (Photo by Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP)

The Nigerian constitution does not stipulate for how long a president or a state governor could run the affairs of the country or the state alone, all alone, without constituting his cabinet. It must be taken that the framers of the constitution left this to individual discretions in the hope that no one would take undue advantage of this to constitute himself into a one-man cabinet. Events have not borne out their hope, sadly. It indeed gave rise to some tardiness on the part of the governors in the serious business of governance. Given a choice, some of them would rather not have cabinets at all.

In 2015, it took President Muhammad Buhari some seven months to constitute his first executive council of the federation because he wanted to put square pegs in square holes. But the recycling of former state governors and other long-term players on the political stage was hardly a tribute to his careful search for the right shape of pegs for the right shape of holes. Some state governors have similarly been tardy in constituting their cabinets for reasons they do not even bother to tell the people.

In its issue of October 29, the Daily Trust published a front-page lead story showing that eight state governors are yet to constitute their cabinets five months after they took office in May this year. They have thus been running the affairs of their states alone, all alone. The constitutional offenders are the governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Mai Mala Buni (Yobe), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) and Ben Ayade (Cross River).

I found this shocking, to say the least. Someone should tell them to wake up. Most of these governors were returned to a second term in office. It should not be that difficult for them to find suitable people in their various states to help them run their governments. They can even fall back on their old cabinet if only to ensure there is some degree of a forward movement. Governance is a very serious business. That we tend to toy with this very serious business speaks volumes about what we think and make of our democracy and the way we are governed at the three tiers of government.

Governance is a shared responsibility grounded in the ancient wisdom that no man is wise enough or smart enough or competent enough to know and do everything. The gods never conferred omniscience on human beings. It is futile to make claims on what the gods have not given to human beings.

The framers of the constitution followed a well-beaten global path in making it mandatory for the president and the state governors to work with a cabinet. It, therefore, follows, that no government is legally and properly constituted without a cabinet. In our peculiar case, the cabinets must be constituted in such a manner as to reflect geo-political interests. The federal cabinet is the glittering gathering of state representatives while the state cabinets are the colourful gathering of local government representatives. In refusing to constitute their cabinets, these eight state governors injure our concept of participatory democracy.

It is a crass denial of the right of the people to be part of their government through their ministers and commissioners. It is wrong of them to assume the right to decide what should rightly and properly be decided by their cabinets. It is wrong of them to assume the right to discharge the functions statutorily discharged by their commissioners. The state governors have a free hand to appoint whosoever they want into their cabinets. That right has never been challenged by anyone. We expect that fundamental right to be exercised because of the people and for the people.

You may think this is no big deal. After all, with or without commissioners, most of the state governors operate like military governors in mufti. Part of the reason is that the government is top-down, not bottom-up. The big man decides who gets what and where. Even so, the state commissioners are not political decorations. They are essential to the constitutionally mandated distributive system of sharing the cake, national or state. No state governor is doing anyone a favour by appointing men and women as commissioners into his cabinet. They have a major role to play in how the states and their people are governed. They have a major role to play in how public funds are spent and on what they are spent. Man has yet to find a substitute for collective wisdom, or at least the collective decision-making process in which varied views and voices are transmuted into a collective decision.

I do not think we can continue to sabotage both our system of government and the peculiar nature of our governance and expect to make meaningful progress as a democracy. Democracy is a demanding, irritating even, the form of government. If most men had a choice, they would rather be dictators than democrats. But it is not a chance open to them; nor to our state governors. Let these state governors constitute their cabinets without further delay. There should be a limit to how far our political leaders could choose to do things without due regard to our constitution. The constitution requires them to legally and formally constitute their governments by appointing men and women into their cabinets. They have no choice but to do this – and do so now. We are tired of the serial and cynical breaches of the law and the constitution by our political leaders at all levels.

A state governor who chooses to rule without a cabinet has to deal now or in the future with the legality of his awarding contracts beyond his stipulated financial limit. Daily Trust found, for instance, that Governor Buni of Yobe State has so far and alone awarded two major contracts worth N13.6 billion. I am sure that if and when he constitutes his cabinet, he would simply ask his commissioners to ratify a decision to which they are strangers. The fear that this sort of thing must be happening in the eight states to a greater or lesser degree is real. It is a rape of the system. It should not be allowed.

Well, not to worry. This sort of thing is music in the ears of the chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu. At the end of the day, he would ask the state governors who chose to run governments without cabinets and did things alone that should have been done by their cabinets some pertinent questions they would be compelled to answer before the courts of law. But that is a poor consolation for the rest of us and a stain on our democracy, warts and all.

It would be nice, very nice if our political leaders commit themselves to observe the basic norms and traditions of governance in a democracy. Our choice of democracy means we rejected dictatorship or any other form of government. It is the duty of our political leaders to lead the people in the tough task of growing our democracy by treating our laws, norms, and tradition with the utmost respect.