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Why ministers don’t perform

By Luke Onyekakeyah
27 August 2019   |   3:51 am
With the assignment of portfolios to the new ministers, the fireworks that went with their appointment and screening have come to an end. We are now in another stage, the stage of facing the assignment.

[FILES] Buhari declared open the Presidential Retreat for Ministers Designate, Presidential Aides and other Top Government Functionaries, held at the State House Abuja. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

With the assignment of portfolios to the new ministers, the fireworks that went with their appointment and screening have come to an end. We are now in another stage, the stage of facing the assignment. Since the ministers were inaugurated and portfolios announced, there has been a barrage of prescriptions from different quarters of what the ministers are expected to do.

For me, all the agenda-setting interventions by different people are ridiculous. They seem to suggest that the government has no agenda for the ministers it has appointed. And so, the people have to dictate or advice or suggest what the ministers are expected to do. This absurdity is recurrent. It replays every four years at the beginning of a new administration.

While the people are pushed by the decadent state of affairs to draw the attention of the ministers to the dark spots that need attention, no one cares to ask what the outgoing ministers have achieved by way of assessment. There is no evaluation based on the previous agenda. We are just in a vicious cycle of failures.

The ministers are appointed, screened, inaugurated and portfolios assigned. Some get portfolios they know nothing about. Yet, they just remain there; marking time and waiting for their term to expire and off they go while the problems remain unsolved.

This recurrent failure is there because the government gave no target to the ministers. I don’t want to go into specifics but take something like education, what improvement has been recorded in the affairs of the universities, for instance, since 1999 when this political dispensation began? Virtually, nothing.

The infrastructures have become more degenerate more than what they were in 1999; there is overcrowding in the lecture halls, hostels, with a filthy environment all over the schools. So, what did the ministers that handled this portfolio over the past two decades do? What did they achieve? The same applies to all the other ministries.

The Senate did a good job by confirming all the ministers without emotion or sentiments. Without a doubt, there are high expectations of the new ministers. This is normal whenever a new government is in place and ministers are appointed. Nigerians would always want to set an agenda for the government and its ministers.

But is it true that there is no agenda for the government to base its activities? If the answer is yes, it then means that Nigeria is starting afresh. Why is it so? After more than five decades of independence, ought the country not to have a clear vision of where it is going? Why should we begin to formulate new agenda each time a new government is in place? Is government not a continuum? What about the policies and programmes of the previous administrations? Have they been thrown overboard? If government is a continuum, then there ought to be a national agenda for development in all sectors of the economy that must be followed by every government irrespective of the party.

America remains America no matter the party in power. The American dream is pursued by all governments irrespective of the party. The same guiding principle is followed in all developed countries of the world. No party comes to power in America and whittles down the superpower position of America. The same American vision/dream is what is pursued, maybe, from different perspectives. The non-performance of ministers, indeed administrations in Nigeria, is due to the fact that there is no national agenda, no vision and no framework that must be followed by every administration. If one is asked what the Nigerian vision or dream is, that will be a difficult question to answer. The best you may hear, depending on who is answering, before now “Change,” or “Next Level.”

“Change” and Next Level” are the mantra of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). They are, indeed, not Nigeria’s vision or dream. You may ask, “Change” for what? Or “Next Level” to what? The target is ambiguous. Some may say fighting corruption, good roads, regular power supply, good education, employment, fighting insecurity are the targets. For nearly 60 years, these have been governance targets and have not been achieved. Something like Boko Haram, kidnapping, etc, were not there in 1999 (20 years ago), so they couldn’t have been our national dream. The desire for functional social amenities has been pursued since independence. It is shameful that, 55 years later, the same issues remain our major headache. Nigeria’s peers in Asia and Latin America now take these things for granted.

When the U.S. President Barrack Obama proclaimed ‘Change’ in the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections that brought him and the Democratic Party into power, the ‘Change’ was not in isolation. It was geared towards redressing the ailing economy and the threat of terrorism that appeared to have worsened under the Republican Party’s administration of George Bush. Obama and the Democratic Party did not set out to begin to fashion out a new Change agenda for America. Whatever they did was in line with the overriding American dream, which was pursued with renewed vigor. America has not changed but there are positive developments that have bolstered its position as a superpower.

Unfortunately, there is no Nigerian vision or dream. That explains why every new government starts afresh to formulate new agendas. In the same vein, different interest groups formulate their own agendas for the government. In the end, there is a catalogue of agendas that the government is expected to tackle.

In the case of ministers, even though they were screened without portfolios, agendas are also being set for them the following inauguration. And of course, the ministers have been assigned portfolios without a target. I have said this before, except there is a national agenda with targets and timeframe, it would be difficult to know what a minister is there to achieve. We hear of disjointed ‘achievements’ made by different ministers that don’t constitute achieved targets.

The history of ministerial appointments in Nigeria is a history of putting square pegs in round holes. Usually, states nominate individuals on the basis of political patronage rather than the ability to perform. This entrenched anomaly takes a toll on our national development aspirations. It is also the reason why the country has not made much progress.

There will be no end to the embarrassing underdevelopment quagmire until the ill-conceived approach changes. The President should be free to appoint whomsoever he chooses into his cabinet. The reason, if the administration fails, the president is to blame and not the ministers. Year in, year out, the government proposes huge budgets that end up not achieving anything due to none performance by the ministers. No targets or benchmarks are set, time and resources are wasted. The ministers leverage on their appointments and eventually leave.

The blind appointment of ministers, as we have it now, is a disservice to the nation. The so-called screening should be matched with a portfolio. No individual should be appointed without knowledge of what he or she is going to do. On this note, the so-called screening of ministerial nominees by the Senate is meaningless. It is fanfare bringing individuals to the Senate and asking them childish questions after which they are thrown to a strange ministry to wobble. We need expertise to achieve results.

After screening and confirming the nominees in a vacuum, they spend one year trying to adjust to a strange ministry. While this is going on, nothing is done and the country is worse off. Can the Buhari administration afford to waste any more time in view of the poor state of the nation? The president has to give an account of his stewardship at the end. President Buhari failed to take a cue from what Obasanjo did by overlooking the states and appointing competent hands with track records to drive his second term. The way things are, I am afraid not much will change, meaning we may not advance to any other level at the end of the day. Let the ministers prove me wrong.