2023 calculations, intrigues stall Rivers cabinet 102 days after …
Commentators in the state are concerned over delay in the formation of a full-fledged cabinet, which they reckon has substantial political and economic consequences.
Though little is known about the determinants of the delay, but the Governor had in June during a luncheon for members of his second term inauguration committee in Port Harcourt, given a glimpse that his new cabinet will feature mainly leaders from within the state party structure, with a few new officials drawn from outside the system.
“Most of you or some of you must still be part of the government, the cabinet and other parts of the administration. Those of you who are prayer warriors should continue to pray. Generally, it cannot be outside this area. It cannot be. It will be people within the system and some from outside. Don’t feel that we have abandoned you. Not at all! Government House is still open to you.”
Similarly, earlier in May, while playing host to the Charge d’affairs, Embassy of Netherlands, Mrs. Marian Van De Cappello in Port Harcourt, the Governor stated that his new cabinet would comprise 40 percent youths.
“Youths will have 40 percent in the new cabinet. This 40 percent will cover men and women. There will be another 20 percent for women. This means that women will have more than 20 percent in the next cabinet” he said.
Wike, who returned to power with a thumping majority vote in the governorship election, has so far appointed only two members of the Rivers State executive council, Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Dr. Zaccheus Adango and Isaac Kamalu as Commissioner of Finance.
A former lawmaker who preferred not to be mentioned told The Guardian that the reasons for the delay could not be unconnected to the quest of the Governor to manage his political bloc within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the intrigues to succeed him have begun to gather momentum. According to him, there are speculations that the Governor wants his new Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo to succeed and will only bring on board only those who share this aspiration.
“Governorship position in Rivers State is either you are anointed or you seize it. That is how governors have been produced in Rivers State since 1999. Those days when a president and one or two stakeholders put heads together to produce governor here is gone. So it is more of you seizing it. Attempt to use the military brought another angle to seizing power, but it didn’t work. Let’s hope that by 2023 something will happen either by mistake” he said.
He explained that due to the absence of a full-fledged cabinet, activities at the busy state Secretariat in Port Harcourt have been at its lowest ebb. The government is being viewed negatively. For instance, the internals roads in the state are getting bad. But there is no commissioner of Works. Some people have questions, which are not being answered. There is a serious gap in communication.
An elder statesman who is close to the Governor said it is unfair and cynical to question the Governor’s priorities at this point in terms of cabinet formation, which he said will take place before the end of September. He further stated that probably, only ten former commissioners may be retained because the Governor who wants to streamline his cabinet is not too happy with the performance of some of his past cabinet members.
“Governors can actually run their administration without commissioners. The only ones they want are those who help them make money, not the ones that make them spend money. Who are those that enable them to make money? You need the commissioner of finance. For legal issues, you need the Attorney General and the Secretary to the State Government to run the civil service. For instance, the commissioner of Works does not generate money but gulps money. I am sure the cabinet formation will take place soonest.”
But the Governor has come under sharp criticism from political commentators in the state who have argued that absence of a full-fledged cabinet three months after his swearing-in violates moral norms. They insisted that a cabinet must be formed without procrastination so that the administration can address the living conditions of the Rivers people and the economic, social and political issues facing the state.
The executive director, Centre for Social Studies and Development, Ken Henshaw, acknowledged that cabinet appointment in a democratic system is a critical tool that governors use to deal with existential realities in their political environment, however, non-composition of a cabinet three months after a governor was sworn into office brazenly mocks democracy.
“It weakens governance totally because right now the only persons governing are Wike and two commissioners. It makes it impossible to know the direction of governance. You don’t know the policy direction of the state. In fact, right now, it is impossible for a state of more than six million people to be governed by one man and that is currently what is happening. Governor Wike is governing alone with permanent secretaries and it is totally wrong. It gives the impression of uncertainty.”
Henshaw stated that delay in the formation of cabinet is becoming a norm in the country, both at the federal and state levels. He argued that part of the reasons the country was plunged into an economic recession in 2015, was because the president of the country failed to appoint his cabinet for six months.
“Investors don’t like uncertainty. They need to be sure; they need to see your action. They need to see your direction and your fiscal policy. They need to know who is your commissioner of Finance, Budget, Commerce and all. And the instance they don’t see these things, it causes people to be skeptical in not investing in the state. That is what this kind of situation is causing. Businesses don’t like uncertainty. In the international community, once leaders say things that are uncertain, it affects the market. Likewise, the non-formation of cabinet sends the wrong signal.”
He argued that one of the reasons for the delay in constituting a cabinet is because ministerial and commissioner offices are distributed on the basis of political sentiment and for settlement. According to him, people are not appointed on merit.
“Look at the past and present cabinet of the president and the governors, the people who are appointed are not the best we have in all these fields. These are not the best Nigeria can offer. The reality is that people are appointed into office as compensation, either to please ethnic blocs, political blocs or individuals who have directly or inadvertently contributed to the election or victory of the man in power. This primordial consideration is what weakens governance and performance. It is also what causes confusion for an executive president or governor. He does not know whom to appoint, so he resorts to balancing act,” he said.
A university don, Dr. Sofiri Peterside observed that late formation of the cabinet has implications and consequences for governance. He noted that in every democratic government, there is supposed to be compartmentalisation of responsibilities among the executive council members headed by a governor as in the case of Rivers state.
“Because if you appoint certain persons and you give them a portfolio to assist the governor to manage the state, it removes a lot of burden from the governor. It also means there is a focus on the delivery of development to the people. But when you don’t have that kind of responsibilities allocated that means governance will be very much constricted; every power and decision rests with the governor and that is not good for democracy. There is a separation of powers; that is a fundamental thing about democratic governance. You have the executive, legislature and judiciary. Even within the executive, all executive powers need not be concentrated in the hand of the governor.”
“You need to allocate responsibilities and make sure those responsibilities are followed through to see the extent they are implemented. When you don’t have that, it delays government activities and actions and I think that does not augur well. And of course, certain decisions that the governor needs to take in consultation with these principal officers he has given responsibility will now be done essentially by him, and that is not correct. It has consequences in terms of fast-tracking actions, efficiency, and accountability,” he said.
Peterside stated that citizens must begin to demand that all those elected into executive positions, be it the president, governors, and council chairman must form their cabinet shortly after they are sworn into office. He stressed that democracy requires a vigilant citizenry for it to succeed and lamented that people in Rivers State have gradually become docile. According to him, the moment President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for a second term, Nigerians started raising alarm about delay information of a federal executive, thus, the reason why the process of appointing ministers and allocating responsibility to them was faster than 2015.
“I think what is happening is, normally in the Nigerian brand of politics this is payback time. There are certain persons who think the played a vital role during the election and want cabinet position. Therefore, pressures are coming. So, in order not to step on toes perhaps, the governor wants to take time to make sure that those who are actually his core supporters come, board. But, I think the governor should be able to rise above this kind of pressure. He should have agenda and know people who are capable of delivering on the mandate he has,” he said.
Similarly, the chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Dr. Omemazu Jackson, has advocated for constitutional review, because incumbent elected executives at both the federal and state are capitalising on the loopholes inherent in the 1999 constitution to do what they are doing.
“One man cannot continue to preside over a state without any help or question. It is not proper. Even if he has the constitutional right to determine when he appoints his cabinet, he does not have the moral right to do so. Governance is suffering big time. It has not been done in this state before to see that one person will be presiding over the state for this long period.”
A trustee of a civil society group, The Extra Step Initiative, Eugene Abels, said the absence of a full state executive gives credence to talks that the Governor is running a self-centered administration.
“People are dissatisfied with the state of affairs. If the ministries are working and duly constituted, and there are commissioners supervising them with a clear mandate, the state, and its people naturally will know the direction which the government is going. Right now, we don’t know. There is no excuse, having being council chairman; Chief of Staff, a minister, governor for four years, there is no justification for not having a full cabinet till now,” he said.
Already, there are signs of an imminent rift in the governor’s party, which will become manifest post-cabinet formation. Some stakeholders who are hopeful of inclusion in the government as commissioners, special advisers, board members, and taskforce are hanging on, while those who will be secluded, are already plotting their early exodus to other political platforms.
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