IDEAS: Screening of Ministers with no portfolio attached, Episode 38 (07/06/19)

IDEAS Radio 7 June 2019 

Screening of Ministers with no portfolio attached

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, it’s eight minutes past four, and this is 99.3 Nigeria Info.  And you are welcome to the … Mark this day! The very first edition of Public Square!  The 7th of June 2019.  So you can write it down everywhere so you don’t forget where you were when the Public Square began.

And we’re going to be discussing all of these big issues that affect Nigeria’s politics at the Square, and we have, thankfully, the IDEAS segment … 

Ayo Obe; It’s still the old wine in a new bottle.

AgO: … with Ayo Obe, you just heard her, the host of that segment.  And today she’ll be talking about whether it’s appropriate to have Ministers confirmed without their portfolios attached, when they go before the National Assembly.  

And while on Public Square, we will be talking about Governor Babajide Sanwoolu’s pillars of development for a greater Lagos.  That I will let you into once we’re done with IDEAS.

You can follow the programme on Twitter @PublicSquareNG, @RotimiSankore, @aghoghoobo, @NigeriaInfoFM, @ideasradiong.  Tweet at those handles. If you’ve got any questions or comments, we’ll let you into them. Remember, if you’ve got questions or comments, our WhatsApp our number is 08095975805. 

Good evening Ayo.

AO: Hi Aghogho.  And … it’s great to be on the Public Square, or in the Public Square.  

AgO: Rotimi promised to …  I don’t know whether he promised us with wine and champagne that Donald Trump refused to drink in the United Kingdom.

AO: No, no Donald Trump is a teetotaller, so I don’t blame him.  Although you can have non-alcoholic … 

Rotimi Sankore: Yes, but how many bottles will we have in the Public Square?  With all of … with the entire country …

AO: Well, I’m ready to pioneer on behalf …  I’m ready to stand in the gap on behalf of everybody and drink … drink for them.

RS: Can I just say quickly before we commence with IDEAS, that the summary of Governor Sanwoolu’s campaign priorities, if you’d like to see him re-state it, the video is on the handle @PublicSquareNG, it’s also @NigeriaInfoFM, it’s also @RotimiSankore.  So if you’d just like to see him summarise it before you vote, because the poll is up there as well saying: Vote for the priority, the campaign promise you think Governor Sanwoolu should prioritise. So there’s a poll up there to vote. Of course, we want to hear from you as well, we want to hear your voice on this, all after the IDEAS segment from 4.30, and we’ll have an update from the House of Assembly elections in Lagos, from 4.30 as well.

AgO: Great, great.  So Ayo, over to you.

AO: Yeah, in a way this kind of follows on, or it’s … there’s a kind of segue, because you see when we as the electorate vote for a Governor, we are voting for somebody who says: “This is my programme, this is what I want to do.”  And then we have the opportunity to interrogate their qualifications, their competence, their record and so on. But now when it comes to the issue of the executive positions, that is to say in the … at the Federal level …  

RS: The appointed ones.

AO: … it’s the ministerial positions.  At the State level it’s the …. the … it’s the … Sorry, at the State level it’s the Commissioners, okay.  Now, you say Rotimi that “the appointed ones” for, but actually, it’s really specifically those ones. Because for example, when (I’m speaking from experience), when, if you’re appointed to a body like the Police Service Commission (as I was), then the people, the Senate that is screening me knows that I’ve been appointed … that’s what I’ve been appointed to.

RS: Specifically.

AO: Now, if they like, they can ask me questions directed to my knowledge of policing, or what I bring to it, or they can not, but at least they know that this is where this person is going to go.  But when it comes to screening for the ministerial positions, we don’t know. We have still got this system of people being nominated and then we have to guess that … and really, all that the screening body, the Senate can do, is say: Well, is this person a rogue or a saint?  And since it’s unlikely that they will say that they are a rogue … it does happen, but it’s not that often … but mostly they will say: Well, we don’t know anything against the person, so we might as well confirm them as a Minister. And then, you find that the person is appointed to … for example, let’s say, let’s take one that the government, this, the last government seemed to take as … oh, not very important, we can just reward somebody with this position, and I’m thinking in particular of the Ministry of Communi … of Communications, and then secondly, the Ministry of Sports.  In fact Ministry of Sports is a real victim in this regard. They’re always putting somebody there who may or may not have any knowledge or competence in the field of sports, and certainly is never able to bring any real nation-building intelligence to the business of managing the Ministry of Sports, and all they see it is, as, is as an opportunity to go with 25 athletes and 50 … and so on. And in fact in the Ministry of Sports, we’re in this really embarrassing situation now, with regard to money that FIFA overpaid us and which we are saying, having some … as I say, it’s just really embarrassing that we have not returned the money that was overpaid.  But anyway, the point is that the people who are, who are supposed to be screening, don’t know where they’re sending the person.

And it could be that there are some areas where the person who is being screened for one position would fit very well, but they have no idea.  Somebody could be extremely laid back and relaxed, have a very good way of interacting and talking, and that person may be well fitted for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but instead you go and put them in somewhere where there’s pressure to perform on time and without wasting any, without delaying everything else.  And then you find that the whole business of government is held up, so I think it’s a real problem.

RS: Well, is a complicating factor this funny requirement for Federal Character …

AO: Not really, not really.

RS: …where …?  Because I’ve heard some senior officials suggest that because they have to get one person from each state, and that it is the states that really lead that nomination … to say that this is our candidate … 

AO: No, well, this is the problem.  Mnh mnh mnh mnh mnh, I’m sorry. The states … 

RS: I’m not saying this is my position, I’m saying that this is what I have heard them say.

AO: I know, I understand that.  I know. I understand that is what people say, but it is actually not correct.  And this why the … it’s bad politics for the person who is doing the appointing not to be ready with their list.

RS: I agree with you.

AO: Let me finish.  It’s bad politics. Because what happens then, is that people start getting up with ideas and saying: No, you can’t have this, this is the person …  The President has been re-elected. The appointments are his own appointments. And incidentally, it may be that that’s what they say, but he didn’t appoint the people the who were recommended by their States per se.  He picked, as he’s entitled to do, and required to do, people whose state of origin reflects the Federal Character, but he’s not actually obliged to consult.  He may say: This is the person I want for this reason, and then ask the state: Is anything known? and take advice. But he’s not required to ask them to nom … It’s not a nomination process from the States.

RS: Ok, but can I just finish the explanation which … ?  So, what I have heard, from some people in government, is that one of the reasons why the President, this is what they claim, cannot appoint people with the portfolios attached to them – and of course I disagree with them – is that they think that Federal Character means that when people are recommended from the States, that they can’t always be sure that the person they are recommending is the best person for a particular position, so they just put forward the person they think will represent them best, whatever that means.

AO: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying is wrong Rotimi.  That’s what I’m saying is the wrong approach.

RS: And I said I agree with you it is wrong.

AO: Well then we don’t need to argue about it.  What I’m saying is that it is a wrong approach from the point … and that approach is only allowable when the person doing the appointing is dithering, is delaying and allowing room for lobbying and representations … 

RS: Which is apparently one of the problems we have … 

AO: Yes.  Well, we certainly seem to have had it in 2015, and we’ve had it in previous administrations too, but it was particularly noticeable in 2015 because the President didn’t make any nominations until November, having been in office for almost six months.  But the point is that it’s not necessary for him to get the approval of the … because he’s he has to know what he wants a cabinet to do.

RS: Again we’re in agreement.  I’m just saying this is their own excuse for the incompetence.

AO: I’m not …  I’m not saying that we’re not in agreement.  I’m saying that since we’re in agreement, we don’t need to spend time agreeing with each other, rather, we should spend our time debunking the idea that a Minister needs to be recommended, approved, have the say so, of the State from which they are appointed.  And the reason of course, why it’s important for us in the IDEAS spectrum, is that when somebody gets to a job and you don’t know what they’re going … what job they’re going to do, you can hardly say: Well, this is what we expect of you. Are you aware of this?  And so on and so forth. Of course, after they are appointed they can be called before the Senate or Committees of the National Assembly, but it’s not the same because they are already there. And I should also say, that we will remember that in the last National Assembly, the 8th Session, the … because the Presidency had allowed itself to be surprised by the emergence of the Saraki leadership, there … the idea of who we nominate will get approved if there are no really cogent reasons for preventing them, meant that it took the President a long time when he lost some of his  ministers for one reason or the other, it took him a long time to come up even with replacements, because of this … well, if I put this this person forward, will the … But I think that the Federal Character argument is the weakest of all. There are competent people in every state, even in the states that are the most educationally challenged that you can think of.  There are competent people. In fact, if you … if you put out an advertisement and say: People with this qualification from this state should apply, you will … you’ll be trampled in the rush.

AgO: I wanted to ask a question, sorry, Ayo.  If it was possible that the previous, like the 8th Assembly, where they would for example, know the person’s qualification  and say, he’s a lawyer, like Malami for example, and Ocholi. So, I heard some lawmakers asking questions and saying: Maybe you will get appointed as the Attorney-General or Minister of Justice or, … 

AO: And then it doesn’t happen!

AgO: … with Amina Mohammed it was a bit easy so they knew she would be Minister of Environment, so a lot of the questions dwelt on the Environment, but with the others, it was it was more like er, guessing who it will be … 

AO: It’s really a guessing game.  And of course, if people doing the screening  also know their onions, I mean, it’s a bit easy to sort of say: Oh, somebody is a lawyer, and then to ask them questions about law, the judiciary and so on and so forth.  But when it comes to … 

RS: Unless you have 36 lawyers being nominated.

AO: Well this is the point.  And you generally have more than one lawyer, and you don’t always have engineers going to Ministry of Works or so on, and then, the President threw a googly by appointing one person to three ministries at a blow!  So … But I think that, as I said, for the legislators it’s a problem because you are sending somebody into the unknown, and it may turn out that that person is really not suited for the position. I think that if the last exercise was delayed, it will be interesting to see if there’s any excuse for delay in the coming National Assembly.  I mean I know some people have been reminding us about how people who are elected as Prime Ministers in a country like India don’t spend five minutes before they have their cabinet, but you see, it’s a different thing in a presidential system, or in the one that we are operating where the Ministers have to have Senate approval, whereas in a Prime Ministerial system as you have in Britain or India, the Prime Minister just appoints.  It’s purely within the gift of … 

RS: And they’re already Members of Parliament.

AO: They have to be Members of Parliament, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best in the field.

RS: Of course not, of course not.

AO: In fact, in a way, the beauty of the presidential system is that you can go out and look for the really best that you want.  But if you fail to do your homework and hit the ground running (to coin that tired old phrase) then you expose yourself, as I said, to an amount of lobbying.  And if you have a clear plan about what you want to achieve in office, then you may not be able to implement that. And of course, if you have that clear plan, you will know where you want to slot people in, and those people going for their clearance will also know what part of the plan is relevant to them and how they intend to implement it.  But if they’re just sort of trying to ‘make nice’ and hope that they don’t say anything that will make the President say: “Well, I’m not putting that person in that Ministry any more”, then you find yourself back in this situation where the, you can only test the integrity or the ethics of the person, but the National Assembly is not necessarily …  a National Assembly screening is not like other countries where, if in nineteen ggr l s’ehin you were to have appointed of … engaged a housemaid and paid them below the minimum wage or something like that … 

RS: You can’t be Minister of Labour for sure!

AO: You, you, … No you can’t even be appointed.  Those are the sort … 

RS: Well, yes.  No, but I’m saying “for sure” specifically even if you manage to, people will just say: Ah ah!  You that you underpay your housemaid, you want to be Minister of Labour. What’s going to happen in this country?

In countries where it is clear that this is the President’s nominee for Health, this is the President’s nominee for Education, in fact before you land on the floor of the Senate  … 

AO: Somebody has done their homework …

RS: … somebody has said no no no, this person cannot be Health Minister because in 2001, in so so place … the person made a wrong call on a health matter that led to 10,000 children not being vaccinated, and therefore the person … 

AO: Exactly!

RS: … and they have to go and find another person!  They have to go and find … 

AO: Yea, but here now, you could have somebody who … and we can take for example the issue of the polio vacc … inoculation where we were making …  the whole world was making a final push for the eradication of polio in children, and then some people dreamed up the idea that it was a nas … a devilish plot to sterilise Muslim women.  And as a result, the whole exercise was set back. And there were some people who were State Governors who were championing that particular form of misdirection. So if that person were to now come up and be offered as Minister of Health; but if that person were to be screened and you would be thinking: Oh, well, he’s going to be the Minister for something else, and then you wake up and you find that the person is in the middle of your Ministry of Health, that could be a bit of a nightmare.

And I do think that we’ve seen  in… it’s not that the person might not get through the screening.  I mean, if you look at the United States, you’ll see some people who, have no … for example appointing people as environment Secretaries who don’t believe in global warming, or climate change or environmental degradation.

RS: Well that’s because they have the majority in the Senate.

AO: Well, I mean yes.  But you see, at least it’s also clear to everybody that they are doing it only because of the majority, and not because they know that the person has any knowledge, or in Education, people who clearly don’t anything.

RS: And in any case, everyone working in the environment field  …

AO: Will have a say.

RS: will have a say.  In fact they are already calling out the person, saying: Well, if this person is appointed, in this year, this person said he or she does not believe in climate change, this person … so how will the person invest to mitigate in this, that, that.  If this person is appointed we can already see that there will be disasters in A, B, C, D, E, F, G and the … 

AO: Well I think … 

RS: … the states, the stakeholders should start preparing to solve the problem!

AO: I think that the essence of the problem is that particularly in today’s era of social media where a lie can take off round the world twice before somebody says: no no no, but that … I never said that, or: That picture  is not from … is not me … it’s not me in that picture, or something. But again, if you as the person making the appointment don’t know what you want, you won’t have any … you won’t have the tools at your disposal, so that you will … so that even if the person gets through on the basis of the fact that you have a majority, you still run the risk that it will be seen … particularly in this country now, where there’s a lot of energy going into divisive dialogue.  So if you don’t … if you’re not ready to answer some of these issues, then maybe that’s why we end up with this situation where we go into these appointments blind, and then we take pot luck. And unfortunately, it may be that in an ideal world we would have everybody equally competent no matter where you put them, but the reality is, as we’ve seen from the last session, that everybody was not equally competent. And I think that for us as we are looking at the issue now, we are in that danger of a   … of Ministers being accounted … being appointed, but not being accountable to anybody except the President. And unfortunately, we don’t know – when they submitted their reports to the President – we don’t know what they said.

RS: What on earth they put in the reports.  

AO: Yes.

RS: Just very quickly before we go for the break.  There are two sides to this accountability problem that arises from people being nominated for ministerial positions and we don’t know … people being nominated for Ministers without us knowing what positions

AO: Or their portfolios.

RS: …  they will eventually take up; aside from the fact that we can’t screen properly for competence, there is also the problem that even the nominee, him or herself does not know if they themselves are competent for what they’re going to be made responsible for.  

AO: What will be landed on their …

RS: So they can’t say: Ah, oga I have no idea what is happening there o!  If you put me there, it will be a disaster for the nation. But when they put them there, they can’t then say: I’m sorry.   

AO: Well, they never say they can’t do that.

RS: Yes they can’t just say: “I’m sorry, I have no idea”.

AO: the most that we’ve heard that some Ministers have said that “I had to read up night and day to bring myself up to speed.”  And that’s if they feel the gap, and feel any obligation to bring themselves up to speed, particularly if their predecessor has performed particularly well.

RS: So the consequence is that in a country as complex as Nigeria with very low development indicators, if the person is indeed capable of reading up at all it takes the person months to understand what they are supposed to be doing there, what the problems are, and within that time, things just get very much worse.

AO: And unfortunately when these Ministers appoint their Special Assistants, they too are looking to reward rather than to say … 

RS: Their cronies

AO:  I really need somebody who can tell me … 

RS: … what exactly I’m supposed to be doing there.

AO: Because it’s possible to enter into a position not knowing much about it, but if you appoint somebody who is competent and you are ready to listen … 

RS: As your advisers and assistants.

AO: … then that can help.  But if not … 

RS: Ok, well, we’ll bring more of this to you

AO: Well, the Ministers are going to be screened.

RS: When the actual nominees are being named, we will see the absurdity even more, unless of course somebody is being returned to the place where they underperformed in which case that’s another absurdity on its own again.

AO: Well, I want to say that we will … It’s part of the accountability issue.  And I think also that if you know that you underperformed, then it also speaks a little bit to your Integrity.  The thing is of course, that nobody every agrees that they underperformed, I think that’s the problem. I want to say thank you very much for  entertaining the IDEAS segment on the maiden issue of the Public Square. We’re going to be with you next week, and we shall still be looking for the Integrity, the Democracy, the Ethics and the Accountability in the issues of the day.  Check us out on our website,  or follow us on Twitter, and of course, I’m there @naijama.

RS: Thank you again.

AgO: Alright, So we’ll take a quick break, Public Square continues right after this; please stay with us.

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