IDEAS Radio 23 Aug 2019

Swearing-in of Ministers & Assignment of Portfolios

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome, welcome to the Public Square.  Eleven minutes past four in the city of Lagos. I’m Aghogho Oboh and Public Square on 99.3 Nigeria Info is where we discuss all the big and significant issues in politics.  First we’ll begin with the IDEAS segment. Ayo Obe is here, and I’m sure a lot of you have looked forward to listening to her on the IDEAS. And today, the biggest story we’ve been looking at the entire week is the assigning of portfolios and the oath taking ceremony.  I hope you did enjoy Nigeria Info’s coverage of that event happened all through Wednesday. On our social media, we’re active on Twitter, on Facebook. This is being streamed live, our handles on Twitter: @PublicSquareNG, @NigeriaInfoFM, @RotimiSankore, @aghoghoobo, @ideasradiong and @naijama.  Any of these handles, you will get a response. And I’ll let you into our WhatsApp numbers and our phone numbers during the course of the programme. But Rotimi Sankore, good afternoon, and good afternoon Ayo Obe

Ayo Obe; Hi Aghogho.

Rotimi Sankore: Hi

AO: It’s been quite a long time, but between …

AgO: Everybody has been asking about you.

AO: Well you know, there’s been this bug that has been going round Lagos, and I’d have been sneezing and coughing all over everybody, and down the airwaves, so nobody wanted to hear that!

But wow, things have been happening!  I mean, I turn my back for one minute and then we see all sorts of things happening.  Of course the swearing in of ministers and assignment of portfolios to them. Rotimi I was saying to you that there are so many angles to it, but from an IDEAS point of view, you know the issues that we’re looking at are Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.  And we have to recognise that an appointed minister is really an out … branch of the President, so they effectively represent the President in the task that he has assigned to them. And to that extent they are supposed to be accountable to the President. Now we did not know what the mandate, or what the instructions that had been given to them are, apart from the sort of vague, you know, this sort of vagueness about: “Do well, bring 100 million Nigerians out of poverty” and so on.

But in terms of: These are your … this is the overall project of this government and this is how you fit in to it, I think we have a bit of a gap.  And particularly for me, one of the gaps is that in reappointing several Ministers to the ministries that they held before, it’s almost as though the President is saying that: “I’m satisfied with your performance in that office, and that’s why I’m sending you back.”   I’m not going to tread on delicate toes by talking about the return to the Ministry of Information, but I … I mean in my own profession, the legal profession … you know, we have this situation where Nigeria is facing a judgment debt or an award, an arbitration debt of nine billion United States dollars, and …

RS: In the UK.

AO: Well it’s , it’s … that is the amount of the debt, and  the award was made against Nigeria in the United Kingdom. And, this is a judgment that, yes, its origins predate the  current administration. But at the time the current administration came into office, the successful litigant was saying: “We want, look, you know, we’re ready to settle …”  and the proposal was to settle for $850 million. Now, of course, $850 million is not to be sneezed at … dollars, by the way, we’re talking about, not naira. Yes, because the ‘is equal to’  is not to be sneezed at either. But the point is, they were talking about: this was the offer. We had an Attorney-General come to office and nothing was done, and so the people said: “Okay o, if you’re not going to give us the $850 million, then we’re going to go to arbitration under the clause which was signed in the agreement that we signed with Nigeria.”  And they went to arbitration and they got judgment of six billion. Again, Nigeria was …

RS: Dollars

AO:  … dollars.  And Nigeria was dilly dallying.  And to me, these are the sort of things that if you say that the Attorney-General has done well, and is on top of his brief, some sort of explanation …

RS: And he missed that kind of case.

AO: Yes.  And now, it’s either that …

RS: He missed an opportunity to defend Nigeria properly.

AO: Yes.  It’s either that his Ministry is not properly organised for these things to be brought, because we’re all  familiar with this trick whereby the information is buried at page 233 of a … 500 page memo, and they say: “Ah, we told him o!  It’s there! See!” But, you know, if you’re paying attention to what’s happening in the world around you, these are the sorts of things, you can say: I want to know what the outstanding obligations, what the outstanding litigation of this country is.  And we, and it’s not peculiar by the way, to this particular administration, but …

RS: But is it significant that … 

AO: But he was reappointed!

RS: Is it significant that rather than … after that award against Nigeria, rather than take it on the chin and try and figure out how to …  some remedial action, he went on the attack and was saying: “Whoever awarded that contract is going to be prosecuted!

AO: Yeah, but I mean, you can do … that’s … as they say, when the house is on fire, you settle the issue of the fire, and then you deal with the rats.

RS: But the issue is not that the contract was awarded.

AO: Well, no, there certainly must be issues in the contract that was awarded and the agreement for arbitration, but those are not the one that is the fire on our particular  mountain now. And you know, without wanting to get too deeply into that, my point is that against that background now, for the President to reappoint the Attorney-General suggests that he is seeing something that maybe the rest of us are not seeing, and we’d like to know what then are the targets that were set for the Attorney-General?  Is he perhaps doing brilliantly in meeting the responsibilities of the Attorney-General under the Freedom of Information legislation? And so on and so forth. So it’s just one of those things. Of course it may be that the President’s attitude is: “If you broke it, you own it”, or “You broke it, you fix it.” and so, you know a kind of look … for example, if we look at the Ministry of Aviation, it may be that he says: “Well, you say you are setting up a Nigerian airline …

RS: And you have so far successfully launched a logo.

AO: … you’d better come back …”  But while there are some Ministries where obviously we can see there has been performance.  I mean we’ve all seen the pictures of the Second Niger Bridge going on apace; we’ve seen already the Minister…

RS: At least there are pictures.

AO: Well, I mean, I haven’t been there personally …

RS: Well, at least there are pictures, they are showing us something …

AO: … but at least it’s better than a plan, and we’ve also seen the Minister of Transport, “Yes, that Lagos-Ibadan railway that I promised was going to be up and running by January, I want to know why …”, you know, he’s on the job.  Again: “I started it, I need to finish it.” But you know, apart …

RS: I have a question regarding the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice: should we … should the government have split those two positions, or just maintained them?

AO: It’s a question … it’s something that continues to be the view of those who want … I mean, if you’re going to split Ministries and create Senior Ministers and Junior Ministers etc. etc. etc., this is one of the areas that cries out for such splitting, because to give advice to the Federal Government is a separate thing from prosecuting litigation on behalf of the Federal Government.   It’s not that the two have not been done together, but at this stage, given the fairly poor performance – from the outside anyway – in that office, I think that it’s something that if you want to be able to say the accountability, you want to be able to track the accountability issue, it would make it easier.

RS: And is there a big conflict of interest?

AO: No, it’s not so much that there’s a conflict of interest, but em …

RS: Roles and efficiency …

AO: … the roles are better separated than kept together.

RS: And global best practice, many countries it’s not the same person.

AO: Many countries, yeah, it’s not  the same person. There are countries where it is the same person, so whether it’s global best practice…  But I think that going by the performance that we have seen in that office in particular, then we have, … then there’s a gap.

But I also want to look at the issues regarding some of the other Ministries, because, you know, it’s been a cause for a little bit of ironic merriment if I may call it, the fact that the Minister for the Niger Delta is somebody who was being quizzed by the EFCC, and the Minister of State for the Niger Delta is somebody who was a prosecutor for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.  And it’s a question, of course …

RS: And he was prosecuting the man.

AO: Yes.  It was … it’s … our own President who in the first place decided to put these people in as …  

RS: Together

AO: No no no no, who first of all decided to appoint people who had pending cases in the first place.  You know. And the same thing may go for … with the Minister of State for Petroleum. Serious questions which go to Integrity which ought to have been cleared, and publicly cleared if I may say so, before you ask us to say that these are people who meet the criteria.

RS: So with respect to those two there’s a big question mark?

AO: There are question … there are bound to be question marks, and so in the case of …

RS: Especially if one of the main pillars of the government is to  fight corruption …

AO: Yes, and as I said …

RS: … it’s probably not wise to appoint such … 

AO: No no no, I’m not saying it’s not wise, what I’m saying is that IF you are to appoint such people knowing that they have these question marks over them, that are very much out in the public, then the least one should expect is that the clearance should also be out in the public rather than just swept under the table, and we’re all supposed to unlook and pretend that nothing happens.  Now, as I said, it may be that – as I said – by putting the Minister of State who has an eye for seeing what is going on that is corrupt, it’s an attempt to keep somebody under check, but I’m really not holding … 

RS: But in that case should the fellow be there at all?

AO: I’m not really holding my breath on it, you see.  I’m really not holding my breath. And what is more, we need to see, that looking at this, it is true that not all of his previous Ministers have returned, but at the same time, the President has … so it’s not that he is inextricably welded to people he has chosen, but he tends to be more welded to people he has chosen than not.  Very little in the way of reshuffling, I mean, we’re all living witnesses to the constant cries and pleas of Nigerians: Your security team needs a shake-up. The President is not re-shaking or reshuffling anything. And now, with regard to his Ministers. He appointed Ministers in 2015, except when he was forced to bring people in, very few people were moved or reshuffled or said: Look, I think you’ll be better here, than here …

RS: Essentially, just people who moved on, like Amina Mohammed, or people who passed away.

AO: He replaced, but he did not reshuffle.  So I think that those are some areas where people have a … will be  saying that … Again, it makes us ask: what were the criteria that the President set in terms of Accountability?  And again of course, what has he set in terms of Accountability for this current team as we’re going forward? Because it is … there have to be … there have to be questions.

RS: Ok.  So … 

AO: Ok, you don’t …  Well, I mean, I don’t want it to be … it’s not  that I don’t want it to be all brickbats … I mean of course the very imaginative President has put a woman in (one of the very few women he has) in charge of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, so that’s only to be expected.  We have a doctor in charge of the Ministry of Health, it may be that something will happen in that regard. The President himself retains the portfolio for Petroleum. I don’t know what cri … what benchmarks he has set for himself about things like the subsidy on fuel …

RS: Are there any questions about the process of his reappointing himself …

AO: Well, I think he got cleared.  He didn’t have to get … he didn’t have to be cleared.  And then again, you have got very interesting appointments such as Rauf Aregbesola as the Minister for the Interior, and he himself has said that: “It’s not something with which I’m familiar.”

RS: Aside from what he has read, he doesn’t know much.

AO: Yes, and I would say that that in itself is not a crime.  When I was appointed to the Police Service Commission, I did not pretend to know everything.  But to say that you don’t know, means that you are ready to learn. It’s when you pretend to know, that people say …  And in fact I remember that during my time at the Police Service Commission, when I didn’t know, I would say something  and then somebody later made the mistake of saying: “But you said you didn’t know”, and I said: “Yes, that was then.” So it’s … because that is a very … considering how many of the security agencies come under that Ministry, although we have now Police Affairs …

RS: Separate … Police Affairs separate from  Interior.  

AO: Yes.

RS: So Interior just has Prisons, Immigration …

AO: Well Prisons, Immigration these are important aspects of it.  

AgO: Civil Defence …

AO: Especially with such – as you say Aghogho, the Civil Defence which is really pushing the envelope on the Constitutional limitation of one Police Force for Nigeria.  I think that’s an important thing. On the issue of … I looked at the Minister for Labour saying that: “Yes, I’m coming back to sort out this minimum wage thing which I thought I had dropped and run away from.”  You know, again, it’s: You broke it, you fix it.

AgO: I think Buhari even chuckled when he announced his name as Minister of Labour: You’re back to the wahala.

RS: But the thing is that Ngige forgets that he’s also the Minister of Employment.  He thinks he’s the Minister to fight Labour.

AO: Well, I mean the fact is that if you’re employed you’re entitled to a minimum wage now of N30,000.00 a month.

RS: Which they promised to look into.

AO: No, it’s not a matter of looking in to …

RS: No, they said they would …  No, but the language they are using is amusing.  We assumed this was a settled matter. And they set up a new committee now to look into it.  And the trade union leaders will be wondering: Well what are they looking into? This is law.

AO: So I would say I notice that  the Twitterati have gone to town on Fashola sacked as Minister of Power, which I think is a slightly … juvenile approach to the matter.  The fact is that everybody was sacked, some have come back, and some … and as I said … it’s … I don’t say that the Minister who is taking over the Power aspect of it doesn’t have his qualifications, but certainly Governor Fashola had performed  in regard to Works. I don’t know so much about Housing because the housing crisis in Nigeria remains a very real one which, probably is not necessarily best handled at the federal level, but needs to be empowered at the state level and the local government …

RS: Because in most countries all over the world, federal housing is a misnomer, it’s done at the states and local government levels.  In fact in many countries, local government does housing.

AO: Well, Rotimi, as I said, I’ve tried to look at some of the issues of Accountability  I’ve tried to look at some of the issues of Integrity and the Ethics of even accepting a ministerial position when you know that your name has not been publicly cleared.  We at IDEAS radio think that Nigerians have a lot of questions which are not being answered.

I’m not dealing with the political aspects of it which normally come up more properly in the Public Square.  But I think that at the end of the day, Performance, Performance, Performance, is going to be the criterion, and I’ve said elsewhere, no matter how many question marks there are over your head, if you are given targets that you have to meet and an overall pattern, then … it may be that the President said: “First of all perform.  Then you can steal as much as you like or you can line your pockets, you can … But if you give contract to your friend and your friend doesn’t perform because he’s given you 20%, old boy, you’re in trouble!” So the important thing is that they have to perform.

And with that, I want to say thank you very much for joining me on IDEAS Radio.  I hope to be back next week with another 15 minutes of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.

AgO: Alright.

RS: Thank you so much. 

AgO: Thank you very much Ayo Obe.