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THE ROLE OF MINISTERS IN A PRESIDENTIAL DEMOCRACY

BY: KALI GWEGWE.
 Published April 3rd, 2010

Immediately following the proclamation of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces by the National Assembly, the presidency was inundated with calls for the dissolution of the Executive Council of the Federation. These calls came from the political community, socio-cultural organisations, faith-based groups, and the civil society.

From all the comments that laced the demand for the dissolution of the cabinet, one could easily pick out a consensus opinion. There was an overwhelming need for the acting president to put in place a cabinet that would work as an indivisible team. The reason for this popular opinion cannot be overemphasized.

Just before the dissolution of the last cabinet, it had become very obvious that the Executive Council of the Federation was divided along two camps. While one of the factions was made up of President Yar’Adua’s sympathisers, the other comprised of supporters of Acting President Jonathan. Nigerians saw this ugly development as a huge threat to the security, peace, unity, and progress of the country. The already precarious political atmosphere was made worse with wild rumours of coup plots. Nigeria’s fragile democracy was indeed under a serious threat.

It is the opinion of this writer that many do not understand the real meaning of loyalty in a constitutional democracy. This was actually the main reason why the last cabinet became polarised along two lines. Ordinarily, the loyalty of members of the cabinet and every other public officer is supposed to be directed to the federal republic of Nigeria as clearly suggested in the National Pledge. Loyalty is not supposed to be directed to the president or vice president. Let’s consider the unambiguous wordings of the National Pledge:
I pledge to Nigeria my country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her unity
And uphold her honour and glory
So help me God.

It is not stated anywhere that loyalty should be directed at any one individual or office. The framers of the National Anthem knew before hand the dangers associated with misdirected loyalty. Unfortunately, our political actors ignored the sound warnings.

Being a constitutional democracy, the vice president was not empowered to perform certain official assignments. It was for this very reason that the 2009 Supplementary Budget was flown to Saudi Arabia for President Yar’Adua to endorse. It was in the same vein that the retiring Chief Justice of the Federation was asked to swear-in his successor. This was novel in the history of Nigeria. The vice president could not also swear-in federal Permanent Secretaries because of lack of constitutional mandate. There were so many other things the vice president could not do owing to constitutional bottleneck. The country was almost grinding to a halt. It was for all of these reasons that Nigerians applauded the decision of the National Assembly to intervene in the political crisis that arose from President Yar’Adua’s refusal to invoke section 145 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. It was quite evident from the reactions of Nigerians that majority of citizens and the international community were desirous of peace and development in the country. News of the dissolution of the Executive Council of the Federation by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on the 10th of March, 2010 was therefore received with great joy.

This writer would however note at this point that the enthusiasm that greeted the dissolution of the cabinet by Acting President Jonathan waned as soon as the presidency sent the list of ministerial nominees to the National Assembly for consideration and confirmation. Like in previous cases, this was expected owing largely to a number of factors that come to play during ministerial nominations. Most important among them is the issue of political exigency. It is strongly believed that federal ministers play very important roles in the politics of their respective home states. As such, major political actors scheme to have their candidates make the ministerial list. Sometimes, stakeholders even engage in smear campaigns or propaganda against their suspected rivals.

The spirit of presidential democracy suggests that there must be a cabinet so as to properly constitute the executive arm of government. This idea is to help eliminate any dictatorial element in a democratic political leadership. Here in Nigeria, there is a whole lot of misunderstanding of the role of ministers in a presidential democracy. This is mainly as a result of the wrong opinion people hold about political power. The cardinal aim of government is to better the lots of man and society. This is achieved through the articulation of sound ideas which are developed into policy frameworks. The direction of government is usually reflected in its policies. To provide for easy coordination and monitoring, government policies are streamlined into fiscal instruments also known as budget.

The major role of ministers is to articulate sound ideas that will help achieve government’s objectives. It is expected that after the signing of the appropriation bill into law, each minister would work towards achieving a 100% implementation of recurrent and capital proposals as they relate with their respective ministries. Unfortunately, many cabinet members are more interested in politicking than executing their official briefs. There are no longer traces of passion and patriotism among ministers. This is one reason why many MDAs are unable to implement up to just 20% of their sectional budget proposals. Many even fail to exhaust their votes at the end of the financial year when there are whole lot of work to be done. To check against this negative attitude of cabinet members, the presidency should take the issue of performance very seriously as highlighted by Senate President David Mark recently. It is the opinion of this writer that any minister who is unable to execute a minimum of 85% of approved budget proposals should be relieved of his or her post. The presidency must however ensure that funds are approved and made available to the various MDA’s as at when due. This would however require improving the revenue generating mechanisms of government. In order to achieve this objective, government must show enough political will in the battle against graft. Through this, enough financial resources would be saved for its developmental agendas. Furthermore, government must do well to invest massively in the non-oil sector. This would help boost the nation’s revenue strategy.

KALI GWEGWE
2, Greenvilla-Customs Link Road,
Biogbolo-Epie,
Yenagoa,
Bayelsa State.
0806 407 4810
kaligwegwe@yahoo.com
 



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