Since the shock sacking of nine ministers by President Goodluck Jonathan, news and social media have been awash with comments expressing surprise, or those who felt the attempt at reshuffling the cabinet was not far-reaching enough, considering that some particular ministers are left in their positions.
This sacking brings the total number of vacant cabinet seats to 11 (former Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, had resigned a couple of months ago, while the Minister for Youth Development, Inuwa Abdulkadir had also been sacked a few weeks ago).
While it will take days, if not weeks, before the reasons behind the sacking of each of the nine ministers are fully known, we can only speculate whether it was based on non-performance, corruption, or political consolidation (some of the ministers might bear allegiance to the breakaway faction of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP).
In other countries, the sacking of 11 cabinet members would have amounted to at least half or even two-thirds of the entire cabinet gone. However, in Nigeria, this is just about one-third of the number of ministers, not to add the motley crowd of Special Advisers (which are cabinet-level positions) and Senior Special Assistants to the President. All these offices come with their own retinue of aides, expenses and budgets. There is no better description of an over-bloated cabinet than what we have.
While this is not entirely President Jonathan’s fault, as the 1999 Constitution demands a minister per state, he has made it worse by creating offices of special advisers and senior special assistants with either very vague job descriptions (such as the Special Adviser on Ethics and Values) or duplicating those of others.
Take for instance, the fact that there is a Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, a Senior Special Assistant on Public Relations and another Senior Special Assistant on New Media (Facebook and Twitter). These three offices can be merged into one position, saving the country a lot of funds.
The President can start by trimming these redundant positions, while the National Assembly can do us all good by removing the clause of the constitution that stipulates that each state has a minister, a practice rooted in a disastrous scarcity mindset. After all, not every ministry needs to stand on its own (e.g. the Ministries of Information and Communication, Science and Technology, and Communications Technology have a lot of overlaps) and not every ministry needs a Minister of State (Works and Health are two ministries that readily come to mind).
It will also be recalled that after the appointment of his cabinet, President Jonathan had his ministers sign performance bonds, against which their stays in office will be evaluated. While that was a laudable move in order to tie the ministers down to performance contracts, it is sad that the contents of these performance bonds are not known to the public. As a result, the Nigerian people, who are the true employers of the ministers and the President himself, can only form conjectures in assessing their performances.
Having the performance bonds of the ministers publicly available also bolsters the President’s case when he lets cabinet members go for non-performance. For example, until this sacking, one would be forgiven for not remembering that we had a Minister for Environment, or Lands and Housing, as there has been nothing to show for their existences.
As President Jonathan beams his search radar across the country for persons to fill the eleven vacancies in his cabinet, he cannot be faulted for factoring political considerations into his nominations. However, the capacity to do the job should not be sacrificed for political expediency.
The practice where the state governor (if from the PDP) or the state chapter of the party is asked to nominate a minister must be done away with, as the President should select people whose pedigrees he is sure of, and whom he can work with.
There must be efforts made to turn the cabinet into a collection of all-round performers, not what it is at current where persons like Akin Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture earns plaudits nationally, while those like the now former Minister for Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai will not be missed.
It is now less than two years before the next general elections when President Jonathan is expected to seek another four years at the helm of affairs of Nigeria. His performance, by which many Nigerians will judge whether he is deserving of a second term, will depend on the performance of his cabinet members.
We hope that he keeps this in mind.