Nigerians will recall that the 2019 presidential election was held on February 23, 2019 after the Independent National Electoral Commission postponed it within a few hours to its opening on February 16, 2019. The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, was declared the winner within a couple of days after the election. On May 29, 2019, he was formally sworn in for his second four-year tenure. Thus, it has been five months since the President was declared winner of the presidential poll and almost two months since he was sworn in for the second term.
As of today, the President has not appointed ministers and key officers to run the government. At a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly some days ago, he requested more time to compose his cabinet and recalled that in 2015, he was forced to appoint as ministers, persons he did not know. Now, he wants to take time to select persons whom he knows. This raises the poser as to whether the President is at liberty to spend months after swearing in before constituting the ministerial team. About 26 governors at the state level have virtually followed suit in delaying the composition of their cabinets through appointment of commissioners. How long is the appropriate time before the President constitutes his team? A review of Nigeria’s legal and factual issues will provide a clue on the appropriate time for the President to act.
By Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution, the President shall establish offices of ministers and nominees to the offices shall be confirmed by the Senate. The equivalent state level provision is Section 192 of the constitution. The President is bound to appoint at least, one minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state. The word used in creating the obligation to appoint ministers in this section is the mandatory “shall” and not the discretionary “may”. By Section 148 (1), the President has the discretion to assign ministers for any business of government including the administration of any department of government. In sub-section (2) of the same section, the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and ministers for the purpose of determining the direction of domestic and foreign policies of government and coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice President and the ministers in the discharge of their executive responsibilities. Thus, while the President has a discretion in the portfolio he assigns to ministers, he is under obligation through the constitution’s use of the mandatory “shall” to hold regular policy meetings with ministers, hence the weekly meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation. The President cannot hold meetings with non-existent ministers. The state level equivalent of Section 148 is Section 193 of the constitution.
When we recall that it is becoming very difficult for citizens and investors to decipher Nigeria’s extant economic and social policies, the need for the appointment of ministers becomes clearer. The economy is undergoing high levels of unemployment, the stock exchange keeps losing money by the day, double-digit inflation, increasing poverty and inequality as well as various security breaches across the length and breath of the country. Based on the foregoing, there can be no greater need for a cabinet team to meet regularly, and as a matter of urgency to discuss strategies and plans to get Nigerian out of these deep pits.
The office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of a state, who doubles as the Chief Law Officer and Minister or Commissioner for Justice is established by Sections 150 and 196 of the constitution respectively. The word used in both sections is the mandatory “shall” which does not import a discretion. No serious government operates without proper legal advice and having a Chief Law Officer. Again, we have also established a binding obligation for the President and governors to appoint an Attorney-General, being a minister or commissioner.
A review of budgetary and finance issues as provided in the Fiscal Responsibility Act and other laws shows the preeminence of the Minister of Finance in economic and budgetary matters. The minister is responsible for the preparation of the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework after consulting state governments and other stakeholders. By Section 13 of the Finance (Control and Management) Act, it is stated that: “In accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the minister shall cause to be prepared in each financial year, estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year, which shall be presented to the President for approval and when approved by him, shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly..” Both laws did not indicate that the functions, powers and duties of the Minister of Finance are exercisable by any other person or the Permanent Secretary of the ministry. Thus, it will not be ideal for any other person to preside over the preparation of the 2020 federal budget when a Minister of Finance can be appointed to carry out the statutory duties.
The ministers are usually the chairpersons of various national councils in areas of the jurisdiction of their ministries – health, education, housing, works, etc. The delay in appointing ministers will definitely affect the meetings and operationalisation of the councils. Recall that in his first term in 2015, Buhari wasted six months after swearing in before appointing ministers. The fragile economy, due to stagnation and lack of new policy direction, went into recession and we are stricto sensu, yet to come out of the recession, considering that the economy is growing at less than the population growth. Again, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, has warned that the country may suffer a full-blown relapse to recession, if positive steps are not taken to stem the tide of poor economic indicators. This would be a very sad retrogression if we go back to full-blown recession.
It is imperative to note that the President campaigned on an agenda called the “Next Level”. But the details and contours of that agenda have not been worked out or put in the public domain. The President needs ministers and appointees who will firm out what the next level means in terms of education, housing, health and in other sectors. He cannot do it alone, as he is just one person trying to serve 200 million Nigerians. And he is not reputed to be a super human. This would involve teasing out new policy directions, needed laws and administrative directions. The constitution understands that the task of governance is too enormous to be left to the President and Vice-President and therefore formally provides for ministers and advisers.
Nigerians expected that the President would have constituted a search team immediately he was declared the winner, so as to be ready with the list of ministers upon swearing in for the second term. It is inexcusable, after doing a first term without rejigging the cabinet, with the exception of a few who were forced out by public opinion or death, for the President to still hold the nation to ransom and create an economic and social crisis due to the non-constitution of ministerial team. It is either the President is ready to lead or he is not ready.
Incidentally, time is not on his side.