The principle of federal character in Nigeria does not need much introduction – simply put, it is the principle that states that appointments into all the cadres of posts of the civil service at the federal and state levels, the armed forces, the police and all other agencies and bodies of government are fairly and equitably distributed that no one ethnic or sectional group shall dominate the government or any of its agencies. [Section 14 (3) and (4), 1999 Constitution (paraphrased)].
While there is a Federal Character Commission established to ensure that this principle is complied with and a workable formula for this equitable distribution is worked out, the Constitution specifically stated that “there be a minister appointed into the Federal Executive Council (the cabinet) from every state, who is an indigene of that state)” [Section 147(3)].
Let us ignore the fact that the Constitution does not define what makes one an indigene of a state or an area – this post here makes sufficient argument for me in that respect.
Going by this constitutional provision, it is thus expected that the FEC is made up of at least 36 ministers – one per state, so no state will feel left out of the sharing of the national cake. President Goodluck Jonathan, in his “magnanimity” has even gone beyond the 36 and appointed an extra minister per geopolitical zone, making his cabinet 42-person strong.
Personally, I have never been a fan of federal character, and I know that I am far from alone in sharing this sentiment. I believe it makes us sacrifice competence on the altar of expediency, so that everyone is carried along. There is also the fact that this federal character principle was the idea of a North scared of being dominated in the civil service by a more educated and thus, more qualified South – and I am saying this as a Northerner.
In the case of ministerial appointments, it has burdened us with not less than 36 ministers, not to add the usual motley crew of special advisers, which are a cabinet-level position. Right now, we have more ministers than ministries, making it necessary to appoint junior ministers to ministries that should not even be stand-alone ministries in the first place (for example, why do we need ministers of state for foreign affairs or education or health?)
But of late, I have been studying the composition of the federal cabinet, in part because of these tweets I saw a couple of months ago:
Random morning thought. Trying to name 6 ministers in GEJ’s cabinet who can chair the board of a quoted company on merit. Got to 5
— Akin (@AO1379) June 1, 2014
NOI, Akin Adesina, Mobola Johnson, Sarah Ochekpe and maybe Mike Onolememen. — Akin (@AO1379) June 1, 2014
That my quest for 6 ministers is done. Found the last name: Prof. Chinedu Nebo.
— Akin (@AO1379) June 1, 2014
Amazing that out of 40+ ministers, I struggled to find 10 really competent names. — Akin (@AO1379) June 1, 2014
The ministers were those of Finance, Agriculture, Communications, Water Resources, Works and Power.
I find myself inclined to agree with him.
To attain the position of the chair of the board of a publicly-traded company, it is expected that you are a man of unquestionable integrity and competence.
This then means that the remaining 38 ministers are grossly lacking in either integrity or competence. In many instances, it is both.
A major problem is with the manner in which ministerial candidates are shopped for, nominated and screened by the Senate.
Ministerial appointments in Nigeria have been appointed in the following manner – either by the governor of the state (when the governor is a PDP governor), by the godfather or party leader in the state or to whoever is able to lobby most effectively.
Even worse, when they are nominated, their prospective portfolios are not mentioned. Thus, the senate screenings are not direct. They dwell on the nominee’s career before then, and then there is guesswork about what ministry the nominee might be posted to and a few questions are asked. It is why, for example, the screening of late Prof. Dora Akunyili dwelt around her time at the head of NAFDAC and how she would reform the health sector, only for her to end up as the Minister for Information – despite the fact she has no experience in public relations.
Although the senate has stopped its asinine “bow and go” screening of former senators, it rarely asks questions that are intellectual that will help assess the nominee’s competence.
It is the combination of all these factors that gifts us a cabinet where internationally-celebrated technocrats like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are side by side with incompetent politicians like Abba Moro (whose appointment said to be the nominee of the Senate President David Mark as compensation for managing his senate campaign).
Although President Jonathan has tried by appointing a few stars such as the ones listed above (and even those who have left his cabinet such as Mohammed Ali Pate and Barth Nnaji), they are still way outnumbered by those who are either incompetent, lacking in integrity or both.
Now, imagine if competence and integrity are the main criteria for nominating ministers. Imagine if the Constitution made it mandatory that a minister is nominated with his/her prospective portfolios and the Senate makes ministerial screenings tough in the way they grill nominees with pointed questions as to how they intend to make impact at their portfolios.
Although we will still have a bulky cabinet of 36 ministers, it will at least carry more weight when even half or two-thirds of the cabinet is competent in the posts they are in. It will be much better than this rag-tag assortment of politicians and cronies of politicians with a little sprinkling of stand-out performers and technocrats.
Of course, my ultimate desire is that the requirement of a minister per state – which institutionalizes our scarcity mindset and wealth sharing as opposed to wealth creation – be expunged from our constitution.
But that is a fight for another day.