Adewale Kupoluyi argues that nominations backed by portfolios aid screening
Few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded names of 43 ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation. Among the 43 nominees are 12 persons, who were ministers in the president’s first term in office while the remaining 31 nominees, when cleared by the upper legislative house, would become ministers for the first time under the current political dispensation. For many years, what has been the usual practice in the country is for the president to forward a list of ministerial nominees to the senate for screening without their corresponding portfolios.
Flowing from this, the debate has elicited as to whether this pattern of nomination could bring about the emergence of suitable and competent candidates or not. Various reasons have been adduced for and against why portfolios should be assigned to ministerial nominations. Arguing in favour of this is the point that when candidates’ portfolios are ascertained, it would make it possible and easier to conduct thorough screening on them. This is because their curriculum vitaes and resumes would easily be matched against the duties that they are billed to carry out when eventually cleared. This point is salient, going by past experiences such that people with different qualifications are made to preside over ministries they knew little or nothing about.
In other words, a round peg is fixed in a square hole. What that translates into is inefficiency and ineffectiveness in leadership. The mismatch makes it difficult for sound coordination and supervision to be achieved. For instance, a medical doctor heading a specialised ministry like power, health or aviation may not allow him to direct the affairs of personnel and coordinate affairs successfully unlike if such ministries had been headed an experienced engineer or medical expert. Appointing unqualified persons into offices tends to discourage diligence and meritocracy. This is unbecoming of a nation with abundant human resource and talents. The work of a cabinet minister is too enormous and daunting to have under-utilised personnel to grapple with.
The principle of global practices requires that the president attaches portfolios to the list of his ministerial nominees. This is hinged on the fact that it would afford the legislature an informed basis to interrogate closely such nominees with a view to ascertaining their preparedness for public office. In advanced states such as the United States of America, nominees’ names are usually sent to the Parliament or Congress with their portfolios attached before screening. This would serve as guide the legislators better by asking salient questions that are relevant to the screening.
Building a proper foundation would make a nominee for the post of Defence Minister to be asked questions bordering on intelligence gathering and security matters, but where the nominee fails to show adequate knowledge in his specialty, he could be dropped in the best interest of the nation. This methodology makes the screening more rigorous, resourceful and purposeful rather than serving palliative, parochial and prejudiced political patronage. Beyond this, an atmosphere for openness, transparency and test the integrity of the nominees should never be compromised. The task of rebuilding the nation is very demanding for anybody to underrate and hence, the imperative for intelligent and sound nominees from every state of the country in line with constitutional provisions.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that assigning portfolios to the respective offices is not necessary because what it actually takes to be a good administrator and leader is not necessarily the possession of certain qualifications but the passion for service, sincerity of purpose, strong political will to make positive impact. Actually, the critical mass of those driving government machinery are the technocrats and civil servants. Therefore, what is necessary is leadership strength and passion to drive development and bring about positive change. What is important is not whether or not portfolios are attached but having the desired calibre of ministerial nominees in place, they would say.
In this context, a minister is seen more or less like a supervisor and administrator of the ministry while civil servants in the ministry are ‘engine’ with which the minister is going to work with. A minister can always be deployed from one ministry to another during cabinet reshuffle. We can still go on with other arguments on the pros and cons of why portfolios should be fixed. In all honesty, our democratic experience cannot be equated with modern states that have strong institutions that can withstand undue pressure of politics and other variances that can prevent a normal system from running itself against extraneous influences.
David Easton’s general system theory attempt at explaining man’s interaction within the socio-political system in terms of input – output functionality shows that our level of development is not capable of driving itself without a sort of regulation. In other words, it should never be taken for a ride that leadership would emerge naturally without deliberately creating the right environment for this to happen because of the external influence, described by Easton as the ‘blackbox’. Therefore, the possibility that quality leadership would evolve on its own without certain influence seems impossible. It is on this premise that the ministerial nominees should not be given an open blanket during the screening process.
Senate’s decision to suspend further discussion on the enactment of a bill to make assigning portfolio to the positions appears like a setback to the nation’s democratisation going by the ninth Senate’s recent disposition, cold-feet and resolution that eighth Senate that which mandated the president to attach portfolios to the ministerial nominees’ list. The eighth Senate had passed a resolution asking the president to indicate the portfolios that would be assigned to the ministerial nominees, to enable the lawmakers to know the specific questions to ask the nominees.
By the day, there should always be lessons learnt in a bid to have a progressive society. That is why the call of a cross-section of Nigerians including the main opposition party; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is apt that ministerial nominations should be backed up by portfolios. The logical argument supporting this is that it is just proper and ideal for the president to do, to enable the Senate properly screens the nominees, ascertain their competence and appropriateness.
The nation’s constitution does not envisage that ministers would be spectators in government. The reality of today does not lend itself to ministers without portfolio as there is no basis to hold onto ministries and ministers with little or no value to national aspirations and development. This would certainly be a manifestation of genuine change; a mantra that is widely associated with the All Progressives Congress (APC). The change may truly begin with that move.
Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta