Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The presidency at the weekend defended the order given to ministers by President Muhammadu Buhari during the recent ministerial retreat that all their requests for his attention should be directed through the Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement, said contrary to reactions trailing the president’s remark, the roles of the chief of staff hitherto, which he said included arranging the schedule of the president’s appointments remained the same, saying nothing had been added to such roles or taken away from them.
Explaining further, Shehu said the roles of the chief of staff in the administration of Buhari were not different from what is obtainable in the United States where he said the Nigerian presidential system was copied from.
He insisted that it is the responsibility of the chief of staff to maintain presidential relationship with the other two arms of government, serve as the link between cabinet members and the president and simultaneously supervise State House staff.
“Recent media and social media reports on the responsibilities of the Chief of Staff to the President have suggested that the role has changed. This is not the case. Today, under the Buhari II administration the role of Chief of Staff remains the same as it was under Buhari I.
“It is worth stressing that the role and responsibilities of the Chief of Staff and the method of communication and arranging scheduling between Cabinet members and the President are, in Nigeria, based on the US model, where the same system operates – and has done for decades – in precisely the same way.
“That role is to act as the head of the presidential administration at Aso Rock; to be an adviser to the President on any and all matters; to be the line manager for all staff at Aso Rock; and to manage appointments and scheduling for the President.
In the traditional presidential system, it is a primary function of a chief of staff, which may vary according to the needs and desires of each President, to supervise key State House Staff, control access to the office and the person of the President, manage communications and information flow and this includes that which binds the relationship with the two other arms of government,” the statement read in part.
The statement also explained that the roles attributed to the chief of staff by the president were not new, pointing out that they were the same roles he played during the first term administration of the president.
Furthermore, the statement said in contrast to the assumptions by the public that the president was denying his ministers access to him, he was rather getting them acquainted with knowledge about easy access to him.
It also explained that the roles of the chief of staff differ completely from those of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, whose roles he listed to include efficiency in the “coordination and monitoring of the implementation of government policies and programmes.”
Shehu who said whereas all ministers, in the course of discharging their responsibilities, must go through the SGF, was swift to add that the SGF has the responsibilities to among others, evaluate the performance of both ministers and permanent secretaries.
Against this background, he said in line with the duties of the SGF, Mustapha would ensure that all ministers sign mandate acceptance document within two weeks of assuming office.
He also called for an end to what he described as an unending controversy over the roles of the chief of staff and the president’s remarks.
The statement added: “Under this dispensation, a performance evaluation of ministers and Permanent Secretary will be maintained by the SGF. Two weeks after assuming office, they are expected to sign mandate acceptance documents.
“During the President’s first term those were the responsibilities of the Chief of Staff, and they remain the same responsibilities today. There is no change.
“When President Buhari explained to ministers that they would be expected to communicate with him and arrange scheduling to meet with him primarily via the Chief of Staff, he did so as many of the Buhari II Cabinet ministerial appointments are new appointments and cannot therefore be expected to know how matters of liaising with the President operate.
“This is to stress that access to the President is open to ministers. It is not true that this is denied them in the Second Term.
“The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) on the other hand is responsible for ensuring the effective coordination and monitoring of the implementation of government policies and programmes. All cabinet matters must go through him.
“Under this dispensation, a performance evaluation of ministers and Permanent Secretary will be maintained by the SGF. Two weeks after assuming office, they are expected to sign mandate acceptance documents. It is time to end the unnecessary controversy, for the key appointees of the President to carry out their jobs.”