Three months after the president sacked ten ministers he is yet to replace them leaving a gap in the running of government. President Goodluck Jonathan shocked members of the Federal Executive Council on September 10, 2013 when he announced the sack of ten members of the cabinet.
The action of the president shook those affected as they had no inkling of that such a plan was in the offing. Those who were hit by the presidential axe included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamshudeen Usman, Minister of Education Professor Ruquyatu Rufai; Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Mailafia; Ms. Ama Pepple (Housing), Minister of state for power Zainab Kuchi; Minister of State for Defence, Erelu Olusula Obada, Minister of State for Agriculture Buka Tijani as well as Minister of Science and Technology- Professor Ita Bassey Ewah.
Before then, President Jonathan had earlier terminated the appointment of the minister for Youth Affairs, Inuwa Abdulkadir while Dr. Muhammed Pate, the Minister of State for Health voluntarily resigned in order to resume at the Global Health Institute, a US based Duke University. In all, the Federal executive council is short by twelve ministers as almost three months after the ministers were sacked by President Jonathan, their replacements have not been announced.
Although serving ministers were named to supervise those ministries where the ministers were sacked, it is obvious that the absence of substantive ministers in those ministries has had negative impact on the smooth operations of such ministries because those drafted to supervise have neither the experience nor the requisite time to properly supervise. Though the decision by president Goodluck Jonathan to sack ten ministers in one fell swoop came as a shock, not only to those affected, but majority of Nigerians, the failure to replace them almost three months after has sent tongues wagging about the vacuum created by the president’s action and the readiness of government to ensure smooth running of the affairs of the ministries. But to many watchers of government, the inability of the government to replace the sacked ministers did not come as a surprise.
When the president unceremoniously relieved the ministers of their appointments, several theories were propounded as to the reason why the ministers, some of whom were seen to be doing well in their ministries were removed. Although no reason was given by the presidency for the removal of the ministers, many Nigerians believed that most of them were removed because their governors who nominated them were locked in a bitter political struggle with President Jonathan.
Though the shock that trailed the removal of the ten ministers has been put behind, there is a growing concern that three months after their removal, their replacements are no where in sight. The question some commentators have asked is: why will the president choose to operate without key ministers?
Investigations by Vanguard indicated that though the president is disposed to ensuring that those who may replace the sacked ministers are people with impeccable character and personality, some of his close advisers, whose pressure in the first place made the president to remove some of the ministers are pushing for people with political clout that can countermand the growing influence of those governors that are seen to be opposed to the president. The search has therefore been on for not only people who will bring their experience to bear in the discharge of government business through their ministries but also people who can use their political clout to properly position the president in good footing for the 2015 elections when he makes up his mind on whether he would contest or not.
Closely related to this is the seeming icy relationship between the executive and the legislature. The recent defection of five governors of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to the opposition All Progressive Congress, APC has altered the composition of the Senate so significantly that there is a real fear that any nomination for ministerial position that is overtly seen as being against the interest of some of the governors would be resisted by senators in opposition political parties.
The recent revelation by the president that he cancelled the presentation of the 2014 budget presentation on account of differentials in oil benchmark between the House of Representatives and the Senate has further accentuated the frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive.
The problem of the president is even compounded by the vacancy in the office of the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters. The last holder of that office, Senator Joy Emodi was removed from office despite a global acknowledgment of her sterling role in bridging differences between the National Assembly and the presidency. Since her removal, the president has found it difficult to present the budget even as differences between the two arms of government have also widened.
To many officials of government it is better for the government to bid its time and present candidates that would be acceptable to majority of the senators rather than rushing to nominate candidates for confirmation as ministers only for the presidency to suffer the humiliation of having such nominees rejected by the Senate. No matter the temporary obstacles that stand on the way of the president in nominating new ministers, he does not have the luxury of allowing the mpasse last ad infinitum because he is constitutionally bound to ensure that at least each state of the federation is represented at the federal executive council.
According to the amended Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution which gives the President Powers to appoint Ministers, “There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President. “Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President, “Any appointment under subsection(2) of this section by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of Section 14(3) of this Constitution, provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state.”
But while the intrigues continue on the appointment of ministers to replace the ones sacked by the president three months ago, activities in the ministries whose ministers have been relieved of appointment have continued at snail speed. For instance, since the sack of the ministers in September, there has never been any memo from any of these ministries to the federal executive council for approval of any project, an indication that though these ministries may have ministers supervising them, such ministers lack the requisite power and authority to effectively carry out duties assigned to them.
How the president is able to navigate these delicate political waters without ruffling more feathers will go a long way in determining how the ministers who will eventually emerge would be perceived by both the legislature and eventually Nigerians if their nominations are confirmed.