…FG activities slow down
By Henry Umoru, Kingsley Omonobi, Omeiza Ajayi, Luminous Jannamik, Joseph Erunke and Gabriel Ewepu
The inability of President Muhammadu Buhari to form his cabinet 45 days after commencing his second term in office appears to have slowed down activities in most of the federal ministries at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Buhari had been sworn-in for the second term on May 29 after being declared the winner of the February 23 presidential election.
It took about six months for the President to appoint his ministers at the commencement of his first term in 2015 with many Nigerians voicing concerns about the implications for a then-ailing economy that required urgent attention by a federal cabinet to fix.
The concerns about the need for a cabinet to address economic and security issues besetting the nation are no less on the front burner, as Senate President Ahmad Lawan said, last week, that Buhari was likely to present the list of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation before the close of the week.
The presentation didn’t happen.
An investigation by Sunday Vanguard shows that some key ministries are affected by the lack of ministers, a situation that has left them in the hands of Permanent Secretaries with limited statutory powers.
Specifically, businesses in Health, Defence and Education Ministries were found to have largely been affected by the lack of ministers with the constitutional powers to convene and preside over some activities.
Activities in the ministries, which were, literally, brought to a halt during the last electioneering period, are yet to return to full swing given the absence of political heads.
At the moment, some projects at various ministries are at a standstill because civil servants lack the powers to approve the necessary expenditure.
The implications, Sunday Vanguard learned, are that contractors are not paid while high profile decisions are hardly taken.
There is no constitutional provision that specifies when a new administration should appoint ministers but the joint committee of the National Assembly, NASS, on constitutional amendment had proposed the appointment of ministers, commissioners (at the state level) within 30 days.
The amendment was among those the President did not sign on May 31, 2018, when he appended his signature on a fourth constitution alteration bill seeking to reduce the age qualification for aspirants running for the office of President, House of Representatives, Senate and state House of Assembly respectively.
Findings by Sunday Vanguard across some key ministries reveal that the delay in the appointment of ministers is hampering the smooth-running of their duties.
Health: National Council of Health meeting affected
Investigation in the health sector reveals that the pace at which programmes are being implemented has substantially reduced.
Officials claimed the Office of the Permanent Secretary, Abdulaziz Mashi, is handicapped in the exercise of full powers over the sector, except when there is a clear directive from the Presidential Villa.
Particularly, they lamented the Permanent Secretary’s inability to convene the meeting of the National Council on Health, NCH, the highest policy-making body in the sector.
The meeting, which was previously scheduled for June in Asaba, Delta State, has been postponed to August in anticipation that a minister would have been appointed at that time.
The minister is constitutionally recognised as the Chairman of the Council.
The officials, who spoke under the condition of anonymity in Abuja, said the Permanent Secretary has been treating ministerial files and memos, but expressed doubts over the capability of his office to coordinate a robust response to a public health emergency such as Ebola Virus Disease.
“The Permanent Secretary has assumed the highest power in the ministry as directed by Mr President, but he is still greatly limited on policy matters. There are policies he cannot project except the directive to that effect is coming directly from the Presidential Villa. The ministry has been having new health programmes but they are not as frequent as they used to be”, one of the officials told Sunday Vanguard last week.
“Our ongoing programmes are running but at a very slow pace. We don’t see that changing until we have a Minister”.
Response to public health emergencies
Another official in the ministry said: “The Permanent Secretary in carrying out routine duties but at a low tempo because the ministerial structure gives him limited powers.
“If there is a public health emergency like Ebola, the Permanent Secretary will normally lead the response because the ministry is active. However, because he is not fully on the driver’s seat in terms of policymaking, the response and coordination of activities such as emergencies would naturally be slow.
“We were supposed to have had a meeting of the National Council on Health, NCH, in Asaba in June, but the Permanent Secretary couldn’t summon the meeting of the 36 state Commissioners for Health because there was no minister to preside as Chairman of the Council.
“The meeting has been postponed to August in anticipation that a minister would have been appointed by that time. We are hoping by next month everything will be okay. If there is no Minister of Health by August, the NCH meeting will likely be postponed further.
“Let me ask: What is the Permanent Secretary doing if he cannot preside over the National Council on Health meeting? It simply means he is limited in his powers to run the health sector without a minister.
“There are also the issues of body language and interpretation of the power dynamics in the polity. We have observed that some Commissioners for Health in the states have been acting in ways that suggest that they consider the Permanent Secretary less powerful than themselves.
“When Nigerians called for speedy appointment and confirmation of ministerial nominees, they knew what they were saying because things cannot go on smoothly in the MDAs without policymakers represented by a substantive Minister or Director-General.”
Asked if they were anticipating the re-appointment of the immediate past ministers of Health, one of the officials said: “We are not expecting the two immediate past ministers to return. What did they do? What did they do in four years? It is only performers that we expect to return to President Buhari’s new cabinet.”
FCT: ‘Permanent Secretary can’t approve more than N5m’
A former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, created seven mandate secretariats for the effective administration of the FCT. They are headed by non- career civil servants called Secretaries in order to reduce administrative bottlenecks.
The secretariats are Education; Transport; Agriculture and Rural Development; Health and Human Services; Social Development; Legal Services and Area Councils.
With the exit of the immediate past Minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammed Bello, the Permanent Secretary, Christian Ohaa, has been in charge.
But all the Secretaries of the Mandate Secretariats left with the minister, leaving the administration of the secretariats in the hands of the Directors of Administration.
The Secretaries work directly with the minister and, as political appointees, they take directives from whoever is the minister.
The absence of the Secretaries, who are like Commissioners in the states, created a vacuum as the Directors have limited authority in the power configuration.
Sunday Vanguard learned that major projects have been suspended since a Permanent Secretary cannot approve more than five million naira.
Investors are very careful
Important functions like the issuance of the key of Abuja to visiting Presidents are not being done currently following the absence of a minister.
A Director, who pleaded anonymity, told Sunday Vanguard: “The absence of the minister is affecting our activities in the FCTA. A Permanent Secretary has limitations. He cannot spend more than five million naira and investors are very careful in dealing with him as they await the next minister. As Directors, we are also afraid not to offend the Permanent Secretary.”
In the area of land allocation and signing of Right of Occupancy, the Permanent Secretary cannot sign because, according to the FCT Act, the minister carries out his activities on behalf of the President.
Interior Ministry: Supervisory role
The Ministry of Interior is the supervising ministry for the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Prisons Service, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Federal Fire Service and the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Surprisingly, Sunday Vanguard learned that the ministry is not really feeling the absence of a substantive minister, given that the minister only plays a supervisory role. The minister, it was learnt, is not involved in the day-to-day running of the agencies; neither does he have a special role with regards to promotion or discipline of personnel.
The Civil Defence, Fire Services, Immigration and Prisons Board, CDFIPB, usually handles such roles.
At the moment, CDFIPB has been carrying on with the recruitment and training of personnel, specifically in the Prisons and Fire Services.
The board is also putting in motion machinery for the recruitment of personnel into the NSCDC.
DEFENCE: Delay affecting security operations
The Ministry of Defence Headquarters in Abuja, known as Ship House, is no longer a beehive of activity. Located in Garki, Area 10, the edifice, which usually hosts military, intelligence and strategic meetings on how to curb the activities of Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists, armed banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustlers, and smugglers of illicit arms among others, is a ghost of its usual self.
Though immediate past Defence Minister, Mansur Ali, handed over to the Permanent Secretary, Hajia Nuratu Batagarawa, it was gathered that there was a standing order that all Permanent Secretaries of Ministries should not give any approval pending the appointment of ministers.
Usually, the minister holds weekly security meetings with the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Bugatti; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadie Abubakar on the security situation in the country, after which he goes to the Presidential Villa to brief the Commander-in-Chief.
Aside from the meeting with service chiefs, the minister meets randomly with heads of tri-service institutions which are directly connected to the ministry by virtue of their cross-service operations.
These agencies include the National Defence College, NDC, Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, Armed Forces Command and Staff College, AFCSC, Jaji, Military Pensions Board, MPB, Armed Forces Resettlement Centre, AFRC, and the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria, DICON.
The absence of a minister, according to Sunday Vanguard findings, has slowed down the activities of the ministry.
An example, it was learnt, was last Tuesday’s announcement of the accelerated promotion of Major General Lamidi Adeosun, the Chief of Training and Operation at the Army Headquarters, and Brigadier General Abdulmalik Biu, the GOC 7 Division, Maiduguri.
The fact that the announcement emanated from Army Headquarters, which already had the Chief of Army Staff as a 3-star general, was said to have caused the initial misrepresentation that greeted what was ideally recognition of gallantry, valour and selfless dedication to the cause of protecting the territorial integrity of the nation.
Reason: The outcome of promotion councils’ deliberation, usually chaired by the minister on behalf of the President, often emanates from the office of the Minister of Defence.
The Minister of Defence is considered a senior cabinet official in the Federal Executive Council.
The Defence Minister’s main responsibility is to manage all branches of the Armed Forces.
He also maintains a mission-ready military on land, sea and air.
Among other functions, he is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining a proper balance in arms and men to meet the needs of internal and external security and enhance the capabilities of the country’s defence industries.
AGRIC: Absence delays release of budgetary allocation
Sources in the Ministry of Agriculture claimed that their work is not being affected by the delay in appointing a minister for the ministry.
However, key stakeholders in the sector expressed contrary views to Sunday Vanguard.
One of them is the Vice National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, Chief Daniel Okafor, who lamented what he described as the non-release of budgetary allocation to fund their activities.
He said: “The 2019 budgetary allocation for the sector has not been released. It is not comfortable for farmers across the value chain.”
Okafor, who is also the National President, Potato Farmers Association of Nigeria, POFAN, said: “From our findings, the budget was supposed to be released in January and February because we are yet to adopt greenhouse and other methods of crop cultivation. It is not well with us as farmers in this country.
“We do not have access to fertilizer. Government is not interested in our affairs. We want the government to commence release of budgetary allocation to fund the sector”.
Also speaking to Sunday Vanguard, one of the Directors in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, who pleaded anonymity, said the absence of ministers in the ministry has affected major water projects.
He said: “The pace of projects like the Kano River and Hadeja Valley in Jigawa State respectively is affected. Contractors have not been adequately mobilised in terms of equipment for the job. If we had a substantive minister, he would have facilitated the mobilisation.
“We believe the contractors can meet up with the three-year period of completion of the projects. Funding for the projects is not a problem. They have completion periods of two and three years.”
Mines and Steel Development: Fears over stagnation, paralysis
National President of Miners Association of Nigeria, MAN, Kabir Kankara, told Sunday Vanguard that the absence of a minister in the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has created a vacuum.
According to him, the situation has decreased the pace at which the business of the ministry is being conducted.
Kankara said: “Things are working even with the absence of ministers in Mines and Steel Development because the ministers just disengaged not quite long, which is about six weeks. However, their absence has reduced the pace of our activities.
“The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development should try as much as possible to perform his functions to avoid paralysis or stagnation of activities in the ministry and the sector. Investors are not sceptical about the sector even without ministers.”
In the Ministry of Education, the Permanent Secretary, Mr Sonny Echono, has been piloting its affairs since the exit of Mallam Adamu.
Sunday Vanguard learned that some key issues in the ministry are begging for attention owing to the absence of a minister.
One of the concerns is the threat by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to embark on another round of nationwide strike.
Since the warning strike threat was made, the government has not responded, a situation attributed by some officials to the absence of a minister.
Sunday Vanguard, however, observed that contracts for urgent projects in Unity Schools have not been awarded.
The Petroleum Ministry is also not left out, as sources said the absence of a substantive minister is delaying the signing of a major oil deal with Saudi Arabia among other issues.
Why Nigerians may wait longer
Sunday Vanguard recalls that before the President was sworn-in for a second term, reports had suggested that he was going to hit the ground running.
Sources at the Presidency even corroborated the reports.
The expectation before now was that Buhari was going constitute his cabinet like Senegal’s Macky Sall and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who appointed ministers within days of being sworn in as President.
Last week, there were speculations that the President was going to send the ministerial list to the NASS, but it seems Nigerians may have to wait longer given a statement to that effect last Thursday.
Buhari, at a dinner for leaders of the NASS at the Aso Rock Villa, said he was under pressure to form his cabinet, pleading for more time to do so.
The President was said to have noted that most of the ministers he appointed in his first tenure were unknown to him.
Buhari said: “Many at this dinner meeting are saying they want to see the list of the proposed cabinet so that they can go on leave peacefully. I’m very much aware of it. I’m under tremendous pressure on it. But the last cabinet which I headed, most of them, I didn’t know. I had to accept the names and recommendations from the party and other individuals.
“I worked with them for three and a half years at least, meeting twice or two weeks in a month. So I know them. But, this time, I will pick people I personally know.’