You Are Wrong Mr President, Ministers Are Not Just For Noise Making

Yesterday, President Buhari while speaking with AFP made a statement that ministers are not relevant in the running of government affairs. According to President Buhari
“The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise; for the politicians to make a lot of noise. But the work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide the continuity, dig into the records and then guide us, [those of us] who are just coming in.”

I was about writing a concise response to Mr President’s remark before my good friend Tonye Solomon showed me his write up. His article pertinently captured what I thought and I would just share it.
Understanding Ministers and Civil Servants Roles:

Ministers:
Firstly, we have to appreciate the purpose of ministers of the federation. We all we agree that all political parties and candidates standing for elections come with their own program and agenda. These programs are highlighted in their respective document called their Manifesto.
The Manifesto is usually in concordance with the overall ideology of the respective parties. When a party’s Presidential candidate get elected, he assemble a team of men and women of intellectual standing and believers of his vision to help formulate policies, supervise implementations and defend these policies before the public to actualize the vision and fulfill the President’s electoral programs.

These group of people are called Ministers. The loyalty of the ministers are to the occupant of the President’s office, the country and in most cases the ruling party. Ministers sit and deliberate on policy issues and strategy with the president.

Civil Servants:
Every country have a workforce that carry out day-2-day activities of the government in power. We all agree that it is impossible for every government to come on board with their own workforce every 4 – 8 years, hence the country provide for a ‘permanent’ workforce that will work with every administration.

This workforce is called the Civil Service. They are non-partisan career people. They are not to help any political party or candidate formulate policies but are to work with every ruling party and administration to IMPLEMENT policies. They are technocrats and bureaucrats.

Their loyalty is not to the ruling party or individual in power but to the “Office of the President” and the Country. They have NO business deliberating on policy issues and strategy with the president or his party. They only take instruction. Let’s see a case study.
Case Study: Petroleum Ministry:

In the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, there is the Minister, the Permanent Secretary and career Civil Servants, and other agencies and department (eg NNPC, PPPRA etc) under the ministry.

The Minister sit with the President to formulate policies and programs for the sector in line with the President’s agenda. S/he prepares budget for the ministry, see to the implementation of this program/policies (supervision) and is answerable to the President, the party and the public.

Statutorily, S/he is the Chairperson of the NNPC. S/he also supervises other department and agencies under her ministry on behalf of the President.

The Permanent Secretary is the Account officer of the ministry and most senior civil servant (rank) in the ministry. S/he is responsible for the implementation of the Minister’s policies/program. S/he is the head of the ministerial tender board BUT any contract approved by the board has to be countersigned by the minister (to ensure that they are in tune with the Minister’s/President’s agenda).

He/she is not a member of the Cabinet, neither can S/he replace the minister as the Chairperson of NNPC except S/he resigns and is appointed minister thereafter.

The roles of the minister and permanent secretary are distinct and straight forward. The importance of ministers cannot be over-emphasized.

It is instructive to note that Nigeria is not an isolated case when it comes to ministers/permanent secretaries. The United States for instance have Under-Secretaries, which is Nigeria equivalent of Permanent Secretaries, and Secretaries which is ministers equivalent.
Contrary to Buhari’s perception, ministers are not for ‘noise-making’, neither are they meant to ‘fill space’ except the incompetent and clueless ones. Without cabinet ministers, a country will be likened to one on ‘Auto-piloting’.

More importantly, our constitution provide for offices of Ministers just as it provide for the offices of the President and Vice President.
To be fair with the President, his perception of Ministers is inappropriate. I wonder what prompted him to utter such statement when he was a former minister under the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime between 1977-79.

Is he trying to say that he was a ‘noise-making’ minister in General Obasanjo cabinet?

May God Bless Nigeria

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