GOVERNANCE - 16 AUG 2019

Another delayed cabinet: Is Nigeria a serious country?

Another delayed cabinet: Is Nigeria a serious country?
Former Minister Babatunde Fashola and Lai Mohammed being sworn-in in 2015. Both have been renominated this year

It took nearly two months from his inauguration for President Buhari to release his Ministerial list. In his first term in 2015, he took almost six months to do the same, earning the nickname “Baba Go Slow” even as the Nigerian economy slipped into recession. In this article, we will explore the prevalence of ministerial delays in Nigeria and whether a proposed constitutional amendment would cure this menace.

 

Is delay a Nigerian Factor?

Nigerians rarely rush ceremonial activities, and the Nigerian government is known for delaying many things: payment, budget, reforms.

Likewise, delay in cabinet formation is not new in Nigeria; instead, it looks to have gotten worse over time. In President Obasanjo’s first term in 1999, his cabinet list was sent to the Senate within a week and the reason is clear: Nigeria just came out of over a decade of military rule, and needed to hit the ground running. In his second term in office, it took Obasanjo just under a month to submit his new list to the Senate. Subsequently, President Yar’Adua’s took nearly three months to form his cabinet in 2007 while President Jonathan took exactly 29 days to send his list to the Senate.

The trend is similar at the state level with several State Governors yet to form a cabinet. The Lagos State governor delayed his appointments in 2015, and the story is repeating itself today. Although Governors like Udom Emmanuel have sworn in their cabinets, most governors failed to do so within the first few months of their inauguration.

It looks like cabinet delays are a general Nigerian problem, which comes as little surprise given the absence of any incentives for the incumbent to speed up the process.  

However, the problem is not unique to Nigeria. For instance, in 2005, due to political disputes, Lebanon had delays in forming its cabinet. From 2018, Lebanon also took nine months to form its cabinet, but the main issue behind these delays has been a complex power-sharing system cutting across political and religious lines such as the Hezbollah-Hariri Conflict needing its representatives in government.

 

What does the Constitution say?

The Constitution is clear about the responsibilities of the President in forming his cabinet. Section 147 indicates that one person has to be nominated from the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, and each nominee has to be confirmed by the Senate.

There is no timeline given, explaining the liberties that Nigerian leaders have taken. Recently, however, a Constitutional amendment to stipulate a 30-day timeframe from inauguration was considered.

On the surface, the amendment is a no brainer as it would force incumbents to submit their nominees promptly. Most arguments against such a rule would highlight the danger of rushing the decision, but it is fair to expect any serious candidate to have a decent idea of their preferred choices once elections are over.

The tricky part may be figuring out how to enforce the rule. For example, the Spanish and Croatian Constitutions place 30-day limits on the formation of a government. If the government is not formed within this period, a deadlock-breaking mechanism (such as dissolving the parliament) may occur. The threat to dissolve the government can stimulate political parties who might be reluctant to go through another round of election into coming into an agreement and forming the government.

However, Nigeria operates a presidential system, so this particular option is infeasible. One way out would be to make infringement of the timeline an impeachable offence, gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office by not transmitting the ministerial nominees within the time frame stipulated by the Constitution. However, this sounds patently absurd.

In any case, as the Bill was defeated in the National Assembly, we may be better served trying to tackle the underlying reasons for the delays. Take your pick for what these may be: an enduring preference for selecting politicians over technocrats, the state quota system that has become a vessel of patronage at the subnational level, and a politicised confirmation process.

 

What is the way forward?

Nigeria’s democracy is relatively young, and one which has evolved over the last two decades. Nevertheless, it is not an excuse, as we have seen in other African countries that it is possible to have a cabinet in place, even without a Constitutional time limit.

The South African President had his cabinet formed just four days after he was inaugurated, and the Senegalese President who also won his second term in office had his cabinet formed only 6 days after he was inaugurated.

Legal fixes are attractive but may be difficult to implement in this case. Sometimes, we cannot avoid doing the hard work of trying to change the culture by accosting the roots of politics and governance in Nigeria. We must begin the slow process of projecting urgency in matters of governance; only then will incumbents move faster when forming their cabinets.

Kenneth Chijioke-Keme

Kenneth Chijioke-Keme

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