A troubling trend of governors failing to form their cabinets long after assuming office is undermining progress at the sub-national level. Citing the need to cut public spending and other political reasons, many governors operate for months and sometimes years without an executive council, taking arbitrary and unilateral decisions on critical state matters. The implications of this are many. For instance, the system of monitoring and evaluating public policy becomes weak and the quality of governance poor.
By September 8, 2019, about 100 days after 29 governors had been inaugurated, only 10 of them had appointed commissioners, while Abia, Kano, Kebbi, Katsina, Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Kwara, Enugu, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Cross River, Jigawa, Zamfara and Rivers states had yet to do so. In Osun State, rather than appoint commissioners, Governor Gboyega Oyetola initially appointed ‘supervisors’ to head ministries for 10 months, an arrangement that is completely unknown to the 1999 Constitution. His predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola, spent nearly three years of his second term without a cabinet, citing paucity of funds.
The latest culprit is Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, who was re-elected on September 20, 2020, for a fresh term of four years and was inaugurated on November 12. It is utterly disappointing that Obaseki, who joined the public service from the private sector and was expected to inject the vigour, effectiveness and ingenuity associated with private enterprise, has continued to run a “one-man show” in the state for over 10 months.
The situation is particularly worse in Edo because the legislative arm of government is inchoate with half of the state House of Assembly yet to be inaugurated since 2019. The implication is that several constituencies of Edo are being denied representation, both in the legislature and in the state executive cabinet in contravention of the constitution.
The excuse that appointments are being delayed due to the governor’s defection last year and the need to accommodate new political interests is jejune and flimsy. Obaseki cannot pretend that Edo, which is home to some of the most prominent and successful Nigerians in diverse fields, could have a dearth of qualified appointees across the political divide.
It is worrying that over 22 years since the return to democracy, many state executives have failed to imbibe the democratic ethos and abide by the spirit of Section 192 of the 1999 Constitution, which states that governors shall appoint commissioners subject to the approval of the House of Assembly.
But such executive arrogance is not peculiar to the states. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who was inaugurated on May 29, 2015, did not form his cabinet until November 11, over five long months. This earned him the nickname, ‘Baba go-slow.’ Earlier defending his delay in appointing ministers, the President ignorantly stated they are only there to “make a lot of noise,” adding that it is the civil service that does the real work. His dilly-dallying later proved counterproductive as it slowed the pace of critical matters of state and the economy went into a tailspin. Buhari repeated the same lethargy in 2019, taking months to form his cabinet. At the end of the day, the delay was needless as he reappointed most of the ministers who served in his first term. To date, Buhari has not constituted the boards of some government agencies that continue to function without substantive heads.
In a bid to curb the delay in the formation of cabinets and other impediments to the fast pace of governance, the House of Representatives is considering a bill seeking to set a 30-day time frame for the President to appoint ministers upon assumption of office and 60 days to inaugurate the boards and leadership of agencies. This is a step in the right direction which other states can replicate. Sadly, most state assemblies have turned out to be mere rubber stamps that endorse all the actions of their governors. This defeats the crucial constitutional role of the legislature to provide checks and balances and oversight.
It must be stated that democracy presupposes participation. It is about engagement and running an inclusive government for the common good of the people. Governors are not expected to run state affairs unilaterally. Progress comes through a fusion and cross-fertilisation of ideas, and ingenuity since governance is about service delivery. No man is an island and anyone who feels he can achieve progress on his own has no business in public service.
While the argument that there is an urgent need to reduce the size of government and the cost of governance is valid, refusing to inaugurate cabinets for financial reasons is throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Governors can merge ministries for better service delivery and maintain a slim cabinet while the number of advisers and special assistants should be reduced drastically. Frivolous budgetary provisions like a pilgrimage, pension for ex-governors, use of private jets and others should be stopped altogether to save public funds.
Making appointments is not rocket science. It only requires giving the right job to the right people and ensuring that they pursue the agenda of the government under the law so that the state can function optimally. Obaseki must understand that making appointments is not optional, but mandatory by the office he holds, and failure to do so is an abuse of the constitution. A government without an executive council is like a public trading company without a board. It not only undermines service delivery and performance but promotes absolutism in governance. Obaseki cannot continue to run Edo like a monarch. He should form his cabinet at once.
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