As Nigerians await the new cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari, Political pundits and economic analysts believe that issues of political expediency need for inclusiveness and compensation for supporters who worked for the reemergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, will largely shape the size.
Perhaps, the need to reduce the cost of governance at the federal level, in the face of dwindling resources, had propelled the President to merge several strategic Ministries, Departments and Agencies in his first term.
But that decision had dire consequences for the All Progressive Congress (APC), as many bigwigs left the party over what they considered as lopsided treatments of those that worked for the party’s success in 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari has in his wisdom merged three very strategic Ministries of Power, Works and Housing into one ministry, the Ministries of Aviation and Transportation were also merged, that of Culture and Tourism were merged with Information to form the Ministry of Information and Culture, Sports was also merged with Youth Development.
The President had also merged those of Budget with National Planning to form the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.
The President himself also took charge of the Petroleum Resources Ministry as the substantive Minister, while appointing Ibe Kachikwu as the junior Minister.
Worthy of note however, is that these Ministries had hitherto operated under independent organisational structures, as full-fledged Ministries, whereas, while under the Previous administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Federal Cabinet was made of as many as 72 Ministers and Special Advisers, Buhari ran his first term with only 38 Ministers and 18 Special Advisers.
As laudable as the initiative appeared, there are indications that the merger may have become largely counterproductive, as insiders and other experts have suggested Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Tunisia and former Adamawa Governor, James Barka, believes that haven just escaped the consequences of platform of failed promises, the President must have learnt lessons not to allow a repeat of his first term mistakes.
“The President has promised an inclusive government and that will mean that more appointments will have to be made. So, how do you think this can be achieved without opening up the political space?” he asked
Barka who believes that the government has a social contract it must fulfill, warned however, that the need for political expediency must not override the need for financial prudence.
“l trust that the President will know how to balance the two because of the need to ensure that the resources are efficiently managed,” he said.
Aside opening the political space to accommodate more people, the need for the President to fulfill his pre-election campaign promises to the various All Progressive Congress APC groups who were allegedly “marginalised” after the 2015 elections, remain a huge burden for Mr. President.
Amongst those at the fore front of the “compensation” campaigns are wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, who has been the leading advocate for rewards for the hardworking APC members, including women.
Proceeding from the ‘Change’ mantra to the ‘Next Level’ the President at a meeting with the Buhari Support Organisation BSO, had assured his supporters that their handwork and loyalty would be adequately rewarded if he wins election in 2019.
According to the President, “Some individuals and organisations might be feeling disappointed because we have not been able to please everyone. I would like to assure you that this time, hard work and loyalty will be rewarded adequately,” he said.
The President said the event reminds him of the political struggle and support he has been enjoying from the group over the years, since 2003.
Aside the need for “sharing loots arising from political struggles or display of loyalty, several disadvantages have emerged from such “unholy” mergers.
For instance, there are concerns that some Ministries are incompatible and therefore, impossible for them to operate effectively and efficiently under one Minister.
Others include cases of alleged “sabotage” within the system and redundancy among other negative implications.
A strong case is that of the Ministry of Aviation which is subsumed under the Ministry of Transportation Aviation is a highly technical sector requiring both specialised skill and speed in handling, which may not work effectively in a bureaucratic system.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, for fear of possible reprimand, a senior civil servant in one of the ministries, lamented that since their merger with the new parent Ministry, they lacked inadequate work tools.
He also complained of communication gap between the Minister and Minister of State due to locations of the hitherto autonomous entities vis-a-vis treatment of files and others.
“The issue of distance is there, you want to follow upon some files, you need to leave the ministry of aviation and go to the ministry of transport because that is where we have the headquarters.
“You have to shuttle between the two offices because there are no enough office space, no working tools at the ministry’s headquarters.
We have staff who are well trained here in the ministry of aviation but they are redundant here in aviation.
In terms of personnel, the only difference is that we have just one permanent secretary; nobody was relieved of their job because of the merger, so the whole staff in both the ministries are still intact.
In fact, the merger has not impacted in anyway.
“The idea of the merger was to reduce cost, but if you look at it, nothing has changed. The only people that are missing from the hierarchy in the aviation ministry are the minister and the permanent
secretary. It is not that the government will bear more cost for putting a permanent secretary here. As a matter of fact, we have some permanent secretary who is not doing anything”, he said.
He further identified low productivity and poor welfare as another bane of the merger.
“Poor welfare, poor productivity. Most times we use our money to run the offices. We have just one permanent secretary and he superintends over 14 agencies.
“There are little things that he tends to forget because he has so much on his plate. This slows down the administrative process; it slows down action on the programmes”.
Another senior civil servant, who also spoke in similar vein, said: “Some of our colleagues in the other ministry go to the office, for the past four year, they come to the office, sit down every day without doing anything at least we in Aviation here have files to attend to. Also there is no good working relationship. There is a lot of sabotage.
“The things that the aviation minister is suppose to achieve, he can’t because of this. He needs feed backs on so many things, but it is only what they want him to see or to know that they bring to his notice.
Like here some of the staff has been due for training for the past three years but nothing is happening.
“Out of frustration, some staff in the ministry of aviation has worked their posting out to other ministry. If I have the opportunity of meeting the president one on one, I would advise him to separate these two for effectiveness and good control.
“Hold every minister and permanent secretary responsible because as it is now, the ministers and permanents only tell the minister what he wants to hear”.
On his part, an Aviation security expert, John Ojikutu, however argued in favour of the merger saying, that the agencies under the ministries should be independent.
According to him, “What we are saying is that, they should be together the way they are but the agencies under them are the ones that need autonomies. What are we talking about, in ministry of transportation we have railway, seaports and the likes.
“They are all linked up one way of the other. What they are trying to do now is to link railway station to the seaports, they are linking model rail to the airports and all of them are linking up from one point to the other. Even in America, the pipeline is under transport.
“Once you start breaking them the way you people are talking about, they will be working under different policies and there is going to be a problem of development. We need a place where we can link all of them together and that is why when you inherit intermodal transportation system. Something must link the airport to the road and that is why they building all these road you see from Abuja to the airport. They have built one now from Oshodi to the airport in Lagos.
They have brought monorail road to the airport that is going to link the other rail road that will carry vehicles to Abuja. that is the way it is.”
He added thus: “The problem we have in this country is that, everybody wants to create an empire to himself. Once you have a minister, he has no business to what is happening at the airport. He sits down in his office, come out with a policy, He sends it to the people that are going to executive that policy as directives, the responsible agencies like NCAA, will now develop programs and then they will now start carrying out government policies along that line.
“The job of the ministry is to come out with policies and send out to the various government agencies to implement that policy but when you create ministry of Aviation, it is just one area of transport and that is why we are taking of privatisation. Like in aviation now, you can privatize the airport and once you do that, government has little or nothing to do with it. But in this country, we have decided to take up every as government agency”.
The case of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is not completely different, as many believe that the low performance of the Power sector may not be unconnected with the huge burden the Minister carry.
Elder statesmen, Tanko Yankasai, while speaking also with BusinessDay on the issue, scored the current administration below average in the housing sector because according to him, “the outgoing Minister was overwhelmed by the challenges in the power sector.”
“Yes, while it is important to save costs, you also cannot sacrifice the need for service. Many sectors had suffered under the current regime. Our tourism industry has been relegated to the background because of the merger. Nothing was done in the area of housing because the Minister needed to concentrate on road and power infrastructure.
You can’t blame him.”
According to Yankasai, “Nigeria has competent and well qualified hands to man every sector and if Buhari really wants to succeed , he must open up the political space to allow more politicians into his cabinet.”
The elder statesman also urged the President to engage competent hands who he said abound in his party, the APC