Suspense in states over delayed cabinets

As the countdown to the commemoration of their 100 days in office begins, some state governors are yet to constitute their cabinets. KUNLE ODEREMI and DAPO FALADE report on the attendant intense pressure on the governors.

EXACTLY nine days from now, almost all the state governors except six would have spent 100 days in office. The exceptions are the governors of Anambra, Osun, Ondo, Kogi and Bayelsa which were beneficiaries of staggered poll occasioned by circumstances. While preparations are on top gear for governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states on November 16, 2019, that of Ondo and Anambra states will hold in 2020 and 23, respectively.

In other states, the governors have literally acted as sole administrators, with the major operations of government at their whims and caprices since they were sworn on May 29. Though the victory of some of them are being challenged at the governorship election petition tribunals, it is believed not to be the primary reasons they have failed to appoint commissioners as required under Chapter 2, Section 14(4).

The provision states: “The composition of the government of a state, a local government, or any of the agencies of such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the federation.” However, there is a seeming lacuna in the constitution because there is no timeframe in the constitution that such appointments must be made.

None of the governors has cited constitutional constraints as constituting the obstacles in the bid to constituting their cabinet. In fact, none of the affected state chief executive officers has adduced any cogent factor for the delay, despite the grumbling, particularly from opposition camps, who described the trend as not only abnormal but also a sign that the governors did not prepare for the arduous task of governance. Commissioners are assumed to be part of the think-tank of the cabinet at the state level. They are required to monitor and supervise the implementation of government policies and programmes.

While some governors have stood their ground against those they tagged as godfathers bent on forcing their stooges as commissioners, a couple of their colleagues are in dilemma because of the welter of political forces that brought them into office. Lagos and Oyo just named the list of commissioners, while others like Ogun and Cross River, are yet to nominate individuals for screening by the state Houses of Assembly as commissioners. Instead, the governors have deemed it proper to appoint a retinue of aides whose portfolios range from the sublime to the esoteric. In a few places, some individuals have been empowered to oversee the ministries like commissioners with all career civil servants reporting to them. It is a departure from the tradition of governors using permanent secretaries.

In Ebonyi State, Governor Dave Umahi had decried what he described as undue pressure from many quarters before he unveiled the list of his 22-member cabinet in batches in July.  He said: “I am told that we have over 10,000 applications for commissioners, SAs, and SSAs. This is, in fact, troubling and doesn’t give me joy at all. What is trending in Ebonyi State is no longer ‘I want to be coordinator, TA or STA’. It is ‘I want to be Senior Special Assistant or Senior Assistant’. Every Ebonyian wants to come in as senior assistant, as senior special assistant. They don’t even know the meaning of senior assistant or senior special assistant and it is very unfortunate.

“But let me make this bad news, if I am making more SSAs and SAs, it may not be up to 10 per cent I have made; that is the bad story about it. It is my opinion that we should find something doing not just appointment.”

He added: “What is trending in Ebonyi State is everybody saying I want to be SSA and SA. Imagine the cabinet we have, everybody wants to be SA. If I am making more SAs, it must not be up to 10 per cent of the SAs I have appointed. It is my opinion that we find something else doing. My commissioners will come last. I want to let them know that this job can be done without anybody.

“My former commissioners started a very bad trend for the state and for me. Every day, they are discussing the governor, going from one office to another. They were going about saying that they were not being given anything and not taken care of. If I get complaints again, I will get rid of that person. Anybody we will appoint now, we will tell the person, ‘this is not come and chop, it is come and work.’ So, from day one, if you do not want to sacrifice to work for the people, you better go and look for another opportunity. If I get anybody complaining there is no money, I will get rid of the person. This is no longer going to be a gossip workshop. People are called to work.”

In Delta, the state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, faced a stiff opposition from a stalwart of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Godsday Orubebe, when the governor eventually released the names of his commissioners. He has since sworn them in without yielding any ground based on the allegations of non-inclusion in the process that led to the compilation of the list.

In other states like Oyo and Lagos, the governors had to carry out a form of restructuring in the ministries, agencies and departments before releasing the list of their commissioners. The uncanny rivalry among major political actors also appears contributory to the delay in their governors having commissioners. The rancorous situation that characterised the party primaries that dovetailed into the general election, has remained unabated. The different camps have refused to shift ground and pave the way for compromise.

However, a major stumbling block in the bid by the governors to constitute their cabinet is the issue of power sharing among the various power brokers that contributed in making sure the party won the governorship election. The initial sharing formula agreed upon by the groups necessitated a review following the outcome of the general election as some of the camps failed to demonstrate their weight and strength on the field. In other cases, the camp that seemed to have demonstrated greater capacity, based on the result of the poll, decided to have the absolute control in forming government or conceded an insignificant ground to the junior partners in the initial mutual agreement on power sharing.

One argument by the allies of the governors is that the absence of commissioners has not in any way affected governance. Some of them added that the delay in a way contributed to reducing the cost of running government. Many of the states have been finding it difficult to pay the salaries of their workers, even at the N18, 000 national minimum wage before it was jerked up to N30, 000 recently.

As an example, the governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, operated without a cabinet for months after the governorship poll last year. He attributed the delay to lack of fund. Therefore, he said he was deploying the little money at the disposal of the government to pay the salaries of workers.

“I decided to delay appointment of politicians to government to enable me pay workers’ salaries. I don’t want to do media trial for anyone, so I have hired the services of a renowned audit firm to look into our finances and the forensic state’s accounts will then be published during our 100 days in office in Jan. 2019,” Fayemi had said.

The argument about the paucity of fund espoused in some official quarters over the delay in constituting cabinet by the governors, was seen as a good omen and as it has not created a vacuum in the running of government.  Mr Charles Adeyemi, the Senior Special Assistant (Strategic Communications) to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, corroborated the view. He was quoted as saying the absence of commissioners since his principal mounted the saddle had not slowed down governance.  “People have been working. It is just that in our clime, people are conscious of title. There has not been vacuum in leadership, the supervisory commissioners have been working audaciously with the governor,” Adeyemi said.

Many people however attributed the long delay in the formation of cabinet by Governor Oyetola to the long legal tussle over the governorship election held in the state last October. To many who subscribed to this view, it would have amounted to an effort in futility if the governor had formed his cabinet and his main opponent in the electoral dispute, Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared the winner of the election.

However, the Supreme Court eventually gave victory to the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election. Since then, not quite a few people within and outside the state have been wondering why the governor is still keeping the state waiting on the likely form and shape of his cabinet, nine months after he won the governorship poll.

Not unmindful of the suspense over the delay, Governor Oyetola, while speaking at his hometown, Iragbiji in Boripe Local Government Area, last week, said the process of picking his commissioners had commenced.

While he was however said to have pledged to give room for quality advice, especially from members of the opposition on how to provide good governance to the people, the governor was reported to have said: “We will run an all-inclusive government because my party will have a say in the way we will run our administration. Bringing members of other parties who do not share the same vision and ideology with us may create a problem.

“But I will listen to ideas from them. We have given the party the opportunity to pick the commissioners. The process has commenced. We will look at the list. I will also screen before I send it to the House of Assembly. The process had commenced. It will be completed soon.”

 

Cross River

There are reports that the governor of Cross River does not intend to constitute his new cabinet until later in November. He reportedly preferred to have all his 28 former commissioners as heads of task forces he set up to oversee the completion of certain ongoing projects of his administration. The governor reportedly disclosed that the state spent more than N4 billion each month as salaries and emoluments, while the allocation from the Federation Account to the state was less than N2 billion a month.

However, while the people of the state are watching how the unfolding scenario would play, the state wing of a youth organisation, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), challenged the governor to give them 55 per cent of the political appointments in the state.

Addressing a press conference in Calabar ahead the celebration of the 2019 International Youth Day, which was held last Monday, the chairman of the state branch of NYCN, Mr Ndiyo Ndiyo, said Governor Ayade should consider youths between the ages of 18 and 35 and between the ages of 35 and 50 to complement his yet-to-be constituted cabinet.

“In Ayade’s first administration, we asked for 35 per cent youth inclusion into governance. He challenged us and gave us more than that. In his second term, we are asking for 55 per cent of appointments for youths between the ages of 18 and 35 and the other percentage to between 35 and 50. This is also to give us a ground of learning from governance. As it stands, Cross River has promising young persons in politics from the experience of the last four years. We hope that by 2023, we should have a young person in the range of 40 years becoming the governor of Cross River. The 55 per cent will make us stronger financially and vested with political knowledge,” Ndiyo said.

 

Ogun

The government of Governor Dapo Abiodun said it had to obtain a loan from the bank to pay an accumulated salaries and allowances of workers owing the paucity of funds. His government was said to be committed to carrying out due diligence before constituting the state cabinet, notwithstanding the scathing remarks by some members within the ranks of the opposition. “He is consulting widely. A source was quoted to have said: “He is working very closely with party leaders and other stakeholders on the list.”

An APC source in Abeokuta further said: “This, of course, requires patience and diligence. He is not sleeping. He is working very hard on it. Check out all the appointments already made, I can tell you they were all arrived at after wide consultation with and approval of major stakeholders across the state. He is not a governor, who wants to do it all alone. He recognises the place of the party and other organs and he is allowing time and chance for them all to make input into the list. This is why it appears it is being delayed but I can assure you the final output will justify the time spent on it. There is no crisis whatsoever anywhere about it.”

Governor Abiodun is keeping the possible list of his commissioners to his chest, about three months after he was sworn in on May 29. As at June 29, the governor only made public the appointment of three key officials of his cabinet. These included Olatokunbo Talabi, a boardroom guru, as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG); Alhaji Shuaib Salisu, a former acting Chief of Staff in the former Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s administration, as the Chief of Staff (CoS) and Kunle Somorin, a seasoned journalist, as his Chief Press Secretary (SSG).

 

Plateau State    

On the Plateau, Simeon Lalong, also a second term governor, is keeping the people of the state guessing in respect of who will eventually make his cabinet. So far, he has only made one appointment in the person of Dr Makut Simon Macham as the Director of Press. The governor had, on the eve of the inauguration of his second tenure in office dissolved the last cabinet in the state, including all political appointees, such as his Chief of Staff, commissioners, special advisers, senior special assistants, heads of boards and parastatals, departments and agencies. He only spared local government chairmen.

While some watchers in the state are decrying the delay by Governor Lalong in constituting a new cabinet, others are aware of the intense lobbying for positions, even as the governor was said to be under an intense pressure in his bid to form an all-inclusive government. This was as people were of the opinion that Lalong was only acting true to type, probably waiting for his godfather, President Muhammadu Buhari, to constitute the federal cabinet before he make unveils his own cabinet in Plateau, just like he did in his first time.

 

Term in office

With or without cabinet, the governors will on May 29 attempt to observe the customary first 100 days in office. Some groups have started the countdown to the date, with some of the critics alleging that the delay in constituting a cabinet is akin to the saying that the morning shows the day.

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