By Henry Omoru, Favour Nnabugwu, Emmanuel Elebeke, Gabriel Ewepu & Victoria Ojeme
President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated May 29, but, three months after, he was yet to send names of his Ministers to the Senate for confirmation.
“It is the prerogative of the President to make the appointments. He will make them (appointments) at the fullness of time.”In the meantime, while defending the delay in the submission of the list of ministerial nominees to the Senate by the President, his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said: “Business need not be grounded at MDAs because the Permanent Secretaries and other technocrats are in place to take decisions.
Buhari had, before Adeshina spoke, attributed the delay in his appointment of Ministers to the late submission of his Transition Committee’s report to him, just as he said he was being careful in order not to make mistakes in appointing individuals especially to key positions such as in the finance and petroleum ministries.
To him , there was nothing wrong in delaying the appointment. “I don’t know why people are so anxious about Ministers. But eventually we will have (them),”the President said.
He also blamed the immediate past Jonathan government for not cooperating with his Transition Committee.
Sunday Vanguard x- rays the activities of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, presently operating with Permanent Secretaries and what Nigerians are saying with the non- appointment of Ministers by the President.
The country may not have missed much with the delay, but different reactions have trailed the bidding of time by the President to avoid making mistakes of the past, while the MDAs applauded the absence of Ministers as a measure by Buhari to carry out a thorough study of the country’s problems before he appoints Ministers.
While some people claimed that the delay in filling the important government positions has not, in any way, affected the smooth running of government agencies, others disagreed, saying activities have been brought to a stand still.
Investigations, however, revealed that the day-to-day operations of the MDAs have not been hindered except when it comes to approval for big projects.
At the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, the Permanent Secretary, Engr. John Chukwu, is in charge, giving orders, taking decisions, but the busy nature of the office of the Minister at Area 11 has been absent; no patronage by politicians, business men and women, religious leaders, contractors, administrators, among others.
The staff were not as busy as they used to be when the Minister was around and the blocks where both the Minister and the Minister of State occupy were deserted.
Only recently, the FCTA Permanent Secretary vowed to arrest, prosecute and send to prison Bureau de Change operators in and around Wuse Zone 4 in the Federal Capital City, FCC, if they failed to stop hawking foreign currencies.
Giving the warning during an emergency inspection tour of areas used by the Association of Bureau de Change of Nigeria (ABCON) and black market operators, under the aegis of Zone Four Traders Association, Chukwu stressed that the FCC has been well planned and designed with a Master Plan and that the laws of the land must be respected to make Abuja clean and safe.
Also in compliance with the directive of the Federal Government on the dissolution of the boards, agencies, institutions and government owned companies, the Permanent Secretary announced the dissolution of all boards of the FCT parastatals and agencies.
He also disclosed that the Special Task Team on City Management had impounded 56 bags of assorted hard drugs as part of government’s plan to fight criminal activities in the FCC.
The Permanent Secretary, who revealed that the Task Team discovered the hard drugs at a depot during its covert operation at Tura-Bura, behind Apo Roundabout, said, “The FCT administration is gladdened by the proactive activity of the Task Team for this major discovery which would go a long way in reducing crime in all its ramifications in Abuja and environs.
“These 56 bags of cannabis and sundry hard drugs seized by the FCT Task Team will surely have positive multiplier effects on the fight against criminal activities in Abuja because most crimes are committed under the influence of hard drugs”.
A government official, who spoke with Sunday Vanguard anonymously, noted that the country was moving slowly without Ministers, said, “The country can ill-afford further delay by the President to make these vital appointments.” The official, a Permanent Secretary, said: “From The Presidency to the MDAs, everything has come to virtual standstill”.
Another Permanent Secretary said, “Ministers are necessary but not essential. They are not essential for the proper functioning of government, but they are necessary for the political identity of the governing party.”
The official admitted that there are limitations to Perm Secs’ capacities to approve policy issues, particularly those bordering on big projects which, he argued, can endure a little while.
“The Permanent Secretaries are doing the work of Ministers for the time being though, they are looking up to Ministers to also play their part but salaries are not delayed, work has not stopped and activities of the MDAs are going on.”
At the Ministry of Trade and Investment, the Permanent Secretary, Amb. Abdulkadir Musa, was in charge until his retirement last Tuesday.
A source at the Ministry said: “All major activities of MDAs are still being carried out; salaries are paid on time and decisions are being taken regarding the growth and progress of the MDAs.”
A level 8 in the Ministry of Communication Technology said the absence of Minister had virtually crippled activities in the ministry and warned that people should stop pretending that Permanent Secretaries could cover the vacuum left by Ministers’ absence.
There is a limit to which Permanent Secretaries can go in the approval of files and funds, he said, stating that the ministry had been virtually grounded due to the inability of the Permanent Secretary to give approval for the release of funds. “Generally, it is affecting us. There are areas Permanent Secretaries can function and other areas Ministers can operate. So, their works differ. Like in the area of fund approval, there is a certain limit a Permanent Secretary can approve, while Ministers also have theirs. Therefore, it is affecting our work generally in our ministry. Certain things have not been going on as a result of this factor,”he stated.
“You will ask for something and you will not have it, they will say no money but if the Minister is there, he can walk to the President and complain, ‘this is what we need’ and he will listen to him. But this the Permanent Secretary cannot do.
“There is gap between the Minister and Permanent Secretary. For this reason the economy is feeling the heat.”
At the Ministry of Police Affairs operating under the Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Aliyu Ismaila, a civil servant, who also spoke on the slow pace of activities, said that most of the work in the ministry had been suspended, due to the absence of a Minister. To him, the continued delay of their appointment of Minister will not help the economy.
Activities at the Ministry of Power have been under the Permanent Secretary, Amb. Godknows Igali, and a civil servant there, who spoke on the issue of no Minister, expressed worry over the frustration the situation had brought, adding, ‘Definitely, all is not going on well with the absence of Ministers. Everybody knows that Permanent Secretaries can’t do everything. Ministers are needed to implement policies and when they are not there, most things will be at a standstill.
“The President should know how important Ministers are in carrying out his agenda. So, if he feels he wants to wait sometime longer, all well and good. He is the one who should be bothered more than we civil servants. After all, whether we have Ministers or not, we will receive our salaries at the end of the day.”
At the Ministry of Science and Technology, which has been under the guidance of the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Winifred Oyo- Ita, there was no usual bubbling of activities as the few workers seen sitting there were idle, discussing personal issues.
A senior staff there, who spoke, said that, as far as he was concerned, the absence of Ministers meant nothing to them, adding that work had been going on smoothly. He believed Buhari should take his time to screen the ministerial nominees before making them public.
At the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, activities there have been under the Permanent Secretary, Architect Sunny Echono.
The Ministry has its activities at the lowest ebb since the President’s inauguration as a Director in one of the departments in the ministry, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “We have not been having too many activities as it used to be since there is no Minister yet.” However, he expressed optimism that, “as soon as a Minister is appointed, we believe things will pick up”.
The ministry has raised four special committees to ensure that key sub-sectors of the agricultural sector namely, textile and garment, food storage, grazing reserves, and extension services, don’t suffer.
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Ambassador Bulus Lolo as the Permanent Secretary, some of its activities have so far been put on hold especially in the areas of foreign posting, recall of ambassadors and promotion because of the absence of Ministers, but bilateral relations between Nigeria and other countries are not hindered with visits of ambassadors to The Presidency as well as foreign trips of Buhari being put together by the Ministry.
For the Ministry of Health with Linus Awute as Permanent Secretary, things have been very slow without Ministers because the Permanent Secretary has no power to take some vital decisions. Some of these decisions include demand for increase for allowances by health workers which has made many unions to go on strike.
Speaking on the absence of Ministers, the Lead Director for Centre for Social Justice, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, said it was making the President to run as sole administrator, adding that the Permanent Secretaries, accounting officers and Directors General do not have the clout to take decisions like Ministers (political appointees) who take policy decisions and drive them through and go further to take responsibility for the actions.
According to him, the continued absence of Ministers delays a lot things and would continue to slow down government operations.
To him, it makes no sense for Buhari to seek United States assistance in recovering looted funds without the appointment of an Attorney General of the Federation, who should sign the bilateral agreements with the US Attorney General.
“I think the absence of Ministers is virtually making the President to run as sole administrator because the people who are there , the Permanent Secretaries, accounting officers, DGs do not have the clout to take decisions like political appointees, who take policy decisions and drive them through and take that responsibility,”he stated.
“It is delaying a lot of things. For instance, we don’t have an Attorney General, yet the President is busy going to America to negotiate for the repatriation of stolen funds, which has to come through a judicial process.
“The US Attorney General needed to sit down with his Nigerian counterpart and look at the different legal positions and come up with a workable strategy to use the legal process to recover the money. Now, with the absence of Ministers, who is going to negotiate with the US Attorney General? There is nobody there.”
On the economy, he said: “The economy is in turmoil, only the Central Bank is working and we need a convergence of fiscal and monitory policies to be able to achieve a nuance way of managing the economy, but all you hear is only what the Central Bank is doing, who is there for fiscal policy?
“I feel two heads are better than one, there is no economic adviser to advise the President. I think these people needed to be there three weeks after he took over. I think it does not make sense the continued delay of the appointments.
“What is he putting in place? Waiting does not make sense. He does not need any time. You expect a 72 year old man to go through rigor involved in screening every body? I think he is not a magician nor did we elect a messiah.
“That was what caused Obasanjo to fail because people arrogated messiahship to him , even when he should have been called to order. It is the same thing that they are doing to Buhari now. What does he need all these months to do? Why did constitution say?, that he needs ministers since he can do it alone. He has spent three months without minister. I don’t see any wrought he has to clean.
“The fact that Jonathan’s administration left a rot is the main reason the President needs to bring in more hands to assist him. He is a human being. He has been running for Presidency since 2003; if there are no people he trusts around him, it is unfortunate. The elections are over.
“I am worried at what is happening because we are suffering. Who is there to discuss with the CBN on how to rescue the economy. I have not heard anything about the 2015 budget. We are suffering, by now the budget implementation is supposed to have far gone. When he appoints the Minister of Finance in September, when will he prepare the 2016 budget. A lot of things are not working.”