Why a President should not be a Minister, by Hassan Gimba

An Igbo adage says that when an anomaly persists for one year, it becomes the norm. So slowly, steadily but surely, it is becoming a norm, an accepted aberration, for a president in Nigeria to appoint himself as a minister. It is like saying in a country of 200 million-plus, there is no one good or capable enough to hold that particular office except the man entrusted with the running of the nation.

It was President Olusegun Obasanjo that started it. Nicknamed the “Trinity President” in some quarters, for six out of his eight years in office, i.e., from 1999 to 2005, Obasanjo was president, petroleum minister and minister of state for petroleum.

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It was only in 2003, the last year of his first term that he appointed Edmund Daukoru, the current traditional ruler of Nembe Kingdom in Bayelsa State, as special adviser on petroleum and energy and then minister of state in 2007.

I think Muhammadu Buhari got so fascinated by this “Trinity” arrangement that he saw Obasanjo run that he too made himself the Czar of Nigeria’s petroleum sector by appointing himself into the same offices.

One curious observation is that they both chose to head the petroleum ministry despite their shallow knowledge of the sector. Both presidents were soldiers who rose to become generals. Nigerians would expect them, especially Buhari, to head the defence ministry if they must be ministers. But the Ministry of Petroleum holds an enticing attraction to them. Can it be because Nigeria’s crude oil is called “sweet”?

Addressing some select reporters at a Global Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, in London, President Buhari said: “I will remain minister of petroleum. I will appoint a minister of state for petroleum.”

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And that was even before he had taken the names of his prospective ministers to the Senate. Unlike Obasanjo, he had once served as oil minister and, unlike him again, he appointed a minister of state earlier.

When the news broke that he was going to announce himself as petroleum minister, Vanguard newspaper published an editorial advising against such a move.

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“The nation is still at sea over how former President Olusegun Obasanjo handled the same job for six years from 1999 when he assumed power. Several turnaround maintenance projects were undertaken and billions of naira sunk and yet the refineries remained comatose,” the article read.

But how did Nigeria’s oil sector with its “sweet crude” fare under the two former generals-turned-civilian presidents?

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Reports have it that Obasanjo’s leadership at the petroleum ministry was characterised by lots of opacity and breach of due process. The seeds of the controversial Malabu oil deal were planted in that period.

The Guardian, on January 13, 2008, wrote, “Under Obasanjo, the government was not run based on budget and he did not consider himself bound by the budget. He was the budget. He provided figures and allocations and spent money as he liked without any evidential accountability to the National Assembly. Nobody knew what the revenue was. The National Assembly didn’t know; he was not revealing anything. How much came into the government coffers from the oil sales? Nobody knew except himself. He was the sole minister of petroleum.”

And because of this, in December 2007, seven months after he handed over power to Umar Yar’Adua, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) petitioned the anti-graft agency he set up, the EFCC, demanding that Obasanjo be probed as he no longer enjoyed constitutional immunity.

The petition read in part: “Let us start by stating that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, during his tenure, illegally appointed himself the minister of petroleum resources, contrary to section 147 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Secondly, his activities in the oil industry were shrouded in secrecy, as he never rendered proper accounts of the oil revenue to relevant agencies like the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

“Thirdly, it is also on record that neither the Federal Executive Council nor the National Assembly was ever presented memoranda or budgets of the oil industry.”

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Buhari’s case was almost similar. Probably no other leader in Nigeria’s history has had the swell of goodwill to tap into as him when he took over in 2015, but he sadly turned such enthusiasm into grave disappointment, his regime falling from what many, rightly or wrongly, had high hopes on, to one that the nation couldn’t wait to see the back of.

According to Buhari, the reason he wanted to be the minister was to right the wrongs in the oil industry, which was plagued by corruption, massive fraud, and crude oil theft.

But in his “determination to sanitise Nigeria’s oil industry and free it from corruption and shady deals,” he spent over N11 trillion on “subsidies” and over $19 billion on the maintenance of refineries that did not refine even a single litre of petrol throughout his eight years.

The Constitution of Nigeria that authorised the president to appoint ministers also gave the power of their vetting and confirmation to the Senate of the Federal Republic. Specifically, section 147 of the Nigerian constitution provides that: “(1) There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President. (2) Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.

Neither of the presidents presented himself to the Senate for vetting and clearance as enshrined in the Constitution. And all of them shunned defence, their field and what needed professional supervision for sweet crude. This made some people think that if Emefiele became president as he wanted, he may also make himself minister of petroleum as well as CBN governor.

But when this trend first reared its ugly head, some conscientious Nigerians did not take it lying down. A group called the Niger Delta Democratic Union went to a Federal High Court, asking it to issue “an order directing President Obasanjo to appoint a Minister of Petroleum Resources under the mandatory provisions of the Petroleum Act Cap 350 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 as amended.”

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Filed by Austin Ayowe and Dafe Chuks on behalf of the NDDU, the plaintiffs also sought “an order restraining President Obasanjo and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Authority (PPRA) from further exercising any function or powers of a minister of petroleum resources.”

Even though the suit was struck out on 15 September 2004 by Stephen Adah, the presiding judge, who held that the applicants had no locus standi to file the suit, perhaps that case forced Obasanjo to appoint Daukoru as minister of state the next year.

However, in November 2018, a Federal High Court in Abuja declared that President Muhammadu Buhari cannot legally double as the minister of petroleum resources.

The court made the declaration while giving judgment in a suit filed in 2017 by the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, who urged it to restrain Buhari from continuing to hold the office of the minister of petroleum resources, contending that Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution forbids the president from “holding any other executive office or paid employment.”

We are quick to shout that Nigeria borrowed its system of governance from America, but tell me which American president was a secretary (minister) at the same time.

Unfortunately for our nation, our leaders pick and choose according to what suits their purpose from the American system. The United States enacted the 1967 Anti-Nepotism law which forbids federal officials from employing family members into certain governmental positions and the cabinet. Can anyone mention that to recent Nigerian public officeholders? We have recently been regaled by stories of how even in the temple of justice, some senior judiciary figures make way for their children, wives and mistresses to become judges. It is the same in practically every segment of public service.

We still have a long, long way to go before we can get it right. But the worrying question is: are we even willing to try?

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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