By Ezenwa Nwagwu
Since the swearing in of ministers by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, there have been debates on issues which, in my opinion, are time-wasting and unnecessary.
Nigerians seem fixated about who got what. There have been a lot of discussions about whether the ministers are technocrats or politicians or whether they merit the appointments or the appointments are merely political patronage.
For me, this should not be the main issue for conversation. One key aspect that has been missing in the conversation since the President appointed his ministers is how do we hold them accountable.
I still do not understand why people do the same thing every time and expect a different result. As citizens, how do we hold these ministers accountable for their performance and ensure that they are working in the best interest of Nigerians. This will be and should be the trust of my engagement.
Clearly, appointments in Nigeria for ministers and, indeed, several others are an issue of patronage. This is what we see in our country. You are either nominated because you are a politician or because somebody who is a politician recommended you or somebody who contributed to the process recommended you. If it was a merit based process where people can apply and write an examination, then we can talk about merit. But this is our reality.
What has always bothered me is not the composition of the cabinet. I have always tried to shy away from such discussions. The reason is because being a student of history, history has taught me that it is not about who has been appointed. We have had different kinds of people, with different levels of qualifications, appointed as ministers. However, the platform with which they operate will determine whether they fulfill the aspirations of the citizens or not.
Before we go further, it is important to state that, obviously, President Tinubu has shifted the needle a little bit in terms of gender sensibilities in his ministerial appointments. The President has brought in about nine women. That is important because that was a sore point for the past administration in terms of the composition in terms of gender. For age, the youngest minister being 36 and the oldest being 68 is a balance in terms of experience and youth. You need the experience and you need the energy of young people.
But the point for me is that this is the way people become in Nigeria. And if this is the way people become, we need to set up a new system of engaging those people.
If you look at past administrations, the challenge has been the absence of service delivery outcome, value for money, and citizens’ oversights in terms of performance of those appointed. Because at the end of the day, what are they coming to do? Whether they are 48 or 36, the question is, what are they coming to do. What they are coming to do, is it known to us?
Nigerians should know what a particular minister is going to do within a specific timeline. On the basis of that, citizen groups and organisations can evaluate their performance within the time frame using performance indicators.
The challenge over the years is that most of these are shrouded in the idea of what the president wants the person to do. But do Nigerians know what the president wants that minister to do? How do we track their performances in real time if we have no clue what their targets are?
We must encourage transparency and accountability. Ministers should be held accountable for their actions and decisions. This includes being transparent in their dealings, providing regular updates to the public, and addressing any concerns or complaints.
We have had ministers of housing, transportation, and all the likes, but where are those things? We need to begin to talk about service delivery outcomes and value for money.
If you put one million naira into a process, you should be able to say in education “I expect such and such” within one year and this is the amount of money we are going to put into that. And whether the person is a technocrat or a politician or a priest or an imam, or whatever the person is, there is something we know that that person will be doing for us as Nigerians in one year.
And that for me is where we should push this conversation and every other conversation around governance in the next four years because what has happened is that we have no accountability mechanism to ensure that people who are appointed into positions deliver on what they have been appointed for and that thing they have been appointed for known to everybody.
If you are made minister of health, are you going to continue purchasing drugs, or are you going to go into preventive medicine, and how would you do that? That conversation needs to be public. It needs to be engaged by everyone. If you are a minister of education, what are you going to do for public education? What are you going to do to increase enrollment of out of school children?
I hear the argument that the manifestoes hold the policy direction of the president. For me, that is very broad. In terms of specifics, you appoint a minister. What particularly will that minister be doing in one year? We should know that. Nigerians should have that information.
We used to have what we called Buharimetre. Buharimeter was a creation of civil society with which we were following the promises that the president made. But in specific terms, you couldn’t track in real time what those he has appointed were doing because what they were assigned to do was not clear.
But let’s even shift from that, and even in discussing the so-called policy trust, all we have been doing in the last 40 years is just privatization and commercialization and all the likes. All of those things are things that are being carried over from one administration to another. The things that were not sold by Obasanjo were sold by Jonathan. The ones Jonathan didn’t sell, Buhari sold. Everything is about selling. It is not about how we can industrialize or where we are going as a country. That conversation is not holding. So what is in the manifestoes of the APC that is different? Let’s engage specifics.
If you are appointing a minister for education, yes, you can attach a portfolio. But tell us what that minister will do for you in one year so that as CSOs or interested citizens, I can raise those questions.
The national assembly ought to ordinarily be that oversight place for citizens, but over the years, the reputational baggage that it carries has not allowed it to do that effectively. We know what has happened to public hearings and the challenges that have posed.
We need to rouse our citizens to understand that if people are appointed into public offices, we should know what they are going to be delivering for us.
Nigerians are hungry for development. They are hungry for good governance. It is only people I consider as disruptors that can trigger that. We need people who can shift things. We have stayed in one place for too long. But it is not about issues of qualification or technocrats. In the past, we have brought people from the World Bank, we have brought people from the IMF, yet the country still remains in that position of wanting more.
By using these performance indicators, citizens can hold Tinubu’s ministers accountable and ensure that they are delivering on their promises. This will help create a culture of accountability and transparency in government, which is essential for the development and progress of Nigeria.