The perpetually pending cabinet reshuffle -By Ayo Olukotun

Filed under: Political Issues |

Ayo Olukotun


For over 12 months now, the Presidency has continuously dropped hints to the effect that a reshuffle to ease out non-performing ministers will be carried out. The recent swearing-in of two ministers, Prof Stephen Ocheni and Mr Suleiman Hassan, without specification of portfolios, fuelled speculations that the long touted reshuffle was imminent. Some newspapers did analytical reports, concerning who and who might be dropped, with one of them, quoting a Presidency source, reporting that the reshuffle would likely happen this week.

Obviously, this columnist is not in a position to know, if and when a political shuffling of the cards will be carried out in the nation’s apex administrative institution. One is also sceptical whether any such changes will be made while President Muhammadu Buhari is away to London on what is becoming a protracted medical vacation. What is important, however, from the point of view of governance, is that official talk about cabinet changes, as well as speculations about them, if not followed by quick action, has ways of keeping the ministers on tenterhooks, and in a state of anxiety, which may impair their productivity.

In a political system, already plagued by what a political scientist described as “the inevitability of instability”, tentativeness and tip-toeing are bound to be the consequences of ministers hanging precariously in the balance. It is unlikely that they will give the jobs their best shots, as long as the dangling axe of firing hovers over them. So, the earlier the issue is clarified one way or another, the better for stability and effective performance.

To be sure, there is no doubt that several ministers have been lacklustre or mediocre in their output, with a few virtually invisible. It is a moot point however, whether this is a result of initial poor choices, or whether the protracted absence of the helmsman and consequent political vacuum, created the excuses for them not to put in their best. Whatever the real reason, it is in order that inept ministers be encouraged to resign, so that fresh vigorous blood can be injected into a system that is groaning for new life.

Talking about performance, there is a need to reflect on how it is measured, in the absence of performance contracts that hold the ministers down to specific targets and objectives. Performance contracts, readers will recall, were announced as a potential policy during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, but as this columnist predicted, considering the circumstances of those years, they were unlikely to amount to much. (See The PUNCH, Between performance contracts and non-performing cultures, August 27, 2012). This is an idea that Buhari can resurrect, in its search for improved governance tempo. The heart of the matter is, you cannot hold ministers accountable for standards and goals that are not articulated. Besides, in an age of media pervasiveness, it is easy to equate visibility with performance, and conversely, poor communication skills with non-performance. To avoid this trap, we must generate and follow through objective criteria for determining the output and effectiveness of members of the Federal Executive Council. Before discussing other dimensions of the subject, this writer craves the indulgence of the reader to, characteristically, enter a short take.

For a nation like ours, where the educational landscape is cluttered with unkempt, poorly funded universities, public and private, it must be distressing to learn, as The PUNCH reported on Wednesday, that the National Universities Commission is “currently processing over 240 applications for private universities”. Considering what the reckless multiplication of universities has done to the system, with several of them living from hand to mouth, and owing arrears of staff salaries, it is most unwise to continue to travel that slippery road. For example, some of us find it hard to understand why, in the case of universities owned by state governments, the NUC continues to license more universities in states which are unable to fund the existing ones. It is this syndrome that Dr. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice Chairman of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, described recently as policy irresponsibility.

In the case of private universities, there are already 68 of them, a figure higher than the number of public universities. It is also well-known that several of these are under-capitalised and frequently default on salaries. In a particularly bad case, the university self-closed, when the staff who were owed 22 months of salaries, walked out of the campus gate. What we have on our hands therefore, is a replication of distressed institutions, many of which are clearly unviable and exist at the borders of decency. There are of course a few good private universities but those ones are certainly in the minority.

Given this situation, the NUC is advised to suspend the processing of more universities, private or public, until the crisis in higher education is frontally addressed. Beyond this, the commission should take active interest in the unviable status of many of the universities it has licensed, several of which are clearly on life support. That would be a first step towards redressing the shambles which has been made of higher education.

To return to the discourse on cabinet reshuffle, there is another reason why it should take place urgently, namely the need for the current administration to deliver on its promises to the electorate. As known, the election cycle in this country is such that the last 15 months of any administration is bereft of governance achievements, as political competition takes the centre stage. Effectively therefore, the APC government has only 12 months within which to make a mark and to redeem its campaign promises.

Obviously, it has, in the face of economic difficulty tackled a few of them: but much ground remains to be covered in a short space of time. If the reshuffle is not mere political window dressing, it should raise a team that can usefully complement the few ministers who are both productive and focused. For example, such an exercise, may wish to revisit the rationale of the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, who was a high flier as governor of Lagos State combining three major portfolios. The best way to demystify an efficient person is to over-stretch him with too many responsibilities. Unsuprisingly, Fashola has proved more effective in infrastructural upgrade than in the other two dimensions of his assignment. It will also be interesting to consider whether some of the current ministers, who appear to be out of their depths or inactive, would have functioned of better in other ministries. For example, the Minister for Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, with his international exposure, would probably have fared better as a foreign affairs minister, than in his current portfolio, where not much has been heard of him. It is also not exactly clear whether the Minister of Education, Mr Adamu Adamu, a public intellectual and journalist of repute, would have done better in another ministry than his current assignment, where a university professor or someone from the education industry, would have been more appropriate.

Overall, it is time to end the indecision and lull, regarding the cabinet reshuffle, long promised but yet to be implemented.