No doubt, President Muhammadu Buhari has had a challenging learning curve, since he was sworn in as president, over a 100 days ago, on May 29;particularly whenever he speaks to the press. As a former military dictator, PMB is indeed finding it difficult, to appreciate some of the incandescent nuances of democracy.
But in fairness to the President, while some of his words has given his opponents something to sneer at, he has so far, acted within the confines of his executive powers. His recent statement, on France24 channel, that,”the Ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise”; falls within such challenge. Brutally frank, PMB is yet to appreciate that as a politician, certain things are better left unsaid.
So, PMB was not right, when in that interview, while accepting that he will name his ministersbefore the end of September, as earlier promised, however said, “I think the question of Ministers is political”. Indeed, the question of ministers, is constitutional. While Section 5 of the 1999 constitution, which provides that the executive powers of the federation, “shall be vested in the President and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be, exercised by him either directly or through the vice president and ministers of the government of the federation or officers in the public service of the federation”, (emphasis mine) may appear tenuous, there are other unambiguous provisions, in the constitution, that compelsthe president to constitute a cabinet.
Speaking generally, the President has discretion, in determining thecomposition and nature of his executive council; but he must constitute one, assection 147(1) provides: “There shall be such offices of Ministers of Government as may be established by the President” (emphasis mine). The section further provides in sub-section (3) that “Any appointment of ministers, under subsection (2) of this section by the President, shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of this constitution: provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one minister from each state, who shall be an indigene of such state”.
Another constitutional provision that compels the President to inaugurate the body of ministers, is section 148(2), which provides that, “The President shall hold regular meetings with the vice president and all ministers of government of the federation for the purposes of: (a) determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the government of the federation;(b) co-ordinating the activities of the President, the vice president and the ministers of the government of the federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the president generally in the discharge of his executive functions other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body”.
Again section 150(1) of the constitution provides: “There shall be an Attorney Generalof the federation who shall be the Chief Law officer of the federation and a minister of the government”. Another compelling provision for a federal executive council is section 144(1)(a), albeit an ominous one, for an incapacitated president, which provides: “The president or vice president shall cease to hold office, if – by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the federation it is declared that the president or vice president is incapable of discharging the functions of this office”; subject however to a medical examination, as provided in the constitution.
In the face of these provision, the constitution of the body of ministers or executive council, is a constitutional imperative, and not merely a political decision. PMB is however politically correct, when in that interview, he posited that “People from different constituencies want to see their people directly in government, and see what they can get out of it”. That is the purport of section 14(3) which provides that “The composition of the Government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies”.
In his first 100 days plus, it is generally believed that PMB’S presidency has been able to restrain the haemorrhaging of our common patrimony. That is an achievement. But as the President learns the intricate and divergent pull of democracy, I commend to him, the words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis of the United States Supreme Court, in Whitney v California, to wit: “In government the deliberative forces shouldprevail over the arbitrary; that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of the political truth, that without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile….”