When I wrote my last piece on this topic I didn’t really know that the President declared himself the Minister of Petroleum Resources, though in that write up I pointed out why the president will be wrong if he appoints himself a Minister. This write up became necessary when I got incontrovertible evidence that the President did appoint himself Minister and in the light of the rejoinder Okoi Obono Obla wrote to my last article.
Chief Okoi in his bid to defend the constitutionality of the President appointing himself a minister gave us a definition of the presidential system of government: “A Presidential System of government is a system of government where the Head of Government is also the Head of State and leads an Executive Arm of Government that is separate from the Legislative Arm. Under the Nigerian Constitution, the President is the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. He is the repository of the executive authority of the Federation.”
This definition is apt and even supported by section 5(1) of the 1999 constitution “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation: (a) 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.”
Look at that section 5 again. It says “Subject to the provisions of this constitution…” That means the powers vested in the president in section 5 is subject to other sections like sections 147 and 148 that mandates him to have ministries and ministers.
Section 147(1) of the 1999 constitution says “There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.” This section begins with a “Shall” and ended with a “May”. That is to say it mandates the President to establish offices of Ministers of the Federal Government but the number of such offices is left to the discretion of the President. In other words, we must have ministers and ministries but the number of ministries (offices of ministers) is left to the President to determine.
Section 147(3) has already mandated the President to nominate at least one Minister from each of the 36 States of the Federation, so, he very well has no choice in that. Whether he decides to have just 5 ministries or offices of Ministers, which he has powers to determine, he must have 36 ministers.
Let’s look at the letters of section 148 (1) “The President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government.” This section has the same letters as section 5(1) cited above.
What the constitution is saying is that the President has the powers to create any ministry or scrap any one, the president has the powers to give any office, ministry or portfolio to a minister as he likes or deem fit. The framers of the constitutional, surely, did not envisage any president using this power to make himself a substantive minister.
The president is like a football coach. He has the powers, subject to FIFA regulations (the constitution) to choose his team members, to play anyone he likes, to substitute anyone he likes but he has no powers to step into the field of and play. He can decide that he will play with no center forward, but he can’t create a center forward position and decide to play in it himself.
A joint reading of sections 5 (1), 147, 148 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended will reveal the following:
1. We practice the presidential system of government
2. The powers of the executive arm of government is vested in the president subject to other sections of the constitution
3. The constitution never envisaged a one man autocratic executive that is why the creation of ministries and the appointment of ministers are mandated by the constitution. The president only has powers to determine the number of ministries.
4. The president, after the Senate confirmation, is to appoint someone else as minister. The framers of the constitution never intended the president to appoint himself minister
5. The head of a ministry is a minister not a president. Once a ministry is created, a president is to appoint a minister to head it.
If you say the president can appoint himself minister of one ministry, you are also saying that the President can create 24 ministries and be minister of all. The absurdity in such a stance should make you cringe. This will make the constitution a huge joke.
And the citing of the Obasanjo era is an insult to the APC change mantra. The Obasanjo presidency was notorious for flagrant disrespect for court orders and bloody rape of our laws and constitution. For a government that vowed to do things differently to use the Obasanjo era as a yardstick leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Chief Okoi opines that “What should be of concern to Nigerians right now is if the Presidents (sic) intentions to oversee the Petroleum Industry is genuine or not.
Let’s consider the following factors:
1. Do Nigerians know how many barrels of crude oil are shipped out of this country per day for refining?
2. How much does a barrel of crude oil cost Nigeria to produce to enable Nigerians tally this information with the barrels shipped out of the country?”
I agree this should concern us; but something else also concerns me that I think should concern us.
If after 5 months of painstaking search, the President can’t find one Nigerian among 200 million Nigerians, including those living abroad to man the Petroleum Ministry, causing him to commit the illegality of becoming a minister, then this too should concern us.