Governors have turned commissioners in various states to errand boys, thus hindering the performance of ministries and agencies, Daily Trust can report.
By Ismail Mudashir (Abuja), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Haruna Gimba Yaya (Gombe), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina) & Eyo Charles (Calabar)
Serving and former commissioners told our reporters that there was an urgent need to address the situation to strengthen the second tier of government in the country.
Section 192 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria mandates state governors to appoint commissioners to run ministries in the states. The commissioners are to be screened and confirmed by state houses of assembly.
Commissioners serve as the political heads of ministries and interface between ministries and the governors, just like what ministers who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the national assembly do at the federal level.
Commissioners are expected to present and discuss memos of their ministries and agencies under their supervision during State Executive Council (SEC) meetings.
However, over the years, reports showed that state commissioners have been reduced to errand boys by governors, who hold SEC meetings at will, approve contracts without recourse to the Council and empower their chiefs of staff to perform the functions of commissioners.
It was also gathered that in most states, the commissioners do not have powers to approve any fund as against what was obtainable previously, where they had authorities to approve certain amounts. In some states, commissioners had powers to approve N1million.
In Gombe, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that in the past, the governor needed approval from the Council of any contract above N20 million. However, the state government has a new procurement law passed recently, which empowers the governor to approve up to N300m without recourse to the SEC.
This is even as most of the governors take many months to appoint commissioners after they have been inaugurated. An example was the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, who appointed commissioners nine months after he was inaugurated for a second term.
Reports from our correspondents in states showed that SEC meetings that are supposed to hold weekly, like the Federal Executive Council (FEC), are held at the discretion of the governors.
It was gathered that the situation was worse in Cross River, Katsina, Kwara, Gombe, Bauchi and Plateau states, among others where SEC meetings are rarely held.
In Cross River, two serving commissioners who pleaded not to be named said they could not remember if they had attended any formal session of the state executive council meeting.
“Our governor hardly holds any full session of the state executive council to enable us deliberate on proposals, submitted either by us or from other sources. He prefers to take decisions and brief those concerned later,” one of the commissioners said.
Another commissioner in the state who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had been reduced to clerks.
“Can you compare a commissioner in this state to others in neighbouring states? We have been reduced to average government officials, with laughable take-home pay,” he said.
But the deputy chief media officer to Governor Ben Ayade, Linus Obogo, insisted that to his knowledge, the governor had presided over a good number of council executive meetings.
“If he is not around, his deputy, Prof Ivara Esu, presides over the weekly council meeting,” he said.
A former commissioner said the calibre of people being appointed as commissioners by governors these days cannot deliver.
“In the past, commissioners were really important, such that for you to be one was a big deal. Don’t forget that they represent their local governments. But somehow, we have gotten it wrong and commissioners are now like pure water.
“We need to return to track because all commissioners are supposed to represent their local governments at the council. It is wrong to refuse to appoint commissioners. I don’t know why our governors are misbehaving,” the former commissioner said.
In Kwara State, a top government official lamented that commissioners didn’t have the power to approve any fund, irrespective of the amount.
“At times, the deputy governor can also approve, but I think the ceiling for such is now N300, 000. During the last administration, it was N2million for the deputy governor,” the source said.
Another official who also spoke on the matter said the relationship between the governor and some of the commissioners before now were poor, but things have improved.
“Then, the governor related with the commissioners through his aides and other officials, but things have fairly improved now. Channel of communication also entailed the commissioners snapping their memos and sending them to him through WhatsApp, or at times phone communication, but they now have more access to him. I don’t know if it has to do with politicking or just genuine attempt to improve things on the governor’s part,” the source said.
The chairman of the state chapter of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Lekan Alabi, described the situation as unfortunate.
“What is happening in Kwara is a master-servant relationship. The commissioners are at the mercy of the governor, so whatever he says goes. What do you expect from an administration that is bedevilled with crises?” he asked.
“And the governor handpicked the commissioners without any input from the party,” he said.
Reacting, the special adviser to the governor on political communication, Alhaji Bashir Adigun, rejected the servant-master picture painted by the SDP chairman. He noted that such a statement was not only incorrect but mischievous and ludicrous.
‘Govs give preference to impunity’
A former commissioner for information in Kogi State, Hajiya Zainab Suleiman-Okino, said that to address the challenge, the office of the chief of staff must be scrapped.
“The trends have been on even earlier before 2015 when many of the governors rendered their commissioners jobless by rather delegating powers to their chiefs of staff.
“I think we should do something about it because it has become an abuse of the democratic process, whereby a position that is not constitutionally recognised has been made so powerful that in some instances, the commissioner reports to the chief of staff,” she said.
However, the veteran journalist punctured the claim that commissioners are errand boys, recalling how she developed a blueprint for the transformation of her ministry while she was in office.
Why govs abuse powers – Ex-NBA president
A former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), blamed the situation on the presidential system of government that Nigeria operates.
In a telephone chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, the senior lawyer said the current system gave enormous powers to governors.
“This constitution invests all executive powers in the governors, which is a very big mistake. That is why they are abusing it. In the 1963 model, where we had provinces and divisions, the provincial commissioners shared the executive power with very powerful district officers.
“I wish we could dilute the powers of the governors in favour of the local governments. The governors don’t believe their commissioners can contribute anything at their meetings; they believe they know everything.
“Even while picking commissioners, they only pick those who will act as errand boys and will not oppose them. That is why the country is not going well and many of the states functioning as if they were operating a one-man show,” he said.
On irregular SEC meetings, the legal luminary said, “Strictly speaking, there is no specific sanction compelling a governor to hold cabinet meetings at any specific time. It is a matter of discretion and practice.”
In Katsina, the Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Abdulkarim Sirika, said council meetings were not done regularly, but rather as the situation demands.
Similarly, the commissioner for information and culture in Gombe, Mr Julius Ishaya Lepes, said the SEC usually held when the need arose or there is a memo from the governor or one of the ministries that require the council’s approval.
Also, the commissioner for information in Plateau State, Dan Manjang said they meet as they should and take critical decisions on the state. He explained that there was no law stipulating the frequency of executive meetings, except the legislators who have the number of times they are expected to meet in a legislative year.
Chief executives run states like sole administrators – Sen Gumel
A former Chief Accountant of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Senator Abdullahi A. Gumel, said most governors are running states like sole administrators as against what was obtainable in the 70s.
Gumel, who represented Jigawa North West Senatorial District in the last assembly, said governors now appoint only those who will not challenge them as commissioners.
“Can you compare when we had Alhaji Aminu Dantata, Tanko Yakasai and Umaru Gumel (my uncle) and others as commissioners with the people we have now?” he asked.
“Dantata, Yakasai and Gumel were commissioners under Audu Bako in Kano State. So you can imagine the calibre of people we had as commissioners.
“These were people of integrity, they answered their callings and they were very proficient. These were the type of people we had in the 70s as commissioners. You can’t compare them with the commissioners we have now.
“These days, governors run states as sole administrators, they don’t want challenges. This is why they appoint people that will not challenge them. They appoint only those who they will dictate to,” he said in a phone interview.
By: Ismail Mudashir (Abuja), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Haruna Gimba Yaya (Gombe), Tijjani Ibrahim (Katsina) & Eyo Charles (Calabar)