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MATTERS ARISING: Ambition vs governance — should ministers chasing elective positions resign?

MATTERS ARISING: Ambition vs governance — should ministers chasing elective positions resign?
April 30
11:15 2022

While state political appointees seeking elective offices in the 2023 general election are resigning in droves, their counterparts at the federal level have refused to relinquish their positions.

The unwillingness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet members, who are nursing political ambitions, to step down from office has continued to generate mixed reactions from Nigerians.

Commenting on the development, the Niger Delta Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance Group (Niger Delta TAG) had called on such appointees to resign immediately.

The group described their refusal to step aside as “immoral and unethical”, noting that it brings up issues of conflict of interest — and that it is “a huge distraction to the government”.

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WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022 bars political appointees from voting or being voted for at a convention or congress of a political party for the purpose of nominating candidates for any election.

After Buhari approved the electoral act in February, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) updated the schedule of activities for the general election, giving political parties between April 4 and June 3, 2022, to conduct primaries.

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The Electoral Act does not, however, specify the number of days a political appointee has to resign before a party’s primary.

The only specific reference is in Sections 66(1)(f), 107(1)(f), 137(1)(g) 182(1)(g) of the 1999 constitution which stipulates that public officers who want to contest an election must have resigned their position at least 30 days to the date of the election.

Chris Ngige, minister of labour who is seeking to contest the presidency, has maintained that he falls under the ‘public officer’ category in the constitution.

“The constitution is the grand norm – the biggest and heaviest of all the laws. Section 137 has given areas of qualifications for presidential candidates. The constitution says public officers should resign one month to election,” he said.

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“The issue now is ‘is the minister a public servant’? Yes, I’m a public servant. Go to schedule 5, you’ll see me listed there – ministers, commissioners, governors, vice-president, president and heads of ministerial bodies.”

GOVERNANCE AT RISK?

Politics and good governance experts say the political ambitions of Buhari’s cabinet members will clash with their expected duties, consequently affecting governance.

Tope Fasua, the founder of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, said the presidential hopefuls are using the “instrument of state” for personal gain.

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“It shows there is no governance taking place. That is why they can abandon their office and be doing anything they like,” he told TheCable.

“That is what section 84 (12) of the electoral act is trying to guard against. Even when you are elected into office, you have no right to use the instrument of state and the influence of office to pursue your political ambition. You are supposed to be working for the people.

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“Impunity is what holds over when you use the instrument of state for your ambition. Even if they were living in a house that was given to them for the purpose of being ministers or whatever, they ought to leave that house when they start to do their campaign. They are not supposed to enjoy any comfort from the state because they are campaigning for an election.

“They are all jokers. Nobody is thinking about the economy. They don’t have to be told to resign if they want to pursue their ambition. They should not be using instruments of state to do campaigns.

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“The bottom line is that no governance is going whether in the education ministry where ASUU is still on strike and the minister of that ministry who should be active, who could have helped to resolve the strike, is declaring to contest. The minister of labour has also declared. Everyone is declaring because it has become a joke. If governance was taking place, they would know that they haven’t achieved anything so far.”

‘MINISTERS ARE ROVING THE COUNTRY’

Victor Terhemba, acting executive director of Raising New Voices, said being in government and pursuing political ambition has a “negative influence” on governance.

He said governance and performance will ultimately suffer as the ministers are “busy roving the country consulting and seeking support for their aspirations while their primary responsibilities are neglected”.

“This is similar to what elected officials do when they’re seeking re-election. At that point, there is the negligence of duty and responsibility, and as a result, governance suffers,” he added.

“Travelling around the country and canvassing for support is a lot of work that is equally time demanding. This is why it is morally right for political appointees to resign their office and focus on their campaigns.

“Perhaps, legally speaking, it might be in their rights to continue to hold office while pursuing their aspirations, it still behoves their sense of responsibility, accountability, and patriotism to resign their positions ahead of time and allow another individual to occupy the position for the sake of productivity and effectiveness.”

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