Opinion: Do state governments need commissioners?

by Tonnie Iredia

Commissioners are neither appointed nor retained in Nigeria to do any meaningful work. Instead, they are essentially mere disposable elements at the whims and caprices of the ‘Almighty Governor’.

Section 147(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides for the appointment of Federal Ministers while Section 192(1) does same for the appointment of state commissioners.  The objective is to enable the head of the executive branch of government to appoint some citizens to assist him in the onerous task of governance.

Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State appropriately underscored the logic in July 2011 when he charged his commissioners at their inauguration “to generate ideas that would propel the speedy growth and ignite fire of confidence in their ability to deliver the dividends of democracy to the citizenry”.

However, unlike the case of ministers, the way and manner a commissioner is appointed and disengaged seems to substantially derogate from the importance of the office. To start with, a commissioner gets appointed on the basis of political expediency only. Whether or not the appointee has a track record of achievements or indeed any cognate service experience does not seem to matter. Everyone gets engaged simply to attract or reward the support of his sponsor otherwise known as godfather.

As soon as a governor stabilizes in office, he drops all the ‘misfits’ instalmentally.  Even those who show much promise in the discharge of their duties are similarly dropped as soon as their sponsors no longer enjoy the governor’s attention.  It would thus be simplistic for Anambra people to assume that in his last cabinet changes, Governor Peter Obi retained Prof. Chinyere Okunna as commissioner for economic planning on the basis of her unquestionable expertise in budgetary matters or that he dropped the commissioners in charge of justice and health because of public criticisms of their handling of strike actions in their sectors.

Far from that. Commissioners are neither appointed nor retained in Nigeria to do any meaningful work. Instead, they are essentially mere disposable elements at the whims and caprices of the ‘Almighty Governor’. Fortunately, many of them are conscious of this.

In August this year for instance, two self acclaimed powerful interest groups called for the removal of two state commissioners. While one of them – the Benue House of Assembly demanded the dismissal of Conrad Wergba, the state commissioner for information, the other – the Delta branch of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) – called for the sacking of the state commissioner for basic and secondary education, Professor Patrick Muoboghare.

Interestingly, the ultimatum given for the removal of the two commissioners did not perturb any of them. Muoboghare, himself a veteran unionist, told the media that “when the governor appointed me, he consulted only God. That same God will also tell him when to remove me”.

Obviously, it is only the ‘oracle’ that seems to have an idea of when and how a commissioner leaves office in Nigeria.  Accordingly, it is wasteful to seek to rationalize the subject. When Governor Ajimobi of Oyo State dropped Bosun Oladele as his commissioner for information and orientation, Bosun’s constituency- the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) – shouted foul, naively believing that to be retained in office as a commissioner in the state has anything to do with professional excellence.

It is not so. A novice can in reality be in office throughout the tenure of a particular governor. In Imo State for instance, Commissioner Alex Ogwazuo was redeployed to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism because of alleged lack of experience in handling his previous Ministry of Environment.

The question whether his alleged inexperience would not also adversely affect his new Ministry was answered by Governor Rochas Okorocha when he sacked Alex along with five other commissioners in a cabinet reshuffle. The governor reportedly told journalists during his maiden breakfast meeting with them in Government House, Owerri, that he appointed a commissioner ‘who knew neither his left nor his right’.

In other words, the Governor gambled. In any case, is there any commissioner in Nigeria who knows the real difference between the left and the right of his governor? This is a question that three commissioners in Ebonyi State would have to ponder over for the next three months.

The commissioners – Dr. Ben Igwenyi (Justice and Attorney General); Hon. Chukwuma Nwandugo (Works and Transport) and Chief Hyacinth Ikpor (Culture and Tourism) were suspended from office for three months, a few days ago, for alleged improper dressing to a state function.

Governor Martins Elechi was reported to have insisted that for the attitudinal change policy of his government to be imbibed by everyone, the state would “not tolerate any form of indecent dressing from its officials”.  While it is safe to assume that the commissioners especially the one in charge of culture have an idea of what the governor has in mind, it would be curious to know what the attorney general with a rich ‘law dress code’ wore to the said function.

Never the less, whereas little things sometimes matter a lot, it would have been salutary if the commissioners were sanctioned for dereliction of duty. Oh yes, it is unfortunate that the public is being made to remember how Nwandugo, the works and transport commissioner dresses instead of his professional insistence on the use of 200 millimeter of stone-base for building the Abakaliki Ring Road for durability.

As usual, the official statement on the suspension was sparse as it disclosed neither what the commissioners wore nor any evidence of previous warnings against their dressing styles. Indeed, what is the dress code of Ebonyi State? From the episode in issue, it obviously cannot be as liberal as that of my State – Edo.

Even then, Edo dress code is not known to many. People can only infer from the recent television appearance of the deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, at the Palace of the Otaru of Auchi that the ‘comrade dress-code’ can be helpful to those who wish to hold public posts in the state.

Painfully, to adhere to such cosmetics rather than the substance of good performance can trivialize public office in Nigeria. Hence Ebonyi can do without three commissioners for three months! In reality, can the state not do without any commissioner for all times?



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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