Cabinet bloat

Tinubu increases ministers to 48 despite Nigeria’s economic crisis

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on August 9, 2023 11:16

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu. (Olukayode Jaiyeola/ NurPhoto/AFP)

President Bola Tinubu’s cabinet will consist of 48 federal ministers, a record number since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.

This is a move analysts say will further drain the country’s already depleted purse.

The president initially sent a list of 28 ministerial nominees to the senate for screening, but later added an additional 20.

The cabinet now comprises 39 males and nine females – two of the women are from Northern Nigeria and seven are from the southern part.

The high number of ministerial nominees comes amidst increasing economic hardship for Nigerians.

“The task at hand now does not require us to have a bloated cabinet,” Shina Loremikan, coordinator of the Campaign for Impunity, tells The Africa Report.

“With the large cabinet that is about to emerge, it means we’ll also be having […] bureaucracy with funds to support it.”

Tinubu, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was elected president in a controversial poll last February that saw the former Lagos governor secure 8.7 million votes to defeat his closest opponents.

Former vice president Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, polled 6.9 million and 6.1 million votes, respectively.

Both Atiku and Obi are challenging the outcome of the presidential poll at the election petition tribunal.

Rising recurrent expenditure

Nigeria’s constitution mandates the president to appoint ministers in a manner that reflects federal character and promotes national unity.

Successive governments have attempted to nominate at least one minister from each of the 36 states, with former president Olusegun Obasanjo nominating 42 ministers in 1999.

Obasanjo reduced the number to 33 ministers after he was re-elected in 2007.

His successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, nominated 39 ministers in 2007, while Goodluck Jonathan reduced the number to 33.

After the APC gained power in 2015, then-president Muhammadu Buhari named a 36-member cabinet. He increased it to 42 after his re-election four years later.

Loremikan says a high number of cabinet members means an increased overhead cost for the government.

“Each cabinet member has an overhead cost outside salaries to sustain their ministry,” he says. “Each minister is entitled to personal assistants and special advisers, they are also entitled to other benefits of office including accommodation, and medicals.”

Nigeria’s recurrent expenditure has continued to rise over the years, jumping from N3.5trn ($5bn) in 2018 to N8.2trn in 2023, a more than 100% increase.

In the 2023 budget, recurrent expenditure accounted for 40% of the total budget.

Loremikan says the government can drastically cut down its spendings by taking advantage of technology.

“Most of the things government officials want to do they can effectively do with the use of technology,” he says. “But unfortunately, it appears we still enjoy doing things with the analogue system.”

‘Constitutional aberration’

One of the issues behind the government’s bloated cabinet is the appointment of two ministers — a substantive minister and a minister of state — for one ministry.

According to Festus Keyamo, the minister of state for labour and employment in Buhari’s administration, it is a “constitutional aberration” to appoint a minister of state who takes directives from the senior minister.

“Successive governments have come and gone and many who were appointed as ministers of state have not spoken out at a forum such as this because of the risk of sounding ungrateful to the presidents who appointed them,” Keyamo said during a valedictory session of the federal executive council of the immediate past administration in May.

Sulaimon Arigbabu, the head of HEDA Resource Centre, a policy and advocacy firm, tells The Africa Report that he agrees with Keyamo.

Arigbabu says he is hopeful that the bloated cabinet will translate to better governance for the citizens.

Repaying power blocs

Nigeria’s political parties have an unwritten power-sharing agreement that seeks balance between the two main religions in the country – Christianity and Islam.

However, ahead of February’s presidential poll, the APC fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket, defying the deal in the hope of garnering most of the votes from the majority Muslim voters.

Analysts say such political calculations were among several by Tinubu to help him claim victory at the polls. Having been declared the winner of the election, the president feels obligated to compensate those who supported him.

“I am not surprised [at the huge number] because he [the president] must reward the boys with jobs,” Loremikan says.

Arigbabu says the president’s attempts to reward his supporters did not only reflect in the lengthy ministerial list but also in the quality of the people who made the list.

“The president definitely had to bow to all the quarters that ensured his electoral victory, of course at the expense of public resources,” he says.

“We can only hope that the critical sectors of society, the ones that really touch the lives of people the most will be put in capable hands,” he says.

Economic outlook

Nigeria’s real GDP fell from 3.6% in 2021 to 3.3% in 2022, precipitated mainly by a decline in crude oil production, according to the African Development Bank.

The first major decision President Tinubu took upon assuming office in May was the removal of the fuel subsidy, an action that sent the pump price of petrol as well as food prices skyrocketing. As a result, inflation rose to 23% in June.

The public debt stock continues to rise, hitting an unprecedented N49.85trn in the first quarter of 2023, according to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office.

Ajuri Ngelale, the special adviser to President Tinubu, did not respond to requests for comment.

Femi Shuaib, a professor of economics at the University of Lagos, says unless the economy is diversified, the country will continue to have a bloated public sector.

“If you look at the current situation of the country, the only sector in Nigeria that is employing is the public sector,” Shuaib tells The Africa Report.

The university don says there is a need to review the Nigerian constitution to cut down on the statutory number of federal ministers.

“We need to differentiate between statutory and economic necessity,” he says. “As long as the president cannot alter the constitution, there is little he can do in terms of the size of the ministers. Even if he’s interested in cutting down costs, the constitutional implication may constrain him [from doing] that.”

Shuaib adds that one way the president can cut down costs is to eliminate the appointment of special advisers.

“There is no job that the special advisers can do that the existing directors, heads of units, and permanent secretaries cannot do.

“So we should make use of them, they are trained, experienced, and matured as well and they are the ones that have been made to do that job.”

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