Procedural issues are involved in Ministers’ vacancy, says Prof. Azinge
One month after President Muhammadu Buhari directed Ministers and Heads of Departments and Agencies to resign their appointment and face their political aspirations, the situation in those ministries remains subdued.
It could be recalled that on Wednesday May 12, the President during the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, directed members of the cabinet nursing ambition for elective positions to put in their resignation on or before Monday May 16.
The President’s order followed concerns raised by Nigerians over the propriety of the Ministers retaining their portfolios while taking part in electoral contests in their party.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who briefed State House Correspondents, those affected had up until Monday 16 to resign.
The President’s directive was later backed up with circular from the office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, which conveyed the list of affected public officials.
In the circular dated 11th May, 2022, with reference number, Ref. No.SGF/OP/l/S.3/Xll/173 and addressed to the Chief of Staff to the President, Ministers, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Heads of Parastatals and Agencies of the Government, among others stated as follows:
“For the avoidance of doubt, this directive affects all Ministers, Heads and Members of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Agencies and Parastatals of Government, Ambassadors as well as other political appointees who desire to contest for elective offices.
“For smooth running of the machinery of government and our foreign Missions, affected Ministers are to hand over to Ministers of State where they exist, or to the Permanent Secretary, where there is no Minister of State. Ambassadors shall hand over to their Deputy Heads of Mission or the most Senior Foreign Service Officer in line with established practices.”
Those affected by the directive included, Ministers of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio; Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; Justice minister and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
Dr Uchechukwu Ogah PHOTO: Twitter
Others include the Minister of State, Mines and Steel, Uche Ogah, who is running for the governorship position in Abia State; Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, who earlier declared her ambition to contest the senatorial seat in Plateau State, but later abandoned the chase and returned to work.
Others who abandoned their desire for elective office were Ngige and Malami, who saw the electoral rigour out there but preferred the comfort of their offices.
However, one month after the affected Ministers went ahead with their political ambitions, activities in their various ministries have remained at standstill, even as there are hints that the President plans to recall the ministers back to the post.
Amid efforts to ward off possible rift and silent acrimony trailing the APC primaries, observers have expressed mixed reactions over the absence of the ministers, as well as plans by President Buhari to recall them without recourse to the National Assembly for fresh clearance.
Reacting to the development, former Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, Professor Epiphany Azinge, contended that there are laws and protocols in resignation, especially in the public service.
While stressing that a resignation does not take effect until there is an acceptance of that exercise by a very superior officer or authority, the law professor declared: “In this regard, the appointive authority overseeing the activities of those ministers and who is the principal so-to-speak of the persons that were deemed to have resigned, is the President.”
He contrasted mere resignation and that which is formally received, endorsed and accepted, noting: “The first thing is to know that they wrote to resign; the second and more fundamental is to confirm that their resignation was endorsed, approved and accepted by Mr. President. If that was not done and formalised, it means that such resignation was not formerly cemented and consequently, has not taken effect.
“So, to that effect, if the President has not accepted, it means there was ab initio no resignation. And, being that there was no resignation in the first instance, they are free to go back into offices and assume their desks, because in the face of them all, and as far as public office resignation is concerned, there was no resignation in the first instance and that is the way it ought to be seen.
“The issue of fresh appointment does not arise. But, for those who actually resigned and went ahead to participate in the primaries, it is a different kettle of fish, because by participating in the primaries, it means in effect, that they don’t need any other approval or endorsement of the President.
“They have gone ahead to push their positions by participating in the primaries and to that effect, it is assumed that they have vacated their seats and they will never return there again.”
The former NIALS DG outlined the two scenarios, those who withdrew from their primaries and those who, whether or not endorsed by the President, went ahead to participate in the primaries and their names were on the ballot.
“Those ones seemed to have gone further and by their participating in the primaries, the law envisaged that they must resign to participate in the primaries. They have waved the option of either approval or endorsement by the President as far as resignation is concerned. They cannot go back again
“But, for those who resigned and withdrew and never participated in the primaries, they are perfectly entitled to go back to their seats, because it is assumed that the President never endorsed or accepted their resignation.”
Further, Azinge said that is the way it should be seen, adding: “It is not because I said I have resigned, automatically, I have resigned; no. If I have resigned as an officer, somebody who is an appointing officer would have to acknowledge that I have resigned and state that my resignation letter has been accepted and approved. Resignation is not a one-sided affair.
“It is not a letter issued to say, ‘I have resigned’, especially when you are in public office, and automatically you have resigned. Formal letter from the authority must flow to tell you that your letter dated so and so, has been received and thereby approved.”
He said the procedural aspect of resignation must not be overlooked as far as public office regulation is concerned for purposes of resignation, maintaining that that must never be lost in the context of the Ministers’ fate.
On how to manage the vacuum created by ministers who participated in the primaries, the senior lawyer said that remains the prerogative of the appointing officer to consider and whether to reappoint them.
Considering the short interval left for the administration, Prof. Azinge said he does not see any need for fresh appointment to Ministries without ministers, remarking, “there might not be need for their replacement. The people there are many and they can take care of the place until this tenure is over.”
At the Transportations ministry, there are no indications that those holding forth are not doing enough. There is a Minister of State in place, in the person of Gbemisola Saraki, and she is carrying on very well.
But The Guardian gathered that President Buhari had invited the former Minister, Amaechi to discuss the way forward and to find a soft-landing for him, since he failed to clinch the ticket of the party.
Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi
This is just as feelers revealed that Northern leaders who are very pleased with the push by the former Minister to construct a standard gauge railway spanning Kaduna-Kano-Maradi are mounting pressures on Buhari to return Amaechi to complete the railway project.
But the reality is that no one minister can remain in office forever, hence the need to build institutions and not personalities.
It could be recalled that the Railway modernisation project, which has been the selling point of the current administration, was stalled since the Chinese have stopped funding the project, in addition to the absence of Amaechi, who became distracted by his presidential ambition and finally resigned few weeks ago.
Prior to his resignation, the former Minister had, in March while inspecting the Dallas Inland Dry Port, announced that construction work on the dry port had reached an advanced stage to be commissioned by May. This is the time for the Minister of State to step up and fill whatever gaps Amaechi’s absence could have in the Ministry. It also requires that she be elevated to discharge the tasks, which were in the portfolio of the larger Ministry.
At the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, where Dr. Onu left to pursue his Presidential ambition, the staff said the ministry is still performing its duties optimally despite the absence of a minister.
Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu
Director of Press in the Ministry, Atuora Obed, told The Guardian that since the Minister resigned a month ago, the Permanent Secretary has been handling the day to day running of the ministry.
Atuora Stated: “The absence of a minister has not affected our ministry. All our agencies and departments are working. We are doing what we are supposed to do and we have our permanent secretary who is piloting the affairs of the ministry too. We are still performing our duties.
“Even the president who appointed them and told them they should resign due to the electoral act, knows that ministers are not here and if there is anything to be done, the ministry would be contacted through the permanent secretary so I don’t think there is anything as at now that is hindering us from performing our duties.”
Lagos Lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) had stated lucidly and clearly that those who have tendered their resignation to pursue elective offices are gone for good. And that if the President is under obligation to bring them back, the process should follow the normal channel via the National Assembly, the Senior Advocate advised.