Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour and employment, says the concept of minister of state is a constitutional aberration.
While giving a valedictory speech at the presidential villa on Wednesday, Keyamo said raising the issue did not mean he was ungrateful.
The minister said he was attempting to solve an anomaly that has existed for a long time, noting that it was his own way of contributing to constitutional development.
“Mr President, the concept or designation of minister of state is a constitutional aberration and is practically not working for many so appointed,” Keyamo said.
Quoting sections 147 and 148 of the constitution, Keyamo explained how appointments were made and the responsibilities of ministers of the federation were defined.
He added that the 7th schedule to the 1999 constitution provides an oath of office to which each minister must subscribe and that a minister and a minister of state take the same oath of office.
He said ministers-designate are cleared by the senate as ministers “not as ministers in some instances and ministers of state in some other instances”.
“Some may want to justify this by saying the President is given the discretion by the constitution to assign whatever responsibility(ies) he likes to ministers. Yes, I concede Mr President can do that, but not by a designation different from that prescribed by the constitution,” he said.
“Ministers sit in cabinet as the eye of Mr President in each state of the federation. It is therefore against the intendment of the drafters of our constitution for a representative of a state to be reclassified as against another representative of another state.
“The schedules of duties of ministers and ministers of state that intend to cure some of these anomalies hardly help the issues. Firstly, the schedules of duties are observed more in breach by the permanent secretaries and directors who really cannot be expected to serve two masters.
“And in any case, many of the roles of both ministers are so ambiguous that the bureaucrats would always interpret them to satisfy the ones they see as the ‘senior ministers’ or main ministers” for fear of being persecuted by them.
“Secondly, parts of the schedules of duties seem to suggest that the ministers can delegate functions to the ministers of state. This is a constitutional impossibility. It is only Mr President that can delegate Presidential powers as one cannot delegate what he does not have.”
Keyamo said the ambiguity and confusion caused conflicts between the ministers and ministers of state.
“In addition, the provision that ‘ministers of state’ cannot present memos in council, except with the permission of the minister, is another anomaly. It means the discretion of the minister of state is subsumed in the discretion of the minister, yet both of them represent different states in the cabinet,” he added.
“It also follows that it would be difficult to assess the individual performances of the ministers of state since their discretion is shackled under the discretion of the ministers.
“As a result, many ministers of state are largely redundant, with many going to the office for symbolic purposes and just to while away the time. Files are passed to them to treat only at the discretion of the other minister and the permanent secretary.”
Keyamo said the conflicts caused by the concepts of minister and minister of state have “gravely” affected the optimal performance of governments.
He noted that the argument that two ministers were cramped into some ministries to avoid proliferation and to save the government’s money was no longer tenable.
“This is because the government does not need any extra infrastructure or more money to maintain all senior 36 ministers or even a bit more appointed as is now the custom,” he said.
“There are enough permanent secretaries within the system to be assigned to each minister, or in the least, one permanent secretary can serve two ministers. For instance, there is no reason why we cannot have a minister of labour and another minister of employment.
“We can also have a minister of trade and another minister of investment. We can have a minister of education (tertiary) and another minister of education (primary and secondary) and so on and so forth.”