THE outgoing Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, yesterday told President Muhammadu Buhari that it was an aberration to appoint a minister of state.
Keyamo stated this in his speech at the valedictory session presided over by President Buhari to mark the end of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, under his (Buhari) administration, at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Minister of State, who thanked President Buhari for enriching his curriculum vitae, through the appointment, noted that some other ministers of state had been grumbling and unable to be bold and speak out.
He said it would be difficult to assess the individual performances of the ministers of state since their discretion was shackled under that of the ministers as any original ideas developed by the minister of state was subject to clearance by another colleague in the cabinet before they could sail through for consideration by the council.
His prepared speech read: “Mr President, you first appointed me as Minister of State in the Ministry Niger Delta Affairs in August 2019 and you later redeployed me as Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“Today, I cannot find the words to express the depth of my gratitude to you for finding me worthy, out of over two hundred million Nigerians, to be nominated and subsequently appointed to serve as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. My curriculum vitae has been greatly enhanced – forever.
“From my very humble beginnings in a small dusty town in Delta State where I was born and raised by my struggling parents, all the way to the Council Chambers at the Presidential Villa where I had the honour and privilege to participate weekly in decision-making for my country in the last four years, it has been like a fairy tale. I give God all the glory.
“What I am about to say, therefore, is not and should not be construed as an indication of ingratitude. Far from it. What I am about to say is just my own little contribution to our constitutional development as a relatively young democracy and to aid future governments to optimize the performance of those they appoint as Ministers.
“Mr. President, the concept or designation of “Minister of State” is a constitutional aberration and is practically not working for many so appointed. 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. However, like I said earlier, this is not ingratitude.
“As a private citizen, I am on record to have gone to court a number of times to challenge unconstitutional acts of governments for the sake of advancing our constitutional democracy, so it will be out of character for me to have gone through government and be carried away by the pomp of public office and forget my role as a member of the inner bar and my self-imposed role over the years as a crusader for democracy and constitutionalism.”
Supporting his position with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Keyamo said: “Mr. President, I crave your indulgence to explain this constitutional conundrum of “Minister of State”. Sections 147 and 148 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), deal with the appointments and responsibilities of Ministers of the Federation. The said sections state as follows:
“(1) There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President.
(2) Any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.
(3) Any appointment under subsection (2) of this section by the President shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of this Constitution:- provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State.”
“(1) The President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government.”
“Furthermore, the 7th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution provides for the Oath of Office to which each Minister must subscribe. There are no different Oaths for “Minister” and “Ministers of State”. They all take the same Oath of Office.”
“In addition to the above, the Ministers-designate appear before the Senate and are grilled and cleared as ministers, not as ministers in some instances and Ministers of State in some other instances. It is at the point of assignment of portfolios that successive Presidents then reclassified some as “Ministers of State.”
He contended that though the President had the constitutional powers to assign portfolios to his appointees, such appointments must be in line with constitutional provision.
He said, “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.
“Simply put, it is akin to the President assigning responsibilities to the office of the Vice-President and re-designating that office as “Deputy President” under our present Constitution. That is clearly impossible. Why then should that of the Ministers be different?’’