In a valedictory speech delivered at the Presidential Villa, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, has called upon the Federal Government to review the appointment of ministers and allocate separate portfolios, asserting that the position of “minister of state” is a constitutional aberration.
The Minister of State argued that the current practice of appointing individuals to the position of “Minister of State” has proven ineffective for many incumbents. He pointed out that numerous appointees in such roles have refrained from speaking out, fearing they might appear ungrateful to the Presidents who appointed them. Keyamo emphasized the inherent conflicts and gaps in responsibilities that often arise, pitting ministers against ministers of state.
Citing the Schedules of Duties assigned to ministers and ministers of state, Keyamo expressed his dissatisfaction with their efficacy. He highlighted that the schedules are frequently disregarded by Permanent Secretaries and Directors, who find it challenging to serve two masters. Moreover, he argued that the ambiguous roles assigned to both ministers often result in bureaucrats interpreting them in a manner that satisfies the “Senior Ministers” or “main Ministers,” to avoid persecution.
The Minister of State traced the origin of this practice back to the First Republic, where it was used as a means to create an illusion of “Government of National Unity” without ceding actual power to opposition members involved in governance. He further contended that over time, this custom has become deeply ingrained as a norm, even among ministers from the ruling party.
Highlighting the absurdity of the situation, Keyamo noted that some Ministers of State garnered more votes for the ruling party in their respective states compared to the “main Minister.” Consequently, many Ministers of State find themselves largely redundant, merely occupying offices for symbolic purposes. Despite having their responsibilities dictated by the discretion of other ministers and Permanent Secretaries, they are held accountable for the successes or failures of their ministries.
Keyamo also pointed out the anomaly where Ministers of State are prohibited from presenting memos in council without the permission of the Minister. This subjugation of the Minister of State’s discretion to that of the Minister, despite representing different states in the Cabinet, complicates assessing individual performances. Furthermore, original ideas proposed by Ministers of State require clearance from their colleagues before consideration by the Council, stifling their autonomy. The Minister argued that such limitations were not intended by the drafters of the Constitution.
Using his own ministry as an example, Keyamo suggested that separate ministers be appointed for specific areas such as Labour and Productivity, Employment, Trade and Investment, Tertiary and Primary/Secondary Education, Mines and Steel, Works and Housing, among others. He dismissed the notion that having two ministers in certain ministries would unnecessarily proliferate government departments, pointing out that present ministers and ministers of state already have separate offices, cars, security personnel, and personal aides.
Keyamo concluded his speech by acknowledging the support he received from the President during his tenure and emphasized that his recommendation was not a personal complaint but a respectful suggestion for the sake of posterity and to rectify a long-standing anomaly.