Minister Of State Portfolio Unconstitutional – Keyamo
Festus Keyamo, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, has urged the Federal Government to reconsider the current structure of ministerial appointments. In his valedictory speech delivered at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday, Keyamo referred to the position of “minister of state” as a constitutional anomaly.
Keyamo’s suggestion comes at a time when various elder statesmen and political analysts have called for a reduction in the size of governance, aligning with the recommendations outlined in the Stephen Oronsaye white paper on public sector reforms. The Oronsaye committee, in its report submitted on April 16, 2012, proposed the abolition and merger of numerous government agencies and parastatals, as well as the conversion of certain agencies into self-funding entities. The committee further recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161, the abolition of 38 agencies, and the merger of 52 agencies. Additionally, it proposed that 14 agencies should revert to being departments within ministries.
Keyamo argued that the position of “Minister of State” has proven ineffective for many individuals appointed to such roles. He noted that many appointees in these positions, fearing ingratitude towards the Presidents who appointed them, have consistently refrained from speaking out. While expressing his gratitude, Keyamo explained that the overlapping duties often create conflicts between ministers and ministers of state.
He further highlighted that the schedules of duties, which were intended to address these issues, are often violated by Permanent Secretaries and Directors who cannot be expected to serve two masters. Moreover, the ambiguous nature of the roles of both ministers allows bureaucrats to interpret them in a way that satisfies the “senior ministers” or “main ministers,” fearing potential repercussions.
Keyamo traced the origins of this practice back to the First Republic, where it was utilized to create an illusion of “Government of National Unity” while retaining control under the ruling party’s ministers. Although initially intended as a temporary measure, it has become an established norm over time, even among ministers from the same ruling party.
He said, “In fact, one political absurdity that has emerged from this is that some Ministers of State won more votes from their States for the party in power than the “main Minister. As a result, many Ministers of State are largely redundant, with many going to the office for symbolic purpose 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. Yet, the Ministers of State will receive either praise or condemnation for the successes or failures of such Ministries.
“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 Cabinet. 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. Original ideas developed by a Minister of State are subject to clearance by another colleague in Cabinet before they can sail through for consideration by Council. The drafters of our Constitution obviously did not intend this.
“In my case, whilst the schedule of my colleague had to do more with Labour and Productivity, mine had to do more with Employment. The Directorates in my Ministry that were under my office would then be fully under the Minister of Employment, without any double loyalty to the Minister of Labour and Productivity. 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); we can have a Minister of Mines and another Minister of Steel; we can have a Minister of Works and another Minister of Housing and so on.
“Obviously, the argument that two ministers are cramped into some ministries in order not to unnecessarily proliferate ministries and therefore save Government’s money is no longer tenable. This is because the present Ministers and Ministers of State have their separate offices, cars, security personnel and personal aides. So, what is the point?
“Finally, I want to place it on record again that Mr. Present gave me maximum support as his Minister to function optimally. This treatise is not a personal complaint. This is just a respectful recommendation for record purposes and for the sake of posterity. It is also intended to correct an anomaly that has existed for ages.”