By Obinna Kalu
In his valedictory speech at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, Festus Keyamo, SAN, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, was reported to have submitted that the concept or designation of Minister of State was unconstitutional, an aberration, and a constitutional conundrum.
I completely disagree with the opinion of Mr. Keyamo as that is not the correct position of our laws. In offering a contrary view, I shall rely essentially on the same constitutional provisions cited by Mr. Keyamo.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), 1999, (hereinafter called “the Constitution”) in section 147 provides that:
“(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 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.”
Section 148 (1) provides that:
“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.”
Each minister under the 7th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution is mandatorily required to subscribe to an Oath of Office .
As cited above, the Constitution in section 147(1) provides for the office of the minister who shall be nominated by the President at least one from each state of the federation who shall be an indigene of such state.
Such nomination shall be subsequently confirmed by the Senate (Section 142 (2), after which the appointee takes an Oath of Office as contained in Schedule 7 of the Constitution.
It is instructive to note that the act of “assignment of responsibility for any business of government of the Federation including the administration of any department of government” to any of the appointees though a constitutional requirement gives the President a discretionary power in the exercise of assignment of responsibility under Section 148(1). That is why the word “may” was used in the Constitution instead of “shall.”
In other words, the President may decide not to assign any ministry to a Minister.
The President may even decide to assign or post a Minister to be in charge of a department in the President’s Office or any other office. The operational clause in the constitution is “business of government of Federation including the administration of any department of government.” The assignment of responsibility to oversee any business of government other than to be fully in charge of a ministry does not exclude the Minister of State or any minister assigned to perform any other business of government from being a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
Mr. Keyamo’s submission would have been tenable in law if the assignment of responsibility by the President was for other purposes other than “any business of government of the Federation.” An example would be where the President assigns any minister to be in charge of a matter in the residual list under the Constitution.
Therefore, the constitutional requirements are deemed completely satisfied once at least a person is nominated by the President from each state of the Federation, the nomination is confirmed by Senate, and the appointee takes Oath of Office. Any other exercise that follows relating to assignment of responsibility is within the administrative prerogative of the President, as far as such assignment of responsibility has to do with and within the scope of the business of the Federation.
It needs to be stressed that “Minister of State” is not a designation per se, but administrative posting in line with section 148(1) of the Constitution. So, the claim of redesignation by Mr. Keyamo, to me, holds no water. The designation is “Minister” simpliciter. Mr. Keyamo acknowledged this fact when he submitted that, as a Minister of State for Labour, he was accorded all the paraphernalia of the office of a minister, including being a member of FEC.
In all, I am of the considered view that the notion of Minister of State is not in anyway unconstitutional as submitted by Mr. Keyamo. If he feels that the assignment of duties to an appointee as Minister of State could deprive the minister’s state of origin of equal representation at FEC in terms of presentation of memos, the proper thing to do is to call for constitution amendment, which would compel the President to assign full ministries to all his ministers.
Again, the incoming government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu may decide to do away with assignment of duties as minister of state not because it is unconstitutional but on its firm conviction that there would be more cabinet cohesion, faster growth and development of the country if the ministries are further proliferated and manned by separate ministers as suggested by the Learned Silk.
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