As Buhari assigns portfolios to ministers-designate
After months of suspense, President Muhammad Buhari is expectedly to inaugurate his ministers shortly. KUNLE ODEREMI and ATTAHIRU AHMED bring some issues that have consistently trailed the constitution of the federal cabinet since 1999.
About three weeks after being screened by the Senate, ministers-designate are expected to assume office on any moment from, barring any unforeseen circumstance. They are move into different ministries after President Muhammadu Buhari would have assigned portfolios to each of them. They are coming on board more than 100 days after May 29, 2019, when the president took the oath of office, having been declared winner of the 2019 presidential election, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In the interim, the ministers are to undergo an intensive ‘tutelage’ on what they will be required deliver to the Nigerian public in the next four years of the Buhari administration. The retreat is part of the ongoing processes to implement the Next Level agenda of the administration, which has been grappling with serious challenges on the three-pronged agenda of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government war against insurgency, revamping the economy and the fight against corruption.
President Muhammadu Buhari will be presiding at the retreat from August 19 to 20 at the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja, with Mr Babatunde fairs Office, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, stating that the retreat would centre on deepening the understanding of participants on best practices in conducting government business, as well as building a strong platform for synergy and teamwork, and acquainting the appointees with the roadmap for the delivery of government’s priorities and next level agenda (2019-2023).
The retreat is coming against the backdrop of the relative success of the government in the war against insurgency that has largely been overshadowed by the resurgence of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and flashes of inter-ethnic skirmishes. The effort of the administration at revamping the economy has also almost paled into insignificance because of policy inconsistencies, weak revenue base and inadequacies in the power sector, as well as the army of the employed.
Whereas President Buhari recently gave a pass mark to the last cabinet, some experts disagreed, saying the record of the administration in its first stanza, left much to be desired, with some individuals blaming the unimpressive performance partly on the poor management of manpower and other human capital at different levels of governance. While some observers also said the majority of the erstwhile ministers did not show expertise, capability and experience to man their ministries, other analysts claimed the inadequacies were because a few of the ministers were not suitable for the portfolios that were assigned to them. There were people who believed that political patronage instead of competence also determined the membership of the cabinet, a view that was corroborated by the First Lady, Aisha Buhari when she declared that quite a number of those that formed the government were not known to Buhari before the government came into office. However, the president left the cabinet intact but for the circumstance that necessitated a couple of changes, despite the consistent clamour by some Nigerians and groups for the retooling of the federal cabinet such that he could inject fresh blood into the veins of his administration.
This time, the ministers to be inaugurated shortly appear to have fully acquainted themselves with what they must deliver in office. The president, through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mustapha boss, presented the job descriptions to the ministers-designate preparatory to the retreat, where President Buhari will further ingrain into their subconscious the terms of service under the Next Level agenda. Each of them received a briefcase from the SGF and given sufficient time to read and digest the job descriptions; know the dos and don’ts of the administration, as well as use the opportunity of the retreat to seek clarifications from the resource persons already assembled on the grey areas in the documents for the retreat.
The induction retreat is not novel; it has always come in varying forms and nomenclatures in the government circle. However, the most striking introduction to the process of instituting federal cabinety got a notch when former President Olusegun Obasanjo made ministers to sign resignation letters in his bid to raise the bar of governance. While Buhari may not ape Obasanjo that the ministers sign an undertaking, Nigerians are eager about who mans which portfolio in the face of gamut of hard challenges in all the critical sectors, especially the economy, power, insecurity, works, agriculture and solid minerals.
Following some issues raised by members of the public on the poor delivery of democracy gains after two years of Nigeria’s return to civil, on June 12, 2001, some key members of the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo voluntarily resigned from office. One of them was Obasanjo’s Chief Economic Adviser, Philip Asiodu. The rest included seven ministers and top presidential aides.
The list comprised the Minister of Communications, Mohammed Arzika; Minister of Water Resources, Col. Bello Kaliel (retd); Minister of State for Power and Steel, Alhaji Danjuma Goje, and the Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Solomon Ewuga. The affected presidential aides were the Special Adviser on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Patrick Dele Cole; Special Assistant on Drugs and Financial Crimes, Ibrahim Lame, and Special Assistant on Budget Matters, Dr Bukola Saraki. The action of the ministers and the presidential aides was apparently in line with the policy of Obasanjo at the beginning of his administration in 1999 that all his key officials, especially, ministers, special advisers and assistants, sign an undated letter of resignation. Nonetheless, Obasanjo took responsibility for all the actions of his government.
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua took a pragmatic step to assuage the feeling of the opposition after the controversial 2007 presidential poll. He constituted what he regarded as an inclusive federal cabinet, which comprised 32 men and seven women. The team was also a sprinkle of technocrats and leaders cutting across party affiliation. Like his predecessor, Yar’Adua was in charge of the portfolio on petroleum, and set a template for all the ministers. “We must never abuse public trust either through misappropriation, misapplication or outright stealing of public funds. Anyone who does so will have the full weight of the law to reckon with,” he had warned. And at the inauguration ceremony, Yar’Adua reflected on the mood of the people saying. “Nigerians legitimately expect a lot from us and we have an abiding obligation to live up to their expectations.”
Jonathan’s transformation agenda
In forming his cabinet after he became the substantive President of the country following the a 2011 general election, former President Goodluck Jonathan promised a paradigm shift in the way the exercise was done in the past. He said experience and continuity were critical and vital. “One thing that worries me is the duration of ministers serving. For instance, from Tafawa Balewa to Odein Ajumogobia, we have had 24 foreign affairs ministers in a spate of 51 years. That means an average of two years per minister. How will a country drive its foreign policies? For a minister to be very conversant with his or her duties, it will take an average of two years to really understand the policies of his country viz-a-viz international interest. This is the problem we are having,” he stated.
Jonathan strongly harped on the principle of continuity based on empirical evidence in other land, citing his interactions with other world leaders. His words: “From my interaction with ministers of foreign affairs of some other countries, I realised that they have to stay for a longer period. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has stayed for 30 years. I am not saying that any minister should serve like the defunct Soviet Union, that had the longest serving minister for over 40 years, but at least you will expect that a minister if they must transform and if that person is performing above 60 per cent average, if you must change and develop, we expect that minister to stay for a number of years.” But, the rivalry between governor in some states and other major stakeholders at later led to delisting of some ministers.
Buhari’s Next Level cabinet
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, President Buhari will this week inaugurate the cabinet that is expected to drive the Next Level agenda of his administration as against the Change mantra of his first four years in office. With the seeming impregnable list of allocation of portfolios, some interest groups have not relented in lobbying him on behalf of their kinsmen that scaled the screening of ministerial nominees by the Senate. The case of a pressure group in Taraba State is an example. According to Alhaji Ahmad Ngoroje, the coordinator of the Buhari Support Organisation in the state, the minister-designate from Taraba, Alhaji Mamman Sale deserves to supervise the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Ngoroje said the country would fully harness the huge agricultural potential of the state to grow the national economy with Mamman at the helms of affair in the ministry. “Taraba is the only state in northern Nigeria that produces cocoa in a large quantity and also has a long stretch of Fadama area for rice cultivation. The tea produced in Taraba is one of the best in the world attracting patronage from countries like Saudi Arabia and some African countries,” he said.
A former Nigerian ambassador to Canada, Ambassador Oluwadare Bejide puts the expectations of Nigerians in a proper perspective as the President Buhari prepares to inaugurate his cabinet. He said the ministers must hit the ground running immediately they are sworn in because of the prevalent worrisome situation across the country. He stated: “Nigerians expect a quick intervention in areas of the economy and security of lives and property across the country. At present, the economy is in a bad shape having regard to high level of unemployment, inflation and low productivity. As a matter of urgency, the new minister of finance should immediately undertake a review of the economic policy of the federal government in collaboration with the central bank the National Planning Ministry and other relevant agencies/stakeholders to prevent the economy from going into a full-blown recession predicted on stagnation and lack of new policy direction since last year when politics, politicking and propaganda became the only function of the present administration.
According to the former Secretary to the Ekiti State Government, “Nigerians expect the new ministers to define in clear terms the Federal Government agenda of the ‘Next Level‘ and how it will affect their businesses and wellbeing in the next four years. Again, while government is claiming to have diversified the economy in the last four years, the reality is that the revenue base of this administration like those of previous administrations, is still, largely tilted towards the oil and gas sector. Therefore, Nigerians expect real diversification in terms of concrete activities in other areas, particularly in the solid minerals sector for additional revenue to fund the budget.”
Ambassador Bejide expressed sadness over the state of insecurity across the country, with the domino effects on the wellbeing of the people. “The security situation deserves more attention by the administration, as it poses a serious challenge to the growth and development of other sectors. In the agricultural sector, most farmers have lost confidence in the ability of the security agents to protect them on their farms as a result of the activities of kidnappers and other related criminals,” he stated. “Nigerians expect the new minister of agriculture to initiate a summit of stakeholders including the police, other relevant security agencies of government, the local vigilante groups, hunters, traditional institutions, religious and community leaders and the farmers to discuss issues relating to the protection of the farmers and their farms across the country. Despite the claims that the Boko Haram insurgency has been ‘technically defeated,’ the crisis is not yet over, as attacks and kidnappings have not abated. In the last 6 months, kidnappings and banditries traced to herdsmen have increased in the South-West. For instance, it takes a lot of courage to travel to Ibadan by road from any of the states in the South-West because of the activities of the kidnappers. Protection of lives and property should be a collective assignment and responsibility of the entire cabinet members under the leadership of Mr President. They should focus on the causes and prevention of these crises rather than reacting after each attack. Nigerians expect the new administration to be more proactive in matters affecting their security rather than the usual fire brigade measures, Ambassador Bejide stressed.”