Can Buhari’s new cabinet cement his legacy?

With the confirmation of the list of nominees for his new cabinet, President Muhammadu Buhari is hoping to cement his legacy in his final term. LEON USIGBE, in this piece, writes on the confidence and doubts being raised over the composition.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominees for his new cabinet were cleared without fuss by the Senate last week. It is not that they were expected to encounter any hurdle in the process, given the vocalised disposition of the leadership of the Senate. When it seemed that President Buhari was in no hurry to reconstitute the cabinet, the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan showed discomfort. He initially promised on behalf of the president that the list would be available at a specific time. But when that did not happen, he said his initial assurance did not carry certainty. However, observers believed that he practically begged the president to make the list available as the lawmakers were eager to confirm them before proceeding on their annual recess.

President Buhari had suggested that the delay in transmitting the list to the Senate had to do with his need to appoint only people well known to him. But, cynics have wondered whether the three months’ wait to have such list was worth it because of the names that eventually appeared.  Among the nominees ultimately submitted by the president were 14 that were ministers in the last Federal Executive Council (FEC). His re-nomination of the former ministers would mean that he was satisfied with their performance in the previous assignments, and therefore, confident that they would still do well. However, Nigerians have different views about the performance of the last FEC.

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The Buhari administration rode on the wings of the popular support to oust President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015. Many of his supporters saw him as the messiah to redeem Nigeria after what they saw as years of waste under the preceding administrations. The expectations were thus, sky-high. Were they met? Were the choices the president made in who became his ministers helpful to his objectives in the first tenure? These were some of the questions observers had raised in the run-up to the submission of the next nominees’ list.  Observers were hopeful that, having learnt from the first tenure, those he decided to pick as ministers in his final term would be individuals with qualities to make a huge difference. The main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was disappointed in the list. The party thought it was uninspiring and filled with individuals who had failed to perform in the past.  The PDP, therefore, asserted that it was a waste of time, as the nominees did not convey any sense of hope or purposeful governance under the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The spokesman of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said:  “The list is replete with incompetent individuals who failed in their erstwhile ministerial assignments and left their ministries in shambles.”  He added: “Indeed, such a ministerial list can only come from leadership that does not have the mandate of the people. It is a complete waste of time and cannot fulfill the expectation of Nigerians. The list has further shown President Buhari and APC’s insensitivity and disdain for Nigerians, and it does not in any way reflect their hope and eagerness for a better Nigeria. Furthermore, in recycling failed yesterday’s men for today’s assignment, President Buhari and the APC have left no one in doubt that they have no vision to move our nation out of the economic and security predicaments into which they have plunged us in the last four years.

“A committed and responsive leadership would have widely consulted with Nigerians before compiling a ministerial list, given the current situation in the country. If, indeed, President Buhari and the APC mean well for Nigerians and are interested in revamping our critical sectors, they would not have ended up with a list of those who would help conceal the huge corruption in the Buhari administration in the last four years, as well as those who would assist in channeling funds to individuals and groups used by the APC to rig the 2019 presidential election. Strangely, the list has no space for the youths’ demography, those to whom the future is said to belong.”

The PDP further posited: “With this development, it is clear that the only way our nation can come out of our present economic and security quandary lies in the retrieval of AtikuAbubakar’s stolen presidential mandate at the tribunal. That is the way our citizens will enjoy the benefit of having an array of highly qualified and patriotic Nigerians as ministers to move the nation forward.”

Other critics of the ministers-designate like an elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), had no confidence in the ability of those selected to make the desired impression. Yakassai, a Second Republic presidential adviser, said though the list “is representative enough, the nomination of certain people perceived to be fantastically corrupt made a mockery of the president’s war against corruption.” He also thought since most of the nominees were known to the president, the delay in constituting the cabinet was unjustifiable.  Agbakoba, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), dismissed the list because Buhari did not attach portfolios. “The ministerial list will make complete sense when portfolios are allocated so as to determine the suitability of ministers in the performance of their duties, but the list has a mixed list of the politicals and the technicals, and one hopes they are able to execute the massive task of turning Nigeria around,” he affirmed.

The national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, however, the  dismissed all fears on the ministers-designate. He argued that there was no better demonstration of competence and an inclusive government than what President Buhari had done with the nominations. Oshiomhole averred that the president could only appointment people known to him, and could not possibly know all Nigerians. Commenting on the questions surrounding the credibility of the appointment process, which was seen by some observers as a political patronage, he said: “Whose credibility? How credible are some of those who are talking? The point is that I don’t know if there is a Nigerian who knows every Nigerian. Even as I can say that I have worked for the Nigerian people at all levels, as a worker in a factory, as the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), as the governor of a state and now as a national chairman of a party, there are too many Nigerians I will never be able to know.”

On the accusation of political patronage on the president’s selection of the nominees, the party boss said Buhari could not have appointed non-Nigerians. “And when you talk of patronage, have you heard of Americans appointing Russians because they were experts to go and preside over their Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs)? Even in your newspapers, do you invite me as the APC chairman to come and write your editorial comments? Patronage can be positive or negative, but if there is one man, who has shown the capacity to patronise all, including where he did not win election, it is President Buhari. Otherwise, where we got less than five percent (votes), I saw two ministers coming from that state. That speaks volumes about a large heart, to accommodate, appreciate and to have an all-inclusive government. I am very optimistic that these ministers, coming all of us working together, the party and the executive, which the ministers belong and the National Assembly, where we have overwhelming majority, we have what it takes to take Nigeria to the next level and the next level we are going there.”

The Presidency certainly believes that the president has done what is necessary in the selection of the members of his new cabinet. It feels that the ministers-designate are individuals that will pull the country to the next level. “This is a fine, capable and committed group of individuals. Working together, they shall help achieve what we all want and labour toward: a secure, prosperous, corruption-free nation in which nobody is left behind, and talents can flourish,” presidential spokesman, GarbaShehu, enthused.

The composition of the new cabinet minus their portfolios is known now.  Given the perception of the lack of substantial progress with the previous cabinet, Nigerians will be watching keenly and perhaps, with very little patience, how the new ministers will acquit themselves. President Buhari has just over three and half years left in office. He will be anxious to see the result of his action, which will determine the legacy he leaves behind.

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