As he did in his first tenure, President Muhammadu Buhari took all the time he needed to constitute his cabinet without caring a hoot about the criticisms from different quarters. While the search work lasted, so many insinuations, innuendoes and speculations filled the air. For he alone understands the enormity of the challenge of talent discovery in a country of about 200 million people with diverse ethno-religious and political differences.
At last, when he unfolded and presented the list of the ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening and subsequent confirmation, more than a third of the previous cabinet members were reappointed. Many spectators had expected the president to bring on board fresh blood with newer ideas to drive the socio-economic policy of the next level administration, but he outwitted them all. The list of the previous cabinet members who are returning includes: Babatunde Fashola (Works, Power and Housing), Chris Ngige (Labour and Productivity), Adamu Adamu (Education), Ogbonnaya Onu (Technology), Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs), Abubakar Malami (Justice Ministry), Lai Muhammed (Information and Culture), Romiti Amaechi (Transport Ministry), Muhammed Bello (Federal Capital Territory) and Suleiman Adamu (Water Resources Ministry).
Since these privileged individuals are best known to the president, who engaged them in the first instance, and having worked together for four years, he alone knows the quality each of them is made of and what they had offered in qualitative and quantitative terms. Other than that, the implication is that there may not be any significant departure from the past even with the next level mantra. It is, therefore, apt to examine the performance of the returning ministers and the unfinished jobs before them in order to connect the past with the present. This is particularly imperative to strike a balance between the rising public expectations and the new policy of the government on service delivery. For most of the affected ministries, performance records in the last administration were far less than impressive.
Fashola (Works, Power and Housing ministry)
These are three ministries put together and by far the most critical and biggest ministry under the purview of Babatunde Fashola (SAN). As attested to by his reappointment, Fashola commands goodwill among many Nigerians for his sterling performance as a former governor of Lagos State. But today, not many people would give this former super minister a pat on the back for a job well done in each of the three ministries put together as one. This could be as a result of the enormity of the challenge of coordination, as convergence of opinions support splitting of the ministry for effective supervision. If assigned the same portfolio, Fashola has to contend with the issues of epileptic supply of electricity to both domestic and industrial concerns, issues of estimated billing and metering, deplorable condition of roads across the six geo-political zones, as well as the yawning gap that exists between the housing needs and the supply side.
But Fashola in his submission before the Senate during the screening exercise attributed the abysmal performance of his ministry to finance limitation. He said: “The major problem was funding. We did not have enough resources and we were being forced to make choices. In the last three and a half years that I have been here, there is no year we did not pass deficit budget. That simply meant that our resources were not enough to match and sufficiently fund our stated or expected expenditure. And, therefore, we had to borrow.”
Nevertheless, he gave a long list of projects his ministry had implemented within the limit of the lean resources available. His words: “Let me say without being immodest that from what we met when we took office prior to your confirmation in 2015, we left the ministry much better than we met it. And I believe those conclusions are borne out of the reports by the committee of this Senate on Power, Works and Housing in their oversight functions in the course of our tenure. In Power sector, for instance, we recovered 720 containers belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria containing transmission equipment that had been left at the Nigerian Port for almost a decade. Those equipment ultimately found their ways to over a hundred substations and we have completed some of them by the time I left office.
“While we were managing the grids, we changed Nigerian conversation from on grid power alone to off grid power. We also undertook power audit of 37 federal universities in Nigeria with a view to intervening strategically to deploy an independent power as our contribution to education development. By the time I left with the limited resources we had, we had commenced nine as the first phase and also those nine are in various stages of implementation at the moment.
“For the Works Ministry, the conversation before the last administration was lack of projects in various states of the federation. Our closing report was that we could say with some pride that there was no state in Nigeria where we were not executing at least one federal road. Resources were scares and there were a lot of demands, but with the cooperation of parliament, we got things going even when revenues were lean. We also started maintenance of bridges across Nigeria.
“In terms of Housing, by the time we left office, we were constructing an acceptable and affordable type of housing in the 34 states of the federation for Nigerians.”
The big question is: To what extent have these achievements improved the quality of lives of the people? The fact of that matter is that people are generally bored of excuses; after all, governance is about problem solving.
Chibuike Amaechi (Ministry of Transportation)
Like Fashola, former Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, also a lawyer, carried the burden of re-energising the comatose transport sector in the last administration. And his performance in the railway infrastructure subsector all over the country must have earned him President Buhari’s confident to have made the list of the ministerial nominees. The objectives of the planned revitalized rail transport system was to ensure efficient and affordable transportation that could serve as backbone to industrial development of the various sectors and contribute to non-oil sector to diversify the economy.
To this end, Amaechi had always expressed commitment to linking all major commercial and production centres in the country by rail for rapid social economic development, as well as improvement in the quality of life of the citizens with the implementation of a 25-year strategic action plan to bridge the huge gap that exists in Nigeria’s infrastructure.
This list of projects in the pipeline before the end of the last administration included: Lagos-Ibadan Railway project expected to be completed by February 2019, but only recorded 50 per cent completion progress, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line, North western route connecting Katsina, Kano, Gibiya and others, the coastal line connecting Lagos, Benin, Onitsha and coming from Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar and passing through the South Eastern states which is about 1,400 kilometres with a link to all the state capitals.
Out of this lot, only Abuja-Kaduna train service is currently operational. The railway management is seeking for procurement of more coaches. The Managing Director, Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhira, giving his assessment said: “The Kaduna-Abuja train service has witnessed tremendous patronage and we are able to meet up with standard of maintenance. We have acquired more coaches to accommodate more passengers and we have a target of ensuring that there should be train service every hour for Abuja-Kaduna, Itakpe-Warri and Lagos-Maiduguri train services.”
While the former governor may have done relatively well in railway subsector, his performance in the maritime sector is being criticized for some failed promises. Some
players in the industry berated Amaechi for his refusal to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), an interventionist fund meant to grow indigenous capacity in shipping.
He was also said to have reneged on his promise to deliver the National Shipping Line as promised on assumption of duty.
If assigned to man the same ministry, Amaechi has to ensure that he goes beyond completion of the ongoing projects, but also see to it that Nigeria regains its position as preferred cargo hub to the neighbouring countries like Togo, Ghana and Cote D’ivoire, especially with the new regime of African Continental Free-Trade Agreement.
Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs Ministry)
Incessant attacks on Nigerians in the Diaspora is one of the low points of the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the immediate past minister, Geoffrey Onyeama. According to available statistics, no few than 118 Nigerians have been reportedly killed in series of xenophobic attacks in South Africa alone. Out of this figure, 13 victims were allegedly killed by the South African police in extra-judicial circumstances. Life is also not safe for Nigerians in other neighbouring countries like Ghana, Cameroun, Libya, to mention but a few. Although Onyeama has been commended for his quick response to the plights of Nigerians in Libya by facilitating the repatriation of illegal immigrants back to the country, critics are of the few that the administration has not been proactive enough in its approach to the whole issue of xenophobic attacks. Alex Orji, President, Centre for Protection of Nigerians in Diaspora, lamenting the sad narrative, said: “Many Nigerians that are living abroad are living in fear. Extra gut is needed to deal with the situation.”
Similarly, more also needs to be done in the areas of attracting foreign direct investment into the country through confidence building and diplomatic negotiation. In particular, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a critical role in ensuring that Nigeria benefits maximally from the new regime of the African Continental Free-Trade Affairs.
Chris Ngige (Ministry of Labour and Productivity)
Dr Chris Ngige no doubt will have an axe to grind with the organized labour over the issue of minimum wage, if he is reassigned to supervise the Ministry of Labour and Productivity. The NLC and the Federal Government are in disagreement over the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage earlier signed by the two parties. While the government is offering to pay N30, 000 to officers on grade levels 1-7, and prorate those on level 8-17, labour is insisting on same percentage increment across board.
According to the Head of Service of the Federal, Mrs Wilfred Ita, commencement of the payment of the new salary scale takes effect from April, but labour disagreement is the cause of the delay being experienced. Although discussion is still ongoing, there is no end in sight to quick resolution of the impasse, as labour is threatening to withdraw from negotiation.
This is the first challenge Ngige would have to confront, as soon as he resumes office after the inauguration of the cabinet.
Adamu Adamu (Education Ministry)
The narrative about the state of the education sector in the country in the last four years is very alarming with 16 million school children out of school. While responding to questions from journalists soon after the Senate’s screening, Adamu blamed the development on underfunding of education. This is as President Muhammadu Buhari put the total expenditure on education in the last four years at N1 trillion.
He must be ready to change this sad narrative without any further delay, if he finds himself back in the Ministry of Education, knowing full well that having 16 million school age children out of school is a time bomb and, therefore, no effort must be spared in forestalling the looming national disaster. Indeed, many analysts have criticized the school feeding programme introduced by the Buhari administration in the face of the dramatic drop in school enrolment.
In the design of the programme, the Federal Government is to fund the feeding of pupils in Primary one to Primary three while the state governments are expected to fund pupils in Primary four to Primary six. The programme attracted N500 billion allocation in both the 2016 and 2017 budgets at the federal level with a total expenditure of N6.2 billion during the two academic years. It made significant strides feeding 2,827,501 school children across 14 states of the federation, including Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kaduna, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Taraba, and Zamfara during the period.
Prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) bordering on the issues of underfunding as well as salaries and other emolument, among others, is also another low point of Adamu’s stewardship. This is a perennial problem that has adversely affected the stability of academic programmes in the universities, which would require urgent solution.
Beyond that, Adamu must come out with a holistic policy that would address the multi-dimensional problem affecting the education sector to secure the future of the country. For four years as a minister in the ministry, he failed to give the education sector a clear-cut policy direction. Therefore, he must constitute a think-tank that would look into all the numerous challenges facing the sector immediately on assumption of duty, if redeployed back to the ministry.
Ogbonnaya Onu (Ministry of Science & Technology)
The role of the Ministry of Science & Technology is to facilitate the development and deployment of science and technology apparatus to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country through appropriate technological inputs into productive activities in the nation. It is one of the strategic ministries saddled with the responsibility of facilitating the development and deployment of Science, Technology and Innovation to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country. On November 11, 2015, Onu was sworn-in as the minister with Dr. (Mrs) Amina Muhammed Bello Shamaki as the permanent secretary in the ministry.
The performance of the ministry to its primary assignment still leaves much to be desired. Dr Ono will have to scale up service delivery in the ministry, if Nigeria must fulfill its destiny in this competitive globalised world if assigned the ministry again.
Lai Muhamed (Ministry of Information and Culture)
As the mouthpiece of the government, Lai Muhammed has a lot of work to do in the Ministry of Information and Culture. Due to the combined socio-economic hardship in the country and the rising level of insecurity, there is a high degree of distrust between the government and the people.
For government to regain its goodwill and lost confidence, he would need to deploy his experience to change the current narrative. The image of the Buhari administration has waned quite considerably, particularly due to his seeming complacent on the issue of Fulani herdsmen/farmers’ clashes. A serious damage control would be needed to reunite the country.