After intimidating public criticisms for failing to compile list of ministers at the time he was rightly or wrongly expected, President Muhammadu Buhari eventually discharged his obligation, still all his way. For example there is no specified time under the constitution by which a Nigeria President must release the list.
There is no doubt that Buhari’s style in compiling list of ministers is unconventional. Otherwise, it is not unconstitutional or Nigerian notorious litigants would have dragged him to court. Accordingly, with freedom of choice as head of government, Buhari has done the unusual by re-appointing more than a third of the previous cabinet. In the absence of any proved major scandal against any of the retained ministers, the gesture to these fellows will not only encourage ministers in the performance of their duties but also gradually diminish ignorance criticism that cabinet reshuffle must necessarily and routinely be effected almost for the fun of it. It is in that regard, the view of some critics that after two years if not less, some ministers must be dropped, often for no stated reason.
On the eve of the dissolution of federal cabinet, six of the outgoing ministers were appreciated in this column for their performance and strongly recommended for re-appointment. Among the lot, Buhari (has) retained five of them – especially Information Minister Lai Mohammed, Triple Minister Babatunde Fashola, Abuja minister Muhammadu Bello, External Affairs Minister Geoffery Onyeama and Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi.
I have never served as a minister but after watching serving ministers at close quarters for eight consecutive years under former President Ibrahim Babangida, I could only pity their lot. Naturally as human beings, ministers are not infallible but largely, criticisms against many of them (note, not all of them) are sometimes out of envy, other times, mischief. How about all the jargons, specifically technocrats or armchair critics too lazy and indeed terrified to be involved in the rumble and tumble of politics compared to party members and sympathisers? A case of monkey de work, baboon de chop? Be they so-called technocrats or armchair critics, if they feel too decent to be involved in politics, they should also be too decent to hold political appointments. That leaves party members and sympathisers whose efforts brought the party into power to be rewarded with ministerial appointments.
There are also the arrogant senators and their advocates ignorantly demanding that specific portfolios should be attached to every ministerial nominee. What makes Nigerian senators experts in determining so-called round pegs in round holes? Are all senators round pegs in round holes? But for political god-fathers and Nigerian system, many senators would be questionable for their suitability. Senators demanding money for screening ministerial nominees? Former Abuja Minister Nasir El-Rufai made that allegation and former President Obasanjo sacked a minister for bribing senators to pass the ministry’s budget.
Still, which round pegs in round holes? So that only engineers could be screened as suitable for ministry of works? Who was the federal commissioner for works when the major bridges and highways in Lagos were constructed under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon? Femi Okunnu, a lawyer, and not an engineer. If today’s senators were empowered to screen Femi Okunnu in those days, he (Okunnu) would have been denied the opportunity to serve as ministers of works for no other reason than being a lawyer.
Professor Sunday Essang at one time served as Minister of Works and another time as Minister of Finance, and distinguished himself in both capacities. He was either an engineer nor a financial expert. Yet, he distinguished himself as finance minister and works minister on different occasions. Babatunde Fashola, a lawyer, might have been refused by the Senate to serve as Minister of Works except that he distinguished himself as governor of Lagos State by providing infrastructure all over the place.
Rotimi Amaechi is a lawyer. Yet, his performance in the railway infrastructure sector all over the country earned him President Buhari’s attention to list him for re-appointment as a Minister. Four years ago, if attached to ministry of transportation for the Senate to screen him, Amaechi might have been turned down on the ground of being a lawyer rather than an engineer.
The power to demand specification of portfolios for each ministerial nominee does not lie with senators. The constitution of the Nigerian nation would have to be amended, for which it is too late and unwarranted. Which other country in Africa with the constitution compelling screening of ministerial nominees by the parliament? None. Which other country in Europe including United Kingdom with the constitution compelling ministerial nominees to be screened by parliament? As of now, the very idea of screening ministerial nominees by the senate hinders instant formation of cabinet after elections in Nigeria. To all specification of portfolio for each ministerial nominee will not only cause further delay but also blunt discovery of talents. Only the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria can determine the capability or suitability of each of his ministers.
Restricting ministers to particular portfolios will also make it impossible for the President to move ministers around if and when necessary. Former President Obasanjo once moved late Prof. Aborisade from Ministry of Aviation to Ministry of Aviation to Ministry of Culture and similarly moved deceased Ojo Maduekwe from Ministry of Culture to Ministry of Aviation. Also, Obasanjo moved erstwhile Finance Minister to External Affairs, all these shuffles rightly or wrongly. But these could not have been possible by sticking a ministerial nominee to a particular portfolio.
How many senators would be found suitable if screened as senatorial candidates? Instead of echoing the abysmal ignorance, the media should enlighten senators on how and why attaching portfolio to each ministerial nominee would prove counter-productive.
Out of the six ex-ministers appreciated in this column and recommended for re-appointment, only former agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh did not return for reasons not related to his performance, which by the way was outstanding. Ogbeh obviously made way for former Benue State governor, Senator George Akume, as ministerial nominee. Throughout the sad events in Benue State causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent indigenes killed by non-indigene cattle rearers and for which APC was faulted, Senator Akume remained loyal to his party and President Buhari up to the elections even as both were defeated in that state. Akume’s nomination for ministerial appointment is therefore a worthy compensation for party loyalty.
A curious nominee for ministerial appointment is former Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola. This is another due reward. Far back in 2011 when other South-West states voted for either PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan or ACN’s Nuhu Ribadu in the presidential election, Osun State under Rauf Aregbesola as governor was the only state which voted for Congress for Progressive Change candidate Muhammadu Buhari. That was a distinction which could not have been lost on President Buhari.
The wait for ministerial list turned many observers into experts in reading Buhari’s mind but the man outwitted most of if not all of them. One of such was Senate President Ahmed Lawan. He tried to subdue the uncertainty by creating the impression among Nigerias that Buhari “could submit the list before the weekend…” That was uncertain enough for ordinary grammar. But overexcited media, almost without exception went to town with news of certainty. To explain that the list was not ready, Buhari had to arrange a special dinner for his party members and functionaries at Aso Rock where he (Buhari) explained why he had to take his time before releasing the ministerial list. Only after the dinner did Senator Ahmed Lawan have to claim, ironically rightly, that he was misquoted. He should have made that clarification before Buhari politely denied imminent release of the ministerial list. Buhari merely comported himself his own way.
Incidentally, that was the second time Senate President Ahmed Lawan would within two months if not less. There was the appointment he made of a media adviser. The point now is not whether he should have offered that appointment or not. But once Senator Lawan made that appointment, he should have stood by it instead of allowing himself to be intimidated and black mailed by critics. In public office, extra guts is needed.
Buhari kept the ministers’ list to himself sending everybody on a wild goose chase. Then when least expected, the list was released. Even then, with some peculiarities. For example, it was so remarkable to have re-appointed a third of previous cabinet, a feat others in future will be able to perform. Colourless? Unaspiring? If so, the ministerial list is out. Colour and inspiration are non conditions for clearing ministerial nominees.
One reason canvassed for the urgent release of the ministerial list was that otherwise, National Assembly members might proceed on recess. Which recess and what type of people are Nigerians? Acquiescing in National Assembly proceeding on recess barely six weeks after inauguration of the Assembly? Out of the six weeks, these people went away for a fortnight to arrange offices for them? Yet they will be paid for the entire period? Any better case for part time legislative?
Come Christmas/New Year National Assembly would proceed on another recess? Sallah would not pass without another recess for these lazy fellows.
By the way, the new British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, would be expected to form his cabinet within days of his appointment. This is possible because he needs no screening (for his ministers) by the British parliament. Hence in addition, he is free to attach portfolio to each of his ministers. In Nigeria, the President would have to submit list of new ministers to National Assembly. Other nations are fast moving while Nigeria is slowed down by limitations of the constitution.