As if it was necessary, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that his cabinet would soon be dissolved to make way for new ministers following his re-election for a second term. Ordinarily, Nigerians needed no such assurance but Buhari had to contain hostile if not mischievous from ever restless quarters too impatient to dismiss any new cabinet so appointed as comprising (in their notorious cliché) mediocres or old men. Not to be left out by the critics is the religious or ethnic affinity of the new appointees.
What then is the basis or even the necessity of appointing ministers? It is merely to assist the President or Prime Minister in the discharge of his duties. Hence, only the head of government can feel the cold or heat on the performance of his choice of ministers. Also, there is this palpable ignorance on cabinet reshuffle. In the absence of any scandal, there may be no reshuffle, as long as ministers perform especially to the satisfaction of the Prime Minister or the President. In effect, it is wrong to be demanding cabinet reshuffle after one or two years of an administration.
A former soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko served for up to 40 years in that post until he died, after serving under various leaders like Khrushchev, Kosygin, Bresnev, etc., who ruled mostly collectively for decades. In the United States, throughout the six-year tenure of Richard Nixon till he resigned in 1974, there was only one Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. In the two countries concerned, there was consistent policy. In Britain, until she became Prime Minister in 2016, Theresa May was Home Secretary (Minister of Internal Affairs) for at least six consecutive years.
In Nigeria, under the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, the Health Minister for seven consecutive years was Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, even though, initially, he agreed to serve for only two years but he had to extend his service to impart the primary health care among the masses in the rural areas. The then Attorney-General Bola Ajibola also served in that capacity for five consecutive years before going abroad as a judge at the World Court in Hague, Holland.
Israel’s one-time foreign minister, Golda Meir, served in that capacity for 10 consecutive years, 1956 to 1966. The present Russian Foreign Minister, Sirgei Lavrov, has been in office since 2004. Such long consecutive period in office inevitably produces stars in terms of performance of ministers. Has Buhari’s current tenure of four years, therefore, produced any such stars? Indisputably, in terms of ministerial performance, one of the major pillars of the Buhari administration is triple minister Babatunde Fashola, the first to be so appointed. One of the three is the killer ministry of power. Hardly did any past minister survive without being discredited. But Fashola has distinguished himself by doubling Nigeria’s power supply capacity to over 7,000 megawatts. In the past, such increase usually vanished after a few months, thereby plunging Nigeria into darkness. But Fashola has sustained the improvement of power supply in the country. If the next four years does not double the present 8,000 megawatts in power supply, the output can reasonably be expected to increase to 12,000 megawatts.
The killer ministry of power was tied to two others – works and housing. Not much time should be wasted on listing the achievements of the Ministry of Works in the past four years. The evidence is there all over highways in the states, zones, towns and cities experiencing massive construction or reconstruction. If Nigeria ever experienced such reconstruction in the previous every four years since 1999, would have been more funds for other developments. Then, a major highway like Lagos-Ibadan expressway would have been completed by now but for the fact that payment for contractors was withheld by useless and unpatriotic members of the outgoing National Assembly on the ground that it was not a priority project. Their real grouse was that contractors were not prepared to bribe them.
Buhari should be bold to reappoint performing ministers already familiar with problems and pace of governance in their ministry, especially sensitive ministries, which in future can bear the record of Buhari’s administration. Fashola is one of such ministers.
Another pillar in terms of ministerial performance in the administration of President Buhari is agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh. An easy target for antagonists of age and experience, Ogbeh is slightly over 70 years. What has age got to do with ability? Wilbur Ross, now 82 years, was appointed Secretary for Commerce two years ago by American President Donald Trump, a man notorious for firing appointees on the slightest excuse. Ross is one of the only few surviving among Trump’s appointees since he was sworn in two years ago. Trump so far has parted ways with a secretary of state, a defence secretary, an attorney-general, two national security advisers, a chief press secretary, a chief of staff, two directors of communication, secretary of health, etc. Yet, the American President rates his 82-year-old commerce secretary indispensable.
In Nigeria, naïve and ignorant critics would have concentrated on Ross’ age instead of his ability and contribution to the country’s economy.
Step forward, Audu Ogbeh (yes, over 70), the man who halted Nigeria’s malady of total dependence on importation of rice, a socio-economic life-limiting situation. Within four years, Nigeria became self-sufficient and reliant on locally produced rice. In return, there was a sharp increase in Nigeria’s foreign reserves, the difference hitherto spent on importation of rice. And such a man should be put aside on account of age or baseless/ignorant criticisms?
By the way, Ross would not be the first great grandee whose age and experience rightly earned him public office. Bill Clinton in 1992 inherited a battered economy and chose 80-year-old Senator Lloyd Bentsen as treasury secretary to fix the economy. Within two years, Senator Bentsen performed the magic, which eventually boomed the economy under Clinton to create over 22 million jobs, unrivalled since then. In comparison, Nigeria’s Audu Ogbeh is far younger both Ross and Bentsen.
To sustain Nigeria’s turnaround in agriculture in the last four years, Ogbeh can still be among the President’s men.
A one-man battalion who successfully and miraculously repulsed unrelenting malicious four-year war on the Buhari administration. That is the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed. A holdover from the media showdown, which heralded the dawn of APC, an amalgam of various interests and political groups, it most appropriately fell the lot of the Information Minister without whom life could have been greater hell created round the Buhari administration. But, thanks to Lai Mohammed, as he combated every onslaught, taking, in the process, on all comments. His battles in defence of Buhari’s administration are too many to narrate. But a particular one was spectacular. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his letter, Buhari’s directive was that none of the President’s men should respond. But, according to Buhari himself, Information Minister Lai Mohammed, stubbornly established a case, not necessarily to return fire for fire but merely and skillfully too to document perhaps only a quarter of the achievements of President Buhari.
By the time Lai Mohammed was done, Obasanjo’s criticisms in his letter ended in every patriotic Nigerian’s dustbin. According to Buhari, his second term of the next four years will be tougher. A tough time ahead without a thick-skinned slim but tough warrior like Lai Mohammed in the important Ministry of Information? Can he be forgotten on the Miracle of Kwara? He should be around Buhari to sustain that miracle.
A major handicap, which Buhari confronted on assuming office, was the infrastructure deficit throughout Nigeria. That such dilemma has been redressed these past four years is indisputable. One area this is visible is the Ministry of Transportation, where Rotimi Amaechi has made the difference. Since independence in 1960, rail transport, specifically, in Lagos, western and northern parts of the country, virtually disappeared and shifted heavy load on Nigeria highways.
Within the past four years, most old rail lines have been rehabilitated, while new rail lines have not only sprung up but also promised to be extended to other parts of the country.
Amaechi’s constant and personal supervision of pace of work, in no small measure, contributed to the huge success in that sector.
External Affairs Minister Geoffery Onyeama is in a class of his own. Buhari inherited a poor foreign image for Nigeria and had to commence the repair work by personally travelling all over the world. In fact, there came a time when Nigerians criticised Buhari for not staying at home to govern. If only these critics realised the damage done to Nigeria’s image under previous administrations. With Buhari on such trips, admittedly for repair work, there was no way the external affairs minister would not be overshadowed.
By the time Buhari settled down, Onyeama established himself. Modern-day diplomacy is devoid of abrasiveness. Hence, the quiet personality of the minister. Like during the campaigns for the 2019 elections, the minister had to cut foreign envoys in Nigeria, especially of Britain and United States, to size. For some unknown reasons, these envoys got it into their heads that their brief was to conduct the elections by issuing threats and directing state organs and institutions like INEC, the police, the army on their role in society or even in the conduct of the elections. Even some went as far as sniping at Buhari in favour of their preferred candidates.
Minister Onyeama, a refined gentleman, summoned the envoys and drew their attention to the limit of their interests in Nigeria’s elections. A less discreet minister could have bungled that essential duty. Instead, the envoys quietly filed out and, henceforth, comported themselves. High marks for the minister.
Youthful Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) minister is more of a quiet achiever. In any JAMB examination, the rate of failure will be almost 100 per cent if questioned to name the minister, Muhammadu Bello. That is despite the heavy burden he inherited on his appointment in 2015. A largely distorted master plan and series of scandals in land allocation. He has been able to streamline these infractions. Even such a dedicated hardworking young man would not escape the mischief of Nigerias, all out to build controversy round the young lad. He was accused of allocating choice land to prominent Nigerians. All over the world, status of land is classified into low density, medium density and upper density. Low density ever allocated strictly to those who can develop be they prominent or not.
Ordinarily, who is or the performance of a Chief of Staff to a President or is the business of the boss and not subject to review or observation of the boss. Only the appointer, therefore, can complain or criticise. But trust Nigerians. They would not exempt Chief of Staff Abba Kyari from unnecessary focus. Buhari needs to assert himself on any question or controversy (real or contrived) round all his personal staff. The appointment or retention of a Chief of Staff is the personnel prerogative of the President and not subject to approval or rejection by critics, especially on his (Chief of Staff’s) re-appointment.
Overall, there is no law even to compel cabinet reshuffle or limited tenure for any minister. The tendency of modern day Donald Trumps to fire public office holders impulsively is strange to even America. If ministers can serve for six, 10, 20 or more years in other lands, they can also serve in Nigeria. In any case, as mentioned above, late Olikoye Ransome-Kuti served for seven consecutive years as minister of health.