By Emma Agu
If on current speculations are to be taken seriously, any moment from now we shall witness a cabinet reshuffle at the federal level. Given that not long ago, the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo returned from consultations with President Muhammadu Buhari, it is possible that they would have agreed on the scope and details of the reshuffle. Even at that, in the light of the fact that Osinbajo had sworn in two new ministers without assigning them portfolios, it is obvious that the reshuffle will be done in the absence of the president. We therefore join other patriotic Nigerians in praying for the speedy recovery of the President so that he can return to full time duties at home.
Well, a cabinet reshuffle is not a surefire panacea to the problems of the country. Yet, there is no doubt that re-jigging the cabinet can add new energy to the administration; it can lead to better deployment of human resources in which case round pegs are put in round holes; it can even lead to a cutting of cost if, for instance, reshuffling is accompanied with a reduction in the number of portfolios. Whatever the case, Nigerians expect that the government will be rejuvenated to give a new impetus to the implementation of the change agenda of the administration.
In carrying out any reshuffle, it will be useful to highlight the imperative of a political re-engineering process that recognizes the need to douse the tension in the land and reassure those who feel excluded from the power matrix. Those who tend to dismiss the current political imbroglio as a façade that will soon fade away must learn from the currents of history. If the truth must be told, the seething angst in the land, the polarization of every facet of national life, with the attendant distractions, definitely undermines any collective effort at governance.
Government is about solving problems; not ignoring or compounding them. Though it is not necessarily the ultimate panacea to the current agitation in the south-east, nothing will be lost if the government takes advantage of the reshuffle to address some of the genuine misgivings of the zone. For instance, as I have argued in the past, the position of secretary to government of the federation (SGF) can be ceded to the south east. I am not oblivious of the argument that the position ought to be reserved for the north east since Babachar Lawal comes from the zone. But the same argument is defeated by the fact that we have not always gone that route. A good example is the case of the former director general of the Pensions Commission, PENCOM, from the south east who was replaced with a candidate from another geo-political zone. And that was done in complete contravention of the Act establishing PENCOM which specifies that in the event of the premature departure of the CEO, his/or her tenure would be completed by another candidate from the person’s zone.
We can even stretch the argument further by looking at the federal character principle, the diversity management principle which often times calls on people from some zones to sacrifice merit so that others can be accommodated. A very good example of this is in the area of university admissions. It can be argued that just as some candidates with better JAMB results have to sacrifice their university places for candidates with poorer results from other zones, the north east or any other zone for that matter can equally pass up a political position if, by so doing, we can advance the course of national stability and unity. After all, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
To put the matter in perspective, it is important to recall that, at the first caucus meeting of the APC, the position of SGF was explicitly zoned to the south east. The imperativeness of that decision became inevitable given that the failure by the party to produce a senator from the zone had robbed it of the position of Senate President which would have come to it by virtue of the party’s zoning arrangement.
In this regard, the matter of political inclusion cannot be properly disposed of if politicians do not discard the nebulous and dubious argument over the level of support the President received in the south east. Time and again, the performance of the President in the south east in 2015, the celebrated “five percent” factor, has been stridently cited as the argument for denying the zone some strategic appointments. What exponents of this argument have failed to realize is that President Buhari actually won the 2015 elections because of what happened or did not happen in the south east. Let us look at it this way: In 2011, the south east gave President Goodluck Jonathan about five millions of votes, a feat it could not repeat or perform in 2015. If the zone had repeated the 2015 feat, it would have cancelled out the electoral armada that took place in the north in favour of then candidate Buhari thereby paving the way for Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election. After all, the vote difference with which Buhari rode into power was just about 2.4 million votes-the difference in margin is even lower than 2.5 million between south east votes of 2011 and that of 2015 for President Jonathan leaving a difference of about 100, 000 votes in favour of the later. It stands to reason that APC stalwarts in the south east deserve to be commended for fighting like Trojans and holding off what would have amounted to the decisive ballots.
Now, even if we are to ignore the above points, we are still left to wonder whether the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, wants to position itself as a serious contender for electoral victory in the south east come 2019. Or has the party given up on the zone? I am inclined to posit that the APC will be sending a dangerous signal to the south east if it does not take advantage of any reshuffle to reassure the restive voters of the zone that they are still part of its calculations for electoral victory at future elections! That will be unfortunate indeed.
Besides, such indiscretion will rob most Buhari die-hards and APC loyalists such as Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and Labour Minister Dr. Chris Ngige of much of the political capital they had acquired over the years. To put it starkly it would be likened to a betrayal of sorts if immediate steps are not taken to redress what is seen as some imbalance in the present set up. The south east zone argues, correctly, that it has not been properly represented in the top decision making echelon of the administration. Take for instance the fact that such a large and important ethnic group does not head any of the security outfits in the country: the Army, Navy, Air Force; Police, Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence, Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), etc, even if we were to allocate the positions by zone. Consider again that there is no former head of state from the zone on the Council of States. Yet these are fora or entities that determine the deployment of security agencies for elections and other strategic uses. Is it surprising therefore that agitation for inclusion is most strident from that zone?
Those who would want to dismiss this as unnecessary whining only need to be reminded of how distraught and inconsolable the south west zone felt when it lost the position of speaker of the House of Representatives to the incumbent governor the Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, of the North West zone. To many watchers of the Nigerian political scene, the inability of former President Goodluck Jonathan, with his party, to rein in on Tambuwal is one of the major factors that cost the party and Jonathan the presidency in 2015. If the south west felt so bad at the time, why would anyone deny the south east the right to be angry and to demand some form of restitution, even one that would not cause any major strategic shift in power balance, such as the position of SGF?
Luckily, the south east zone, like any other zone, has a surfeit of qualified candidates for the position of SGF. These include Ngige (Anambra), Onu (Ebonyi) and a number of others political heavyweights who have paid their dues and are ready to serve. However, given the political exigencies of the moment, it is my considered opinion that the incumbent minister of labour, Senator Chris Ngige, is the most suitable to be considered for the position of SGF. Though diminutive in size, he stands head and shoulders taller than any other person because of his disposition as an avowed nationalist and a dogged political realist whose commitment to Nigeria is unimpeachable. Besides, he is a team player with a track record of administrative, legislative and political exposure, qualities that equip him to serve as the clearing house of governmental administration at this critical watershed in the history of Nigeria.
APC leaders had better make haste while the sun shines for 2019 is already here; it is no longer far away for that will be the year of reckoning of reckoning
Agu, publisher of ZEST TRAVELLER magazine is a former general secretary of the Newspaper Publishers Association of Nigeria (NPAN) as well former managing director/editor-in-chief of Champion Newspapers Limited.