There is a very high probability that by the time you read this, President Muhammadu Buhari may have assigned portfolios to his Ministers-designate, and even sworn them in. The Senate approved and confirmed all the 43 ministerial nominees, Tuesday, setting the stage for the inauguration of the Federal executive Council, FEC, any time from now.
If this happens, it would be a marked improvement on the President’s first term record when, in 2015, he spent six solid months before constituting his cabinet. Lai Mohammed, immediate past Minister for Information and National Orientation, would later blame the time lag on alleged monumental corruption committed by the Goodluck Jonathan Administration. And the need by the new Buhari Administration to drain the swamp a bit to forestall a turbulent take-off.
The President won re-election on February 23, 2019, and was inaugurated on May 29. Exactly 54 days after being sworn-in as President, Buhari sent a list of 43 ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation. The nominees included 14 former ministers (some of them ex-governors), 29 new names, and seven females.
Just like they did in 2015, Nigerians have been expressing diverse opinions on the composition of the new federal cabinet. To some, the list is still same of same though it contains many accomplished names. To this category of people, the more they try to spot a change, the more the assemblage looks the same. And the more cynical they get about the team’s capacity to take Nigeria to the next level promised by the President and his All Progressives Congress, APC.
To some, the line-up is neither gender sensitive nor favourable to the youth, regardless of the inclusion of fresh faces like Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. This club of cynics also believes that Buhari’s inclusion of ‘only’ seven females does not conform to the 30% reserved for women under the affirmative action guidelines enumerated in the National Policy for Women. The policy was adopted under the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency in 2000. The critics even argue that the list does not compete favourably with what ex-Presidents Obasanjo, the late Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan did during their respective tenures.
Here is my take on the matter: I differ on the assumption that the new team has the same complexion as the old. At the risk of sounding like the administration’s spokesperson, which I’m not, I fault that presupposition on two fronts. One, more than half of the soon-to-be-inaugurated cabinet are fresh faces; 29 in all. Two, there is a near consensus that most, if not all, of the 14 returning ministers acquitted themselves well on their last beats despite inadequate funding and other crippling challenges.
On gender, I do not see any significant difference between the population of the new women on the block and those in previous administrations. Let’s examine just two facts. One, President Yar’Adua, in 2007, constituted a team of 39 ministers, seven of them were women. Do the maths. That is surely less that 25 percent.
In 2011, women accounted for 33% of President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet; a point higher than the 30% reserved for females in the national policy on affirmative action. A reshuffle, in January of 2012 would lower that figure to seven women out of 29 cabinet ministers. But the scale tilted to 31% not too long after the then President appointed two new female ministers.
Again, a common thread runs through all ministerial appointments made by the four administrations we’ve had since the onset of democracy in 1999. One, each president chose a combination of the old and new, regardless of the percentage. Two, each of them combined technocrats with bureaucrats to achieve his set objectives. Third, they maintained virtually the same number of females in their respective cabinets, except Obasanjo.
Although illness limited President Yar’Adua, he managed to convince Nigerians that he wanted to be a great president. He was resolute in his resolve to deliver service to the people. Like Buhari, he made ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ one of the policy thrusts of his administration. And like Obasanjo, he kept the petroleum ministerial portfolio to himself so he could focus on the problems bedevilling the Niger Delta region. Very early in his administration, Yar’Adua showed serious signals that he would not waste time to unplug any minister not properly aligned with his vision to make Nigeria great.
For instance, he formed his cabinet in July 2007, two months after taking power. Fourteen months later, September 2008, he shocked Nigerians by firing Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, then Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF. On October 31, 2008, Yar’Adua bared his fangs, again, through a major reshuffle that swept off 20 ministers, sparing 19. The hurricane happened shortly after the ministers finished the 2009 budget proposals and the president had just transmitted the document to the National Assembly for consideration. And the ministers were possibly hoping to implement the budget. But Yar’Adua pulled the rug off their feet.
If there is any medal for the president that has made the most frequent change in his cabinet in this democracy, the proud winner would be President Olusegun Obasanjo, who took office on May 29, 1999. He frequently rejigged his cabinet during his eight years in office. For instance, he made his first major cabinet reshuffle in June 2000. In January 2001, he dissolved the entire cabinet. In December 2004, he named 12 new ministers, and six months later, June 2005, he made another major shake-up. On January 10, 2007, a few months before leaving office, he carried out yet another drastic overhaul.
Contrast that record with President Buhari’s and see a world of difference. Save Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, erstwhile Finance Minister who was pressured to resign over her controversial NYSC discharge certificate, and Babachir Lawal, former SGF, who was sacked over a N544 million grass-cutting scandal, and is being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the composition and complexion of Buhari’s first-term cabinet remained relatively the same throughout; even if he would later confess that he didn’t really know most of them.
If Buhari’s first term is to be used as a yardstick, if he could successfully rebuff public pressure to rejig his first-term cabinet, then, nobody should expect any change in the incoming next-level cabinet. The composition would remain intact unless something in the magnitude of the Babachir Lawal scandal, or worse, happens.
Based on the foregoing, I would advise those raising hell on the composition of the incoming cabinet to ‘cool, cool temper’, and hope and pray for the best from the team.
But beyond hoping and praying, Nigerians can also deploy the power vested in them by the constitution to demand profitable and selfless service from the cabinet to fatherland. It is not for nothing that the makers of the 1999 Constitution opened that all-important document with “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…”
That is loaded with power. Unfortunately, Nigerians are too used to being trampled like beggars by their political leaders who also force them to adore their begging bowls rather than demand accountability.
Everything added, I’m optimistic that the incoming cabinet will not disappoint. I’m also supremely confident that President Buhari will not fold his arms and watch some leprous hands contaminate or destroy his legacies. In the unlikely event of the President allowing that, Nigerians still have a leeway. They will be left with no other option than exploit their collective power subsumed in “We, the People…” to force the ministers to dedicate every fibre of their being to Nigeria’s progress.
Rather than continuing to play up the huge trust deficit between them and their leaders, Nigerians must use the power of “We…” to make the ministers not to be better looters of their common patrimony, through misappropriation, misapplication or outright stealing, but committed providers of prosperity, happiness and protection for the greatest number of the people.
Rather than tar the ministers needlessly on social media, Nigerians must tap into their collective power of “WE…” to make the ministers, indeed the administration, to commit to a pan-Nigerian vision that will provide gainful employment, take the toiling and suffering masses out of poverty, and deliver to them sustainable harvest of democracy. They must use their power of “We…” to compel the leaders to run a system that engenders justice and security; engenders right policies and right politics; turns sick-care to healthcare; delivers top quality education to Nigerian children; and restores our country’s dignity and respect in the comity of nations.
These are demands, not prayers. And I have hope and superb confidence in the President’s incoming team to deliver on their honour. I hope they will not allow our hope to die and turn to vows; and growling. “Hope is the last gift given to man,” Oscar Wilde once wrote. And “To give up hope is to give up life.” I’m hopeful. The team must not allow my hope to turn to foolishness.
God bless Nigeria.
When vacation threatens ‘Religion’
Vacations are good. They are time of refreshing. Long or short, they provide well-deserved time off work, take you off the drudgeries of living in a cramped and chaotic city like Lagos, and offer you a golden opportunity to rest and recharge. Holidays are even more expedient if you are the type that spends long hours at work, especially the sedentary kind, and you manage multiple tasks-situations that, if not properly organised, could complicate physical and mental health. Short rest is good, especially for people who do not know when to stop. Even me.
These, according to doctors induce fatigue and stress, compromise resistance to diseases and could plunge mental capacities into serious jeopardy. I had all these, and more, in mind when I resolved to take a short vacation off writing sometime last year. But did I really rest? For where? As we say in local parlance. Rather, I hopped into a different terrain and lost my religion. My short vacation off column writing became a seemingly endless holiday because my new life demanded more than 24 hours a day. I left the column in the lurch.
It was at the peak of adrenaline-pumping activities in our nation- the campaign against Boko Haram, now in its 10th year; the Shiites’ struggle to free their leader, El-Zakzaky and his wife; the rash of new hybrids of criminality across the country; deadly pastoralists/farmers skirmishes over dwindling resources resulting in hundreds of deaths; criminals’ new oil bloc-kidnapping for ransom; cattle rustling; cultism and gang violence; as well as armed banditry. Then, the do-or-die general elections that claimed many lives, and some of which results are still being contested in various election petition tribunals across the country.
No journalist worth his calling can stand akimbo watching news breaking with dizzying speed as they often do. I didn’t stay idle. My colleagues and I midwifed The Crest online news portal, and have been extremely busy nurturing it-reporting, publishing and marketing. Tough job.
As for reporting events through my column, it was done more in the ‘spirit’ than real life. I wrote many columns in my head and mind but never published a single copy. Many times I brimmed with so much excitement about unfurling events that I would alert Chidi Nnadi, Editor of Sunday Sun, about my intention to resume the column “immediately”. But something would crop up and I would disappoint at the last minute.
Poor Chidi. Nothing destabilises and tortures an editor worse than missed deadlines; especially if such disappointments happen close to production deadline. Yet, the gentleman editor bore it all and tolerated me.
Well, that belongs to the past now. I’m back. Back to continue where I stopped. Back to renew my contract with you, loyal readers. Back never to disappear or disappoint again. Back to serve you better.