Buhari’s next cabinet
Muhammadu Buhari won the election in 2015 his party, the APC, said he would hit the ground running. Many people thought that was a possibility because being a serial contestant for Nigeria’s presidency Buhari knew all the people he needed to work with so as to take Nigeria several levels up. For some inexplicable reasons he did not put together his cabinet speedily, and when he did six months later it was a cabinet of known names, no surprises. It was pardonable because many people thought he would still have a chance later in his four year term to make amends. However, the surprising thing he said as an explanation for the inordinate delay was that ministers are noise makers, that the people who do the real work are civil servants. Well, both ministers and civil servants work together.
This was merely an excuse for the delay and many Nigerians believed that he would do the needful later on. For the entire period of four years he did not rejig his cabinet, which means that he was either satisfied with their performance or he simply wanted to keep them for reasons of stability or political convenience. A lot of critics suggested that the President should inject fresh blood into his team especially in the light of the huge insecurity problem and the tough state of the economy. He stood his ground and stayed with his original team to the end. A few people who left did so on their own, one for greener pastures at the United Nations, another died in an accident while another left because of a scandal and a couple of them left to pursue their political ambitions in their states of origin.
Now, Buhari has another chance to choose his cabinet members. It is a historic opportunity for him to choose right since he is on his second and last term. It is believed that he had paid off those who worked for him in his first term with cabinet positions or board appointments or contracts. He may not have satisfied all of them because it is not possible to satisfy everybody. The rest of his supporters who have not benefited from the government’s largesse in the last four years should take it that their contribution has brought back to power the man they supported.
Therefore Buhari should feel free of compensatory obligations and make the right choices in his cabinet selection. The first thing to note is that he must truly hit the ground running this time around by bringing out his list in time. We learn that, as usual, there are lots of people hustling to be appointed or reappointed. That is normal in any political system but he must do his duty to Nigeria by taking a decision that he thinks is good for the country, not one that is only good for the hustlers. He has a gilt-edged opportunity today to remedy the wrongs of yesterday by choosing men and women who have the wherewithal to help him take Nigeria not just to the next level but several levels up.
Luckily, the 8th Senate had passed a resolution that compels the President to attach portfolios to his list of Ministers. That will ensure that during the confirmation hearings that the Senators will have the chance to ask questions appropriate to the potential minister’s ministry and the problems he would be expected to tackle. The candidate too, will have a reasonable assurance that the questions directed at him will be those that give him the opportunity to display his knowledge of the problems he will face and how he will solve them. In that kind of arrangement, everyone benefits. The Senators will know what questions to ask, the candidate will know what questions to expect and the country will know the real quality of those seeking to run their affairs.
Some of the Ministers in the last dispensation performed or behaved woefully and should not even dream of returning. The list of the no-hopers should include the NYSC draft dodger, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, Mr. Abubakar Malami who sought to turn the law on its head at every turn to the discomfiture of reasonable people, Mr. Solomon Lalong, the Sports Minister who showed that he knows next to nothing about sports or Mr. Usani Usani, the Niger Delta Minister whose impact the Niger Delta people have not felt in any way positive. You can add your own names to the list. The thinking of many fair-minded Nigerians is that that cabinet was a bum and that is why many of the problems festered like a sore. There are two principal areas where the President needs to find some magicians if I can put it that way: Security and Economy.
Those two areas will remain the Buhari Administration’s headache for the next four years. But he can cure himself of that headache if he can find the right men for the two jobs. Every job in the system is important but some are certainly more important than others. The security problem has overwhelmed us and the President has now, wisely, sought the help of the United Nations. However, he must find people at the commanding heights of our security architecture who can deliver the goods.
There is no doubt that our security problems are multi-faceted and are also compounded by the high poverty level, the porosity of our borders, the compromising nature of those who man these borders, the intrepidity of the insurgents and the lack of adequate capacity for the job. Perhaps if we had accepted to establish State Police a lot of the problems would have been addressed before they snowballed into the conflagration that we now have. Most crimes are local and I believe at some point we will come to the realization that we need State Police to even have a fighting chance in the emerging crime scene in the world today.
In his next cabinet the President needs more of technocrats than professional politicians. Professional politicians will turn everything into politics because that is their playground but technocrats will know that they are there to do a job, using their best devices, for the betterment of the country. But if there are politicians who are certified technocrats it is the President’s decision to see whether they are the sort of people who will place politics before performance or performance before politics. It is a complicated matter, I mean, choosing the right mix of people to run a country. But it may not be the equivalent of rocket science. If the President spreads his search net wide within and outside the country he may just be able to find some geniuses out there. How did President Donald Trump find a Nigerian of outstanding competence, Mr. Bayo Ogunlesi, that he took on board? There are many more of such Nigerians out there who, if appointed and allowed to work, can make a significant difference to our situation. The decision as to who he would like to work with is that of President Buhari. It is he that must produce the results that Nigerians want to see. It is he who has to bear the verdict of history and posterity.
Eventhough Buhari had been a Minister of Petroleum during the Obasanjo era and therefore has familiarity with that sector, I believe it is better for him to appoint a substantive Minister of Petroleum and possibly a Minister of State as well for that Ministry. The President is in no position to give a full and undivided attention to that Ministry if he chooses, as he did in his first term, to take upon himself the responsibilities of that portfolio. The volatility of the oil market globally and the internal problems and contradictions within the Nigerian oil and gas industry dictate that one or two persons of competence should be chosen to focus their attention on the industry like a laser beam.
In terms of the screening one hopes that the 9th Senate will show more seriousness than the 8th Senate and even the earlier senates. The issue of take-a bow-and go is absolute nonsense. It demeans all of us and makes a mockery of the screening process. They should watch how serious the Americans take the matter of Senate hearings for appointments. That type of rigour has always been absent from our own screening activities. If someone had been a Senator or a Representative that is not enough to exempt him from being grilled appropriately if he wants to be a Minister. Look at it this way. If he has been a Senator once and he wants it again he still has to fill new forms, go into the campaign field and sell himself for the same position that he had occupied before. So what sense does it make for him to be exempted from the procedural requirements for the position of a Minister of the Federal Republic, even if he held the position before.
My view: everybody who seeks the job of a minister must be grilled and grilled properly for the job. Asking potential ministers to sing the national anthem is an unserious way of dealing with a serious matter. Being able to sing the national anthem has nothing to do with his likely competence on the job. The ability to sing the national anthem is not even a measure of one’s patriotism. People who are kidnappers today may have been singing the national anthem from their days in primary or secondary schools. So my advice to all who will be involved in the screening process and this includes the security personnel is: get serious. The security people failed to do a thorough job on the screening the last time and several camels passed through the needle’s eye. Graduation and NYSC certificates must be seriously scrutinized for genuineness so that we do not have the Kemi Adeosun and Adebayo Shittu scenarios again.