Honourable minister, your face is familiar
The current face-off between Yele Sowore, a presidential candidate in the last general elections, is an indication that certain things are missing in the corridors of power. I am almost sure that Sowore would be surprised at the lavish attention he is currently receiving from the Federal Government which has come up with the pre-historic allegation that Sowore is plotting to topple the Constitution through a revolution. At last, without spending a kobo on advertisements and media publicity, Sowore is appearing on prime-time television every night. Whatever it may be worth, he is keeping our government busy only that in the process, some heads might be broken.
When the Sowore drama was unfolding, there was no Federal Attorney-General in place, no Minister of Defence or that of Internal Affairs. The decision to turn Sowore into a prime-time news item must have been taken by the hot-headed security boys who seem to be having a field day. Let’s keep our fingers crossed to see how the court would deal with the issue.
The Sowore saga may indicate a change of temper at the sanctum of power, but incoming cabinet is also an indication that our President is wary of change. The President is returning virtually the same cabinet like the one he disbanded when his first term ended in May 2019. It is normal to expect some ministers to return, but what we really have is the wholesale return of the old boys. Our President, despite his revolutionary credential as the leader of change, is actually in love with familiar territories and familiar faces. Not for him to go hunting on the international stage, looking for Nigerians who could make a change in the system. No, thank you, His Excellency would say.
I am not surprised at the return of at least three of his ministers. I don’t know of anyone who has earned his return better than Alhaji Layiwola (Lai) Mohammed, the former (and possibly future) Minister of Information. He is capable, cerebral, versatile and spontaneous. His handling of the difficult job is evocative of those days when Professor Jerry Gana ruled the roost. Another natural for the job is Adamu Adamu who served as the Minister of Education. I don’t know his magic, but Adamu was able to keep troubles and strikes off most of the campuses during his first term. The third person on my list if Babatunde Raji Fashola, who was the helmsman in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, tackled the assignments with yeoman’s muscularity. Note that Mohammed and Fashola were former Chiefs of Staff to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos and national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
What is surprising now is that our President is getting satisfied with apparent lack of speed. As military Head of State in 1984, it took him 10 days to assemble a cabinet of 18 ministers and appoint all the 19 governors. Now with all the resources at his disposal, including a gargantuan party machine and the ready advice of governors, it has taken him five months to fill his cabinet. To understand the essence of this, note that the General Murtala Muhammed regime lasted for only six months and within those period, he instituted many changes including moving the Federal capital from Lagos to Abuja, creating 19 states federal structure and proclaiming the Transition to Civil Rule programme that culminated in the swearing-in of Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979 as Nigeria first elected President.
There is no doubt too that President Buhari understand the essence of speed. While swearing-in his ministers at Doddan Barrack on January 10, 1984, Buhari apologised to Nigerians for the delay in appointing ministers. He had taken over power on December 31, 1983 from Shagari through a military coup and 10 days later, his cabinet was ready. Buhari said on that occasion: “The appointment of ministers has taken some time because we had to undertake a deep search for competent Nigerians of proven integrity, a high sense of discipline, public probity and transparent honesty.”
I do not expect any apology this time around that he has also given us a cabinet of retired governors. Fashola was governor of Lagos State. Joining him from the State Houses are the likes of Rotimi Amaechi, once and future minister, who for eight years was governor of Rivers State after serving as Speaker of the same state for eight years; Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, the dignified first elected governor of Ekiti State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, former governor of Osun State, Chris Ngige, former governor of Anambra State who was also in the old cabinet. Also in the new regime are George Akume, former governor of Benue, Timipre Sylva, former governor Bayelsa and Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Akwa Ibom.
It is interesting that there are only seven women in the incoming cabinet of 43 members. The lucky women are Zainab Ahmed, (Kaduna), Sharon Ikeazor, Anambra, Sadiya Farouq, (Zamfara), Maryam Katangum, Bauchi, Gbemisola Saraki, (Kwara), Ramatu Tijani, (Kogi) and Pauline Tallen (Plateau). There is no female representation from the South-West, the South-South and the North-East. This is not good enough. Most of these women are not well-known national and one hopes the new assignment would give them the opportunity to prove their mettle.
One big exception is Pauline Tallen, a former deputy-governor of Plateau State and a relentless power player. Some years ago, we met in Garkida, Adamawa State, when our mutual friend, Emmanuel Bello, was being installed a chief by his community. Another big exception is Gbemisola, daughter of Baba Oloye, Dr. Olusola Saraki and sister of Dr. Bukola, the immediate past President of the Senate. Her appointment proves that the Saraki myth endures despite recent vicissitude. Think of the Games of Thrones. One surprising appointment is the minister from Kaduna State. She is a Muslim just like the Governor and the Deputy-Governor of the state. In a state of high religious sensitivity, this is not commendable.
Apart from the governors, some of the new ministers have been in the power loop for many years. Olorunnibe Mamora, had served as the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly before becoming a Senator. Tayo Alasoadura was the Secretary to Ondo State Government before going into the Senate. Sunday Dare, former editor and faithful media aide to Tinubu, was on the board of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, before his new appointment. Festus Keyamo, activist lawyer and human right campaigner, coordinated the spectacular media campaign for President Buhari during the last elections. Lekan Adegbite, an architect, was Commissioner for Works in Ogun State during the regime of Senator Ibikunle Amosun.
The federal cabinet is the most important conclave in Nigeria. It is the centre of Nigerian power. In the past, the cabinet was not so large, but since the inception of the presidential system in 1999, things have changed. The Constitution states that every state must be represented by at least one member in the cabinet. Today, Nigeria has 36 states.
The first cabinet in 1957 presided over by Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was composed of only 10 ministers. By 1959, with the three regional parties represented in the cabinet, we now have 16 ministers. The last cabinet of Balewa, which was formed after the controversial Federal election of 1964, had 19 members.
The 1964 cabinet was of special significance because it was its members who handed over power to General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi after the coup of January 15, 1966 during which Balewa was killed. In that cabinet were the likes of Alhaji Shehu Shagari who was Minister of Internal Affairs, Maitama Sule, Mines and Power, Richard Akinjide, Education and Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, Industries. These men were to dominate the politics of the Second Republic before the first coming of General Buhari.
That first coming remains unforgettable. While swearing-in his ministers in January 1983, Buhari warned: “We will keep a keen and watchful eye on your performance, your style of life and general public conduct while in office.”
Few months later, a military governor of one of the Western states was accused of buying a brand new Peugeot 504 car (price N9000.00) which was higher than what his salary could accommodate. A query was issued to the governor by the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon. The governor was only allowed to keep his job when he had made the satisfactory explanation that indeed he took a loan. I don’t know where Buhari is going to begin now. Beginning with Sowore however may not be the best for a new beginning.