Thursday, 7th December 2023

Tinubu’s cabinet: Surprise us

By Ray Ekpu
13 June 2023   |   3:02 am
One of the early tasks of any new administration is to select the men and women who can help it to run the government. I am sure by now, lobbyists have relocated to Abuja if they don’t live there. I am sure that President Bola Tinubu or his close officials have received tons of curriculum vitae from job seekers. That is normal.

President Tinubu

One of the early tasks of any new administration is to select the men and women who can help it to run the government. I am sure by now, lobbyists have relocated to Abuja if they don’t live there. I am sure that President Bola Tinubu or his close officials have received tons of curriculum vitae from job seekers. That is normal.

I am also sure that those who did one thing or the other for the President during the campaign or election, are now asking to be rewarded for their exertions. They think, rightly, that after the planting, there must be a harvest, a payback time. That is normal too.

However, the president has announced that he intends to run a government of competence. That is reassuring because the situation in which the country is now is such that we need people with new ideas in the cabinet. President Muhammadu Buhari had in those eight years of his administration taken the country many years back. For us to survive and progress, we need men and women with new ideas, experience, exposure and commitment to a united and progressive Nigeria. That is the challenge, enormous challenge that President Tinubu faces right now.

Selecting a cabinet of competence is the challenge that Tinubu faces. Why is that a challenge? It is a challenge because those who campaigned for him or contributed money to the campaign or did one thing or the other, would expect to be compensated with ministerial positions. So the decision that Tinubu has to make is the choice between politicians who supported him but do not have the level of competence that he needs, and technocrats out there who are very competent but were not involved in the campaign and election.

My unsolicited advice to the President is “choose your cabinet members largely on competence not politics.” Politicians who do not have the level of competence that can help to dig Nigeria out of the hole in which it is now can be given board appointments or contracts as compensation for their contributions to the election project.

There are many competent Nigerians within the country and in the Diaspora. During the inauguration of President Tinubu, we noticed that a Nigerian lady, Ms Enoh Ebong, was a member of the American delegation. She is the daughter of Mr. Ime Ebong, one of the super permanent secretaries that Nigeria had in the 70s. She lives and works in the United States. In Europe and America there are many such highly qualified Nigerians in various fields within Nigeria who can make a difference if brought into government.

When I went to the United States for a training programme in 1977, I met a number of very highly qualified Nigerians in various fields. It was a work-study programme in which I had to work in two newspapers and also had to travel to several cities. During my stay there, I met a number of very well qualified Nigerians in various fields. One of them was a sickle cell anaemia expert. I also met another Nigerian at the Houston Space Centre. He was one of the scientists working on America’s space project. Another Nigerian that I met was a heart transplant surgeon. Now, there are many more high calibre Nigerians in various fields in America, Europe and Canada.

President Olusegun Obasanjo brought three of such people into his government and put them in strategic positions. I am referring to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ms Oby Ezekwesili and Professor Chukwuma Soludo. They made a difference to the achievements of the Obasanjo government. I am therefore asking Tinubu to set up a head-hunting team if he has not done so already. That team can identify Nigerians with extraordinary skills and achievements, who can be brought into the government to assist in the achievement of its goals.

A cabinet can make a lot of difference to the fortune of a country. If it is a rankadede cabinet it can make a very little positive impact. If it is a well informed and courageous cabinet it can make significant achievements. When there was an attack last year by terrorists on the Kaduna-Abuja train, there was a lot of public uproar, which gave the public the feeling that these trains are unsafe because there was no security component to them.

The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, told us that he had proposed a security arrangement, which was to be put together by one company but it was turned down by the Federal Executive Council. The response from the Federal Government was that the company he recommended was too young and too inexperienced for the job. That was why the proposal was shut down. So the baby was thrown away with the bath water.

Two things occurred to me (a) that only one company was put forward to compete with itself. That was irregular. Any contract, in my opinion, ought to be competed for by several companies from which a choice can be made (b) if the company put forward by Amaechi was not competent why wasn’t a competent company procured through a bidding process. That way the job would have been done and the calamity that occurred would have been averted.

So, I hold the Federal Executive Council guilty for the disaster that could have been averted if the right decision had been taken.

Tinubu has 60 days within which to form his cabinet. The National Assembly made that decision based on the fact that it took Buhari six months to appoint Ministers into his government. So now, Ministers and Commissioners must be appointed by the Federal Government and state governments respectively within the 60-day time frame. We hope that President Tinubu will do it differently from the immediate past government, which simply sent names without portfolios to the Senate for screening.

Portfolios were only assigned to the ministers after the screening. That meant that the Senators only had to ask general, trivial and inconsequential questions that had no relationship with the nominee’s portfolio since that was not known at the point of screening. Such questions as what was your grandmother’s name, what did you eat this morning for breakfast, do you and your wife sleep in one bed or separate beds were the type of inane questions that the senators had to ask the nominees. The other thing they did was to ask the nominees to sing the national anthem as if singing the national anthem was evidence of competence.

Apparently, they were thrilled by what came out of the nominees voices. They also had nominees that they did not interrogate at all. They simply asked them to take a bow. They bowed and went away with the job in their pockets. The public that has seen how appointees are grilled for weeks in America from where we borrowed the presidential system have often felt let down by their senators. We hope that Tinubu will attach portfolios to names so that the grilling can be focused on the appointee’s competence or lack of it.

In his selection of cabinet members, the President is required to observe federal character. This means that every state must be represented in the cabinet. The selection of appointees is done by either state governors or party chairmen or highly placed people within the ruling party. Sometimes, they are asked to submit three names from which one can be chosen. The President is under no obligation to choose from that list if he is not satisfied with the quality of persons recommended. He can pick someone from that state that meets his criteria for appointment.

In the past, some of the presidents had picked more than 37 ministers. That is unnecessary. Some of the presidents had chosen to be the substantive Minister in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. They therefore, only appointed Ministers of State who would report to them. This is unnecessary because the President already has a full plate of issues to deal with. Tinubu should not seek to be Minister of Petroleum Resources. He should appoint a competent minister to man that portfolio who will, like other ministers, report to him. That way the ministry can receive the full and undivided attention of a substantive minister now that we are in a financial bind.

One person per state and the Federal Capital Territory are adequate for the job since the President also intends to appoint 20 Special Advisers. In that case, we will not have junior ministers or Ministers of State as we had in the immediate past. There are two disadvantages with having a Minister of State (a) it is unfair to the state from which the Minister of State comes (b) there is often a lot of conflict on boundary issues between the two ministers.

Finally, as he has promised us, Tinubu should give us a cabinet of very competent people. That is what will make him succeed. Nigerians do not want to see recycled, tired, expired and exhausted politicians. They want to see fresh faces, who have the ideas that can make Nigeria to become not potentially great but actually great. Mr. President, surprise us by bringing on board people with exceptional talent. That is what Nigeria needs. That is what you need.

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