To Buhari on ministers, other issues
Firstly, while people are anxious about the unveiling of members of your cabinet, there is great wisdom in making haste a bit slowly so that the outcome will be beneficial to the needs of the economy, the polity and to the success of your administration.
For key portfolios, I believe the major considerations should be quality, integrity and international experience or exposure. These key portfolios include Finance, Petroleum Resources, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Works, Agriculture, Health, Education and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), under which Communications Technology should be subsumed. Without playing down the importance of other ministries or departments, each of these line ministries is very critical to turning around the fortunes of the Nigerian economy.
The Minister of Finance remains preeminent. The immediate past Minister of Finance did a good job in the face of many obvious challenges. Except her performance was found wanting based on incontrovertible evidence, your Administration needs to cultivate her goodwill as a patriotic Nigerian of foremost international pedigree in her chosen field. The choice of whoever becomes the Minister of Petroleum Resources is critical to resolving the myriad of challenges in the oil and gas industry.
You should avoid the temptation to micromanage this vital sector of the economy. It is a huge assignment that will take away a sizeable chunk of your executive time as President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. If you double as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, you will not have enough time for urgent issues of national importance, including national security and the unfinished business of ending the insurgency and terrorism in the North East, the war against corruption, the power sector, the agricultural sector and the challenge of diversifying and turning around the economy.
The Nigerian oil and gas industry today is much larger and more complex than it was during the short time you served in 1976 as the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources, including the time you served as the Chairman of the Board of the then newly created Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) between 1976 and 1978.
Our refining capacity was very small then; we did not have a gas sector, with a massive gas industrialization plan; we did not have liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants; we did not have a behemoth then like the current NNPC; perceived corruption in the corporation was not of such great public concern; the huge problem with fuel subsidy did not exist, and the current challenge, where for the first time we do not seem to have an assured market for our crude oil exports did not exist then, among other thorny issues in the oil and gas sector. These issues require a full-time minister with the relevant industry background and leadership skills to attend to.
How will you cope with the oversight function of the National Assembly over the Ministry of Petroleum Resources? Will you attend those briefing sessions and public hearings and be drilled by the lawmakers? Will you find the time to attend those oil and gas conferences and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meetings in Vienna, which the Minister of Petroleum Resources has to attend in person?
Whoever you make the minister of education or science, technology and innovation and even health should not be merely an academic, certainly not an ‘egghead,’ but a change-agent and leader-manager at the cutting edge of innovation. Being a professor should only be an added advantage. For the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, you may need to extend your search to the Silicon Valley in California, the United States.
The foreign ministry portfolio is one Nigeria needs to take a great deal more seriously than we have done in recent times. Since the ouset of the current democratic era in 1999, Nigeria has only had a few foreign affairs ministers of note – hardly countable! Between 1999 and 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo literally annexed the foreign affairs portfolio, due to his extensive international connections and his intermittent travels.
Given Nigeria’s rising international profile as the most important country in Africa and the 21st largest economy in the world, we need a virile foreign policy driven by an equally virile and highly skilled international diplomat of great reckoning and global respect.
Nigeria has not had a sensible, credible and recognisable foreign policy framework in the last decade or so. With a few exceptions, we have literally vanished from the radar of foreign policy reckoning and positioning, both in Africa and the world; our current role in the United Nations Security Council being an exception and a reprieve. This needs to change. You need someone with combination of the dynamism and charisma of the late General Joe Garba and the intellectual depth and strategic focus of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.
On agriculture, the last minister brought a bit of fresh air to that sector. One of his greatest achievements apart from empowering farmers with technology was the introduction of dry season farming especially for rice and then of course rebranding agriculture as a business. We need a passionate revolutionary who can continue from where he left off.
The recent rise in the number of security agencies which by and large perform overlapping functions is of concern to not a few Nigerians and it should be of concern to you, too. There will be a need for a strategic reassessment of the national civil security architecture in a way that more effectively delivers the expected result. The position of the Nigeria Police Force in ensuring internal security and law and order should be preeminent and unassailable.
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) was one of the organs, in my estimation, that contributed to the travails of the Goodluck Jonathan regime and helped to undermine a cohesive direction in macroeconomic policy and economic planning. The penchant of the NGF for the sharing of the Excess Crude Account and their stand against the Sovereign Wealth Fund, financial instrumentalities meant to encourage saving for the rainy day put us where we are today. The governors need to be encouraged to return the NGF to what it was initially meant to be – an informal forum or platform which the governors could use to compare notes (peer review), promote national unity and develop common positions on issues of national interest. As an extra-constitutional entity, at no time should its activities be seen as constituting a parallel government in the remotest sense to the government at the centre.
Similarly, the concept, structures and activities of the Northern Governors’ Forum should be completely re-examined. As we deepen our democracy and build stronger sinews of national unity, there should be no place for the Northern Governors’ Forum. The very existence and activities of the Forum negate the unity of this country and reinforce the existing fault lines between Northern and Southern Nigeria. The Forum has failed, as a collective of all Northern Nigeria governors, to proffer solutions to the greatest socio-political challenge Northern Nigeria has faced in recent times, which is the insurgency in the North-Eastern Nigeria.
Northern states should emulate their Southern states counterparts by forming governors’ fora based on geopolitical zones, which will then focus on regional development plans and cooperation programmes. One state governor you should cultivate as a key ally and adviser on many issues of national importance is Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, who has demonstrated statesmanship, candour and courage to address issues which his predecessors could not address.
• Igbinoba is a Lagos-based economist and business consultant.