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Ministerial screening: 9th Senate and early signs of underperformance

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President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria

Notwithstanding the badge of possible mediocrity with which a lot of commentators have pinned on President Muhammadu Buhari´s list of expected Next Level ministers, the fawning patronage by the Ninth Senate, which came on board with many expectations, seems to dash any hopes of improved mandate delivery in the next four years.

Dissecting the names on the list of cabinet nominees shows that political considerations, especially the President´s 2023 succession plan, must have informed the choice of fresh nominees and returnees, as well as the decision to offload some of his first term ministers.

While there are former ministers that brought their calamity upon themselves, there are others who were sacrificed for political expediency and situation in their states of origin.

Take the case of Delta State for instance. While some Buhari insiders rationalise the choice of outspoken Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Festus Keyamo over the restrained former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on the grounds that Delta North produced the incumbent governor, it is clear that Delta Central from where Keyamo hails contributed more votes to All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari than Kachikwu´s north.

There are small talks about a possible international assignment for the former minister of state, but such grapevine information do not hold the force of certitude, because even prior to the May 22 valedictory session with the former cabinet members, Presidency sources had hinted on the likelihood of the ministerial position for the petroleum resources ministry moving away from Delta.

But upon those claims, the fact of Kachikwu´s perceived extreme technocratic inclination and independent-mindedness, which culminated in the spat with the immediate past Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru, through a leaked memo, must have disposed the taciturn President towards offloading ‘mai dogo turenchi’ (Mr. Big Grammar).

In South-south, where Usani Uguru Usani, the former minister of Niger Delta, sidestepped his mandate to delve into the state politics, it was not easy for President Buhari to abandon the boisterous uncommon political demagogue, Senator Godswill Akpabio, for the 2023 battle ahead.

But, of the 31 fresh nominees and 12 returning ministers, there are five notable former names, which helped to confer the label of contempt and lackluster on President Buhari´s first term.

Based on the list of nominees undergoing screening and possible clearance at the Senate, only one of those five controversial former ministers made it back, for the very fact of political considerations in their home states.
Foggy Former Five

• Solomon Dalung: Gambling Sportsman
Incessant squabbles and controversial spats with sports administrators defined Dalung´s time at the Sports ministry. First of those contentious moments was the infraction with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), when he helped to exacerbate the leadership crisis between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa, which if not for presidential intervention would have earned Nigeria a ban from the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA).

Dalung encouraged parallel leadership in most sports federation, particularly the matter of Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBF) and the failure of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria to explain the status of $130, 000 erroneous lodgment in its bank account. He was not a performer.

Adebayo Shittu: Artful Dodger
The ruling party holds the former minister of Communications responsible for its loss of Oyo State to the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

While he wrestled with the immediate past state governor, Senator Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi, Shittu was found to have evaded the one-year compulsory service for young graduates of tertiary institutions.

He fell out with the party and lost the APC governorship ticket for the March 9, election, even as he was accused of working against the party in the general election.

Chris Ngige: Cantankerous Pugilist
IT is not clear whether President Buhari wants the diminutive former governor of Anambra State to serve as either minister of Health or Works, but in the past dispensation Ngige sparked national outrage when he said the country has many medical doctors such that those who decide to travel could do so without disrupting the nation´s healthcare system.

The former Minister of Labour and Employment also caused a stir when he engaged the National Labour Congress (NLC) over his refusal to inaugurate the board of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).

Even during the contentious issue of negotiating with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Ngige toed a hardline posture, talking brash and tough.

It could not be easily ascertained whether he was echoing President on the wage raise issue from N18, 000 to N30, 000 per month, but to the surprise of many, Ngige made it back. How far the inputs of Kaduna State governor, Ahmad El Rufai, helped him come back is yet to be evaluated.

Adamu Adamu: Portfolio Mismatch
Nothing drove home the fact of the mismatch in the Education portfolio allotted to Adamu than subordinating a former University Vice-Chancellor under the former journalist, whose training was devoid of education bias.

That may also explain why Nigerian students lost close to four-months´ academic work due to the ASUU strike under Adamu´s watch. He was later to express his regret that his ministry could not reduce the number of out of school children under his watch as a minister.

Isaac Adewole: Psychedelic Medic
Many Nigerians were outraged when Dr. Adewole, just like his medical doctor colleague, Ngige, announced on national television that not everyone that trained as a medical doctor should practice the profession.

At the height of the Resident Doctors´ strike, which crippled activities in most public hospitals, the former minister advocated that some of the medical doctors could change to farming or any other vocation. He was also enmeshed in the NHIS board debacle.

Burdened By Failure
Apart from the five contentious former ministers, there are those who bore the baggage of President Buhari´s poor performance in the security sector.

Prominent among the 20 former ministers that failed to get the President´s nod for another term in the federal cabinet, is Mansur Dan Ali and Lt. General Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd), ministers of defense and interior respectively.

Prior to the open ‘shoeshine’ episode involving an operative of National Security and Civil Defense Corps, Lt. Gen. Dambazau´s term as minister of Interior, had come under public censure after some federal prisons encountered attempted and successful jailbreaks.

The former Minister of Interior was also said to be waging a subtle supremacy battle with the minister of Defence, Dan Ali, following claims by sources that the Kano-born retired general craved the defense portfolio shortly after President Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015.

On his part, Dan Ali did not fail to position President Buhari on the path of infamy through the cycle of security letdowns in the country, especially the herdsmen versus farmers’ crises that culminated in the Benue massacre of January 2018, which the Defence minister described as mere communal clashes.

However, the banditry and cross border attacks and cattle rustling in the northwest geopolitical zone from which he hails as the President put a big hole on Mansur Dan Ali´s competence as a defense minister.

Senator Udo Udoma, who served as Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, alongside his former colleague on Trade and Commerce, Okechukwu Enemalah, is believed to have lost the opportunity to return to the federal cabinet due to ongoing investigations.

THE defining feature of Buhari´s first term was the endless supremacy battle between the Presidency and the National Assembly led by Dr. Bukola Saraki.

By nominating Senator Gbemi Saraki, who may be on her way to replacing Mama Taraba as Minister of Women Affairs, seems the President´s way of having a laugh on the immediate past Senate President, who joined the opposition PDP at the twilight of the administration.

Senator George Akume, who lost his return bid to the Senate, where the position of Majority leader was being reserved for him, had to supplant the immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, who pissed on Benue grass by pushing the failed RUGA initiative.

Senator Adeleke Mammora and Emeka Nwajiuba, are also seen from that perspective. While Mammora emerged as the alternative to immediate past Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, Nwajiuba, an old Buharist, was chosen to spite Senators Rochas Okorocha and Hope Uzodimma, both who hail from Orlu zone and fought the acrimonious political battle that robbed APC of Imo State.

Other nominees that benefitted from the Presidency´s payback politics include, Tayo Alasoadura and Sunday Dare. Dare, a well-heeled professional and loyal acolyte of former Lagos governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, were propped to rub in the electoral mishap in Oyo and Ondo, which the Presidency blames on Senator Ajimobi and Governor Rotimi Akeredolu respectively.

The choice of former Bayelsa governor, Timipre Sylva, has been readily attributed to the attempt by APC stalwarts to excuse him from the forthcoming gubernatorial election in the state. Those who propped Sylva up believe that the ministerial opening is the best way to ensure a peaceful governorship primary, such that should he insist on contesting the gubernatorial again, he would be left on designs and at the mercy of permanent political holiday.
Sedate Ninth Senate

PRESIDENT Buhari´s two-months´ delay in nominating his ministers, most of whom are regular faces in the APC presidential campaign left a dark patch on the ninth Senate.

Torn between a self-imposed caution against underscoring the Presidents’ lethargic approach as a sign of ineptitude and desire to maintain the National Assembly’s legislative calendar, the Senate hurried into the public perception as a rubber stamp legislature tied to Buhari’s flowing gown.

Being about its first big national assignment, the 9th Senate bungled what many considered a golden opportunity to help the Presidency select competent Nigerians to deliver the goods.

Most observers condemn the hurried screening of the nominees saying that the potential ministers were not given ample opportunity to express themselves and convince Nigerians that they are prepared to make a difference in the socio-economic situation of the country.

The Senate did not make any fuss about the blind list sent to it, which did not specify which portfolios the nominees were being shortlisted for, thereby buttressing the perception in many quarters that the Senate is an ‘aye’ Senate.

Having adopted the unquestioning approach in the performance of its crucial oversight function, the 9th Senate has failed to be a torchbearer and linesman of the government.

There are indications that the incoming ministers are to serve tentatively for just the first one year, but if the starting lineup is awash with political considerations, the succeeding cabinet could be worse given that by the time they come on board the wind of 2023 election cycle would have begun to blow.

And with a sedate Senate, good governance might be long in coming and the much talked about Next Level may end up on a base level.


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