The Next Buhari Cabinet: Some Suggestions

Special Assistants and Special Assistants automatically expires on May 29, 2019. Whereas the President took six months to announce many of these appointments in 2015, the convention and the law is that those appointments are for a tenure of four-years – in line with the Chief Executive’s own tenure and once that tenure ends, the appointments, due to the effluxion of time, end automatically.

The only exceptions perhaps are the appointments to the headship of parastatals and agencies whose tenures are statutorily defined, and even in those cases, the President on whose behalf the occupiers of those positions exercise delegated authority can have their positions determined, with or without recourse to the National Assembly, strictly as may be stipulated by the enabling law. President Buhari himself has shown an awareness that one term of his government is coming to a close and that another is about to begin when last month, he called for hand-over notes.

There has been palpable anxiety in the corridors of government since he made that call. It is noteworthy that President Muhammadu Buhari has been perhaps the only Nigerian President since 1999 who has not shown a willingness to change his team mid-stream. Everyone who has worked with President Buhari has enjoyed a relative security of tenure. Whereas other Presidents before him- Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan -found cause to fire some aides – Ministers and assistants and appoint new ones, either mid-term or along the way, President Buhari has carried on more or less like a father-figure who cannot disown any of the children he gave birth to in 2015, even if many of them have behaved very badly or proved to be utterly incompetent and/or ungrateful. While such an attitude may be good in a family, private context, it may not be the best in a national, public context.

The few Ministers who left the cabinet did so because of their own political ambition (Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Aisha Alhassan,  Khadija Bukar Ibrahim), or because of scandals that they could not live down (Kemi Adeosun is the obvious example here) or death ( James Ocholi) or another job (Ibrahim Jubril, Amina Mohammed). The body language from President Muhammadu Buhari is that left to him, he would have retained these Ministers, if he could. It must be noted that even heads of agencies who are undergoing trials in courts, under the Buhari government are still sitting pretty in their positions. The President is unaware, it seems, that such officers should be asked to step aside until their guilt or innocence is established. It was convenient to do so in the case of the ancienChief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen, but someone obviously overlooked the same principle in other cases.

These contradictions in terms of avowals and actual reality that dog the Buhari government in virtually every respect has understandably made the appointment of new aides, a major issue of public discourse. No President can do the job alone. Governance is team work.  The Constitution gives the President the latitude to choose his own team. The Nigerian Constitution practically makes the Nigerian President a monarch with the powers to hire and fire, exercising near-divine powers that in many ways compromise democracy. This is one of the reasons why a return to Westminster-type parliamentary rule may well in the long run be the best option for Nigeria. For now, it seems clear that the people who surround a sitting President, the people who work with him or for him, can make all the difference when he is in power and office and when the bubble eventually bursts and he is out of the impregnable fortress of Aso Rock. It is for this reason that questions are now being asked: Who should make the President’s next cabinet? Should the President retain his present team or disband it altogether? What should be the criteria for retaining or dismissing the cabinet members? Should the President keep his entire team, or send some of them adrift? What kind of cabinet would Nigerians love to see after May 29, 2019?

Two recent developments have made these questions pertinent.  In the past few days, President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded the name of the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele to the National Assembly for re-nomination and confirmation for a second and final term in office as CBN Governor. This has elicited mixed reactions. There are persons who believe that Emefiele has been donated a second term as CBN Governor because of his closeness to Aso Rock, his political astuteness (romancing the powers-that-be), including even going to the Mosque with the President, and pretending to know the Muslim way of worship. There are also those who argue that Emefiele deserves his re-appointment because he has been a major pillar of stability in managing Nigeria’s economic crisis, combining his monetary policy responsibilities with the fiscal side of things that should ordinarily be other people’s responsibility.

The CBN under his watch also introduced policies that helped to guide Nigeria through recession, create a special window for local and foreign investors, incentives for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, farmers and the creative industry, astute management of the interest rate and lending regimes and a positive determination to sustain Nigeria’s economic growth recovery agenda. It is my firm belief that by retaining Emefiele, who was originally appointed by the Jonathan administration in 2014, President Buhari has in this instance, risen above emotionalism to opt for stability, merit and continuity. Local and international investors and other stakeholders are easily disoriented by unpredictable change which increases risk calculations. The re-nomination of Emefiele will give them confidence to the extent that future risks and direction of Nigeria’s monetary policy are at the moment predictable.

The second development is the appointment of Ms Abike Dabiri-Erewa as Chairperson of theDiaspora Commission. While Emefiele’s re-appointment speaks to continuity, merit and stability, Dabiri-Erewa’s appointment is a reward for hardwork and loyalty, and it is well-deserved. Appointed Special Assistant to the President on the Diaspora, Abike-Dabiri has shown commitment and dedication beyond the call of duty. She has been very hardworking in monitoring and defending the interest of Nigerians in diaspora. Her commitment is unmistakable. Her passion is remarkable. Her courage is commendable. Wherever any Nigerian in the diaspora found himself or herself in distress, Ms. Dabiri-Erewa reached out on behalf of the Nigerian Government. She became so effective her detractors began to grumble that she was upstaging the Minister of Foreign Affairs. My view is that she probably would have been a better choice as Minister of Foreign Affairs, but the DiasporaCommission being her baby and passion, she is probably better off as the pioneer Head of that Commission, which is obviously a sound demonstration of government’s awareness of the strategic importance of Nigeria’s Diaspora community.

If these two foregoing appointments may be taken as indicators of what may happen after May 29, we can comfortably say that President Buhari may have at the back of his mind: merit, competence, continuity, stability, reward for hardwork and loyalty, albeit not necessarily in that order. But what do Nigerians expect? They expect from our own reading that President Buhari would not take another six months to constitute another team. He will do himself a lot of favour if on the morning of May 30, 2019, or even on the 29th, he announces a new team. Doing so will send a signal that he means business, and that he has learnt some lessons since 2015. Nigerians also expect him to show more independence by doing away with the so-called cabal that has held him hostage since 2015. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been going about boasting that only loyal party members will be rewarded and that only the APC will govern Nigeria. That of course is a stupid proposition. President Buhari must project himself as a man who is willing to unite Nigeria across party, ethnic, religious and geographical lines. The hawks in his party should not draw up his appointment list. He must be guided by the principle of inclusion, not the desperation of party leaders who see electoral success as a ticket for parasitism and vendetta. The general elections of 2015 inflicted many wounds on Nigeria, the extent of which has not yet been fully studied. President Buhari can through the choices he makes, going forward, heal some of those wounds.

Mr. Eric Teniola, a veteran journalist, and a former Director in the Presidency, wrote in April, that since independence Nigerian Heads of State and Presidents who have had a second term, have tended to retain just about 8% of their original cabinets. He raised a poser about what President Buhari is likely to do in his second term without necessarily offering suggestions. Most recently, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, SAN also argued and he has not refuted this, that a tenure of four years is too short for a Minister to make a difference. That has been interpreted as an attempt by Fashola to lobby for re-appointment, more so as he is the Superior minister of the Buhari cabinet, holding three portfolios: Works, Power and Housing, each of the Ministries so tragically embattled at the moment.

But what do I think? I think the cabinet that Buhari has worked with so far is the worst that Nigeria has had since 1999 and I am just being charitable, saying this. Not even under Sani Abacha did we have such a terrible mix. In a country of extremely talented and resourceful persons, the Buhari cabinet, 2015 -2019 is a scandal. Obviously, after the 2015 elections, President Buhari was under pressure to settle IOUs and give jobs to the boys who helped him to fulfil his dream. So, from every part of Nigeria, they gave him the boys to do the job and he too picked some prominent hangers-on and long-time loyalists. You can’t run a good government by recruiting family members, ethnic bigots, party financiers and a bunch of clueless politicians. President Buhari must not repeat that mistake, whatever the pressure. He should ask for CVs, conduct interviews by himself alone, and he must reverse this trend of sending names to the National Assembly without portfolios, and avoid the error of appointing dead persons! Whoever is going to appear before the Senate as Ministerial nominee must also have a portfolio attached to his name. It is a bad thing to have a Minister presiding over a portfolio over which he is ill-suited.

Mr. Teniola talks about 8%. Fashola talks about continuity. President Buhari should sack more than 80% of his team, all the way down the line. They have not served him well with their open and embarrassing display of lack of colour, grace and competence. For a start, all the Ministers of State should be fired and changed. They cannot plead that they are mere spare tyres. It is their lack of initiative and ambition that has turned them into spare tyres. Heads of agencies and parastatals should not be allowed to hang on to the myth that they are occupying tenured positions. The President is constitutionally empowered to fire any one when he is tired of their services. Many of them should be sent home and that includes the horde of special assistants and advisers doing nothing, occupying space and often causing problems. President Buhari should ignore any and every list from the party secretariat. APC party leaders are busy with their own private agenda.

But despite the concern that we have expressed, there are definitely persons in President Buhari’s team that he can still work with, who in our estimation can add value, and who can be part of Teniola’s 8%. Okechukwu Enelamah should make the list. He is the current Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry. I saw him the other day in April at the Arise Fashion Week event where he was a a panelist at one of the sessions on fashion and export promotion. His sterling performance linking government policy to SME performance and articulating the forward-looking policies of the Buhari government made me to take a second look at his record. I was particularly pleased with his passion for tourism, export promotion, his synergy with Segun Awolowo, the Head of the Export Promotion Council, and his faith in the gains of a diversification of the Nigerian economy.  I checked him out. There are people like him around President Buhari who are often overlooked because they don’t know how to make noise or show up sycophantically at the mosque. Under Enelamah’s watch, Nigeria’s ease of doing business ranking has improved, and he has sustained the legacies of his predecessor in that office – Olusegun Aganga – and has also decently refrained from playing politics with plain-sight progressive ideas. I recommend him.

I also recommend Babatunde Fashola, SAN. He deserves to be retained not because he has tactically lobbied for it but because he is a man of discipline and talent. President Buhari overburdened him by giving him three Ministries. I don’t think Fashola can easily multi-task. He is a focused personality. President Buhari should play to his strength by giving him a single assignment. I believe he will deliver. I also recommend the Minister of the FCT. He may not be very good at using the media to project himself, but he has nonetheless proven to be a very good manager of the country’s Federal Capital. Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma is a very competent man but he is in the wrong Ministry. President Buhari can try him elsewhere, in a position best suited to his talents. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu has done an excellent job. He should be retained. Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development should be given a high national honour and advised to retire. Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information has outlived his usefulness, like Chris Ngige and Rotimi Amaechi. Professor Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Health, like Okechukwu Enelamah, also still has a lot to deliver. Who else is in this their government…?

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