One of the popular myths around Bola Tinubu, stemming from his time as governor of Lagos State, was that he had an uncanny ability to pick competent teams of technocrats to run the affairs of state. Thus, some genuinely wanted him to be president and “run Nigeria as he ran Lagos.” But since he became president, the superstar myths around him have busted, and the carapace of ingenuity have cracked. For not only has Tinubu muddled through policy after policy, the famed gift for talent-spotting gravely deserted him. Recently, he unveiled a middling cast of ministers, characterised by two fundamental flaws.
First, Tinubu will have the largest cabinet in Nigeria’s political history. With 48 ministers and 20 special advisers and senior special assistants, each having cabinet-level status, Tinubu’s cabinet will be the most bloated and unwieldy of any past president. Second, he will be the most prebendal president in Nigeria’s history, doling out official positions to political allies and cronies. Of course, politics and governance in Nigeria have always been based on patronage and clientage networks, as Richard Joseph points out in his book Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria. But Tinubu has taken prebendalism, defined as granting public offices as political rewards, to dizzying heights.
At a time when poverty ravages and immiserates Nigerians, when the cost of governance cripples the economy, Tinubu carves out a harvest field for political jobbers without any inhibitions. Rather, as he often does, he blithely explains everything away. Recently, Tinubu told leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) that the size of his cabinet should be seen as a means of job creation. As Joe Ajaero, the NLC president, narrated the encounter, Tinubu said: “Many people are getting employment, and we should not see it as over bloated.” But were the appointees jobless? And why are the “many people getting employment” his loyalists and cronies?
Put simply, Tinubu’s incoming ministers fall into three broad categories. In the first category are those he rewarded for facilitating his emergence as his party’s presidential candidate and for rigging or winning votes to make him president. In the second category are election losers who Tinubu gives a political platform to consolidate and try again. Lastly, in the third category: Tinubu’s long standing political cronies in Lagos State and nationally.
You will notice that I did not mention technocrats. That’s because, truth be told, there’s no real technocrat in Tinubu’s incoming cabinet. Really? What about those bandied about as technocrats among his incoming ministers? The truth is, they are not genuine technocrats!
Well, let’s discuss that point. Who is a technocrat? The Oxford Dictionary defines a technocrat as someone “who advocates and practises technocracy”, and “technocracy” is “the use of technical expertise to run the affairs of state to further the common good.” Technocrats in government, who assume positions of political responsibility, are like consultants brought in, based on their expertise, to transform an organisation.
Of course, such technocrats must have political skills, namely, they must be able to persuade others to adopt policies they judge are needed to further the general good. But they cannot be politicians, because being a technocrat and being a politician are incompatible. Why? Well, technocracy can’t work under the crude rules of politics: lies, dishonesty, intrigues, round-the-clock politicking. Yet, most of Tinubu’s “technocrats” are practising politicians.
Take Adebayo Adelabu, a former deputy-governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He’s an obvious technocrat. But he was APC’s gubernatorial candidate in Oyo State in 2019. After losing the APC governorship primaries last year, he decamped to the Accord Party and ran unsuccessfully for governorship again this year. Now, Tinubu has made Adelabu a minister, but he still wants to be governor of Oyo State. Fine, but if he’s a minister over the next four years, he would juggle the demands of his ministerial job with politicking to build and strengthen his political support in Oyo State. That’s not technocracy!
To gain some legitimacy, he should have formed a credible cabinet drawn from Nigeria’s best and brightest. Instead, he opted for deplorable politicians, fawning cronies and co-opted or politically-ambitious “technocrats”
The same goes for all the politically-ambitious “technocrats” in Tinubu’s incoming cabinet, including former Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, who lost his re-election bid in 2022 but wants to run again in 2026. Truth is, politically-ambitious technocrats won’t focus whole-heartedly on actual governing and policy-making; rather, they would be distracted by political considerations. So, as the definition of technocrats goes, they are not technocrats!
Even those “technocrats” without political ambitions are too personally close to Tinubu to be true technocrats. When technocracy and personal loyalty to Tinubu clash, they will bow to the latter; for them, politics will always trump technocracy.
In her book, ‘Reforming the Unreformable’, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wrote that barely two weeks into being President Obasanjo’s finance minister in 2003, she tendered her letter of resignation because of a certain decision that Obasanjo took. She was later persuaded to withdraw the letter. In India, technocrats invited from the World Bank or the IMF to head the country’s ministry of finance, or central bank, often left when they felt that technocracy was being sacrificed on the altar of politics. That’s the test of genuine technocrats.
But how many of Tinubu’s “technocrats” can put technocratic integrity above personal interests or political loyalty? Moreover, Okonjo-Iweala was headhunted, brought into government from the World Bank specifically because of her technocracy. And if you read her two books that captured her experiences in government – ‘Reforming the Unreformable’ and ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous’ – you’ll see that she didn’t view her role as being obsequious to a president but as advocating and practising technocracy. But virtually all the “technocrats” in Tinubu’s incoming cabinet are part of his echo chamber, his bubble!
Which brings us to the political rewardees. Truth is, Tinubu is indebted to many benefactors: from Nasir El-Rufai and his then fellow Northern APC governors who torpedoed the party’s plan to impose a consensus presidential candidate, which would have scuppered Tinubu’s bid, to the presidential aspirants who stepped down for him during the primaries, creating a momentum that led to his success. As for the presidential election, Tinubu owed those who rigged votes, won votes, or played other roles for his “victory”, a matter currently before the presidential election tribunal, ultimately heading to the Supreme Court.
Well, Tinubu has now rewarded most of the power brokers with ministerial or other senior political positions, including the appalling Godswill Akpabio, who Tinubu pushed to become the Senate President, but who is demeaning the office with his verbal incontinence. There are nine former governors in Tinubu’s incoming cabinet. In its commendable investigative journalism, Premium Times has shown how utterly deplorable and undeserving most of the former governors are, with many facing serious corruption allegations and one notorious for being an accomplice to the massive looting by Sani Abacha, the brutal military dictator.
Then, there’s El-Rufai, the driving force behind Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket, introduced to serve personal and political agendas, with utter disregard for the age-long consensus to maintain a balance between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria. Recently, El-Rufai called for Islamic domination of governance in Nigeria, saying Muslims had the numbers. The Senate screening committee has withheld his confirmation over security concerns, but Tinubu will ensure he’s confirmed as he did for Festus Keyamo. Given their toxic politics, nothing qualifies El-Rufai and Keyamo as ministers beyond their “contribution” to Tinubu’s “victory”.
Truth is, with just 8.8million votes in a country of 213million people, and rejected by 15million voters, Tinubu has a weak mandate and tenuous legitimacy. To gain some legitimacy, he should have formed a credible cabinet drawn from Nigeria’s best and brightest. Instead, he opted for deplorable politicians, fawning cronies and co-opted or politically-ambitious “technocrats”. They can’t serve Nigeria well!