It is now 42 days since Muhammadu Buhari was declared re-elected as president for another term of four years by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), following an election that tested all the fissures that hold Nigeria together, but the president is yet to name a cabinet.
To be clear, the constitution from which the president derives executive powers obligates him to govern with the aid of ministers. This compares poorly with countries like South Africa, India and others whose presidents had their cabinet merely days after being inaugurated.
The president operates as if this were a feudal system where a liege lord with many vassals serving at his pleasure, gives him the freedom to operate at a pace in sync with his whims. To truly understand Nigeria’s warped democratic system, policy directives are now issued by Permanent Secretaries whose remit is to implement them. This gives them room to smuggle in strange directives, frame policy to suit their whims and allow them to run circles around a new but inexperienced minister when he is appointed.
Recently, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing issued far-reaching policy directives to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company Plc (NBET) and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) which clearly were directives only a minister could issue. Operators say the directives have no force because it violates the Electricity Sector Power Reform Act 2005, which gives the minister the power to make rules.
This inability to choose a cabinet comes at a huge cost to the economy. Since the beginning of the year, stocks are down 6.5 percent on average and the stock market is reeling. Policy inconsistency festers, the public sector which is unwieldy and unproductive lose focus and foreign investors without ministers to interface with and secure assurances on the security of their investments, stay away. This partly explains why Ghana is attracting more foreign direct investments than Nigeria.
Some foreign government agencies and development finance institutions are not engaging with the government over a lack of ministers and this imperils their plans. This fuels the perception that Nigeria is unserious.
The Nigerian government cannot afford to keep operating with a cavalier attitude and an entitlement mentality as if the world owes it something. Capital, investments, and talent move to serious economies. We spend an inordinate amount of time making routine decisions. We took forever to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, waste so much time contemplating whether to sign bills into law and respond to foreign policy issues too late.
A president’s cabinet typically consists of reformers, accomplished people in various sectors of the economy from whom the president leverages on their skill, experience, and contacts to achieve his vision. Despite his character flaws, the American president Donald Trump has built a stronger economy because his cabinet was full of competent people. But in the feudal republic of Nigeria, the courtiers would rather be mediocre than it be said they had more colour than their Lord.
The feudal tendency of the president has permeated the states hence governors who spent months campaigning for office cannot name a cabinet to assist them to implement policies they gleefully announced. Babajide Sanwo Olu, for example, sat on many panels in Lagos discussing policy and governance, attended a programme at Harvard before inauguration yet failed at the most basic task of naming a cabinet though he governs a state with an economy larger than two-thirds of the states in Nigeria.
Last month, there were protests in Kaduna and Abuja over the re-appointment of Abba Kyari as chief of staff to the president, an indication of the emerging power struggle among Buhari’s courtiers who seem to be chosen not on the basis of aptitude but how convincing they can further the argument about the ‘emperor’s new cloth.’
Starved of a robust debate on policies including the chant to lift 100 million people out of poverty, the consequence is an economy in tatters while a riotous band of paid sycophants celebrates on social media the president’s ability to use the latrine unaided as a landmark achievement, while he mortgages the future of a generation. Nigerians must realise that the world will move on with or without it; it must get serious or watch the country go the way of Venezuela.