One of the areas that attracted severe criticism to President Muhammadu Buhari in his first term ending May 29 was the late constitution of his cabinet. Smarting from the aroma of victory in 2015, the President was quoted as saying that he did not need ministers, who were “noise makers” but would prefer to work with civil servants.
Close to three months after his inauguration, Buhari had travelled to France, where he spoke exclusively to a local television, France 24 tv Francois Picard.
When specifically asked if the absence of a Finance minister was affecting the Nigerian capital market and economy, he said: “It is what we know- and which we learnt from the western system. The civil service provides the continuity, the technocrat. And in any case, they are those that do most of the work. The ministers are there, I think, to make a lot of noise; for the politicians to make a lot of noise. But the work is being done by the technocrats. They are there; they have to provide the continuity, dig into the records and then guide us (those of us) who are just coming in”, he said, adding, “…I think this question of ministers is political. People from different constituencies want to see their people directly in government, and see what they can get out of it.”
When he eventually decided to appoint ministers, it came six months after the inauguration of his administration, a delay many people believed was a false start in an economy that needed urgent attention. The lost ground was never recovered. That Nigeria slipped into recession was also blamed on that delay.
The appointment also did not excite many Nigerians as most of those that made the list were not the quality of heads and brains that were expected to do the kind of magic the people had wanted to see.
Calls for cabinet reshuffle never struck a chord with President Buhari. There had been legions of speculations that the President was going to drop some ministers but they never came to pass.
The consensus opinion in the polity is that most of the ministers were there just to fulfil all righteousness as there were no signs of input in the government.
Some analysts have however, said that the problem of non-performance should not be blamed on the ministers as most of the ministers are allegedly unhappy at the way things are going in the government.
A credible source told BDSUNDAY that it is the system rather than the ministers that should be blamed for the seemingly non-performance of members of the cabinet.
“I can tell you for free that a number of the ministers are so dissatisfied with the state of things that they are eagerly waiting for the end of the term. I can tell you for free that many of them do not get to see the President one-on-one to discuss ideas, no matter how noble such ideas are. And they don’t dare implement anything without approval. So, people may think that all the ministers are in the same basket- without ideas. No, I tell you even those with brilliant ideas don’t get to implement them,” a source who claimed to be close to the corridors of power said.
The source also claimed that, “Things were so bad that even before the elections, a number of them wanted to resign, but you know here is Nigeria. People never resign in government no matter how frustrating things are, except they are being pressured to resign. There are layers of reporting. That you are a minister does not give you the unfettered access to the President. So, our ministers go through some powerful cabal, who have the ears of the President. They present to him only what they want him to hear and not what he should hear. That is the problem that we are in. I am not sure that pattern will change in the next term.”
According to the source, “We have a number of ministers in the cabinet that are hotheads; people with a track record of good performance. But it appears they have been incapacitated in the last four years. They have been trying their best, but you know, a drop of water cannot make an ocean. Nigeria’s myriad of problems needs a radical approach. I wish something better will happen this time around, in terms of appointment and openness.”
Another issue that is agitating the minds of many Nigerians is the readiness of the President to shake off the cloak of nepotism that characterised his ministerial appointment in the first term.
Timothy Ayuk, a Lagos-based education consultant, urged President Buhari to avoid the huge mistake he made in his appointment last time.
“There were some obvious mistakes in the appointment last time, which unfortunately the President refused to correct despite all the hue and cry. For instance, his decision to assign two big and most important ministries to one person. I am talking about the Ministries of Works and Housing, and Power to Babatunde Fashola. There is no doubting the fact that the former governor immensely contributed hugely to Buhari’s electoral victory in 2015, and there is also no doubt that Fashola is a good hand to handle a ministerial job, but saddling him with the two ministries was ill-advised,” Ayuk said.
He also said that had the ministries been split and assigned to another person, Nigerians may have benefitted better.
“In the real sense of the word, there are three ministries that Fashola is handling. Housing is a full-fledged ministry that demands all the attention that government should give it, considering the housing deficit in the country. Had these ministries being split and some parts given to another person, Nigerians would have been well-served. Fashola has done well, but he could have done better if he did not have so much encumbrances,” he further said.
Ayuk urged President Buhari to avoid such costly mistakes this time around.
“If we must really get to the ‘next level’, the President must get it right from the constitution of his cabinet- not only the personnel, but also he must be time-conscious. The delay of 2015 should not be repeated this time around. He must hit the ground running,” he said.
Recall that the decision of the President to sideline some sections of the country in the allocation of important portfolios attracted and have continued to attract criticisms.
Already, some party members have begun to tell the President to re-enact the lopsidedness in appointment that put the government and the party in bad light, but some pundits say that would be an undoing of the President and his party.
On the contrary, they have advised the President tobroaden the base of appointment, choose those that can deliver and be ready to give them free hand to do their job.
Celestine Etim, a public affairs analyst, told BDSUNDAY advised that 97-5percent sharing formula used in 2015 in the appointment should be discarded in the interest of the country.
“Last time, the President operated on the formulae he created- 97percent against 5percent, in favour of those he said gave him winning votes. But I am impressed by what he said shortly after he was declared winner of the presidential election, that he would run an inclusive government. If that is the case, he must look for the best hands from wherever they may be found. Nigeria needs to move forward. Things are just not okay; we can feel it. This is not time for politics. Politicking time is gone and should be seen to have gone for good. This should be the ‘doing time’. All the promises must be fulfilled and all hands must be on deck. No matter how little the votes from other zones were, they were the things that counted for the victory of Mr. President. We need Nigerians to work for Nigerians, not self-serving politicians,” Etim said.
On the quality of ministers that Nigerians are expecting to see, the public affairs analyst said: “The President cannot go to the moon to get the ministers, they must come from among us. But he must look for those who have not spoiled themselves with politics or who have not been destroyed by politics. There are dangerous politicians with parochial views and reasoning, who only think about themselves and about their party. Nigeria of today needs broad-minded individuals who want the good of every citizen of this country, irrespective of party, religiousor ethnic leaning. The country’s unity has been badly bruised in the last four years, we must speak truth to ourselves. So, the ministers must be more of unifying factors than divisive factors.”
Advising the President on the need to appoint credible hands, a pro-Buhari group, No Alternative to Buhari-Osinbajo 2019 (NATBO 2019), said thatPresident Muhammadu Buhari must exercise great circumspect in the composition of his new cabinet.
NATBO in a statement by its National Coordinator, Vincent Uba, explained that the advice had become necessary in view of the expectations of the populace that the Next Level slogan of the APC would not just be a mere slogan but a battle cry that will launch Nigeria into unprecedented higher level of security of lives and property, economic growth and development devoid of corruption.