In rare shake-up, Buhari implies sacking more ministers cautious optimism greets Agric, Power replacements

More ministers are likely to be sacked or redeployed in Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC), as part of what President Muhammadu Buhari has said will be an ongoing exercise to ‘reinvigorate the cabinet.’

It is the first time President Muhammadu Buhari would be firing appointees at this level of government, something he had been deemed incapable of doing.

Buhari, 77, is in the middle of his second four-year term at the helm of Africa’s largest economy, which has not grown in per capita terms since 2015, with poverty and unemployment rising to record levels. His choice of some ministers has often drawn criticism from stakeholders who see a skill mismatch.

On Monday, Sabo Nanono, minister of agriculture and rural development, and Sale Mamman, minister of power, were sacked after two years of serving as ministers. No such dismissals were recorded during his first term in office. President Buhari, however, said that the firing of ministers would not be ending with the two dismissed from the FEC.

“As we are all aware, change is the only factor that is constant in every human endeavour and as this administration approaches its critical phase in the second term, I have found it essential to reinvigorate this cabinet in a manner that will deepen its capacity to consolidate legacy achievements,” read a statement announcing the cabinet reshuffle.

“Accordingly, a few cabinet changes, marking the beginning of a continuous process, have been approved,” further read the statement shared by Femi Adesina, special adviser to the President, on his Facebook page.

As though for deliberate emphasis, it further said, “Finally, I wish to reiterate once more, that this process shall be continuous.”

Following the exit of the erstwhile ministers, Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, minister of environment, was redeployed to assume office as the minister of agriculture, while Abubakar D. Aliyu, minister of state, works and housing, will now be the minister of power.

Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, the new minister of agriculture, as profiled by his former ministry’s department of climate change, has a “bachelor’s degree in (Biology Major, Chemistry Minor), specialising in Microbiology.” He also holds a Master’s Degree in Resources Management with specialisation in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University, and a Ph.D in Watersheds Management from the University of Arizona, Tucson, all in the USA.

His career trajectory from National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days till date has been from working as a Microbiologist at the NNPC Kaduna Refinery, Kaduna, to being an Environmental Health Inspector and Industrial Waste Investigator in the US. He has worked with the Kaduna State Environmental Protection Agency and also been an active politician, previously being a member, Kaduna State House of Assembly. He was identified to have at various times been member of committees dedicated to elections of Muhammadu Buhari, dating back to the CPC days.

Read Also: ‘Good riddance’ echoes Buhari’s sack of agric minister

His area of expertise, according to the profile includes: Natural Resource Management (Land, soil, forest and water posture), Biological and chemical water quality assessment, Watershed/River Basin Management, Environmental protection programme design and implementation as well as Air quality, Domestic Solid waste, Rural water supply management design and implementation.

Industry leaders in the agric sector would not readily comment on his appointment, at least for now, saying they would prefer to adopt a wait-and-see approach. Nanono, the now dismissed minister, was often described as incompetent and lacking in ideas.

“Let us watch and see how the new minister will carry everyone along,” said a prominent farmer who pleaded anonymity.

For Emmanuel Ijewere, vice president, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), “Whenever riders change a horse, it is because they want to ride faster and have prepared to face challenges ahead.”

As he explained, if the President is changing ministers at this time, he would like to think it is because he has at last realised that agriculture is the backbone of Nigeria’s future and not oil.

On his part, Kabir Ibrahim, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, in a short statement shared with BusinessDay, congratulated the newly appointed minister of agriculture, and pledged support of farmers in supporting the country’s quest for food security.

“The Buhari Administration is committed to achieving food security within the shortest possible time and that is why the change was found to be necessary,” he said.

In the Power Ministry, the man replacing Saleh Mamman as minister, like the erstwhile minister shown the door, builds roads, bridges and dams, even though he is taking on power, one of the most critical sectors of the economy.

But if the previous minister’s experience is a gauge, an engineering degree does not always make a power minister. However, many are cautiously optimistic.

Abubakar Aliyu, an engineer and Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, member of the Council of Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), will now head the Ministry of Power to continue reforms started by his predecessor. He hails from Potiskum Local Government Area of Yobe State.

According to his government profile, Aliyu obtained a National Diploma (ND) in Civil Engineering from the Kaduna State Polytechnic in 1988. He also secured a HND in Highways and Transportation Engineering in 1993. In 1999, he obtained his Bachelor of Engineering in Civil and Water Resources Engineering from the University of Maiduguri.

BusinessDay enquiries show that industry players are cautiously optimistic about this appointment on the basis that the last time around, the president appointed the minister on the basis of an engineering degree.

“I do hope that he will see to policy consistency and support NERC in its regulatory role by ensuring excellent policy support. We need to succeed on the Siemens deal, reduce indiscipline in the sector,” said Ayodele Oni, energy lawyer and partner at Bloomfield Law Firm.

Oni emphasised the need for the new minister to support states that were ready to regulate electricity distribution.

“There is also a need to forge a good synergy with the Ministry of Finance. Maybe he can see the 14 (now around 11 or so) grid connected solar power projects through,” he said. “He should also work hard on Mambilla, aggressively improving the transmission network and system operation to reduce the incidence of grid collapse. Maybe he should also encourage NERC not to over-regulate the sector.”

Few months into the saddle, Sale Mamman ordered the suspension of Damilola Ogunbiyi, head of the REA, and Marilyn Amobi, managing director of NBET, on the grounds of reorganising the sector. He soon took a wrecking ball to his predecessor’s legacy questioning how funds were spent. This soon turned into a pissing contest with his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, while reforms suffered.

Media requests for interviews to the former minister were often rejected and public statements were carefully curated while in office, as his minders shielded him from interfacing with the press claiming he was still understanding the sector. But he could not even articulate a vision for the sector either.

On the Ministry of Works and Housing website, Aliyu is said to be longest serving deputy governor of any state, serving in the position for over 10 years. Aliyu worked as a Technical Officer in Borno State Ministry of Works from 1988 to 1991, became Principal Engineer and also Head of Engineering Department in 2004. He was Supervising Project Engineer, Yobe State Ministry of Housing in 2007, Managing Director, Yobe State Housing and Property Development Corporation in 2009.

Nowhere in his career profile has he been appointed to head a project in the power sector.

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