Sunday, August 30, 2015

Waiting for the President’s Men in Nigeria
AUGUST 30, 2015
Nigerian Punch
Having waited for nearly 100 days, not a few Nigerians are concerned about the quality of individuals President Muhammadu Buhari will announce as members of his cabinet in September, BAYO AKINLOYE writes

It is Muhammadu Buhari’s 94th day in office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and by Saturday, September 5, he would have spent 100 days in office. To many political observers, the month of September is significant in the life of the Buhari-led Federal Government as some feel that the non-appointment of ministers is slowing down the process of the country’s development.

Some Nigerians, seen as being petulant, gave Buhari a sobriquet, Baba Go-Slow, which he accepted with grace.

“In some quarters, they are now calling me ‘Baba Go-Slow’. I am going to go slow and steady. Corruption in Nigeria has virtually developed into a culture where honest people are abused. We need to put some sense into governance and deal with corruption,” the President stated in July while addressing Nigerians in the Diaspora during his official visit to the United States.

A renowned law scholar and leader of the Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, some days ago, criticised Buhari for delaying the appointment of ministers that would form his cabinet. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria described Buhari’s refusal to appoint ministers almost three months after taking the oath of office as a reflection of the President’s military personality.

According to him, it was the same military mentality that caused former President Olusegun Obasanjo — a retired general and former Head of State like Buhari — to delay the announcement of his cabinet.

Beyond being described as slow, he was even sued by a lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa. The lawyer asked the Federal High Court in Lagos State to order Buhari to appoint ministers or cease to function in office as President.

Adegboruwa sought an injunction restraining the President from “functioning or continuing to function or further functioning in office as or from performing or continuing to perform the duties of Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without ministers duly appointed or the Federal Executive Council duly constituted.”

Amid public angst and outcry over Buhari’s delay in announcing his choice of ministers, the Presidency had begged Nigerians to be patient till September when his cabinet would be formed.

Writing in an article titled, ‘Nigeria committed to good governance and fighting terror’, published by the Washington Post in July, the President said, “Already, there are voices saying these changes are taking too long. I hear such calls, but this task cannot and should not be rushed. When cabinet ministers are appointed in September, it will be some months after I took the oath of office.”

According to Buhari, the path the country must take is to first instill rules and good governance, and install officials who are experienced and capable of managing state agencies and ministries.

This stance was emphasised when he was quoted as saying, “I have been around long enough to know people that I can approach for things like that (ministerial appointment). Deliberately, we will look for competent people, dedicated and experienced to head ministries and, of course, there will be schedules for ministers and we will expect them to fill them.”

He added, “Certainly, there is a lot to do but we are hoping that we will get good people to be in charge of ministries, who can apply themselves to their responsibilities so that in no time, Nigerians would begin to see the difference.”

But the President might have already begun his ministerial appointments.

Earlier this month, The PUNCH reported that Buhari was set to head the Ministry of Petroleum Resources for 18 months before appointing a substantive minister for the ministry. According to the report, the President said this while meeting with some members of his political party — the All Progressives Congress — in Abuja.

One of those at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, hinted that Buhari would use the 18 months of heading the sensitive ministry to reposition it.

The source said, “At the meeting we had recently, we discussed the issues of portfolios and other matters. The President said he was going to handle the Ministry of Petroleum Resources himself for about 18 months. He said it was after this that he would appoint a substantive minister for the ministry. He said he would only personally handle the reorganisation of the much-important ministry. Besides, he said the ministry needed to be reformed and be rid of corruption. He promised to sanitise the ministry.”

It was, however, gathered that the President was thinking of appointing an experienced person as his special adviser on petroleum. Buhari was once a minister in charge of the ministry and because of his experience, he was said to have vowed to make sure that he blocked all the loopholes that enabled those manning the ministry to either steal the revenue from oil or aid the theft of petroleum products.

Speaking on the issue weeks back, the Peoples Democratic Party had said it would be too early to speculate on whether the President would head the ministry or not. Rather, the opposition party urged Nigerians to wait till September when the President promised to name his cabinet.

The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Abdullahi Jalo, said, “That Buhari is going to head the ministry is speculative. But what we know, going by his body language and actions so far, is that he is going to split the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. This is what we know. So, let’s wait and see what he’s going to do before we make comments.”

On Buhari heading the oil ministry, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties had said the constitution vested powers in the President to head any ministry or parastatal of his choice or appoint a representative.

On Thursday, President Buhari made some appointments which analysts said were an indication that his list of ministers would apparently be unveiled in September.

Those appointed include: Babachir Lawal as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Abba Kyari as the Chief of Staff; Senator Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate); and Suleiman Kawu, SSA on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives).


As the announcement of the President’s cabinet approaches, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that Buhari had refused the contribution of state governors in picking his ministers, even though the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, claimed that Buhari was carrying the party along “in everything that he does and we are very grateful for that.” He said, “He (the President) has always been like that; he has put the party in the front burner in all the things he has done at all times and he has continued to do that.”

According to some political watchers, it is not unlikely that Buhari will pick some of his ministers from the crop of current permanent secretaries manning critical ministries.

The Head of Department, Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Jonah Onuoha, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the President would definitely surprise Nigerians and possibly his party, the APC, concerning his choice of ministers.

“Many of the All Progressives Congress members, who have been jostling and struggling to ensure that their names are on the ministerial list Buhari will announce, will soon be surprised. He can even pick civil servants. Since he was sworn in as president, he has been working with permanent secretaries and the country has not collapsed since then,” Onuoha said.


Those that have been touted to be named as ministers include the embattled former Governor of Lagos State and Director of the defunct APC Presidential Campaign Committee, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), who is currently facing an unrelenting corruption campaign against him; former Commissioner of Finance in Lagos, Mr. Wale Edun, considered to be a loyalist of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former National Chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; and the Deputy Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora.

Other likely names include Second Republic Minister of Communication and APC chieftain, Chief Audu Ogbeh; the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; former Governor of Rivers State and Director General of the APC PCC, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who is being accused of mismanaging state funds during his administration; former Kano State Governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso; former Anambra State Governor, Senator Chris Ngige; and former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is said to be very close to the President.

However, Onuoha said he did not see President Buhari toeing the party line in his choice of ministers.

He said, “Buhari will surprise everybody. He will go out of party line; he will not be stuck with the need to appoint his ministers within the APC rank. His focus is on credibility, accountability and incorruptibility. He is more likely to go for technocrats instead of politicians. I see his ministers being a fresh start and not a recycling of old faces. We expect President Buhari to appoint individuals, who understand the issues bedevilling the country and are determined to face them head-long. He should go for people who are passionate, who can deliver and who are not corrupt.”

Onuoha’s view was not shared by a former Minister of Finance during the military regime of Buhari, Dr. Onaolapo Soleye. The former minister told SUNDAY PUNCH that no one could stampede the President into choosing a particular set of people as his ministers, adding that Buhari would only choose individuals he feels he could work with.

Soleyestated, “Buhari understands that he is no longer a military Head of State. He cannot operate without the input of his party. He was elected as a democratic president on the platform of a party, the APC. If he fails, his party has failed too. Hanging too much on Buhari as an individual –- true, he commands the respect of being a crusader against corruption –- he needs competent, loyal people and his party to succeed.

“What Nigerians want are ministers who will work for the interest of the people. It does not matter whether they are technocrats or not. Were there not technocrats in ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?”

For the Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, the Buhari-led administration should not waste any more time in announcing members of the cabinet in September. He urged the President to resist any temptation to bring in old politicians as members of his cabinet.

Ezike said, “Having wasted so much of our time, we hope President Muhammadu Buhari will not present to us names of individuals who have been tossing the nation hither-thither. We want a fresh breath of air. By that, I mean, he should announce names of people the Nigerian people will feel proud to associate with. What kind of people does Nigeria need as ministers?

“They must be individuals who are honest, dedicated, resilient and determined; people who will not idle away in their offices but will rather be in the field working. We want people who will manage our resources for the common good of all; generate employment for the unemployed millions of Nigerian youth.”

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