The Ministerial List And The Long Wait

Since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office for his second term, on May 29, 2019, Nigerians have looked forward to his transmission of names of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation to enable him hit the ground running immediately.

That has not happened yet, but Nigerians are expectant that it would not take long as was in his first tenure.

There are serious concerns that the continued delay in constituting a new cabinet of competent men and women of integrity by Mr President could spell doom for the nation.

Politically speaking, most Nigerians do not seem to be happy that a president, who ought to know, having had time to see the country, could not quickly pick the right people that would begin the implementation of solutions to multifarious problems starring the country in the face.

The expected cabinet will consist of ministers appointed to take responsibility for each of the government ministries following his 2019 election victory.

Recall that after his inauguration on May 29, 2015, it took almost six months for President Buhari to constitute his cabinet. That singular action dampened the spirit of most of his admirers then who felt disappointed at what they saw as a false start.

When finally the list was made public in September 2015, there was a public outcry as Buhari was seen to have come up with people some saw as square pegs in round holes.

The long delay in producing the ministerial list before the inauguration on November 11, earned him the nickname, ‘Baba go slow’.

Then the President was criticized for taking so long to name his ministers at a time when the economy was severely hit by the fall in global oil prices, which ultimately contributed to the recession that hit the nation shortly after he took over the mantle of leadership.

After the inauguration of the cabinet, the country managed to survive the recession, but since then, the economy is believed by some economic experts to have been wobbling as many Nigerians have been grappling with difficult living conditions.

Defending the reason for the delay in the appointment of ministers, presidential spokespersons were unanimous on their justification that it was partly due to the manner in which Buhari took over power from former President Goodluck Jonathan and the need to reorganize the government structures by his administration.

The country was believed to be rudderless during the period it operated without a Federal Executive Council in place, the reason political watchers are worried on the situation at hand, just as they want Buhari to learn from past experience and not repeat it following its bitter implication.

Some commentators who spoke with Sunday Sun noted that the delay in appointing ministers in 2015 created negative feelings about the credibility of the Buhari administration in his first term, adding that such impression must not be allowed to resonate in his second tenure with the continued delay.

They are of the view that in this second term, the president has no excuse not to appoint his ministers and other cabinet members in good time for seamless governance.

In their evaluation, if Buhari delays as he did in his first tenure, it will give a wrong impression about his seriousness as a leader, as well as give the international community the signal that things are not likely going to change because they are looking for new ways of doing things with the country through economic and security management.

It is obvious that the international community will expect that the leadership should be concerned about the development of the country and thus needs to put in place competent people that will help the president to drive growth through management of the various sectors. So, if it is not done in good time, it will amount to un-seriousness, which will have repercussions in the way the international community will perceive the country, they argued.

A former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Cross River State, Chief John Okon, said that the delay in appointing ministers contributed to the economic problem the country had to contend with in the first quarter of 2016.

The politician said that delay should be an avoidable option, stressing that it’s an error that needed to be corrected to avoid the ugly incident of the first tenure.

He, nonetheless, believes that after working with some cabinet members in the last three and a half years, the president should have had a fair idea of how to avoid such mistakes in his second term.

“One was that the non-existence of ministers showed a lot of instability and lack of focus of the administration because only permanent secretaries were working without direction from ministers.

“Again, even after the list was presented to the Senate for screening, a lot of Nigerians were not satisfied with it after such a long wait. They wondered why it took so long when those on the list were known Nigerians, some of whom were his allies,” Okon said.

He noted that the length of time taken to do the appointment and the calibre of persons the President eventually presented gave a general feeling that it was not going to be a successful tenure.

“I would believe now that after working with his ministers and having identified some other persons and the impact on the economy and his administration, he should be able to assemble a team immediately after he had made a proclamation to the National Assembly. It is something he should do within two weeks after the proclamation,” he said.

Head of Department, Political Science and International Relations, Covenant University, Prof Sheriff Folarin, said that it is a matter of urgency for Buhari to appoint his ministers to take care of the general social and economic sphere, just as he said the country needed to be properly fixed with the assistance of competent ministers.

According to Folarin, “there is the urgent need for President Buhari to appoint his ministers and one does not expect any further delay given the fact that there is much to do. The country is facing lots of challenges so he needs to appoint them, competent ones so that we may begin to witness action because what we have now is not encouraging.

“I know this may be a piece of wasted advice, it doesn’t have to be appointments based on party affiliation, the best persons must be considered. A lot of job needs to be done so this is no time to waste. The cabinet needs to be complete by now and without further delay”.

Some political observers say that it will not be tidy if the country does not have a cabinet in place in good time because it means giving powers that do not belong to the civil servants to the permanent secretary to begin to initiate projects that most of them are not competent enough to undertake.

Sunday Sun investigation reveals that there is so much underground politics surrounding the list in Aso Rock as all the stakeholders that contributed to the re-election of the president want to be accommodated.

While the party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, is said to be ensuring that the list takes care of members of the party first, there are insinuations in some quarters that a particular team which are described as the “cabal in power” want to have their way by ensuring that their preferred candidates are accommodated first.

A source that pleaded not to be mentioned told Sunday Sun that “there is a lot of underground political current going on there (Aso Rock), one can say, it is crude too because some individuals who see themselves as the cabal are trying to hijack the list to ensure their preferred candidates are accommodated first.

“We are watching every movement, but we think President Buhari should be wary now having learned from what happened in the first tenure. With what I am seeing the promise of an inclusive government is not given any attention”.

The revelation may not be unconnected with the recent protest by Concerned APC National Stakeholders (CANS) who called on Buhari to sack some of his trusted allies they described as “cabal”, although Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu has described what happened as a “sponsored protest”.

Reports had it that the stakeholders under the aegis of APC concerned national stakeholders forum defied the rain and gathered at the Defence headquarters recently where they displayed placards with various inscriptions to make their demands known.

Part of their demands is that the president should ensure that he appoints people who worked for him in various capacities during the 2019 general elections as he forms his cabinet.

They also requested Buhari not to appoint people who have stayed in government for over 40 years, stressing that the nation is in dire need of fresh ideas.

“By now, we expect that a real cabinet and primary appointment independently formed by the president based on merit and constitutional criteria would have been made public.

“This is the time for compensation, but now it has gone back to the old ways where a few people take the compensation to themselves and their cronies,” Symeon Chilagorom, who led the protesters, had said.

The group also decried the delay in Buhari’s appointment of his new cabinet, alleging that the delay could give some political influencers undue opportunity to handpick their allies for the appointment, leaving behind those who risked their necks to ensure the president’s victory at the 2019 elections.

However, the cheering news from the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, was that Buhari would form his cabinet faster than he did in 2015.

Adesina had said recently that the circumstances today were different and that Nigerians would not have to wait too long as before for the president’s ministers.

Given the timetable of the National Assembly, the Senate is billed to go for recess from the first week of July that may last for two months and now that the list is not yet transmitted to them, there are fears that it won’t still be early as Adesina may want Nigerians to believe.

Sunday Sun reliably gathered that the delay in release of the ministerial list by the president may not be unconnected to Buhari shopping for fresh hands as only a few of the ministers in his first tenure are likely to return.