THE NATION——–It is no longer news that President Muhammadu has constituted his cabinet. But the intrigues, behind-the-scenes manouvers that attended the making of the new team have continued to dominate discourse. In this piece, YUSUF ALLI, MANAGING EDITOR, NORTHERN OPERATION re-examines the cabinet politics.
Barring any further delay by the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari may inaugurate his behind-the-time Federal Executive Council (FEC) next week. Nigerians cannot wait a minute longer because the nation has lost almost five months out of the 48 months constitutionally allowed an elected President for the first term in office. The screening of the ministerial nominees has so far revealed a potpourri cabinet. In spite of using integrity as a major benchmark, the cabinet is a mixed grill of saints, demons, assets and liabilities; intelligentsia and the weak; and Methuselah and political infants.
On the whole, Nigerians scored the President above average while awaiting the performance magic wand of the ministers before computing the final score of Buhari. The imperfections in the list have however made Nigerians to probe as follows: What was on the mind of President Buhari in raising his cabinet? Which factors interplayed? What were the intrigues?
Can Buhari succeed with a largely apolitical cabinet?
Why it took time to constitute the cabinet
For a candidate who led the nation as a President 30 years ago, Buhari’s network of friendship is limited, aged and ‘analogue’ as ex-First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan put it in one of her dirtiest campaign jibes. His absence from power, deliberate alienation, frustration, incapacitation and betrayal by the ruling political elites constrained Buhari’s search for cabinet members. And the search hurdles enlarged with Buhari’s water-tight criteria of looking for those with unimpeachable character. Having promised a change, he took time to hunt for cleansers than those who will litter the governance space again. Buhari said: “Fellow Nigerians, there have been a lot of anxiety and impatience over the apparent delay in announcement of ministers. There is no cause to be anxious. Our government sets out to do things methodically and properly. Anyway, the wait is over. The first set of names for ministerial nominees for confirmation has been sent to the Senate. Subsequent lists will be forwarded in due course. Impatience is not a virtue. Order is more vital than speed. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results. And better results for our country are what the APC government for Change is all about.”
The team and a few surprises
In fairness to the President, the choice of some ministerial nominees caught many, including the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by surprise. At a point, the PDP retroactively said it had contemplated recruiting the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu as a ministerial nominee. Apparently ashamed to acknowledge the merit in Buhari’s appointees, the opposition party opted for an isolated case to deny the President a well-deserved credit. Despite criticisms, Buhari’s cabinet is loaded with surprises. For instance, the nominee from Nasarawa State, Mallam Ibrahim Usman Jibril was known as a “disciplinarian” in Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS). With Jibril, no preferential treatment, no cutting of corners and he resumes work promptly. On his part, Dr. Kachikwu is rated as “Mr. Transparency.” Once you are not straightforward, you cannot have his ears. For bitter truth in the cabinet, the President has to rely on Chief Audu Ogbeh, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Babatunde Fashola, Dr. Chris Ngige and Rotimi Amaechi for his missteps and the way forward. Going by her history, Aisha Alhassan does not suffer fools at all. She demonstrated this during her screening when she said her nomination as a minister will not deter her from the legal battle to retrieve her mandate at the Taraba Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal. The intelligentsia and experts or specialists in the cabinet include Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Amina Mohammed, Lt. Gen Abdulrahman Dambazzau, Udo Udoma, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Adamu Adamu and Prof. Isaac Adewole.
Factors that shaped the cabinet
When the President said in his inaugural address that he belongs to no one, leaders and members of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), political godfathers and power hustlers who have made Aso Rock a permanent base, had little time to reflect on the agenda Buhari was setting. They were overwhelmed by the frenzy of change and not circumspect to the highlight of the quotable quote in the President’s speech. As a test case of his commitment, Buhari appeared to be largely on his own in picking his team. Apart from making his list strictly confidential, the President ignored godfathers, political tendencies which led to the formation of APC Coalition, dictates from serving and ex-governors, and APC leadership at the federal and state levels. For the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1999, the nation had cabinet gown solely sewn by the President. Many APC governors lamented in hushed tones that they were not consulted by Buhari, who used the ministerial list to set a new template. There were also no slots for the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. All the recommendations made to Buhari are gathering dust in one corner at the Presidential Villa.
The credentials and past records of some ministerial nominees were so intimidating that the Senate simply asked them to take a bow. Save for merit, nothing could explain the choice of some ministerial nominees (like Sen. UdoUdoma and Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri from the PDP) other than merit.
Buhari’s fixation, obsession and addiction to PTF team
Once you cross his path and remain morally upright, loyal, honest and focused, Buhari will have a fixation weakness on you. He believes in his team irrespective of timeline and the number of years anyone has worked with him. Some ministerial nominees creditably excelled in the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) which was set up by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. Besides his brief stay in office between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985 when he launched War Against Indiscipline (WAI), the landmark achievements in the PTF greatly defined Buhari’s vision and ability to conceive and deliver quality and cost effective projects within a short time. His success in his initial sojourn in power was attributed to the late Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Gen. Babatunde Idiagbon. At a point, his military regime was tagged Buhari-Idiagbon administration. But with the PTF records, Buhari wore a new toga. The same President has resuscitated his PTF team members, who he sourced in their prime as youths. Some of the nominees, who worked with PTF and the agency’s major consultants, AfriProjects Consortium, are water expert Suleiman Adamu (Jigawa), ex-UN under Secretary Amina Mohammed (Gombe) ace columnist, Adamu Adamu. The acting INEC chairman, Mrs. Amina Zakari was also a PTF star for her honesty and pedigree. The only missing PTF crew member is the late Prof. Dora Akunyili. Whose appointment as a minister by Buhari would have been automatic.
No yardstick was used for the appointment of the ministerial nominee from Oyo State, Barrister Adebayo Shittu than the same moral fixation and loyalty.
The return of the ‘Kaduna Mafia’
It is an open secret that after a lull since 1984, the famous Kaduna Mafia is back in power corridors and it is the staying secret of President Buhari. The mafia members have stamped their authority on the cabinet of Buhari. The overwhelming influence of the mafia on the President accounted for the struggle for survival in Buhari’s government by the political groups or tendencies which coalesced to form the All Progressives Congress. The whole idea of the mafia emerged in 1970 when some technocrats, who had worked under the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello came together as a group to protect Northern legacies. Some of these technocrats included the late Ali Akilu, the late Sunday Dankaro, late Sunday Awoniyi, Mamman Daura, Ahmed Talib, Yahaya Gusau, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, the late Abdulazeez Attah, late Liman Ciroma, Adamu Ciroma, Ahmed Joda, Mahmud Tukur, Adamu Fika, Musa Bello(Habib Bank fame), the late Yahaya Hamza, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji and Abdul Abubakar. According to investigation, the mafia worked tirelessly for the sustenance of Sardauna’s legacies in the 19 Northern states. The members of the mafia devoted their time and energy to provide concrete developments and promote education in the North. Their era was said to be for the North. Imbued with vision of a likely military interregnum in the nation’s politics, the same mafia members encouraged the first generation of Northerners in the military to join. Some of the beneficiaries were ex-Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, ex-President Ibrahim Babangida, ex-Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, ex-Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, former Minister of Defence, Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, the late Gen. Muhammed Shuwa, and the late Gen. Mamman Vatsa among others. Investigation showed that the same mafia propped up Buhari as a military Head of State in 1983 having lost out of power under the administration of ex-President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983). But the termination of Buhari-Idiagbon military junta in 1985 by the Babangida military putsch marked the beginning of the demystification of the mafia. Like the late Head of State, Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed, Babangida and Abacha sidelined the mafia. It was learnt that attempts by Babangida and Abacha to create a military mafia to replace Kaduna Mafia was their greatest undoing. The Kaduna Mafia helped ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo to return to power in a penniless manner in 1999 but the former leader jettisoned the group until he was paid back in his own coin in 2007 when he sought a third term in office.
The Kaduna Mafia’s anointed son is back in power and it is taking advantage of the moment over other contending groups. Findings revealed that some strategic appointments and ministerial nominees were at the behest of the mafia and some close associates of the President including those of Ahmed Joda as the chairman of the Transition Committee, Ahmed Koru (MD of AMCON); and Abba Kyari (Chief of Staff).Two of the most visible members of the mafia in the selection process are Mamman Daura and Mahmud Tukur. The nominee from Adamawa State, Muhammed Bello is identified as the son of a member of the mafia, Musa Bello who was one of the co-founders of the defunct Habib Bank. It was also rumoured that Adamu Adamu (arguably the closest to the President) was also a nominee of a member of the mafia. The appointment of Kaduna nominee was allegedly made in appreciation of her father’s contributions to national development. The father of the nominee was Yahaya Hamza, who was a member of the mafia and nurtured Governor el-Rufai.
While a total break away from the past was being expected in choosing new ministers, a few family influences crept in alongside merit. Some ministerial nominees secured their slots on both merit and family ties. According to investigation, Suleiman Adamu from Jigawa is alleged to be a nephew of the President.
Defending the Sokoto ministerial candidate, a group, Concerned Stakeholders for Good Governance, said: “Aisha is the daughter of ex-Super Permanent Secretary and Finance Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji and current Sardauna of Sokoto and heir to the sultanate throne which makes Aisha a seventh generation descendant of Sheikh Usman Danfodio, the 18th century founder of the Sokoto Caliphate.
“Also from the maternal side, Aisha is said to be the granddaughter of his eminence, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto.”
The nominee from Imo State, Prof. Anthony Anwukah is an in-law of Governor Rochas Okorocha.
The imperfections in Buhari’s composition of cabinet
Like mortals, the composition of the cabinet by the President overlooked a few things which may serve as yardsticks for judging his administration in the next few months. The President ought to watch his application of Federal Character Principle as contained in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. The section says: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
The appointment of some ministerial nominees has put Buhari’s commitment to the federal character principle to test. For instance, the ministerial nominee from Osun State, Prof. Isaac Adewole is from the same Osun East Senatorial District as Governor Rauf Aregbesola in contravention of the unwritten but mutual power sharing formula in the state. The people of the state believe Osun Central Senatorial District ought to produce the slot. The same scenario is playing out in the volatile Kaduna State where the people of Southern Kaduna are unhappy over the choice of Zainab Shamsuna Ahmad, a supposed sister of Governor Nasir el-Rufai. Niger State underwent a similar experience, amid tension, until the President was pressurized to drop ex-Deputy Governor Ahmed Musa Ibeto for Hon. Bawa Bwari. The situation in Kogi State is making other ethnic groups to feel like second class citizens. Apart from the sitting Governor Idris Wada and APC governorship candidate,
Prince Abubakar Audu coming from Kogi East Senatorial District, the ministerial candidate, Mr. James Ocholi (SAN) is also from the district.
Notwithstanding the gratis screening of Hajiya Khadjah Ibrahim on Tuesday, the Concerned Citizens of Yobe State, in a letter to President Buhari, protested against her nomination. The group, in the letter signed by Barr. Baba Kura Ba’aba, Alh. Sale Jauro and Muhammadu Jajimaji said: “The ministerial nominee from Yobe State is a Kanuri from Zone A. She came from the same tribe and zone with the Governor of Yobe State. The National Secretary of the APC is also a Kanuri from the same Zone A of the state. The husband of the nominee is a serving Senator, a former governor and a Kanuri from the same Zone A. The Federal Permanent Secretary representing Yobe State is also a Kanuri from the same Zone A of the state.
“This offends the express provisions of 1999 Constitution and suggests impunity and exclusivity of the other ethnic groups and zones of the state. The exclusion of Zones B and C cannot be sustained by any reasonable justification, particularly on the grounds of competence and merit. Zones B and C have contributed immensely to the success of the party and statistically, Potiskum Local Government was in the top five local governments nationwide that contributed the highest votes to the election of Your Excellency.”
In Borno State, the Southern Borno Solidarity Group in an October 15 petition to the President alleged that it was wrong to appoint the state’s ministerial nominee, Baba Shehuri from Borno Central Senatorial District which had produced Governor Kashim Shettima, the National Security Adviser, the Chief of Staff, the Speaker, and the Chief Judge of the state. They alleged that the Kanuri have cornered most offices. The group said: “We are convinced that as a listening and responsive leader, you will take a second look at the political configuration in Borno State and choose from the avalanche of our highly qualified, incorruptible, pragmatic and versatile leaders from the non-Kanuri speaking areas of Borno and appoint.”
But in a counter-reaction, a group led by Elder Bitrus Mshelia (Chairman) and Bukar Mala Bukar (Secretary) claimed that Southern Borno is occupying these offices: Senate Leader, Chief of Army Staff, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice of the Supreme Court, Justices of the Court of Appeal, MD, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, DG of Mining Cadastral among others.
Discontent among APC leaders
With the exception of Nasarawa, Katsina, Imo and Benue, most APC leaders have reservations over lack or near-zero consultations on the appointment of ministers by the President who has repeatedly restated his faith in party supremacy. From Akwa Ibom to Oyo, Edo, Gombe, Bayelsa, Sokoto and others, APC leaders are sulked. A few daring ones from Oyo and Sokoto have come out against their ministerial nominees-Adebayo Shittu (Oyo) and Aisha Abubakar (Sokoto). In a petition to the Senate, signed by the state APC chairman, Usman Danmadami Isa and Secretary, Aminu Bello Sokoto, the Sokoto chapter of APC said: “The nominee, Miss Aisha Abubakar is from Tambala Local Government, the same local government with the Governor of Sokoto State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal which negates the letter and spirit of Section 147(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“In the same vein, the immediate younger brother of the nominee, Aminu Abubakar Alhaji was the PDP candidate that lost to our candidate in Tambuwal/Kebbe Federal Constituency who having not satisfied with the outcome of the election filed a petition against our candidate at the Election Tribunal which dismissed his petition and still not satisfied is on appeal currently at the Court of Appeal.”
Except for the “hijack” of the Senate and House of Representatives leadership by the PDP caucus in APC, the defectors are feeling alienated by the day in the administration of Buhari.
What Nigerians say
Although there is no time limit for appointing ministers, the release of the list attracted scathing criticisms from some Nigerians. Some said the list does not worth the four or five months wait. The verdicts vary from the opposition to the apolitical.
Expectedly, the opposition party blindly wrote off the list. The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, said: “By a mere look at the list, one can tell that there is nothing to be excited about, especially considering the length of time it took the President to come up with it.
“Looking at the list, it is hard to put a finger on why it should take any serious-minded and focused government, six months after its election to assemble such a regular team.”
“The list and the length of time it took have further confirmed the fact that the APC-led administration is driven by propaganda and deceit, a development that raises doubts on the sincerity of its anti-corruption crusade.”
A member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Alh. Shuaibu Oyedokun, however, disagreed with the spokesman of the party. He said: “Looking through the list, I’m convinced that we have a winning team. I like the cabinet outlook. For the fact that the team is a mix of the old and the new makes it unique. There is nothing you can compare to experience.
“Buhari’s government will gain a lot from the wisdom and experience of members of the team. I now expect the team to hit the ground running. There should be no room for excuses. Nigerians have been eagerly waiting for them; they should not let the people down. They should let Nigerians feel positive impacts of their appointments.”
A former Governor of Kaduna State, Alh. Balarabe Musa said: “I have not seen any winning team in that list but I can only pray for Buhari and his cabinet to succeed. Even with the second batch of ministers, to me nothing has changed. I was expecting Buhari to appoint those people with clean record, those that don’t have questions hanging on their necks.
“Buhari should have gone for fresh faces. Nigeria is blessed with many brilliant professionals, we don’t need to recycle. I’m not being pessimistic but I don’t see the cabinet doing anything unusual or spectacular.”
A former Secretary-General of NUPENG, Comrade Frank Kokori, said: “This is a winning team. I strongly believe that it is a team that can deliver the goods. Men and women on that list are competent. Most Nigerians are happy with the list. Buhari’s advisers have done well in helping him to assemble this first class team and I have absolute confidence in the team’s ability to deliver. We should just pray for them to succeed.”
An anti-corruption activist, Gen. Ishola Williams, said: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It has taken the President over three months to assemble ministers. Within that time, the permanent secretaries have been doing the jobs. Buhari was quoted as saying the ministers are noise makers, that it is the permanent secretaries that are doing the jobs.
“This type of position does not create an enabling environment for the ministers to start. If they are technocrats, they can easily blend. They may want to carry out certain programmes but the president may stop them. I would want to see how they will perform in the next four months before I assess them.”
A lawyer and ex-House of Reps aspirant Ajike, said: “Buhari has the best team ever assembled by any Nigerian president. Integrity, experience and capacity to deliver were the considerations he adopted.
“A new Nigeria has emerged and now we can be sure that democracy will be developed further with this great team put together by the president. It is too early in the day to be judgmental. I can’t see any winner there not to talk of winning.
For the fact that you excelled as a state governor does not mean that you are going to excel as a minister. As a minister, the entire Nigeria is under you. Most of them are going there because of glamour of political office not out of a desire to perform, and some of them are also carrying moral baggage, which we all know.”
The National Chairman of APGA, Victor Ike Oye, said: “I am impressed with his choice of ministers. Having been tested and trusted, I am implicitly confident they will also deliver this time round.
“I do not subscribe to the school of thought that said the President selected recycled politicians as ministers. What they call recycled ministers is what I have opted to call tested ministers.
“The most important thing is that they are Nigerians and are qualified for the office. Every other thing is a mere exercise in futility.
“I do not also believe that the President deliberately shut out the youth. What he did was to select men and women with the cognate experience to help him to deliver on the delicate mandate Nigerians have bestowed on him.
“Let us for once give this president the benefit of the doubt by supporting his ministerial nominees some of whom had been cleared by the Senate.”
A member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Tajudeen Obasa said: “I thought the era of change had come and naturally I expected the right peg in the right hole. It would be a thing of joy for Nigerians if the in-coming ministers can deliver.
“Nigerians are expecting a complete departure from the past. Arguably, with the delay in picking the ministerial nominees, an average Nigerian thought in line with the change mantra of the administration, those to be appointed would be new breeds.
“Seeing the likes of Audu Ogbeh and Ogbonnaya Onu makes me wary about the hope of the Nigerian youth. I had expected the president to put more emphasis on youth representation.
“Moreover, the anti-corruption drive of the present administration is not reflected on the list, many Nigerians don’t see the reason individuals who still have questions to answer with anti-corruption agencies should have been on that list. I expect the best from the new team of ministers.”
The aftermath of ministerial nominations
The ball is now in Buhari’s court to guide his ministers to deliver on the promised change agenda. Once the ministers are cleared, the President needs to be on a fast lane to meet his targets. Certainly he has to increase his pace in the next few months. Nigerians want effective security system, good roads, stable and constant power supply, mass employment, completion of rail projects nationwide, food and housing. There is no time for any excuse again. This was why the Senate offered to screen with less rigours contrary to its earlier stand. The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James F. Entwistle, said: “What everyone is waiting for at this time is the confirmation of the cabinet at the federal level and the new policies that will drive Nigeria.”
If Buhari makes a big difference in the next six months, he would send a signal of hope to all Nigerians.
The Buhari administration will be under constant searchlight of Nigerians, especially the new media which the President dreads so much. There may be no breathing space because Nigerians expect much from the new administration. Any little slide will be disastrous.
Leverage with the National Assembly
Going by the understanding of the Senate in screening and clearing over 20 ministerial nominees, Buhari has a big task to accept the olive branch and avoid rancour with the Legislature.
To heal the wounds caused by the politics of nomination of ministers, Buhari must make it a priority to pacify aggrieved APC leaders, governors, and members with far-reaching appointments. As a born-again democrat, he should appreciate the nitty-gritty of party politics and the creation of a sense of belonging for all groups and tendencies in APC.
The survival of APC at stake
The extent to which Buhari accommodates all parties, which formed APC, will determine the future of the party. Already, some disillusioned APC leaders, especially new PDP elements, have started thinking of political realignment. Although Buhari is trying to set a new standard and redirect party members from bread and butter politics, he has to float a gradual reconstruction policy.