The President’s Men: Can This New Cabinet Deliver?
President Muhammadu Buhari’s new cabinet will be inaugurated this Wednesday, exactly six months after his re-election for a second tenure. Five months after his re-election, President Buhari sent a list of 43 ministerial nominees to the Senate. The Senate approved the 43 names on the President’s list after a five-day screening exercise that was considered a charade and lacklustre by Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike.
The inauguration of the new Federal cabinet will take place after a two-day induction retreat and swearing-in programme for ministers – designate. In his first term, PMB faced severe criticisms from his ruling APC party loyalists who accused him of neglect by not rewarding them with political appointments as Ministers after they had worked hard to secure his electoral victory. This time around, it appears that he has now addressed this reproach with his new cabinet selection. Out of the 43 ministerial appointees, only 14 were reappointed from his first term. The rest are new names that are mostly from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) loyalists from across the country’s six geopolitical zones. Many of the ministers – designate are seen as having helped PMB to win his second term. On this score, PMB must be commended because in the real sense of it, he needs such politicians including returnee first term ministers who are expected to protect the ruling party’s interest whenever the need arises.
The new cabinet (the largest in Nigeria’s history), according to critical political pundits, rather than inspire hope and confidence that PMB’s second tenure will be used to reduce poverty in the land and build a prosperous Nigerian society, can only be referred to as disappointing. The outlook of the new cabinet certainly guarantees that Mr Buhari’s second term in office would be an object lesson in rewarding political loyalists. The cabinet is filled with more conservative options rather than reformers or technocrats. It is doubtful that any of the new ministers will be able to convince PMB to course-correct by embarking on key reforms that would address the imbalances between the fiscal and monetary management of the economy, as well as deal with the issue of fuel subsidies or major tax reforms.
Yet, it presents an excellent opportunity to ask the question, can the new cabinet deliver the goods? PMB must take the first step towards ensuring that the goods are delivered by putting round pegs in round holes. The few good technocrats on the team should be assigned to areas where they can make positive contributions.
Pundits believe that a few names in the new cabinet should be watched closely and these include reappointees such as Babatunde Raji Fashola (former power, works and housing minister); Abubakar Malami (former attorney general and minister of justice); Rotimi Amaechi (former transport minister); Zainab Ahmed (former finance minister); and first timers like Ali Isa Pantami (former DG, NITDA – the youngest and a technology expert who is expected to drive policy initiatives geared towards empowering Nigerian youthful and technology savvy population).
The second step towards ensuring the new cabinet delivers the goods is for the national budget to be passed on time working very closely with the National Assembly. Such a relationship seem to have been achieved considering the manner the Senate handled the ministerial screening exercise with despatch. Beyond passing the budget, a result oriented legislative oversight should be instituted by the leadership of National Assembly.
More importantly, we recommend the setting up of an independent body charged with the responsibility of monitoring and evaluating the performance of cabinet ministers and key government officials based on clearly defined KPIs, not on whims and caprices as is probably the case presently.
The new cabinet although dominated by men, as against seven female members should be focused on driving major reformist agenda in key areas such as. economy, education, power, agriculture, health, security, infrastructure and environment. These are areas with the most potential to impact positively on Nigeria and Nigerians.
Finally, Nigerians had hoped that a strong ministerial list would spur high investor confidence and encourage optimism with the political direction of the administration. While Nigerians await the inauguration of the new cabinet this week, the focus should be on holding elected officials at all levels accountable to Nigerian citizens.