Buhari’s Second-term Cabinet: As President Muhammadu Buhari assumes office for his second term, MUDIAGA AFFE writes on the implications of undue delay in forwarding names of his ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation
After his inauguration as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29, 2015, it took almost six months for President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute his cabinet. The President thus disappointed many who had expected him to hit the ground running in view of the urgency in tackling insecurity as manifested by the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents in the North, the rising rate of kidnapping and armed robbery in the South as well as the economic woes resulting from lawlessness and corruption that preceded his assumption of office.
Buhari was criticised 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.
The country was believed to be rudderless during the period the country operated without a Federal Executive Council in place.
When eventually the list was made public in September 2015, there was a public outcry as President Buhari was seen to have come up with people some saw as square pegs in round holes. After the inauguration of the cabinet, the country managed to survive the recession but since then, the economy has been wobbling and many Nigerians have been grappling with difficult living conditions.
In defence, the President had said the delay in the appointment of ministers was partly due to the manner in which he took over power from former President Goodluck Jonathan and the need to reorganise the government structures by his administration.
Although the economy may be technically out of recession now, several sectors have reportedly yet to show tangible signs of recovery. The rate of banditry, kidnapping and other forms of insecurity has disturbingly increased across the country. There are concerns that any delay in constituting a new cabinet of competent men and women of integrity by the President as he settles down in office for his second tenure could spell doom for the nation.
A professor of political science and Dean of Faculty of Arts, Management and Social Sciences at Chrisland University in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Femi Otubanjo, noted that the delay in appointing ministers in 2015 created negative feelings about the credibility of the Buhari administration in his first term.
While urging that such impression should be erased in his second term, Otubanjo said the President had no excuse not to immediately appoint ministers for his second term, having fully understood the enormity of the nation’s problems in the last four years and those who could handle different segments.
He said, “In this second term, there can be no excuse for him not to appoint his ministers and other cabinet members in good time. If he delays, it will give a wrong impression about his seriousness as a leader. He will also give the international community the signal that things are not likely to change because they are looking for new ways of doing things with the country through economic and security management.
“The international community will expect that our leader should be concerned about the development of the country and he needs to put in place people that will help him to manage 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 us.
Otubanjo added that politically, Nigerians would not be happy that a President, who ought to know, having had time to see the country, could not quickly pick the right people that could speed the implementation of the solution process to the multifarious problems.
He said, “If you want to, for instance, build the Second Niger Bridge, the minister must be there to take the proposal to the Federal Executive Council for it to be approved for work to begin.
“So, if he is not there, it means that you either will not be able to do it or you give powers that do not belong to the civil servants to the permanent secretary to begin to initiate projects. In a nutshell, it will not be tidy if we do not have a cabinet in place in good time.”
A former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Cross River State, Chief John Okon, said the delay in appointing ministers contributed to the economic problem the country had to contend with in the first quarter of 2016.
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.
Okon said, “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 long wait. They wondered why it took so long when those on the list were known Nigerians, some of whom were his allies.”
He also noted that the length of time taken 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 proclamation to the National Assembly. He could do this two weeks after the proclamation,” he said.
Also, a former Secretary of the National Democratic Coalition, Ayo Opadokun, said Buhari should have learnt his lessons in the delay in appointing ministers in 2015.
As a sitting President, who is continuing in office, Opadokun noted that Buhari should have used the state machinery to complete background checks on those he intended to appoint as ministers.
He said, “It was not the best that he failed to appoint his ministers on time in 2015. It was a negative outcome. But I think Mr President has learnt from that and he can quickly constitute his cabinet.
“He has, for example, worked with some people for about three and a half years. Those he felt competent could return; but for the new ones, he ought to have used the government machinery to do all the vetting so that he can hit the ground running from day one.
“So, if he is going to leave a legacy, he should work seriously in this second term for the restoration of Nigeria to the federal system of government.”
A legal practitioner, Chief Utum Eteng, said the President should immediately appoint his cabinet members in order to make the desired impact in the last lap of his administration.
He said, “When he came in his first term, he needed to properly study the terrain and be abreast with the system. He also needed to know more persons. But now, he has been there for four years and he has interacted with a cross-section of Nigerians and he knows better.
“So, he does not need to waste so much time in the appointment. He would have known more people now and he should know those he can work with and he would have had some political recommendations on technocrats who know what to do.
“I think the last delay (in his first term) affected so many things. He should immediately commence that since this is his last lap of his journey as president.”
A professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sherrifdeen Tella, said there would be no progress in governance if ministers were not appointed on time.
He said, “I do not think it will be wise to delay the appointment of ministers now. It happened the first time because maybe the election victory came as a surprise and when that happened, he (Buhari) did not know so many people.
“Now that he has known a lot of people, he should know those who performed well in his last cabinet and deserve to be reappointed. If he delays, there will be no progress in governance because the permanent secretaries cannot run the system as ministers would do. So, there should not be any excuse for delay.”
The Director-General, Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Muda Yusuf, said delaying the appointment of ministers would hamper the implementation of government policies.
He said the nomination of ministers should be seamless if Buhari was desirous of achieving progress in the second tenure of his administration.
Yusuf stated, “Delaying appointment of ministers has implication for the implementation of government policies because transiting from one regime to the other is like running a relay race. When you are running a relay, the faster you are able to hand over the baton, the better for the eventual outcome of the race. But if there is a brake in the handover, it distorts a whole lot of things. That same analogy will also fit into this. The earlier we have people to take over from where the immediate past cabinet stopped, the better for the economy and the continuity that this new dispensation is all about.
“If we want a seamless transition and implementation of government policy, the process for the nomination of minister should commence at the appropriate time. The earlier we have the list sent when the Ninth National Assembly is formed the better. It will also help to reduce uncertainty. If the list is sent as soon as the Assembly takes shape, in the next three to four weeks, confirmation should have been concluded.