Editorial: The agonizing wait for Buhari’s cabinet -unacceptable

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Over 47 days after President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn-in for a second term, Nigerians are still waiting for him to name his cabinet. Despite the President’s promise to appoint only people he personally knows, the wait continues, engendering a palpable impatience with the long agonizing wait. Given that the cabinet is the starting point of good governance, many Nigerians fault the delay even as they concede to the president the time to scout the best and brightest hands. But Nigeria has an abundance of men of integrity and unimpeachable character; and the long delay has inadvertently advertise the President as someone who sought power first before thinking about what to do; and does not really know too many people to the extent that he is cocooned in a little ethnic box. The fact is that Buhari understood the expectations of Nigerians; knew the rules of engagement, and went out to seek re-election. So, it is not about patience, it is about expectations being met, about doing things differently and better. Nigerians have given him the benefit of the doubt, but the enormity of the challenges facing the nation fuel a sense of urgency and Buhari must not lose this momentum to inertia. 


Political analysts say Buhari’s ministerial list is being afflicted by a variety of influences leading to the delay. The president is said to have rejected three lists already but the delay has stymied the country’s stock market, prompted foreign investors to trim holdings and threatened growth prospects for Africa’s largest economy. It took Buhari six months to swear in a cabinet after the 2015 election; a delay critics contend contributed to the slow response to crash in global oil prices that pushed Nigeria into recession in 2016. Nigerians had expected that the cabinet would be ready by the time the Senate resumes from its recess. Little did they know that Mr. President would still be sleeping on duty.


The president was sworn in 47 days ago and until this day, only two key government institutions have been repositioned - the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) GMD’s and Accountant General of the Federation’s (AGF). The president has also submitted a list of presidential aides to the Senate; after re-appointing his chief of staff and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It is getting too late to submit the list of ministerial nominees (and their portfolios this time) too. Whatever is the reason for the procrastination, Nigerians cannot afford to continue watching helplessly while he runs the country with permanent secretaries, who cannot perform the full functions of a Minister.


The procrastination was so widespread that most of the boards of the federal agencies and public enterprises were not constituted almost three years into Buhari’s first four-year term. At a time, there were too many “acting actors” in the public service. There was an Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (ACJN) from October 2016 – till December 2017. His name was submitted by an Acting President on the last day his acting capacity was to become problematic. Even the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu has been acting in that capacity since November 11, 2015. He is still acting in June, 2019. There were so many others. 


The first tenure of former Chairman of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) Elias Mbam ended in November 2015 and the Commission remained under an Acting Chairman, Shattima Umar Abba-Gana until 2018. Likewise, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, (FRC), the Export-Import Bank, Federal Mortgage Bank, Bank of Industry, the Petroleum Products Pricing regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), National Agency for Food & Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), were under acting chief executives for almost two years. There were more critical vacancies including boards of directors of many corporations. The heads of foreign missions were recalled or dismissed from their beats in July 2015. Government did not appoint replacement for many of them until 2017 and 2018. These vacancies affected corporate governance and efficiency of many agencies of government from 2016-2018. NSITF’s noisy board was just constituted.

Apart from these appointments, the president has not named the key members of his regular cabinet. This delay has, of course, exposed Buhari to charges of unpreparedness for an office he tenaciously sought for under the banner of taking his change mantra to the next level. The president’s recourse to quibble and attribute the delay to his desire to get things right, is hardly convincing anymore. He ought to have appointed some strategic members of his cabinet to guide him, as he engages in international relations. Competent candidates should have been shortlisted for certain strategic positions even before the elections. That would have indicated a preparedness of the government to hit the ground running.  


But this aside, a President cannot possibly effectively govern alone. In fact, the President needs to be told that the permanent secretaries are part of the problems of the country as they have been addicted to government corruption. It is a constitutional requirement per Section 148 (2) (a-c), that, an elected President must appoint ministers of the government of the Federation to assist in the running of government business. President Buhari is duty bound to show both motion and movement because the country can no longer afford to settle into the usual debilitating inertia. 


The pressures of the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were enormous to overwhelm and render a younger Goodluck Jonathan clueless; it must be even more so for a 76-year-old Buhari. It is precisely for reason of his age vis-à-vis the quantum of the work to be done that Buhari should appoint Ministers to take some pressure off him. Buhari urgently needs the right people to effectively pilot the affairs of the nation and cannot settle on ad hoc arrangements. So, there must be ministers. Without ministers, official decisions and actions in the ministries can only be taken at limited level of authority. 


Another danger of the long delay is seen in the shoddiness that has characterized the few appointments Buhari has made; in a manner that speaks more than a little presidential confusion. The appointments have sparked off a controversy as they were perceived as weighted against southerners. It is, therefore, imperative to remind the president that it is too simplistic to dismiss such complaints as nothing more than the rantings of ethnic jingoists. Buhari’s appointments should unify the country; his cabinet should reflect his first inaugural promise as a man who belongs to nobody and belongs to all. 


Having witnessed the way ministers operated in the last administration, it would be no exaggeration to say that many of Buhari’s problems were created by his ministers. But of course, the buck stopped at his desk for he appointed them and he was duty bound to keep them in check. He didn’t. The hope now is that Buhari will break this cycle of perfidious leadership by appointing men and women with the right qualities to fulfill the desire of Nigerians for a just, equitable country; Ministers propelled by a vision to make Nigeria the best place for its citizens. Nigerians expect president Buhari whom they elected to a second term to do things differently. Of course only the ready, the willing, and the able can do this. 


No one in recent times has sought the presidency more tenaciously, more determinedly, than Muhammadu Buhari. In 2015, Nigerians voted more for him than for his party. Now that he has been given a second chance to redeem himself, the President must not lose the momentum of taking change to the next level, that the people yearned for, that his party promised, and that Nigerians await with great expectation. Only the best and trustworthy can help Buhari fulfill those many campaign promises. Nigeria needs ministers who would look beyond here and now and offer a new direction; ministers who make huge sacrifices to develop the country, propelled by the knowledge that leadership is for service. They may not have all the answers but do not lack the will to dream big dreams as well as the wisdom to galvanize the nation to dream with them. But they must be appointed without delay.