By the time you read this edition of Reflections, the over-prolonged issue of a cabinet for the Buhari administration may have been settled. Already, a complete list of nominated members of the in-coming cabinet has reached the president and members of Senate and a substantial number of them have received the approval of the members of the hallowed chamber.
Generally speaking, to begin with the positives, there is unmeasured agreement that the president’s ministerial list has on it men and (a few) women of quality, credibility, merit, competence and pedigree to provide the president and the nation with the quality services of the change idea/ideal that the Muhammadu Buhari and his APC party promised on the campaign field.
There are names on the list that can be vouched for in terms of ability and capacity to perform credibly in power, adjudged from their track records. There are a number of names that may not be as well-known in the public sphere but for whom the president’s integrity and personal carriage credibly stand for and may have been given the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise on the field of action, when they become ministers indeed. Given the length of time it took the president to make the list available, many believe that he may have done his research well, even when some, justifiably believe that there are not too many surprises on the list to merit so a long wait that the nation has been made to pass through expecting the list.
What about the performance, so far, by the Senate in the ‘approving’ or screening exercise? The general verdict, as it appears to me, is that it has performed credibly well. It is obvious, and the Senate president, the embattled scion of the deceased strongman of Kwara politics, has superintended over the exercise with an un-ignorable confidence. He has made it clear, especially after clearing the first 18 nominees that he is anxious to clear the men and women named by the president to help him get on with the good governance project that he promises Nigerians.
Even when many feel that the promise to do away with ‘business as usual’ has not been fully carried out, there is evidence of fairness and seriousness in the screening. In screening the nominees, the Senate has transcended inter-party prejudices, biases and interest/disinterest in doing a yeoman’s job with the exercise. The few cases in which rigorous drilling did not take place or where there were no interactions at all are excusable in such an exercise and clearly do not manifest ruses or under-handing. For whatever motivation, the action of the Senate in the approval process has been found relatively credible, though not superlative.
Now, this is as far as one can go in delineating the fair side of the exercise from both the perspective of the nominator and the approving body. President Buhari’s list has been subjected to some criticism, even when, as we have said above, there has been no outright condemnation of or loud outrage against the list. Let us examine some of the dimensions of uneasiness by segments of the electorate. From the gender perspective, President Buhari’s list has been criticised for not being sufficiently gender-sensitive, from the viewpoint of the female gender. Five nominations for women, on a list of 35, have been, justifiably found to be miserly towards women.
This is not in terms of the quality of the women presented (all of them gave acceptable accounts of themselves before the Senate), on the level of quantity. Reference was made to the last regime of Jonathan, which had begun to address the issue of female representation in public office – never mind the quality or lack of it in terms of performance. Many, and I take sides with them, have expressed the wish that President Buhari should have found a few more women to nominate as ministers. It is hoped that subsequent political appointments that will take place will reflect the president’s sensitivity to the topical gender question raging across the world. It is hoped that he will disabuse the minds of Nigerians in general and women in particular that he can find many more credible and meritorious women that he can engage in the service of the nation.
There has been the intriguing but correct observation that nearly one third or so of the ministerial nominees belong to the legal profession, in a nation where that profession is certainly not the strongest numerically among the professions. There are many more teachers and engineers than there are lawyers. Why, it has been asked, are there so many lawyers on the president’s proposed cabinet? My personal take is that this has been an unwitting preference that really does not reflect the president’s professional bias, in terms of those who voted for him as different from those who did not – a spoken influence on the composition of his appointees so far. Could it be a result of the aggressiveness and the pro-activism of the men of the bar?
There is (and I think this is the most vociferous landscape of critical expression against the list) the criticism of the narrowness of the list on the level of inclusivity, vertically speaking. True, the president has carried out the constitutional expectation of naming a minister from each state, even though he has chosen to do so without the previously usual reference to the state governors in choosing from each state. Yet, there is the strongly expressed view that he has drawn his list almost exclusively from within his party or/and from among those people who have been close to him from the days of his political travails – days he was seeking the presidential position without success.
The president has spoken, unequivocally, that he was not going to favour those states and people who did not vote for him and neglect those who came out in the polls in support of his presidential bid. There is the correct expression of the view that, having won the election, he ought to take the whole nation as his constituency in general and find credible people from across parties, interests and situations with adequate credit and merit to serve the nation under his aegis. There is such a massive acceptance of his presidency across sects, interests, gender and ethnicities, almost with euphoric and soporific obsession, that he ought not to leave the nation with the impression that he does not belong to everyone as he declared in his inaugural speech. This is worrisome when at least one governors Nasir el-Rufai, has publically offered the same sentiment. When accused of being responsible for the nomination of his sister, Zainab Ahmed for ministerial appointment, he denied any knowledge of how she was picked but went on, in the same breadth, to echo, inadvertently, the president’s view that he would not by-pass those who voted for him to elect into office those that did not. It is again, hoped, that future engagements of Nigerians in service based on appointment will persuade Nigerians that the president is truly for everybody and for nobody – such that charges of nepotism or even feudal instincts, as presently suggestible, will disappear.
On horizontal delimitation of nominations, there is some disquiet from some states that particular senatorial districts have been favoured. Such rumblings come from states where both the governors and the ministerial nominees come from the same district. This was the case in Niger which the president promptly reversed but not so with a few others states like Kaduna. In the case of Kogi, where the gubernatorial election is yet to take place, but where the APC candidate is from Kogi East and the ministerial candidate is from the same district. This is a state where the power imbalance has been perennial and where one hopes the new president will help correct.
In the end, it is the programme of structural transformation, based on visional ideas and ideals that the president thrusts on the laps of his cabinet that will matter. As it is, we nudge the government, with a Shakespearean admonition that “to be thus is nothing but to be safely thus.” So long!
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