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President, appoint your key aides

President Muhammadu Buhari

Twenty-six days since his inauguration for a second term in office, President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to make key appointments that do not require National Assembly approval, and to nominate other key aides that require National Assembly approval, is sending a troubling message to Nigerians on the real meaning of moving to the Next Level. Last week the president reappointed the Accountant General of the Federation. He also appointed the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and CEOs of its divisions. These are important appointments, but they are not the key presidential aides that we have in mind.

We observe that some of the president’s closest aides, including Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Boss Mustapha, Chief of Staff to the President Abba Kyari, Head of Service Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, National Security Adviser Major General Mohammed Monguno and media aides Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu are still at their desks. Similarly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s aides, including his media aide Laolu Akande have also continued in their offices. This is strange because traditionally, all political appointments lapse at the end of a tenure, even where the same president is re-elected.

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Before his inauguration on May 29, President Buhari dissolved his cabinet and directed ministers to hand over on May 28. The same principle should have applied to other political office holders. If the president requires them to remain in office, he should reappoint them and publicly announce it to Nigerians. Some lawyers have already said that Section 171 (2) Paragraph E of the 1999 Constitution requires a fresh appointment for presidential aides for them to continue in their respective capacities. Afterall, President Buhari himself was re-elected but he could not continue in office beyond May 29 without taking a fresh oath of office. In the case of presidential advisers, the president also needs approval of their number from the National Assembly. Buhari sought this approval in 2015 even though National Assembly earlier approved a number of advisers for previous presidents.

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Even ministers that require Senate confirmation should not take so long to be nominated. The Senate is now on recess, probably because it did not receive the president’s ministerial nominees. If Senate were to receive the list, it would most probably cut short its recess and reconvene. Ministers are the political heads of their ministries. As members of the Federal Executive Council, they also meet regularly with the president, are familiar with his agenda and have also got his mandate to direct ministerial affairs. Right now, permanent secretaries are holding fort in the absence of ministers but there is a severe limit to what they can do. At best they will do the minimum required to keep the ministries running. This is not good enough.

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It is important to remember also that legally, politically and psychologically, Buhari got a second term of office on February 23, that is, four months ago. There is no reason why he should not have started working on the key aides to appoint from that date. In the United States, from where we copied the presidential system, presidents-elect nominate secretaries of departments [i.e. ministers] well before their inauguration. They send these names to Congress for screening and confirmation. This tradition enables a president to hit the ground running as soon as he is inaugurated because the full compliment of his key aides is already in place. The notion that a president can fully function or successfully run his administration without a cabinet or other key aides is not correct and should be discarded.

In 2015, the President took an interminably long time to make these appointments due, we heard, to the messy manner in which he took over power from former President Goodluck Jonathan. This time there is no such excuse. Besides, Nigerians were promised a movement to the Next Level in President Buhari’s second term. This snail-slow pace is already making Next Level something of a joke.

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