Nigerian new ministers

Five months into his reelection, President Muhammadu Buhari finally assigned portfolios to his ministers. The team is made up of 43 names, 14 of them former ministers from his first term. In the first place, to get him to release the names was like pulling the chestnuts out of the fire.

After winning the controversial election earlier in the year, with his “Next Level” agenda, Buhari urged the nation to allow him more time to enable him to recruit only those with the capacity to deliver. He said, “I am going to be quite me; me in the sense that I will pick people I know personally.”  However, most of the faces that are now ministers are familiar to all.

With this kind of assurance of a new deal, many Nigerians were convinced the new team would be made up of competent technocrats and experienced hands versed in economy and Nigerian geopolitical configuration mature enough to narrow the divides that have become more pronounced in the Buhari presidency.

Much as many gave the president the benefit of doubts, this newspaper believes that  task of choosing ministers is not rocket science. Buhari’s lumbering approach to governance rankles, viewed against the background of the speed of light with which global leaders respond to similar responsibilities. A ringing example, is Boris Johnson, the new United Kingdom Prime Minister, who after succeeding Mrs. Theresa May promptly picked his cabinet the same day he became prime minister.

Like most Nigerians, this newspaper was not shocked by Buhari’s delay as it took him much longer in his first term to form his cabinet. But given his assurances, the quality of the team assembled should have compensated for time wasted. Unfortunately, it did not happen, again. The team’s ordinariness is legendary, at the end of the day the team is as uninspiring as expected.

The challenges facing the nation have quadrupled, and it is our view that the prebendal politics, ethnic chauvinism and arm chair economic management that defined Buhari’s first term can no longer thrive; any furtherance of that proclivity will lead the country into explosion at a scale never imagined.

We urge the new Federal Executive Council (FEC), to focus attention on how the Federal Government will tackle the poor state of the nation’s economy, the myriad of insecurity challenges, ethnic animosities and heated political atmosphere arising from the controversial last elections. Issues, such as unemployment, insecurity and growing social malaise, have been attributed to the failure of the government to engage the people in productive activities.

Nigeria’s economy is largely monolithic, the reason being that there is complete dominance of crude oil as the major contributor to the nation’s purse or revenue. Sadly, only very few hands, in terms of the labour force are engaged in the sector. So while oil contributes hugely to government’s revenue profile (about 85 per cent), its contribution to the GDP is considered abysmally low at less than 10 per cent, which is why there have been agitations and promptings from the business community that government should begin, on a much more focused and consistent basis, to diversification so that there would be more sectors, other than oil that should contribute to the GDP.

And this process of diversifying the economy is not a steep step to take, but sadly, the system has made it looked like it’s an uphill task. Our fear is that the current team lacks the capacity to drive the economy, as political consideration played a large role in their appointments. The expectations that technocrats and experienced Nigerians with capacity and drive would make the list have been dashed.

Before the advent of oil, Nigeria earned most of its foreign exchange from agro-based sources. We had and still have cocoa, palm oil, groundnut and other minerals that constituted the basis upon which the level of infrastructural development the country attained unto was achieved. Unfortunately, oil discovery changed the equation and turned Nigeria to nearly a one resource revenue earner country.

This should not be allowed to continue. The task of diversifying the economic base of this nation away from its reliance on oil as sole revenue earner is what every incoming minister must address their mind, starting from now. There should be no excuse to continue to fritter the nation’s oil revenue, going forward on debt servicing, bloated recurrent expenditures, medical tourism, bogus politicking in the guise of democracy and the seemingly unending restiveness now challenging the nation’s security apparatus and infrastructure.

The areas that should immediately arrest government’s attention right now, among others, are food security, job creation, electricity, roads and railways, provision of affordable healthcare, education and with particular reference to Lagos, a resolution of the Apapa Road gridlock. The continued existence of these challenges, among others, have held back and stalled the growth of the nation’s economy by several decades, and sadly, the authorities that be, both past and current have somewhat handled the issues as though they are insurmountable.

One of the biggest challenges is lack of continuity, as most policies are not followed through, as so many interests are involved. Besides, there is a glaring lack of continuity, no government is prepared to inherit and absorb the policies of its predecessor, which is why abandoned projects are prevalent everywhere. The absence of the culture of building blocks is the reason Nigeria does not have a National Carrier today, no shipping line. It is also the reason why there are dysfunctional refineries. It is the same reason Ajaokuta Steel Company is grounded. Talk of the then vibrant Delta Steel Company and the Iwopin Paper Mill.

Power has been a constant challenge to industrialisation and national development. Nigeria has over 13,000megawatts installed capacity of power generation plants, but most of that is sitting in limbo because the recurring excuses of no gas to fire them remain unresolved. Nigeria is the only oil-producing nation in the world that imports refined petroleum products. All these anomalies must be corrected by those who will manage the economy. Our fear is that the team as a collective does not seem to have the capacity.

The fight against corruption is one of the key agenda of the Buhari administration. Some successes have been recorded, such as huge asset recoveries and return, and prosecution/conviction of high profile corruption suspects and politically exposed persons (PEPs).

 

But an impression has been created that the fight is only selective and political, given the fact that some high profile cases of corruption have refused to fly given that the alleged people have joined the ruling party and their “sins” forgiven. The list is endless.

However, there is a need to strengthen the anti-graft agencies for effective prosecution. Most prosecutors carry a workload that, because of its excessive size or complexity, interfers with quality prosecution and attention to detail. It is not unusual to see prosecuting counsel shuttling from one court to another. In some instances, cases have been adjourned or stalled due to the absence of a prosecutor.

Such a situation endangers the interests of justice and fairness, accuracy, the timely disposition of charges, or has a significant potential to lead to the breach of professional obligations. The AGF should regularly interface with prosecutors and review their cases.

With some crime, such as money laundering, becoming more advanced and complicated, prosecutors need to be abreast of developments to be able to guide investigators on what to look out for. Poor knowledge of information technology is also a challenge. Some investigators are said to lack basic computer skills and cannot type their investigative reports. The AGF is expected to strengthen programs of training and continuing education for both new and experienced prosecutors, investigators and staff.

The inter-agency rivalry has been identified as a major problem. There have been instances of sister agencies withholding crucial intelligence because they do not want to be outshined. Anti-graft agencies also tend to work at cross-purposes. An example was when the Department of State Service (DSS) operatives raided the homes of judges, without carrying the Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) along. The AGF must ensure that all anti-graft agencies are on the same page.

Finally,  the President should know that at the end of the day, it is Buhari administration that history and posterity will assess and not the merit of individual ministers. He must strive for a new model, inspire leadership and play the role of a statesman. He must be ready to do away with ministers that are not up and doing, in addition to giving them targets. There must also be quarterly assessment of their performance.