Lawan (L), Buhari (R)

After the long wait, culminating in a Senate threat, the list of what will be President Buhari’s next cabinet was finally released penultimate week, and what a surprise it was to the nation! It reflected both hope and disappointment. The president had tried to justify the extended waiting period with the explanation that he was under intense pressure (from those he did not mention) and also that he would not work with those he didnt know like had happened in the first term. And the list was proof of that as he retained 14 of the old members and most of the rest were all those who had worked for him during the 2019 general elections.
The surprise then was over the suspense period when he already knew those he wanted to appoint almost two months after his inauguration on May 29, 2019.

In specific terms, the list was a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly; it goes for the worst of any cabinet appointments since this dispensation as there is hardly any name that commands immediate public interest and attention given the dire and desperate situation in the country, to create confidence and expectation of a reprieve from the asphyxiating atmosphere of despondency.

The names reflect a recycling of old faces, and follows the tradition and orientation of this regime of rewarding close friends and associates, emphasizing loyalty to the president rather than ability to contribute to the growth and development of the country. Again, some of the names are heavily tainted by corruption allegations, especially the former governors, which is a smear on the image of the administration that claims to be fighting corruption as its main policy legitimacy. It is a slap on the sensitivity of Nigerians who had staked their fate and future on the promise by the president to stamp out corruption.

Even more sadly is the fact that there is nothing in the composition of the cabinet that speaks of any sense of urgency and seriousness by the government to the emergency situations in the country with the reign of insecurity across its length and breadth, and social and economic challenges threatening the nation at the seams. The present circumstances in the country require the best hands and brains available to be on deck; those with the creativity and industry to deliver the best results that is capable of pulling the chestnut out of the raging inferno.

But what did we get? Some past public officers who had misgoverned their states and those whose previous performance as minister was not sterling enough to merit an encore, and have nothing to show for the time in office, except their sudden affluence. It may not be far-fetched to assume that by all intents and purposes, the priority of this government is not the advancement of the general interest of all Nigerians given the negative public perception of the appointees.

Furthermore, the unwieldy size of the cabinet is disturbing in view of the current financial situation in the country. With ballooning public debt and huge budget deficit, this is hardly the time to adopt a patronage system in government affairs as all the indices of political stability and economic growth are down.

A cabinet of 43, against the 36 in the first term, with all the accoutrements of office, is senseless and insensitive. Unfortunately, a government that promised change has proved to be worse than the one it changed.

For those politically aware of the happenings in the country, the list does not project the pursuit of peace and reconciliation; rather we get a feeling of a possible antagonistic posturing in the run up to 2023, as some of them have been known to be violently opposed to their state governments. Having lost their political dominance in their states, they are being propped up by the president with ministerial appointments and federal power to destabilize their states. Given some of the controversial policies being pursued by this government, there is fear that government is seeking support base in some of the opposition states for its policies.

Worse still, the practice of nominating ministers without portfolios makes a mockery of the whole exercise as the questions could only be speculative and tendentious, thus defeating its entire essence. It lacked rigour and objective interrogation of the responses, which makes it all a charade and customary rather than a screening intended to inform and determine the credibility and suitability of the nominees. At the end of the day, Nigerians do not know more of their future ministers than before they were appointed, a problem the screening is intended to solve.

Again, screening the proposed ministers by the committee of the whole House lacks diligence and effectiveness required of such a process. In modern democracies, most legislative work, especially the most critical such as nominations and appropriations, are done at the committee levels to ensure thoroughness before being brought to the floor of the whole. Apparently because the senate had not constituted its standing committees, an ad hoc committee could have been set up for the purpose, but it became a fun-fare left at the discretion the senate president who was constrained by time and party loyalty.

If the nominees were uninspiring and lackluster, the confirmation process made matters worse. The senate failed Nigerians, who wished to evaluate the quality and preparedness of the nominees, particularly, those new in government, by not giving them the opportunity to do so. The policy of bow and go which had been practiced by the senate and reserved for former senators and a few class of privileged persons was thoroughly abused and left most Nigerians wondering what to expect of the 9th senate as 23 of the nominees were excused without questioning.

As expected, the senate also approved all the nominees for appointment as ministers which raises serious question about the ability of the senate to defend and protect the interest of Nigerians whom they represent. With the senate performance, it is difficult to see how the ministers would respect their oversight functions having created the absurd impression that the president who appointed them can do no wrong nor be subjected to any scrutiny.

Overall, this newspaper believes that this cabinet leaves much to be desired given the nations abundant human resources. Hopefully, the president can rise to the occasion this time around and ensure a regular monitoring and evaluation of these appointees to ensure that those who do not measure up to expectations are not allowed to over-stay their welcome and encumber their positions and the nation. There may still be an opportunity for the government to bring in some new hands to improve on what exists. As for this cabinet, we can only hope for the best. And given what we already know about them, there is really not much to hope for really.

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