Buhari’s wise men not from the East By Onuoha Ukeh

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

Twenty-three days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated men and women, who would work with him to actualise what I would call “the dividends of change.” He had submitted the names of 21 Nigerians, as first batch, to the leadership of the Senate, seeking their confirmation as ministers. His action was in line with his promise, while on official visit to the United States that he would name his ministers in September. And when he visited Niger Republic, he also said that it’s only when he failed to appoint ministers by September, which, by implication, means that last day of the ninth month (September 30), should Nigerians conclude that he reneged on his promise.

Buhari did submit the names of 21 ministerial nominees on the last day of September. However, can we say that he actually kept his word of appointing ministers in September? I do not think so. I say this because on the last day of September, Mr. President submitted the names of 21 ministerial nominees. A few days, thereafter, he also submitted the names of another 16 nominees. Now it’s eight days to the end of October, Buhari only has, officially, only 18 ministers, who, in any case, have not been assigned portfolios and, therefore, technically, not functioning in the offices they have been confirmed. Indeed, it is stating the obvious that ministerial nominees are not ministers. They only become ministers when the Senate, after going through the ritual of screening, confirms them ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as was done with 18 of the nominees last week.

The nominees also become ministers if the Senate fails to screen them after 21 working days of the submission of their names, when they would become, automatically, ministers, even without screening, as specified by the constitution.  The Senate is still screening ministerial nominees and, therefore, President Buhari does not have a cabinet. This means that he failed in his promise to appoint ministers, as he only unveiled ministerial nominees in September.

Well, nobody will hold this against Buhari. The process of appointing ministers and constituting a cabinet is on. And, all things being equal, before the month runs out, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), albeit the Buhari cabinet, would be in place and governance will begin. With this, things will, most likely,  take shape and I believe, the lull, which is plaguing all sectors now, would cease. And Nigeria would come alive again.

The reactions that greeted the unveiling of the first set of ministerial nominees is natural. Those who felt dissatisfied with the list say that if President Buhari would take four months, after assuming office, to nominate people that had been predicted or touted as likely members of the emerging cabinet, the delay was not worth it, made valid point. Also, those who said that the list showed that Mr. President was setting up a “compensatory cabinet,” as the people he nominated, in the first list, are Nigerians he owed a debt of gratitude for the roles they played in his election as president, made some sense. And, indeed, those who say that the first list contained recurring Nigerians, who have been in government at one time or another, and who, in their estimation, do not have much to offer the country again, expressed their legitimate views. For me,  I would say that those who felt disappointed over the first list have cause to. Most of the people Buhari nominated, in the first list, are not from the Moon or Mars. They are Nigerians we know.

Don’t we know Ogbonnaya Onu? Chibuike Amaechi? Audu Ogbeh? Babatunde Fashola? Kayode Fayemi? Lai Mohammed? Chris Ngige? Udoma Udo Udoma? Ibe Kachikwu? Abdurahman Damazzau? Aisha Alhassan? Solomon Dalong? These are people who have been with us, the majority of who are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who worked for the victory of Buhari last March. They could have been nominated as ministers on May 30, 2015, if Buhari so wished. Therefore, the delay in nominating ministers could not have been that President Buhari was looking for saints or angels or people whose record and characters are so impeccable that they can’t be questioned. There are certainly no saints or perfect people, who would make any cabinet. If there is any saint in the world, such person would, certainly, not be alive. Anybody who reaches the point of perfection would die, so that he does not stay a minute longer and risk falling. However, if Buhari was looking for wise men, he should have come to the East only. Yes, wise men only come from the East. Isn’t that what the Bible said?

However, I must say that there is nothing wrong in Buhari or anybody whatsoever making appointments to compensate people who helped him. People must reap the fruit of their labour. What we should be concerned about is whether the people concerned are qualified to hold the positions they have been so nominated.  In my estimation, the people Buhari has nominated are qualified. But whether they would deliver on the assignment is another thing. Therefore,  if Amaechi and Fashola funded Buhari, if  Fayemi and Onu were the strategists in the campaign, if Ngige and Alhassan  gave Buhari foothold in Anambra and Taraba, if Lai Mohammed talked Buhari into the Presidency, with his massive information machinery, there is nothing wrong compensating them. When they get the job, they must prove themselves. One could help another person get a job, but no one would do the job for the person so employed.

I do not agree with those who say that nominating those who could pass for oldbreed politicians (the former governors, ex-ministers or known politicians, who have been in and out of government) are bad, as they may not have much to contribute to the solution of the problems of a modern Nigeria We do need the likes of Ogbeh, Amaechi, Ngige, Fayemi, Onu, for instance, in government, especially in a government of Buhari. These are people who are supposed to stand up to say no when things are going wrong in government. These are people who are expected to look President Buhari in the face and say: “Mr. President, you are wrong, you can’t do that.” Can any of them do it? I  do not have any doubt that some of them can.

It’s in this country that Ogbeh stood up against then President Olusegun Obasanjo when it appeared that the Obasanjo Presidency was, directly or indirectly, in support of the shame and criminality that happened in Anambra State, when a sitting governor (Chris Ngige) was abducted and presented to have purported resigned from office. Ogbeh told Obasanjo it was wrong that he looked the other way when this happened. Although he latter paid dearly for that effrontery, as he was removed as the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP), he did make the point that he would not support evil. Therefore, an Ogbeh ministership is good for Nigeria. Like Ogbeh, I am also persuaded that such people as Onu, Amaechi, Ngige, Fayemi, Fashola, with their experiences as people who once held executive positions, would serve as stabilising factor in the government. They are in a good position to guide the president and by so doing make governance more responsive.

What is my position on the emerging Buhari cabinet? Well, nobody can say that the cabinet would ensure that “Nigeria is working” or the country’s situation gets worse until the people so appointed function in their respective offices. It’s quite fine that the second list of ministerial nominees contains technocrats, professionals and academics.  The people in the second list are also fresh hands, who have not been in government before. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that they are not dented and do not know about the shenanigans of government officials and bureaucrats and, therefore, would do things differently. The disadvantage, on the other hand, is that they  do not have experience in government and may spend a long time learning the ropes, by which time no significant achievement would be recorded. However, nobody would make any conclusion until the ministers assume office and perform their tasks over the days, months or years they would be in office. Therefore, it is premature to say that this cabinet is good or bad. In the next one or two years, we will do an assessment and, therefore, be in a better position to conclude that the aspirations of the people have been met or not.

However, two things are critical in the constitution of the Buhari cabinet: The assigning of portfolios and the level of independence and support the ministers so appointed will get. Yes, after the Senate’s confirmation,  President Buhari has the prerogative to assign anybody to whichever ministry.  The expectation is that the President would do the needful and put square pegs in square holes. In assigning portfolios, Buhari should look beyond politics and put people in their areas of competence.

Also, it is hoped that the belief that Buhari called ministers noisemakers is unfounded. If it is true, it means that appointing ministers is just a mere formality for the president. This means that ministers would not function as they should. I guess not. Ministers are appointed to oversee ministries and to help the President run government effectively. All of them can’t be noisemakers. Besides, it’s the duty of Buhari to ensure that people he appoints are not noisemakers. And if they become noisemakers later, he should not hesitate to show them Oshodi Market, where they could go and make noise. He should show them the door. But if they are not noisemakers, which I know people like Onu, Ogbeh and others are not, he should allow them to work and, then, measure their performance periodically. Importantly, he should ensure that ministers do not begin to run roughshod with their state governors as well as flex muscles with others, in their state, in their quest to be in control of political and government machinery, as was the case in some past governments.

All things said, I think that for the Buhari cabinet, it is morning yet on creation day. The future will decide what Nigerians will say about the government, whether to give it a good report or a bad one.