A Pre-election Stewardship Appraisal

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President Buhari in his office at the State House Abuja. Sitting in front of him is Chief of Staff Abba Kyari

By Tokunbo Adedoja

Again, it’s time for stewardship appraisal – the fourth since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015. Though the anniversary of his inauguration is still a couple of months away, the upcoming election makes an appraisal apt at this time. Doing that however requires beaming light on his ministers. This is because a President’s performance appraisal is based on the performances of the officials he delegated responsibilities to, in this case members of his cabinet. They are the ones who help to fulfil his campaign promises and achieve his vision by ensuring the implementation of government policies. No wonder the choice of ministers attracts not only public scrutiny, but legislative screening. A wise President picks a quality team.

Almost four years ago, President Buhari took off on a rather slow pace, waiting almost six months to name his cabinet. And when he did, his picks did not excite an anxious nation. The list included old faces and several others whose records of service were unknown to many. Apart from five of them – Ogbonnaya Onu, Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi, Rotimi Amaechi and Chris Ngige – who had served as state chief executives, and three others, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, Audu Ogbeh, and Udo Udoma, who had served as army chief, Second Republic minister and senator respectively, most of the ministers were largely unknown. But this did not imply that those who were not so prominent did not possess the requisite academic qualifications or experience to be appointed into the federal cabinet.

About a year ago, two others, Steven Ocheni and Suleiman Hassan, joined the cabinet following the exit of Amina Mohammed, who was appointed Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, and James Ocholi, who died in a ghastly motor accident.

Since the cabinet was inaugurated on November 11, 2015, ministers have been working to implement the President’s vision in their respective ministries. While some started on a promising note and with a clear vision, others spent months learning on the job as their various policy missteps suggested. With the exception of some members of the cabinet whose ministries have recorded significant achievements in terms of policy initiation, programmes implementation, and projects execution, several of the ministers are seen as nonperformers.

Almost four years into the President’s mandate, his ministers are now racing against time and a distracting political campaign season to deliver on his campaign promises.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed has commenced media tour of federal infrastructure projects across the country, visiting rail and road construction sites with a view to showcasing the President’s achievements. All the projects visited so far are on going, which further put pressure on the administration to work strenuously to complete them before the president mounts campaign rostrum.

But a fair stewardship appraisal will have to consider some factors that characterised these past three years. The economy plunged into recession, the worst in decades, after the prices of oil – Nigeria’s main source of revenue – dropped from over $100/bpd to under $40. The situation was worsened by a drastic drop in oil production levels due to resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta before it subsided and production picked up. The administration has also been waging an unending war against Boko Haram in the Northeast and armed bandits in the middle belt region.

Speculations were rife in the last quarter of 2017 that a cabinet reshuffle was imminent. Those speculations were largely based on the perception that many of the ministers had not lived up to expectations. Buhari himself hinted at a possible cabinet reshuffle during a meeting with leaders of the APC. But he premised it on the need to expand his cabinet to accommodate party members who felt alienated in the scheme of things. That never happened, and with time, the speculations fizzled out.

As the nation enters election season, the cabinet will certainly be rejigged, not because of the need for improved performance. That has long been overtaken by time and intrigues. The impending reshuffle is a political necessity that has been set in motion.

The next couple of weeks will see some ministers exit the cabinet to pursue their respective political aspirations. There are those who have signified their intentions to vie for governorship of their respective states. There are other members of the cabinet that are already putting structures on ground for the actualisation of their gubernatorial bids in other states.

Some will also be leaving because of the key roles they will play in helping the President get re-elected. There are also those that will leave because their political interests would clash with that of the President as electioneering progresses. Women Affairs Minister Aisha Alhassan, who recently resigned falls into that category. She had earlier informed the President that if her political leader Atiku Abubakar enters the race for the presidency, she would resign and back his aspiration. Atiku is a top contender for the opposition PDP presidential ticket.

Adding new faces to the cabinet in an election year could have its own downside, because it would be at a time when the president would have little or no time to supervise their work. As the last three and half years have shown, some may need time to learn on the job. What suffers in all this is the president’s scorecard. How that turns out rests squarely in his hands. He could bring in quality and tested hands that will hit the ground running and quickly make up for lost time or he could choose to give political patronage with his cabinet picks.

The coming days and weeks will see the president moving from states to states, seeking to convince Nigerians to renew his mandate for another four years. His talking points will be his record of stewardship, and that record intertwines with those of his ministers.