Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the prevailing political atmosphere may force President Buhari to step away from his avowed rigidity, to enlarge the size of his cabinet, in order to satisfy compelling interests groups
What was being discussed in hushed tones in offices within the secretariat of the Lagos State Government in the dying days of the administration of former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has recently blown into a full scale media war between the parties loyal to Ambode and those of his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola. The bone of contention is the ministerial slot on the Federal Executive Council reserved for Lagos State. President Muhammadu Buhari is said to be considering unbundling the Works, Housing and Power Ministry, which was previously supervised by Fashola. After Ambode lost his bid to return as Governor of Lagos State for a second term, he drew closer to Buhari who he had approached to put in a good word for him when political opponents assailed him on all fronts. Buhari is now faced with the dilemma of choice between Ambode and Fashola. Another suggestion that jas gained wide acceptance was the possibility of having Ambode replace Ben Akabueze, the current Director General of the Budget Office in The Presidency. Akabueze had previously served as commissioner in Lagos State. Many, however, think it will be a step down for Ambode, having been the chief executive of a state.
Lagos is not the only state that Buhari is faced with a hard choice. The scenario is not different in Rivers State. Though it is almost taken for granted that the former Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi who has successfully managed Buhari’s election as president twice will certainly make the cabinet, Rivers may be pushing for a second person on the Buhari team because the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state was not allowed to take part in the 2019 national elections; just like in Zamfara State. But Mr. Yinka Odumakin, spokesperson of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere argued that if competence was a major consideration for ministerial appointment, there will be no need to have ministers from every state. He said, “Our cabinet is over-bloated though it’s a constitutional requirement that we must have a minister from each state. It is a provision we have to look at critically again in view of our realities. We must at a point stop looking at these positions as sharing the largesse to every corner of the political elites as against running government in a way to spread the good to all our citizens. If we run an efficient government where the needs of all citizens are reasonably met, how many citizens would insist a minister must come from their states? If we picked a minister from every street in Nigeria and governance is all about the corruption of greedy elites that we have now, the corporate good would not be served in any way for as long as it is not about the greatest good of the greatest majority.”
On the surface, it is often made to look like appointment of a minister is the sole prerogative of the president. But it is well know that in practice, governors, chieftains of political parties and various interest/lobby groups struggle for the limited space to become a member of the Federal Executive Council. In many instances it is almost a fait accompli that the failed governorship candidate of the party at the centre becomes the minister from his state. However, the hot contest, this time around has thrown up a different scenario. In Ebonyi State, for instance, many interest groups are up in arms against Senator Sonni Ogbuoji who contested the 2019 governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2015, Obong Umana Okon Umana did not become a minister from Akwa Ibom State, though he flew the APC governorship flag in the state. Instead, the ministerial portfolio for Akwa Ibom was given to Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who, curiously was still in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at the time. The insinuation was that Udoma got the slot from an associate who was a financier of the Buhari campaign.
How the President manages this manifest injustice will be seen when he announces members of his cabinet. For instance, the South-east region has been clearly left out in the emerging leadership of the new administration. As things stand, if the position of the Secretary to the Federal Government eludes the South-east, it will be the first time that a major ethnic bloc in the country is completely excluded from the top echelon of governance of the federation. Though his performance in the 2019 presidential election in the South-east states was a marked improvement from 2015, the president and his handlers appear to be very upset with the South-easterners. An inside source in Aso Rock Villa said that this time the Presidency is not begging the South-easterners. He argued, “This is the only president that has done more for the South-east than his predecessors. Buhari has paid Biafran police and anyone who had a legitimate claim from that unfortunate civil war episode. That singular act has effectively brought a major healing on the national psyche and some kind of closure on the Nigerian Civil War. He is building the Second Niger Bridge and rehabilitating many federal roads in the South-east, yet they hate him with so much passion. Now the South-east knows that without their vote, Buhari still won the election. Do they expect to reap where they did not sow?”
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) comprises of ministers appointed by the President to take responsibility for each of the government ministries. In his first tenure, President Muhammadu Buhari swore in a cabinet of 36 ministers from each of the 36 states of Nigeria on November 11, 2015. This was about six months after he had taken the oath of office as president. A barrage of attacks followed these appointments, mainly owing to the fact that many of the persons appointed were known faces. However, it has been argued that the complexity attaining governance of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria demands that the president consult widely with different stakeholders in the polity before arriving at his choice. The delay in announcing his cabinet in his first tenure has also been blamed on the resolve of the present to run a slim and cost effect cabinet. He was said to have come to office believing that the cost of governance was too high and he was therefore determined to reduce the cost. The president also considered that he saved the nation a lot of money that the minsters would have earned in those six months. After it was brought to his notice that the constitution mandated that a minister be appointed from each of the 36 states, he knew that there was little he could do. This, perhaps accounts for his reluctance to replace ministers who took their leave from the cabinet.
Section 147(2) of the constitution states, “Any appointment to the office of minister of the government of the federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the senate, be made by the president.” Section 147(3) further clarifies that, “Any appointment under sub section (2) of this section by the president shall be in conformity with the provisions of section 14(3) of the constitution provided that in giving effect to the provision aforesaid the President shall appoint at least one minister from each state who shall be an indigene of such state.”
At the resumption of the National Assembly in the first week of next month, the President is expected to present his list of ministerial nominees for screening and approval by the senate. This will be a clear departure from his first tenure when he took six months to compose his cabinet. This act is believed to be one of causes for the downturn in the economy as the private became unsure of what policies may emerge from government.