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Vol 60 No 15

Published 26th July 2019


The Gang of 43 breaks cover

Light on technocrats, heavy on party hacks with accountability issues, many ask whether the new ministerial team was worth the four-month wait

With an extra five members, stuffed with party loyalists and an average age of 60, President Muhammadu Buhari's new ministerial team cannot be accused of exuding dynamism or imagination. Announced two days after about a dozen people were killed in the capital when Shiite protestors clashed with armed police, the composition of the new government reinforced the sense of a lack of executive urgency as the country's national security crisis was spiralling out of control.

The list reinforces the view that President Buhari's second term will be like his first: tortuously slow decision-making, a reluctance to sanction bad performance in the security services or in the ministries, personal loyalty trumping competence and a tolerance for politicians facing serial corruption charges.

It is overwhelmingly male, with just eight women. The size of the cabinet fits with the constitutional requirement that the government reflect 'federal character': it tries to represent 36 states and over 250 ethnic groups. It includes a minister from each state, one from the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) and one 'bonus' minister from each of the country's six geopolitical zones.

It also points to Buhari unbundling the super-ministries he created in his first term, especially the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.

Best of the bunch
Only three of the new nominees stand out as 'meritocrats'. They include Sharon Ikeazor (Anambra, aged 58) a capable reformer who has led a government directorate tasked with fixing Nigeria's pension system. Another strong nominee is Mariam Yalwaji Katagum (Bauchi, 65), Nigeria's intellectual and articulate permanent representative to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is tipped for culture minister.

The youngest nominee at 46 – five years older than France's current president – is Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami (Gombe), a world class technology expert and trained Imam who has led the National Information Technology Development Agency since 2016.

Déja vu
A surprising number of Buhari's first term ministers – fourteen out of 38 – have been reappointed despite widespread criticism of the government.

Some choices seem to be designed to satisfy powerful party figures and presidential contenders. Other ministers have been retained for their relationships with the President or his few close advisors. After an ill-advised comment about choosing ministers that he knew and trusted, Buhari faced heavy criticism for being too parochial.

One of the ruling All Progressives' Congress's top financiers and political godfathers – former governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi – is set to retain his transport portfolio or be given another that involves hefty contracts (AC Vol 60 No 6, Election credibility on trial).

Former governor of Lagos State Babatunde Fashola stays in the cabinet but will lose his 'super minister' status. He remains a leading contender, alongside Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, to succeed Buhari in 2023 (AC Vol 59 No 25, Election bored game).

More bizarrely, given his record of garbled legal advice, Attorney General Abubakar Malami (Kebbi, 52), will retain his justice portfolio. He has retained close ties to the family of Sani Abacha, the legendarily corrupt military leader (AC Vol 59 No 15, Uncivil action).

Zainab Ahmed (Kaduna, 59)—a protégé of Kaduna State governor and 2023 presidential hopeful Nasir El Rufai will probably keep the finance portfolio. She has been giving confident interviews on economic policy since Buhari's re-election but will not deviate from the strong naira and directed credit policy.

Long-time Buhari loyalists like former governor Ogbonnaya Onu (Anambra, 67), physician Osagie Ehanire (Edo, 73), and Hadi Sirika (Katsina, 55) stay on board. Ehanire's reappointment suggests that Buhari's relationship with former defence minister General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, who is married to Ehanire's sister Daisy, has improved since he opposed Buhari's 2019 re-election bid. Little-known ministers squeaking back into the cabinet include businessman Muhammad Musa Bello (Adamawa, 60) and former legislator Mustapha Baba Shehuri (Borno, 58).

Also re-emerging are former minister of Labour and ex-governor Chris Ngige (Anambra, 66), former minister of education Adamu Adamu (Bauchi, 63), and former minister of water and member of Buhari's extended family Suleiman Adamu (Jigawa, 56 – AC Vol 57 No 24, Grandees test the water).

All three performed poorly in their previous roles. Despite the deepening crisis in public health, Ngige remarked that talent-strapped Nigeria had a 'surplus' of medical doctors and that medical professionals should feel free to seek opportunities abroad.

A surprise re-appointment was seasoned international bureaucrat Geoffrey Onyeama (Enugu, 63) who had intimated to Western diplomats that he would not be retained, having struggled to exert leadership over the foreign ministry or build a close relationship with Buhari. Onyeama's friendship with Abba Kyari, the president's chief of staff, may have been a decisive factor.

Unemployed ex-governors
Of the many former state governors on the ministerial list, three appear to have received nominations to ensure they remain 'politically relevant' – and useful assets of the ruling party – in their home states. Rauf 'Ogbeni' Aregbesola (Osun, 62) is a risky choice given that he nearly bankrupted his state during his stormy tenure.

Likewise, former governor and ex-senator George Akume (Benue, 65). A voluble and sociable wheeler-dealer, Akume will probably spend more time politicking in his home state than huddling with bureaucrats to develop policy.

Former governor and recently defeated senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom, 56) is the most controversial nominee. During Akpabio's tenure as governor in Akwa Ibom, the level of corruption was 'exceptional', according to US diplomats at the time. So was political violence.

The US State Department is now keeping a tally of politicians who use violence to fix elections. This week it announced that it had imposed 10-year visa bans on Nigerian officials involved in violence in this year's elections. We hear that at least one of Buhari's nominees is among them.

Meanwhile, a long-running probe by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into a N1.4 billion ($8.75 million in 2011 dollars) corruption scheme involving Akpabio was quietly suspended after the former governor defected to the ruling APC in August 2018.

'Our man at the ministry'
At least five future cabinet members have been nominated to assuage ruling party godfathers. These include: Clement Agba (Edo, 55), former environment commissioner under then-governor Adams Oshiomole, the current APC National Chairman; Mohammed Hassan Abdullahi (Nasarawa), a top state government official under former governor Tanko Al Makura, a staunch Buhari supporter; and Saleh Maman (Taraba), said to be backed by Bola Tinubu, the godfather of Lagos politics and a former state governor.

Also in this category are: Olamilekan Adegbite (Ogun, 57), commissioner of works under Ibikunle Amosun, the state's former governor who, despite quarrelling with APC powerbrokers, remains close to Buhari; and Mohammed Maigari Dingyadi (Sokoto, 66), a former federal legislator and political chameleon who shows strong loyalty to former governor Aliyu Wamakko; the two are in-laws.

Mohammed Mahmoud Abubakar (Kaduna) – chairman of the corruption-prone Universal Basic Education Commission – is an El Rufai pick. A former state legislator, Mahmoud is said to 'love money to a fault', according to a senior official.

Potent pedigrees
Buhari's nominee from Ekiti State – Richard Adeniyi 'Niyi' Adebayo – has both governing experience and political chops. The son of Nigeria's universally-respected first indigenous army chief, the 61-year-old Adebayo served as governor of Ekiti from 1999 to 2003. A skilled lawyer with strong ties to Governor Kayode Fayemi, Adebayo could take any number of portfolios and perform well.

Abubakar D. Aliyu is another legacy appointment. He was appointed as deputy to governor (now senator) Ibrahim Geidam in 2009 following the sudden death of his brother, Governor Mamman Ali, in office. A career civil servant, Aliyu is an establishment figure from a state where government is the largest employer and one that voted heavily for Buhari in 2015 and 2019.

Northern lights
Several of Buhari's first-time nominees fall into his comfort zone: ageing northern elites. These include retired general Bashir Salihi Magashi (Kano, 70) whose last stint in government was thirty years ago as military governor of Sokoto State during General Ibrahim Babangida's regime. Magashi was also in Gen Abacha's 'kitchen cabinet' and commanded the Brigade of Guards.

Other quintessentially northern nominees include Zubairu Dada (Niger, 67), a retired ambassador to Poland and Mozambique; Sadiya Umar Farouq (Zamfara), the female head of Nigeria's refugee resettlement agency; and Sabo Nanono (Kano, 73), a retired banker who – according to a Kano APC politician – represents the 'GRA cabal' (a reference to Government Reserved Areas, upscale colonial-era neighbourhoods) rather than the talakawas (common people) who are Buhari's base in the north.

Political lionesses
Of the eight women nominated, three are battle-hardened politicians. Gbemisola Saraki (Kwara) is a scion of Kwara State's pre-eminent dynasty – and sometime rival to her brother, erstwhile Senate President Bukola Saraki, who suffered a shock electoral defeat this year. Gbemisola's ministerial slot is a reward for working against her brother's re-election.

Likewise, Ramatu Tijani Aliyu (Kogi, 49), who served as the ruling party's national women's leader, will probably get the Minister for Women Affairs job. Also joining the cabinet is former Plateau State deputy governor Pauline Tallen, who also served as a deputy science minister under Olusegun Obasanjo.

Runners up and others
Having failed to win re-election to the senate, former chairman of the petroleum committee Tayo Alasoadura (Ondo, 70) has a ministerial nomination as consolation prize.

Former Senator Adeleke Mamora (Lagos, 66) – a Tinubu loyalist who insiders describe as 'washed up' in state politics – has been promoted from his sinecure running the National Inland Waterways Authority to a ministry. Another consolation prize goes to Emeka Nwajiuba (Imo, 51), a Buhari loyalist who was well-positioned to run against Tinubu ally Femi Gbajabiamila for Speaker of the House of Representatives, but stepped aside at the urging of party elders.

Gift of the gab
Three of Buhari's nominees have more media savvy than their counterparts. Lai Mohammed (Kwara, 67) – another ally of Tinubu's – could return as information minister or could be substituted with Sunday Dare (Oyo, 53), a veteran journalist and social media guru who ran Voice of America's Hausa Service for eight years.

Clever and articulate, Dare is also a Tinubu man, serving as his chief of staff from 2010 until his appointment as an executive commissioner at the Nigerian Communications Commission in 2016.

Celebrity human rights lawyer Festus Keyamo (Delta, 49), communications director for Buhari's 2019 campaign, will also be an outspoken and colourful minister. Keyamo was nominated as a reward for his tireless campaigning (AC Vol 59 No 15, The probity contest). He may also help the APC consolidate support in Urhobo areas of PDP-controlled Delta State. There he will work with Deputy Senate President Ovie Òmó-Agege, and perennial governorship candidate Great Ogboru in this vote-rich area.

Three nominees – Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa, 55), Goddy Jedy-Agba (Cross River, 60), and Uche Ogah (Abia, 49) – owe their political and personal fortunes to crude oil. As state governor from 2007-2012, Sylva earned a reputation for corruption, cosying up to militants and criminal gangs, and holding drug-fuelled parties in the governor's mansion. He rehabilitated his career by astutely joining the APC at its inception in 2013.

Ogah is an oil tycoon who ran for governor in 2019 under the APC banner. President and CEO of Masters Energy, an indigenous oil company in which some industry experts suspect Allison Madueke – a retired admiral and husband of former petroleum minister Diezani Allison-Madueke, who faces multiple charges of grand corruption – has a stake. Jedy-Agba, former head of crude oil marketing at Nigeria's state oil company, worked closely with Diezani Allison-Madueke when she was minister (AC Vol 58 No 15, Diezani in their sights).

Missing in action
Notable omissions from the list include several key first-term ministers including interior minister Abdulrahman Dambazau, defence minister Brigadier General (rtd) Mansur Dan-Ali and agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh. Dambazau struggled to build political networks.

Although in charge of the police, immigration, and prisons service, the retired army chief was often excluded from high-level security discussions between the President and his security chiefs. The exclusion of Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, the flamboyant minister of state (deputy minister) for petroleum, was expected but will intensify demands that the president replace him with an appointee from the Niger Delta.

Looking ahead
Given his party's clear control of the senate, Buhari's nominees expect swift confirmation hearings. It seems doubtful that this larger, more politically-oriented cabinet will function better than its predecessor.

Buhari has not developed close ties to more than a handful of his ministers, telling the rest to stick to state procedure and party policy. With expectations running low and no grand vision to implement, the cabinet's more ambitious members will be tempted to do less governing and more politicking ahead of the 2023 elections.


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