Buhari’s new cabinet: Matters arising

President Muhammadu Buhari recently unveiled the identities of his new cabinet without the delay witnessed in his first tenure. As usual, the action met mixed reactions. Whilst a fraction gave commendation particularly for its right timing, others claimed the list neither met their expectations nor reflected optimism chiefly for retaining most members of his earlier cabinet with only a few fresh names.

Incidentally, appointment of is an exclusive duty of the president albeit subject to confirmation by the Senate as provided in Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended: “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”. However, the president can only have a productive administration with a proficient team that shares his vision. Thus, competence cannot be overemphasised. Nonetheless, competence is not one and only factor as unity of purpose is also a prerequisite.

But, why does a president need and what qualities must be found in a nominee for the position? A nominee for ministerial appointment must, beyond other qualities, have managerial capacity to spearhead and coordinate an organisation effectively. Possibly, this formed the basis for opting for scores of former governors with good scorecards.

Invariably, coordination and supervision of a ministry including all agencies, parastatal and statutory bodies under it for efficient operations of the president are the essential tasks of ministers. However, these tasks are no child’s play. In other words, a minister is essentially the president’s eyes; the overseer in a ministry who ensures that all policies of the government are carried out efficiently. A minister is therefore the president’s reliable representative that coordinates, supervises all activities in a ministry and reports directly to him.

Apart from managerial skill and competence, trust is indispensable. If not, partisanship could frustrate the administration.

The drafters of the constitution understood that a president may not flow effectively with some ministries vis-à-vis policies of the government if left under the watch of permanent secretaries who may pitch their tents in another political party.

Yes, civil servants are lawfully free to identify with any political party of their choice as provided in Section 40 CFRN, ruling party or opposition, as a fundamental right provided it doesn’t interfere with official duties.

Section 40 provides, “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”

So, imagine a permanent secretary that belongs to an opposition party heading a ministry; certainly, it will be catastrophic in service delivery as partisanship might play out. Thus, office of the minister aptly exists to remedy such a scenario.

On appraisal, there is no cause for alarm. Nominees’ scorecards convincingly show capacity. Probably, some had expected a number of names from some global institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc. Admitted, such prospects are not bad ideas.

However, the progresses made by Buhari’s previous administration deserves acknowledgements, and reengaging most of the teamwork demonstrates the government is principally concerned in service delivery against ‘turn-by-turn sharing of the national cake’ that used to be the pattern in the past. Significantly, most of the new ministers are sufficiently proficient in their respective careers.

Without prejudice, the retained ministers avidly put in their best in the previous administration. Thus, Buhari’s decision acutely reflects astuteness.

 Again, it is noteworthy that since Buhari came on board in 2015, not even one politician including from his ruling party or cabinet has been awarded a national honour as recklessly and lavishly done annually in the past.

All these critically attest to a paradigm shift; seriousness and focus of the government to restructure the country for common good and not for frivolities. Even the usual periodic purposeless reshuffle of cabinet merely for compensating politicians is so far a history.

Thus, there is a need to give the government the benefit of the doubt. Let criticisms be clothed with value and sense of responsibility. Political opposition must not be overstretched to acrimony. Otherwise, even where criticisms are germane and constructive, the points may not scale through. Politics therefore should remain an intellectual pursuit for power as in other climes.

By willpower, teamwork and continuous conscientious actions, the envisaged Next Level is feasible. Interest must shift to means of engaging over 100,000 fresh graduates that yearly join the existing high percentage of job seekers in the labour market against few employment opportunities but end up roaming the streets.

Possibly, the school curricula may be reviewed to take into account skill acquisition and self-development as remedies. This critically demands brainstorm as panacea for rising security challenges.

Umegboro is Associate, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (United Kingdom)

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