Monday, 16 November 2015

The Challenges facing Buhari’s Ministers

Finally, after almost six months of the Buhari Administration, a cabinet of 36 ministers has been unveiled.
This is despite arguments that had been growing in the polity that if Nigeria were truly broke and can barely afford a large government, the spirit of the 1999 Constitution did not really bind the President to appoint a minister from each state of the federation; he could actually appoint less, in line with the exegesis of the times.

Having toed the literal constitutional path and appointed his ‘dream team’ that he described as round pegs in round holes from across the country, some Nigerians are now wondering why it took the President so long to unveil this cabinet comprising a good number of familiar personalities and politicians (who had been subjects of ministerial appointment speculations for a while), despite setting the national imagination on a wild drive of anticipation for months.

Yet, we should commend the President for reducing an unwieldy number of ministries to 24 in line with the fiscal demands of the Nigerian situation, and for yielding to the public clamour against appointing ministers without portfolios (as all the ministers were assigned portfolios in different capacities), which could have still led to outcries of marginalisation and exclusion.

These 36-person cabinet members are the ones to deliver on a new ethos and convert the Buhari Administration’s mantra of change into reality. As the President put it: “We are optimistic that bringing this set of ministers into the service of our country today is a step in the right direction, a timely move towards realising our positive goals for our country.”

Even then, the question of how much of round pegs in round holes these ministers are is a subject of contemplation, suggesting political determination rather than a pursuit of competency and a noble vision. Or, how does one understand some of the appointments, including a professor of curriculum development being made a junior minister of education, while the senior minister is an accountant? Or where a known development actor in the international civil society is sent to the solid minerals ministry, etc. Equally, given the infrastructural and energy challenges of the nation, why saddle one man with a collapse of the power, energy, and works ministries in one combo? Could this be a rewarding mission or the outlines of an internal political mission?

With the worsening case of security across the country; a battered economy almost on the verge of recession, highlighting a GDP that is said to have nose-dived from a steady growth of 7% for over a decade to about 2% presently; rising unemployment estimated at about 40%; an inflation rate that is approaching double digits at about 9.4%; huge losses of national income and productivity indices that have sunk to an all time low, all is certainly not well with Nigeria at the moment. And, this is no less crucially linked to a very huge decline in the price of oil – the mainstay of the economy – to less than $50 a barrel in the international market, making it difficult for governments in the country to meet their obligations to citizens, etc.

Expectations are definitely at almost an all time high, and Nigerians will soon begin to judge the APC government by the performance of its ministers; and If the change the APC promised Nigerians turns out to be a ruse, it will be largely due to the failure of the ministers in living up to their expectations of being round pegs in round holes.

With the present ‘dream team’ of President Buhari, it seems about time for Nigeria to return to a national strategic vision. Vision 202020 was well conceived but not implemented. The government might want to review and extend it to fit its change agenda. It would be important in this regard to have clear monitoring and tracking devises for both the government and citizens to know the pace and direction of progress.

PREMIUM TIMES believes that the ministers, on their own, cannot deliver on the expected promise. The right skills must be put in place throughout the administration to craft out realistic paths through which this vision can be attained. This is particularly important because the critical task of social engineering requires expertise that hits the ground running, rather than those who might need to first learn on the job before being able to swing into action within a time squeeze.

In this context, the challenges before the new cabinet will be to confront the skeptical sections of the community that wonder if it is appropriately able to offer a novel paradigm of development that is hinged on a sincere diversification of the economy, an effective and hands-on reining in on corruption, the development of an effective security umbrella across the country, and the putting in place of other factors necessary for the sustained reduction of poverty, job creation and inclusive growth within their time frame in office.

If the cabinet therefore delivers on its mission, this may provide a strong shield against barbed shots flying around that President Buhari’s languid pace in many things this far speaks to his limited understanding of what it takes to rescue a country from recession and the doldrums.

PREMIUM TIMES wishes the President and his team the best of luck in delivering what Nigerians expect and indeed demand of them.