Wednesday 7 October 2015

Mixed Feelings Trail Ministerial List - The Nation

Mixed  feelings trail ministerial list

For four months, the nation was in suspense as it awaited President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial list. Some people have hailed the list, describing it as befitting of the country at this crucial time; others are of the view that there is no justification for the long wait as the list does not spring any surprise. 
Will there be change across the ailing sectors in the foreseeable future? The answer to this puzzle could be found in the composition of the proposed Federal Executive Council (FEC). The ministerial list, which was submitted to the Senate last week, was read to senators yesterday by Senate President Bukola Saraki. Predictably, opinion is divided on the list. Many stakeholders have hailed the motivation and wisdom of President Muhammadu Buhari in selecting the team of ministers and special advisers. It is his prerogative. But, eyebrows have also been raised in some quarters. Thus, the list has elicited mixed feelings.

To observers, what is most striking is not what has changed, but what has remained the same. Change, according to the All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders, is on course. But, the ministerial list springs no surprise. To Nigerians who believe that the list is not beyond expectation, the endless suspense and anxiety, ahead of its release, appear unjustifiable after all. Their argument is that there is nothing to suggest that the proposed FEC will be a cabinet of new blood, bubbling with fresh ideas and perspectives about governance.
Some Nigerians have an axe to grind with the President over his delay. They have pointed out that his go-slow approach to the cabinet composition was borne out of his distrust of ministers. Others said that it is a flashback to his military days, characterised by his undiluted belief in the civil servants as natural allies of the military. Critics have also alluded to his alleged disparaging remarks about the role of ministers, following his description of ministers as noise makers with diminishing utility value. But, the Presidency said such description as one of Buhari’s many jokes. According to the Presidency, the President, who once served as a Petroleum Resources Minister, could not has disparaged  ministers as noise makers. “It was a joke to which we all had a very good laugh,” the Presidency explained.
But, those applauding the list point out that it is a mixture of credible old and young veterans in political activism and administration. Since they were not found wanting in their previous assignments as governors, ministers, commissioners and party leaders, their robust past may have a predictive value. There appears to be a consensus of opinion that all the nominees are eminently qualified because they have good antecedents, pedigrees and predictable politico-administrative dispositions.
Fundamentally, many of them – Chief Audu Ogbeh, Dr. Chris Ngige, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Amina Mohammed, Adebayo Shittu, Udo Udoma, Lai Mohammed and Kemi Adeosun – have made their marks as technocrats, although their subsequent political involvement have overshadowed their initial callings as professionals in their fields of endeavours. Therefore, they can be classified as technocrats in politics.
However, critics who have beamed a searchlight on the list said although the selection may have been thorough, it was not wide. For example, they pointed out that the nominee from Ogun State has just been re-nominated as a commissioner. Is there a shortage of manpower in Ogun State that one person is nominated for federal and state appointments? , some have asked.
The list may have doused the tension and fear of marginalisation and seclusion unleashed, as it were, on some regions. Therefore, the cabinet is expected to have a national outlook, contrary to the unfounded fear of ethnic chauvinists, who have berated the President for lack of sensitivity to federal character when he appointed his personal aides.
But, the grouse of analysts is that the list is not a pointer to the economic direction of the APC-led administration, which has remained elusive. Already, stakeholders are boxed into the second phase of political anxiety. Nigerians eagerly looks forward to the second list. The first list has paled into a fractional list. It is made up of 21 nominees, thereby falling short of the constitutional requirement that the President must pick a minister from each of the 36 states. Will the second, and hopefully, the final list, throw up technocrats outside politics, who can rev the national economic engine to prosperity?
Besides, the President has been criticised for a sort of policy confusion. He has hinted that he will retain the Petroleum Resources portfolio, although the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, may be assigned the minister of state’s portfolio. A precedent was set by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who oversaw the operations of the ministry for the eight years his tenure lasted.
But, are some questions are begging for answers: will President Buhari as a minister-nominee, appear before the Senate for screening and confirmation? Why is the President singling out the Petroleum Ministry? Are other ministries less important? These enquiries represent one side of a coin. The other side of the argument is that the President takes responsibility for the actions and inactions of the government. Therefore, those who support the President’s decision on the petroleum ministry believe that it has justification because the President is the Chief Minister and overall chief accounting officer of the federation, who only delegates responsibilities to members of the FEC.
There appears to be a paradigm shift. In the last 16 years, governors nominated ministers. When they parted ways, following irreconcilable political differences, the governors turned the heat on the ministers. Governors often claimed that they were state party leaders, financiers and custodians of formidable party structures required for winning elections. Governors on the platform of the PDP constituted an influential bloc within the hierarchy of the party before it was dislodged. As power brokers, they often misused the privilege, thereby justifying their characterisation as lords of the manor. Under the PDP, governors and ministers were not best of friends. They did not see themselves as partners in progress but rivals battling for the soul of the ruling party in their respective states. They also competed for the attention of the President. An observed says President’s Buhari may have shut out the governors in the selection of the would-be FEC members to avoid the pitfalls of the immediate past.
One of the consequences of allowing governors to solely nominate ministers is that competence is sacrificed on the altar of loyalty as eminently qualified individuals are often edged out because they are   perceived as foes and seen not to be in the good books of the governors. In the past, where ministerial nominees by governors failed to scale through, the governors may not see eye to eye with ministers outside their caucuses or camps. The reason was that many senators have used their ministerial positions as stepping stones to challenge their benefactors, thereby threatening the governors’ second term ambitions and the privilege to anoint successors. Usually, there was a clash of ambitions. Former ministers have complained that senatorial endorsement on the floor during screening by the three senators from their states may not come handy, despite being from the same party, unless governors gave his nod.  This was the genesis of the protracted crisis and friction between the “Abuja forces” and the forces at the home front.
However, in a bid to halt the trend, fresh mistakes may have been made. The ministerial list may have inadvertently promoted disunity in the ruling party, owing to lack of wide consultation and consensus. Some governors and key party leaders have been complaining about marginalisation and lack of team work. In Oyo State for instance, Governor Abiola Ajimobi and other APC leaders have protested against the inclusion of a chieftain, Shittu, on the list. They claimed that Shittu, a lawyer from Oke-Ogun, is unpopular at home. They also alleged that he is not a team player. But, the former legislator has fired back, reminding his critics about his antecedents as a member of the House of Assembly in the defunct Second Republic, a former Commissioner for Information & Culture and later, the Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, and a delegate to the 2005 Abuja Constitutional Conference.  He dismissed the accusations, saying that he has made contributions to the party as a disciplined party leader.
There is a glimpse of hope. The first list is not the end of the matter. Stakeholders believe that whatever omission or commission that has been made in the first list can be corrected by the supplementary list. The nation eagerly awaits the second list even as the upper chamber of the National Assembly has promised to start the screening of the nominees next Tuesday.
‘Nothing to be excited about’, says PDP
TO the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there was nothing cheery in the list of 21 names read yesterday on the floors of the Senate as nominees to be screened for ministerial appointments.
PDP’s spokesman Olisa Metuh said President Buhari ought not to have waited for months to assemble what he called a “regular team”.
In a statement, Metuh said the calibre of people on the list has put a question mark on the President’s anti-graft crusade.
The statement reads: “ By a mere look at the list, one can tell that there is nothing to be excited about, especially considering the length of time it took the President to come up with it.
“Looking at the list, it is hard to put a finger on why it should take any serious-minded and focused government, six months after its election to assemble such a regular team.
“The list and the length of time it took have further confirmed the fact that the APC-led administration is driven by propaganda and deceit, a development that raises doubts on the sincerity of its anti-corruption crusade.”

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