Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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It is now over four months since Muhammadu Buhari was declared winner of this year’s presidential election by the chief returning officer, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, chairman of the independent national electoral commission (INEC); some two months since our president was inaugurated for his second and final term in office and we are still waiting for composition of his cabinet. Mr. President had said during and after his election that he would work harder with renewed vigour, commitment and pace in this his second term to take Nigeria to the Promised Land, the next higher level. And Nigerian masses who largely voted for him believed him, for in their opinion he was debarred from fashioning the Nigerian of his dreams by some political shenanigans which acted like obstacles and derailed his envisioned dreams for the country. Hence they cast their lot with him, seeing him literally as a ‘victim’ of bourgeoisie hanky panky and believing that this time around, having learnt from his first term mistakes, he would know how best to wriggle himself from the sharks infested political waters to finally deliver real dividends of democracy to the masses.
Although the statistics in terms of inflation rate, external reserves and growth rates are looking good on paper, they have not translated to real increased purchasing power and improved living standards for the average Nigerian. Remarkably, President Buhari’s work environment is relatively better now than it was in his last term. For one, he is healthier now; at least he now spends more time in Nigeria than outside its shores, unlike last term when he spent a considerable amount of time on a sick bed abroad. For another, he now has a more compliant legislature with his choice candidates at helm of their affairs. This is unlike previously when the Legislature and the executive were more or less at daggers drawn. Nothing best illustrates this new partnership than the fact that represented nominees rejected by the last 8th National Assembly are now approved by the current Senate in a jiffy.
New Senate president Dr. Ahmad Lawan has promised that the delays associated with passage of national budgets and the attendant disagreements will now be a thing of the past. In fact he hinted that the senate is considering dedicating a fixed period to the consideration and passage of the federal budget. Leadership of the National Assembly now meet more regularly with President Buhari under a convivial atmosphere; unlike before when they confer with each other only when there is what one may term ‘force majeure’. At such times the gulf between them was unmistakable.
Additionally, the Senate had volunteered to defer its annual vacation to enable it screen the anticipated ministerial nominees. Disappointingly, the names had not been submitted as at the time of writing, necessitating the Senate to aver that should the list fail to reach it this week, members would proceed on their scheduled two months vacation this Friday, July 26. And they will not resume until September 26. Will Mr. President further delay this much awaited list to September? In that case the ‘next level’ cabinet will not be constituted and inaugurated until October.
Then, there will be little time frame in the inauguration of the first and second term cabinets. Mr. President’s first term ministers were not constituted until November, six months after his swearing-in on May 29, 2015. At that time, President Buhari said that he was taking his time because he wanted to pick the best candidates, whereupon critics pointed out that the kind of people he was searching for abound all over the country, in all regions and that it should not take so long to fish them out wherever they are. As it turned out, not a few people were disappointed by the final unveiling of the ministerial list after such a long time. Nigerians rated that cabinet as average. What is more, Buhari never rejiged or reconstituted that cabinet as happens in other democracies, for the entire four year term. Except for the Kogi-born former minister of state for labour who died in a motor accident and the former environment minister now deputy United Nations secretary-general – both of whose replacements came several months later – others who left for one reason or other simply had their portfolios assigned to other ministers. This attitude left the womenfolk short-changed
Now, Mr. President had said that it would not take him that long to assemble his second term ministers, that it would happen in a matter of weeks. Indeed, a presidential spokesman gave the impression that the list was ready and that the presidency was only waiting for the principal officers of the senate to be constituted before sending it to them, promising that he would make the names public once the senate got it. The senate itself did say they were expecting to get the list soon after they were through with selection of all its executive officers. So far however, this has not happened. So, what could be delaying this ministerial list for this long? My guess is that the recent reappointments has altered the balance of fair representation and that Mr. President is perhaps trying to rejig things to see how he can balance the equation.
Recall that in his acceptance speech as winner of the February 23, presidential poll, President Buhari had stated, “We will strive to strengthen our unity and inclusiveness so that no section or group will feel left behind or left out”. Consider that the six ‘powerful’ positions in the land is spread amongst the six geographical regions thus, number one citizen (northwest), number two (southwest), number three, senate president (north east), number four speaker house of representatives (southwest), number five chief justice of the federation (north east), number six secretary to the government of the federation (north east). Also the chief of staff to the president, yet another powerful position because the holder is like Mr. President’s right hand man, is from the northeast. The southsouth region currently holds the post of deputy senate president So, the southeast and particularly the north central are out of the power equation for now. The north central zone in the person of Senator Abdullahi Adamu that was widely believed would be the senate leader did not clinch the position after all. Although Senator Abdullahi Adamu as a good Muslim has accepted his fate in this regard, Mr. President as a general and commander-in-chief knows well that loyalty is an invaluable virtue especially in the case of Senator Adamu who has had to suffer albeit stoically in the course of standing by and defending the cause of President Buhari in and out of the senate.
One is also yet to see gender balance in the appointments made so far. Surely President Buhari has a lot of balancing to do in his appointments and he may have to tinker with them to balance the equation of fair representation, if only to engender national loyalty and unity of purpose.