Capable cabinet: Options for Buhari, 9th Senate

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TRACKING >>President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term, which is billed to commence on May 29, 2019 offers him and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) a unique opportunity to right the observed shortcomings in the outgoing 2015 to 2019 dispensation.

The incumbent president and his party came into office in 2015 riding on the lofty ideals of promises to change the ways governance and partisan politics are plied in the country.

Some of the envisaged changes, which stem from the three-pronged agenda of fighting corruption, insurgency and economic diversification, include zero budgeting and ensuring that square pegs are fitted into round holes in cabinet selection.

It is obvious that the administration did not fare so well on both planks, as evidenced by the President’s confession during a meeting with principal officers of the National Assembly. Not only did the President not send the names of cabinet nominees on time, when he did it was in batches and without assigned portfolios affixed to the names of the nominees.

Outgoing President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had to wait into the night of September 30, 2015 to ensure that the President’s promise of appointing his ministers did not fall on the ground, thereby denting the President’s and APC’s image so early in the life of the administration.

Experts assert that the most significant steps by any purposeful administration in the presidential system of government are taken within the first one hundred days of its tenure. They conclude that it is for the fact that the foundation for success or failure is laid within the first three months in office that presidents of the United States of America (US) pay much premium on the first hundred days.

It could be said, therefore, that why the first hundred days are very relevant to a president is basically because it is within those early days that he raises his team of aides to assist him on the programme of mandate delivery.

The nature of those appointments and calibre of appointees help in turn to invest the administration with its essential character, public image and connectivity with the people based on their expectations.

With the benefit of hindsight, President Buhari must have seen clearly where he missed the ball, especially the mistaken notion that members of the then newPDP that joined in strengthening and bringing electoral victory to APC slowed him down.

Having confessed that the relationship between him and the National Assembly was not cordial and the comfortable majority his party now enjoys in the federal bi-cameral legislature without the distractions of disjointed partisan inclinations, the president and the 9th National Assembly would make the best of the fresh opportunity offered by the 2019 through 2023 mandate.

Timely nomination, predetermined portfolios
THE general impression among adult Nigerians is that the present crop of President Buhari’s ministers did not perform optimally on their beats to the satisfaction of the citizenry who had high expectations from the administration.

It is on record that the ministers lost six months by the time they waded through Senate screening and were assigned to specific ministries. Perhaps, it was partly in recognition of those lost man-hours that the President decided against dissolving the cabinet during last Wednesday’s valedictory session of the Federal Executive Council.

However, contrary to the belief among most Nigerians that the ministers did not pull their weights, President Buhari explained that he resisted pressures from different quarters to sack the ministers because “each of you has a unique skill and strength.”

Without explaining why it took him six months to empanel the cabinet, the President recalled that “when we started this journey, our country was facing numerous challenges. We inherited a broken economy which eventually went into recession in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2016…”

Within the next three days when he takes the oath of office for a second term in office, Nigerians would expect President Buhari to show that those “numerous challenges” that dogged his first term are no longer there.

Some of the ways the President could demonstrate that is by making up the list of his cabinet nominees on time and forwarding the list pronto to the Senate for screening.

Recently reappointed Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has expressed optimism that the President would put together his team on time to ensure that the economy continues to stream without undue suspense and speculations.

Next to timely nomination of ministers is the need for the President in concert with key members of his party to critique the list of nominees and affix possible portfolios to the names before sending it to the Senate.

Despite the fact that President Buhari disclosed that “we frequently had heated debates in this room on the best way to achieve our goals,” most Nigerians say they are not convinced that most of the ministers were not self-serving sycophants, who pandered to the President’s whims to retain his confidence.

While President Buhari was holding the incomplete valedictory session, the South African parliament was electing its president.

Incidentally, what the leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Sella Malema, told President Cyril Ramanphosa, seemed to ring true for the Nigerian cabinet.

“There are people who thrive through patronising presidents. They tell you all you want to hear and, as a result, you are unable to make informed decisions because you surround yourself with praise singers and yes men and yes women,” Malema had said.

To save his new cabinet from such ulcers of yes people, the President should involve Nigerians in the recruitment of his ministers, so that they could be those who could engage him in productive and just heated debates.

A proactive method of getting this calibre of men and women is to ask prospective nominees to do a position paper detailing observed shortcomings, their strategies for redressing such anomalies, as well as timelines, in specific ministries for which they are being considered.

Based on analysis and evaluation of those inferences and prescriptions, the president would be in a better position to determine whether to recommend the nominees to the Senate for screening attaching their postulations and portfolios for the senators’ further evaluation.

Synergy With Senate
WHILE breaking the Ramadan fast with leaders of the National Assembly, President Buhari admitted that the relationship between his presidency and the legislature was not cordial, stressing that Nigerians “deserved better than it got” in the 8th National Assembly.

In the forthcoming dispensation, the expectation of most Nigerians is that the President should do more to cultivate the understanding of the lawmakers, especially the senators.

The empanelling of the next cabinet offers the President another opportunity to put the experience of the past four years into good effect by cooperating with the legislators to put together a capable cabinet.

If the senators subject the ministerial nominees to rigorous screening in which the public are participants, the point would have been made to the prospective ministers that their loyalties should be shared among the citizens, lawmakers and the President to the benefit of good governance.

During the senate scrutiny, what each nominee has to say about problems s/he observed in his/her prospective ministry alongside possible steps to address them would help to assess their suitability for the particular portfolio.

Going by the three planks of the Buhari administration, including fighting corruption, insecurity and improving the economy, the ministers of interior, defence and finance should be subjected to intense quizzes to get the best heads for those sectors.

Although the President stated that the duty of the National Assembly is to cooperate with the executive, analysts maintain that the three arms of government are equal and should collaborate in line with constitutional provisions, so that no one arm should lord it over the others.

Consequently, the next dispensation provides a new setting for the lawmakers and the executive led by President Buhari to avoid all pretences to superiority or muscle flexing.

The legislature could raise stonewalls even as the president could shun legislations, but in the final analysis, it is the citizens that bear the brunt to the discredit of the nation’s democracy.

It has been argued that if national interest is at the core of their aspiration for public offices, appointment of ministers, just like the approval of budget estimates provide good opportunity for the executive and the legislature to demonstrate utmost respect for the Constitution in the interest of Nigerians.

The president has explained why he did not dissolve or rejig cabinet in the period spanning 2015 to 2019 and some commentators are expressing fears that he might be tempted to retain all the ministers with some additions.

However, it should be noted that even if President Buhari reappoints all those who served on his cabinet in the outgoing dispensation, the fact that he would be taking a fresh oath of office presupposes that those names must be sent anew to the Senate for confirmation.

Against that background, the manner in which the President transmits the list of his cabinet nominees would show how serious he was in the first place to prosecute his Next Level agenda.

If the Senators are compelled to second guess their possible portfolios while screening ministerial nominees, the administration may end up with ministers that owe allegiance to the President alone, whether they perform to the satisfaction of Nigerians or not.

When and how President Buhari nominates his ministers and sends the list to the Senate hold the key to ascertaining how far his administration is prepared to take democratic governance to the next level.