JOHN ALECHENU examines the likely shape of the Buhari cabinet and takes a look at individuals being considered to play a part
After the euphoria of the May 29 inauguration ceremony, President Muhammadu Buhari and the governing All Progressives Congress are now faced with the task of delivering on promises they made to Nigerians during the electioneering.
Prominent among promises contained in the ‘Change’ slogan of the APC is the revamping of the nation’s economy and the security of lives and property of citizens.
Enormous as these challenges appear, the governing party has declared that it has the capacity to frontally deal with these and other problems requiring urgent government attention.
To deliver on these promises, Buhari must first select a team that will give life to his vision for building a new Nigeria.
It has been one week since the inauguration, but the new President has only announced three appointments. They are that of Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser, (Media and Publicity); Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity); and Malam Lawal Kazaure as the State Chief of Protocol.
He has, however, asked for and obtained approval from the Senate to appoint 15 special advisers to assist him.
Many Nigerians are eager to have him unveil members of the Federal Executive Council who will head the various ministries.
Buhari had earlier announced his decision to move away from the practice where governors literally picked ministers for the President.
He said in an interview, “I have been around long enough to know people that I can approach for things like that. Deliberately, we will look for competent people, dedicated and experienced to head ministries and, of course, there will be schedules for ministers and we will expect them to fill them.
“Certainly, there is a lot to do but we are hoping that we will get good people to be in charge of ministries who can apply themselves to their responsibilities so that in no time, Nigerians would begin to see the difference.”
The search for “good people” has reached an advanced stage and some names have begun to make the rounds as possible picks.
Buhari has been holding a series of meetings within and outside the country to feel the pulse of the leadership as well as competing interests within and outside the party to come to a compromise.
National Chairman of the APC Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, confirmed this to journalists in Abuja.
In a veiled reference to ongoing consultations over ministerial appointments, Odigie-Oyegun, said, “All I can say is that, Mr. President is committed to carrying the party along in everything that he does and we are very grateful for that.
“He has always been like that, he has put the party in the front burner in all the things he has done at all times and he has continued to do that.”
In the interim, there are strong indications that several known faces, especially prominent members of the APC as well as technocrats from previous administrations, will make the new cabinet.
Due to immense contributions of a former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, to the merger and the success of the APC in the 2015 general elections, he is expected to nominate at least three cabinet members.
Although the exact portfolios are still being kept under wraps, it was gathered that a Tinubu protégé, Mr. Wale Edun, is to play a key role in managing the nation’s finances.
Edun, a former Commissioner of Finance in Lagos State, is being considered to head the Ministry of Finance.
Deputy Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Senator Olorunnibe Mamora, is expected to make the cut as a member of the Federal Executive Council.
Former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is said to be very close to the President, is also expected to play a prominent cabinet role in the Buhari’s administration. His possible nomination is said to be ruffling some feathers in the Tinubu’s camp.
Other names being mentioned include that of the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who is being considered for the headship of the Information Ministry.
A Second Republic Minister of Communications, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who was the face of the Buhari campaign before the APC Presidential primary, is also being considered for ministerial appointment.
To douse growing tension within the party, its leadership will be allowed to nominate a few cabinet members, who must pass the integrity test set by Buhari.
Immediate past governors – Babatunde Fashola(Lagos); Rotimi Amaechi(Rivers); and Rabiu Kwankwaso(Kano) – are among some of the names being considered.
If feelers coming from the Buhari camp are anything to go by, Fashola, who was in charge of the APC Presidential Campaign Committee, may emerge as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
His supporters said his sterling performance as governor and his background as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, have long before now attracted Buhari’s interest.
Influential members of the party also suggest that Kwankwaso, who will join his colleagues to be inaugurated as a Senator next week, may be given the right of first refusal for the position of Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.
If he is offered and he accepts, it will be a continuation of what is slowly becoming a tradition by successive administrations to pick ministers of the FCT from the Senate.
The late President Umaru Yar’Adua picked Senator Adamu Aliero from the Senate as FCT minister and his successor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, picked Senator Bala Mohammed as his Minister for the FCT, also from the Senate.
Close associates of the President, making a case for the former Kano State governor, claimed that his performance in Kano State, as well as his political clout, which was demonstrated during the APC presidential primaries, will come in handy in getting things done.
Although some have argued that the South-East geo-political zone has literally shut itself out of contention for principal positions in the National Assembly, it is entitled to a statutory ministerial slot.
A former Anambra State Governor, Senator Chris Ngige, is being considered to fill the position.
Ngige, a medical doctor, who until his foray into politics, rose to the position of Director in the Federal Ministry of Health, is also being considered for ministerial position.
In addition, the South-East is also to produce the next Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
A former national chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, appears set to be announced as SGF.
In the area of security, a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Abdurrahman Dambazau (retd.), is being tipped to occupy the position of National Security Adviser.
The former Army Chief holds a Doctorate degree in Criminology, and served as Director of Security and Intelligence of the Buhari campaign organisation.
A former Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), who played the role of Buhari’s Chief of Staff before the general elections, is also being considered for a yet-to-be-verified role in the President’s cabinet.
Women are not left out of the permutations of possible entrants into the elite class of public servants cum political appointees. One such name is Hajiya Hadiza Usman, one of the leading promoters of the #BringbackourGirls# campaign.
Apart from those being considered for ministerial positions, some former as well as serving APC governors are to remain influential in the president’s decision making process.
They include but not limited to the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole; and the new Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai.
Lai Mohammed, however, dismissed as mere speculation the list of ministers being “bandied” in the papers and on the social media.
He told Saturday PUNCH, “These are mere speculations. When the names are ready, it will be made public using the appropriate channels. Why don’t you wait? It will not take time.”
Also speaking about the issue, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said it was important to wait for the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly next week before jumping into any conclusion.
In response to a question on when his principal will announce his cabinet, Shehu, who called for understanding, said, “I have no idea, absolutely no idea. But it is not something anybody will rush because you know that the National Assembly will have to approve the President’s nominees.
“The incoming 8th National Assembly must be given the opportunity to fully participate in the process.’’
One thing however stands out. There is a strong likelihood that the Buhari administration will lead a lean cabinet considering its anti-corruption posture as well as the austere lifestyle of the President. How Buhari navigates the challenge of conflicting interests to form his cabinet will define the character of his administration in the years ahead.