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No time to waste, Jonathan

By Rotimi Fasan

BY the time you are reading this the Senate would have commenced its screening of nominees for ministerial positions into the cabinet being constituted by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. With the face of the new Executive Council of the Federation out in broad outline, it is now possible for Nigerians to have a general impression of the direction Nigeria is likely to follow in the next 12  months.

Several faces from the old cabinet are coming back, barring any unforeseen circumstances as the nominees go through screening by security agencies and confirmation by the Senate.

The return of these old faces would surely be galling for those who have been calling for a total overhaul of the Yar’Adua cabinet, if not for anything else but its selfish ineptitude during the many agonising weeks that Nigeria had no president following Yar’Adua’s mysterious disappearance. What is more, return of these former ministers follows an undesirable pattern that is fast becoming an unwritten state policy: The recycling of old faces from the past.

The list doesn’t look spectacular in any way after the noises made about Jonathan’s shopping for so-called technocrats. I go through the list and I can’t see the technocrats. Except we call those jaded politicians on the list technocrats on account of their having had some form of professional education. The list presents no surprises either. What might have been surprising is if, as it almost happened with Dora Akunyili, one or two of those many imagined would make a comeback given their prominence in the cloak-and-dagger drama that preceded the emergence of Jonathan had failed to return.

This couldn’t include Michael Aondoakaa though. I see none but his immediate family mourning the sacking of the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. His removal was a foregone conclusion, as it should be, following his ‘demotion’ shortly after Jonathan began his ‘acting presidency’.

The non-inclusion of Akunyili on the first ministerial list that paraded other less visible figures from the past would have been indicative of one of two things: Jonathan’s deftness and latent propensity for surprises- or his naiveté. Had things not changed we would have been asking if he was ready to go his own way or follow the path already trodden by others? While his non-inclusion of Akunyili at first could be indicative of both, namely that he is growing into a deft politician with a penchant for Babangida-like wiles and surprises, it might also be his own way of not wanting to fan the embers of trouble by playing into the hands of those likely to see him as rewarding those his opponents saw as supporting him to ‘supplant’ Yar’Adua.

On the other hand, it could all be a manifestation of his naiveté, his lack of savvy knowing those he should have around himself. Which might now explain his resorting to a tested but undesirable method of recycling old faces or rewarding the children and relations of past rulers as he has done with his nomination of a son of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, older brother of President Umaru Yar’Adua who was murdered in Abacha’s jail. In this category too belong the cases of Jubril Martins-Kuye, a former minister in the Obasanjo years and Bello Masari, former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Rewarding children and relations of past rulers and other elite was a style Obasanjo freely employed in his divide-and-conquer tactic to at once gain political mileage and traction in the early years of his administration. Children or relations of such persons as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Shehu Shagari, among many others, became favoured beneficiaries of Obasanjo’s patronage.

That he is following this pattern shows Jonathan as both uncreative and yet dependent on powers outside his immediate orbit. This may not be totally unexpected for a relatively young politician not from any of Nigeria’s prominent political families and one whose rise has been facilitated by some of the puppeteers now pulling the strings from behind him. Whatever he does or chooses not to do Jonathan must realise he is running against time. There is a lot of work to do but so little yet done. The Senate would do well by expediting action on the nominee list but not as in the past when every Dolo and Sugomu was asked to take a bow and go.

Jonathan too can help improve the process by nominating persons to specific offices rather than simply forwarding a jumbled list of names without portfolios, making it impossible to see how well the nominees fit into the hole they are being thrust. But it does not look as if Jonathan has done that, which will show him as not having learnt from the past.

Twelve months may not look long in the life of a country but it is long enough for any serious person to make some meaningful impression and impact as part of an administration. We can’t be sure of any dramatic improvement in the quality of services the new ministers will provide since a sizeable number of them were either part of the lacklustre team Yar’Adua built or came from even older but undistinguished teams from the past. What Jonathan should be on the lookout against is the possibility of some persons seeing calls to duty such as this as quick opportunity to amass wealth for the next political dispensation. We’ve seen it in the past as during the transitory period following Abacha’s sudden exit and Abubakar Abdulsalami’s regime, when people who spent a few months in office were exposed by the contract investigation committees Obasanjo instituted as having amassed wealth, especially in their last few days in office, enough to last several generations.

To paraphrase a Yoruba proverb, a god that cannot improve our lot should at least leave us the way it met us. Ministers who cannot improve Nigeria should at least not destroy her further. With prayers such as this, Nigerians can’t be asking too much of Jonathan?


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