By Rotimi Fasan
IN a piece entitled ‘Buhari’s dilemma: Nigerians’ anxiety’ that appeared here a fortnight ago, this column commented on the dilemma in which President Muhammadu Buhari seemed to have found himself naming his ministers.

As the September deadline for the submission of the long-awaited list of ministerial hands approached, it seemed, menacingly so did it look like the president would not be able to keep his words to unveil the names of his ministers last September.

In the end, the list got to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, not a moment sooner- indeed just in time enough before the National Assembly closed for the week. And Saraki kept Nigerians guessing for four more days before making the content of the ministerial list public.

That the president apparently found it difficult (because there was no point keeping people guessing for four months if it was all so easy) performing what is routine task for most Nigerian executives say something of the moral dilemma in which he found himself.

He had said much about appointing Nigerians of impeccable credentials to help him in the job of cleaning up the systemic rot left by his predecessor in office. As to what might be the actual reason for the trouble the president appeared to be having naming his ministers, this column  speculated that the potential ministerial appointees probably couldn’t pass the president’s morality test, all of which makes the president appeared not to cherish the prospect of working with ministers who he reportedly called noise makers. But in the end Buhari sent his list to Saraki. It was an incomplete list of 21 Nigerians, three of whom are women.

The president, it was reported, promised to send an additional list of names to complete the number of ministerial nominees. The actual number he would eventually appoint is still a matter of guess work. Would he nominate less than the 36, one from each state, stipulated by the constitution? Or stick to his speculated plan to reduce the number of ministers? Nobody yet knows, not even one week since he sent his initial list of 21 names.

That Buhari could only send an incomplete list of 21 names leaving him with a shortfall of at least 14 or 15 names depending on whether he, as potential minister of petroleum resources, is counted as one of the 36 ministers. This means Buhari has named just over half of the number of ministers he would be working with even after the ‘long’ wait.

This for me confirms this column’s conclusion in the piece featured two weeks ago that the president is indeed in a (moral?) dilemma naming his ministers. Or else, as those who have dubbed him a potential dictator have been saying, he is simply more interested in governing and issuing orders without ministers who could place a limit to the powers he can exercise.

I am inclined to the former position as these ministers work at the behest and according to the interest of the president who can dismiss them no sooner than he appoints them without any consequences. Which is to say that there is hardly any way ministers can serve as checks on presidential powers in the real sense of it. Any of them not content with the president’s ways have only one option open to them: resignation- a word hardly to be found in the lexicon of Nigerian public officials.

Since Buhari released his list of nominees, attention has shifted to the potential value these persons are likely to add to his administration and the nominees’ contributions to the actualisation of his government’s goals. Critics believe the nominees’ list has not justified the long wait. Most of the nominees are old timers, yesterday’s men and women who have always being in government circles.

They are also politicians not technocrats, the criticisms go, nominated mostly on account of their contribution to the emergence of Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, respectively, as the president and ruling party. In the vanguard of these criticisms are members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. This has somewhat toned down the genuineness of the criticisms in the view of some people, leading to the perception that the criticisms are political.

But we need to dwell less on the politics of the criticism and focus more on some of its merits. A dispassionate view cannot deny the obvious fact that most of the nominees like Raji Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi and Kayode Fayemi, are people from the recent past. They are all former governors that either completed their term or lost office in the last four months. Others like Chris Ngige, General Dambazau, and no doubt the oldest on the list, Audu Ogbe, had their first incarnations in relatively older administrations. Indeed, Ogbe is being nominated as minister some thirty five years after he first featured in that capacity.

The question that has thrown up is whether Nigeria is so short of qualified persons that the president must go back thirty five years to nominate as minister a man already in semi-retirement. This, for me, is the major flaw of the nominations: its clear lack of confidence in a new ‘generation’ of youthful Nigerians that can take Nigeria into the twenty first century.

Although this follows an established pattern of self-replication in which former public office holders take on new public roles after vacating the old, Nigeria must be forward-looking in their choice of leaders. What’s the latest count of former governors, including the president of the senate himself, that are now senators?

The only point to add is that, in the present instance the nominees’ list seems more a reflection of the limited range of the president’s own circle of friends or acquaintances than anything else. This reading of things is justified by what we have been told now and again about the president’s desire to work only with those he knows or can trust.

He must have come under severe party pressure and been hard put to settle for these known ‘devils’ rather than for the ‘angels’ he does not know but whom his party might still have ‘smuggled’ on him. Otherwise, Buhari’s list parades a galaxy of very capable, experienced and honest hands that can serve Nigeria well.

But while the youths would be expected to up their game and try to justify the confidence reposed in them when put in positions of trust, Buhari (a product of the old school) still would need to expand his knowledge of the emergent and emerging generations of Nigerian youths and begin to enlist them more in his effort to build a better Nigeria. It is to them the future belongs. A people that continually look back to the past for their leaders invariably doom their future.

This copy was sent in before PMB released the last bit of the ministerial nominees’ list.

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