By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
More than five months after President Muhammadu Buhari promised to rejig his cabinet he has been unable to do so leaving those screened as possible ministerial nominees in the lurch.
The president’s failure to carry out the cabinet shake up, Saturday Vanguard gathered, is mainly because of fears by presidency officials of their inability to successfully navigate the nominees through Senate screening.
President Buhari had at a meeting of the National Executive Committee, NEC of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in October, 2017 promised to expand his cabinet to bring in fresh hands. The promised expansion was partly to satisfy the interests of political stakeholders and partly to remove those who were perceived as dead woods in the cabinet.
“The compressed Federal Executive Council will be expanded to bring in more supporters at Federal Level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government,” the president had told members of the APC NEC on Tuesday, October 31 at the first meeting of the body following his return from a medical vacation.
Following that promise, a number of potential ministerial nominees were considered and seemingly screened by members of the powerful group of influence peddlers who direct the pace and pattern of the Buhari administration.
The cabinet change Saturday Vanguard gathered was also expected to bring in additional ministers to such politically heavy states like Lagos and Kano ahead of the 2019 elections, a source in the APC disclosed.
However, months after, the president has been unable to forward the names of his potential ministers to the Senate. Indeed, some of those screened have since been pushed on to some of the Federal Government boards recently inaugurated.
Presidency officials contacted on the development claimed ignorance for the delay in forwarding the list of ministerial nominees, saying they were unable to comment or proffer reasons.
“I wish I knew,” one presidency official said.
However, beyond that, Saturday Vanguard gathered that the presidency is scary of announcing changes and forwarding names to the Senate which could end up stuck in the senate.
The fear of presidency officials is that the Senate could refuse to screen them and by that create political chaos as those to be replaced would already have been notified. Another fear of the presidency officials is that the Senate could decide to subject the nominees to a rigorous exercise that could end up bringing both the nominees and the presidency to ridicule.
The Senate’s strong bearing on the presidency follows the latter’s refusal to heed to several Senate resolutions, principally, the resolution that rejected Mr. Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Magu was twice rejected by the Senate partly because of damning reports by the Department of State Services which alleged that he was unfit for the office.
However, despite the Senate resolution, the presidency retained Magu in the office as acting chairman.
Senators are also strongly displeased with what they allege as a witch-hunt of the two presiding officers of the Senate, Senators Bukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu. Saraki is the subject of a two year running false assets declaration charge allegedly instigated by the presidency.
Despite his acquittal by the court on some of the charges, the administration has persisted by appealing the criminal charges levelled against him. Saraki and Ekweremadu were also the subject of a forgery allegation that was hastily withdrawn following legal advise from an external prosecutor hired by the administration. The prosecutor had advised that the charges could not stand.
Senator Ekweremadu is also presently the subject of a Special Investigation Panel probing assets alleged to belong to him. Senators and critics had expressed concern that members of the SIP and its counsel who are mainly members of the APC could be on a political mission against Ekweremadu.
Ekweremadu had at a meeting with constituents penultimate weekend alleged that the charge against him was politically motivated to cow him and his party ahead of the 2019 elections.
“there is really nothing to worry about because the entire thing is a well-oiled propaganda on lies and doctored will that include fictitious properties just to cow me. It is also about 2019 politics,” the Deputy President of the Senate had said. Two weeks after Ekweremadu informed the Senate in May, 2017 of an alleged plot by the EFCC to raid a property associated with him “to discover foreign currencies” a special police squad on 27th May, 2017 raided his official guest house in Abuja on the prompting of a “whistleblower” who was subsequently arrested for providing false information to the police.