By Obi Nwakanma
It is ironic isn’t it, that it took President Muhammadu Buhari upwards of two months after his inauguration to present a ministerial list to Nigeria’s National Assembly. Those who might proffer excuses for the president would say, the president is being very careful and deliberate, in an effort to select the best hands on his deck. Of course more skeptical Nigerians would say, and they would be utterly right, that the president of Nigeria as usual has been very busy doing nothing at all.
Dawdling over the ministerial list has become Mr. Buhari’s stock-in-trade as the chief helmsman. He is not one particularly who likes the dogon Turanci of law, and the legal way of doing things; for him those fine letters are too much of a distraction and a waste of time, and possibly too opaque for him. Which is why he would, two months after he was sworn in as president refuse, or be unable to, or even possibly be incapable of establishing a government according to the dictates of the constitution of the Federation of Nigeria.
This lack of capacity is signal to those who know a thing or two about state organization, of Buhari’s inability or unpreparedness to govern. And this has consequence for the larger polity bedeviled by economic decline, and deep and intractable national security challenges. Buhari, or those who would defend him might argue that the Nigerian constitution is equally silent on the length of time it should take the president to appoint the Executive Council by which, constitutionally, a government is properly established.
In Nigeria, with too much top-down powers, everything basically grinds to a stop when a government is not formed. The implications are also very ugly: all matters of state, quondam contracts, execution of orders, deployment of resources, control of the massive infrastructure of state which is constitutionally diffuse would, within the interregnum of ministerial absence be conducted by a single office: the office of the president as directed of course by his Chief of Staff, in conjunction with the Secretary to the Federal Government. This is a very dangerous concentration of interim power and subject to serial abuse.
But Nigerians are not talking about issues of the abuse of Federal powers any more when it comes to this president. They have seen much of it. They are now much more worried about the extent of that abuse which deregulates state function, and virtually creates an imperial president, which is anathema to the intentions, as well as the practicalities of the Nigerian constitution. It is equally sad that the institution which should guide, and when the matter becomes a thing of law, scrutinizes the president, the National Assembly, now under the control of the president’s party, is but a rubber stamp.
The National Assembly can neither direct nor sanction President Buhari, and the 8th Assembly will, by the look of things, accede to a loss of parliamentary power to the extent that this president will get away with sanctionable actions, and get away with, and further establish dangerous precedents that might endanger the constitutional health of the republic as he has done, although with a little bit more robust resistance by the last assemby, in his first term as president. And to go straight to the point, Mr. Buhari has no business wasting as much as two months to constitute the National Executive Council. He has only recently sent his list of ministers to the National Assembly for formal confirmation.
The National Assembly has adopted what Nigerians now call, “bow and leave” – a euphemism for back-slapping. See nothing. Do nothing. It is just a formal “come chop” process. It is all political theatre. Nobody is being scrutinized. And we in Nigeria do not have an effective Secret Service that does effective background checks on folks we appoint to sensitive public office. Even worse, the Secret service, should it even try, has no set of usable criteria for assessing a subject’s suitability – very little health record; tax records are of scanty use, records of asset acquisition; records of entanglements with hostile foreign powers or agencies, nor do we have a sense of who these really are, and the likelihood of such entanglements undermining Nigeria’s national goals; records of association with hubristic business; records of criminal behavior in the past or even in the active time; Nigerians know more about the secret lives of bees than they do the secret lives of their public servants, because there is very little transparency in the process of their scrutiny, and that is why the nation continues to breed antinomies. These of course do not matter to President Buhari, nor to his party.
In a sense, what Buhari’s delays in proposing a ministerial list long after he had been elected demonstrates is a fundamental lack of a party structure and preparedness. The APC is not a well-organized political party. The means by which the party establishes its own selections to high office in partnership with its candidates is flawed. Otherwise, the president and his party, should have had a ministerial list at hand, even as they went into the elections. The list could of course change with slight emendations given post elections realities, but a party must always be prepared to form a government quickly, and demonstrate an awareness of what the issues are in preparing the list of the potential ministers in consultation with the presidential candidate.
Buhari and his party have not demonstrated either the urgency of the situation in Nigeria that requires fast tracking, or demonstrated an inclination to create an astute government that would respond very quickly and efficiently to the Nigerian crisis, for Nigeria is indeed in a very critical moment: it is in debt, it is faced with shrinking revenue; it has an explosive youth unemployment; it is overwhelmed by internal social ruptures, some of it the active making of the incumbent president; it has a spreading insurgency which it cannot contain; it is faced with a Northern states from Zamfara to Borno that is about to collapse under the weight of kidnapping and banditry; it has a Fulani problem; it has the problem of a South that is about to erupt in active rebellion, and it has the problem of serious economic decline. It is a government that feels like it is dead on arrival. Within the next one year, Buhari will inevitably enter the lame duck period of his presidency and would be unable to effect much, and yet he has spent pretty much time just thinking about who would be a minister under his government.
Now, coming to Buhari’s nominees, Nigerians are startled by the weightlessness of the prospective ministers. The “next level” indeed will be interesting to watch. But Nigerians are already in for a great laugh. For a party that accused its opponent, the PDP of corruption, it seems to be recruiting former pillars of this “corrupt party” into its government. Akpabio and Pauline Tallen come to mind.
Mrs. Tallen had been a minister under a “corrupt” PDP government. What is she doing being a minister nominated by Buhari? Godswill Akpabio himself was once “Mr. PDP.” He was termed by the APC to be corrupt as the party declared corruption as cause of Nigeria’s failure under a PDP government. Yet Buhari has nominated them for minister. There are more ex-PDPites on the Buhari list. I do think Mr. Akpabio has the experience and the pull and dynamism to be minister.
But we need then to change the narrative of corruption which has long prodded the APC. It is also amusing that most of the ministers whom President Buhari have nominated are either men and women who lost election in their constituencies, and thus who do not have the trust of the people, like Uche Ogah and Emeka Nwajiuba, for instance, who ordinarily do not have the backings of the people, or fellows like Festus Keyamo, who may not recover their deposits should they contest elections in their constituencies. Buhari, thus, his critics say, is digging up from deep down the pit, the rejects of the land. That may not exactly be so, because many of these men and women have a right to demonstrate their strengths, and young men like Ogah and Nwajiuba, build the kind of political experience that might prepare them further for public leadership.
But it is really, really a list of wankers. That’s what Buhari is doing: wankers to Nigerians. He is building upon political failures, individuals who failed to secure the mandate of the people, and whose only claim to serve is presumed loyalty to Buhari, and not the institution of state. And need we also say, that though the strange Nigerian constitution demands ministerial appointments from all thirty-six states and Abuja, that this president should have spent more energy working with the National Assembly to review this requirement, because truth be told, Nigeria needs only fifteen cabinet ministerial positions. Thirty seven ministers is a waste and a drain on Nigeria’s resources. But of course, this president operates on Old Nick’s principles.