NIGERIANS are worried at President Muhammadu Buhari’s instruction to his newly-inaugurated 43 Ministers not to seek direct audience with him as his second term cabinet was inaugurated three months after he was sworn-in.
According to him: “In terms of coordination, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channelled through the Chief of Staff, while all Federal Executive Council matters be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation”.
Some supporters of the President are of the view that there is nothing strange about this arrangement since it is the “common practice”. However, we fear that by officially insulating himself from his Cabinet Ministers he has given the COS, Abba Kyari (who had always wielded great influence within the Buhari inner cabinet) more powers that could create problems.
Also, giving the SGF, Boss Mustapha, the power to “coordinate” cabinet affairs could encourage him to see himself as the de facto “prime minister”. Between Kyari and Mustapha, the powers of the President might be split and it might be difficult to see where the buck stops.
When this arrangement was in place in 1990 with Chief Olu Falae as the SGF under General Babangida, many Ministers, especially Prof. Jibril Aminu, openly refused to accept his “coordination” on the ground that he was not their boss.
This arrangement could also create serious problems of isolation for Ministers who are seen not to be dancing to the tune of the Buhari “cabal” of which Kyari and Mustapha are perceived as key figures.
When Ministers find it difficult to reach the President it exerts a great toll on governance. Progressive ministers seeking to bring about positive changes could be kept away from the President for as long as possible.
Former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, once complained of his inability to see Buhari for six months. And here was Kachikwu who came into the Ministry bristling with ideas and intention to bring changes to the oil sector ending up just warming his seat until the end of his tenure, and he was never reappointed.
More importantly, this tacit delegation of presidential powers to Kyari and Mustapha is not what Nigeria needs to overcome the three main challenges facing it: poor economy, widespread insecurity and endemic corruption. During his first inauguration in 2015, Buhari had pledged to “lead from the front”.
By building a bureaucratic “Berlin wall” around him with Kyari and Mustapha, cabinet members might be left on their own and this could put many of them at loggerheads with their Permanent Secretaries and Directors.
It might expose this government to too many scandals and power tussles.