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By Soni Daniel, Editor, Northern Region
Junaid Mohammed, Second Republic member of the House of Representatives from Kano State, assesses the composition of President Muhammadu Buhari’s new cabinet. Junaid, however, kicks against Buhari’s assigning to himself the petroleum portfolio.
What do you make of the cabinet just inaugurated by Mr President? Are you impressed with the quality of the members?
They appear as people with competence and integrity. But we can only see how far they can go when they begin to render service to the country, which is in dire need of rejuvenation given the fact that we have just exited a recession. Nigerians expect nothing but the best from these people and their integrity really matters since it will reflect in their performance and contribution to the Buhari era. The performance of the ministers also affects you and me and we need to pray that they don’t fail the people of Nigeria. I don’t think Nigerians will be happy if they mess up the country and leave it worse than they met it. The President took over the country when it was in recession and he worked very hard to get us out of recession. Nigerians will be worried and very unhappy if the government and the ministers don’t work assiduously to grow the economy and secure a better future for Nigerians. I still believe it is important to have people in the right places, people of competence, people of integrity, the kind of people who will certainly manage the portfolios given to them in good conscience; people who will make sure that this country avoids another recession.
But Buhari’s slogan is moving to the ‘Next Level’ and it is believed he means well this time around.
This idea of ‘Next level’ is sheer nonsense. I believe that if you have serious programmes and policies if you have people who are competent and who have dignity and integrity to run these programmes, things will work well for the masses. But subsuming everything under this mantra of ‘next level’ is most deceitful because the slogan doesn’t explain anything.
Would you, therefore, set an agenda for the new ministers; what is the minimum expectation you have from them?
The minimum expectation I have from the ministers in relation to their portfolios is that they should know what they are talking about. If a minister cannot give you the definition of economics as minister of finance, national planning, among others, which is driven by economic knowledge and economic science, if you serve in that ministry without that knowledge, then you are in serious trouble. If you are a minister of agriculture and you do not know anything about agriculture and you are not committed to agriculture as one of the means of diversifying the economy, then you are in serious trouble. This is why Buhari should have deployed the ministers in a way to ensure that square pegs are put in square holes. The proper deployment of the ministers, according to the areas of their competence, would have gone a long way to strengthen the system and move the country forward, and Buhari should not have lost sight of that.
Some Nigerians, having taken a look at the list of ministers, are alleging that Buhari gave key ministries to the North this time apparently because of the way they voted for him and his party in the last elections. Does this hold water?
The claim by such Nigerians does not hold water and I will tell you why. The last time Buhari made similar appointments, he gave the South-West most of the senior portfolios; for example, he gave them the ministry of finance which is very important, he gave them communications, he gave them health, he gave them solid minerals among others. And when Buhari was challenged by other parts of the country and even the international media on why he made that kind of skewed appointments, he said it was deliberate because he wanted to favour the South in appointments. In the appointments he made in his first term, the North got mostly ministers of state, including the one from his state, Katsina. Many people from the North complained but the President kept the cabinet till the end of his first four years and he is merely trying to make amends this time around. When the North was denied of key ministerial positions, there was no complaint from the characters who are now complaining about it; so you can see that, clearly, it is not in good faith some people are disappointed in the manner some of these portfolios were shared. Did you hear any complaints against Mr Babatunde Fashola holding three key ministries in Buhari’s first term?
Do you think it is right for President Buhari to make himself the minister of petroleum?
I don’t support the idea of him making himself the minister of petroleum and I don’t know from what I read whether he has put his name down as the minister of petroleum or not since he has largely remained quiet about his own position. He has not said whether he is superintending over the NNPC or the petroleum ministry. For that reason, I don’t know if he wants to remain and reap from what this Kachikwu man (minister of state (Petroleum) in the first term), who was not a member of the party was created for him or whether he wants to take time and study the situation in the industry and, thereafter, decide whether to return or hand it over to somebody who is competent to handle the ministry. But I never supported him then and I still don’t support him now.
What do you think the subjugation of ministers to the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President portends for the system?
Under the nature of the public administration system, we work with and the rules of democracy itself as well as the hierarchy in democratic administration, the idea that all ministers must pass through the Chief of Staff to the President for any official matter is unacceptable and, no wonder, Nigerians are shouting. Ministers are not schoolboys who cannot have direct access to the President except they pass through one man. This will certainly create a problem of its own because they must have to line up to see the man, no matter how urgent and serious a matter requiring the President’s attention maybe. So, I think that it is not a good decision. You may end up creating a very powerful obstacle in the system.
Governor El Rufai has been speaking seriously about the fact that, in 2023, Nigeria should abrogate the issue of zoning to pave the way for the President to emerge strictly on merit and popular choice. But given the political history of Nigeria, don’t you think this will plunge the country into another round of avoidable political crisis?
We are already in a political crisis anyway. And it was created by zoning, rotation or the irresponsible attitude of the Nigerian elite. We have not come out of it. I have been an opponent of zoning or rotation since the Second Republic. The whole thing was brought up by the NPN because they wanted to be in power and they had the right to be in power because they had the majority but they decided, after making a mental breakdown as a result of the coup of 1966, to now make some concessions to their opponents. At that time, some of us who were not in the NPN said no and we gave them reasons it wasn’t going to work and why, in fact, it would create more crisis during the tenure of President Shehu Shagari. The plan was hatched because the NPN thought that they were going to rule Nigeria indefinitely but it did not work as they planned. Shagari was planning to hand over power to Alex Ekwueme and Umaru Diko as President and Vice President respectively but that did not succeed. It did not dawn on them that, no matter the political formula a party adopts, the ultimate power to choose a government resides with the electorate. Now, there have been instances where zoning/rotation has been an impossible task and it has violated the harmony and the very nature of this country and, somehow, those who have ambitions are prepared to throw the country into anarchy in order to achieve their desires. It is not the best for any country.
Nigerian politicians have already started jostling for the 2023 presidency. Don’t you think it is too early especially when the new government is not even up to six months?
I agree with you entirely that it is too early to begin to talk about 2023 at this point in time of our nation’s political life. Some elements are bandying the name of the APC Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, as the candidate when the man has not publicly told anyone he wants to run as President in 2023 and I think that those persons are simply trying to force him to speak. Nigeria will be better off if we concentrate on doing things that can move this country forward instead of wasting time and resources talking about issues that are neither necessary nor permanent in the life of this country. I have heard some elements talking about the convening of another national conference and I am surprised that some right-thinking Nigerians can call for another round of conference when we could not agree on anything meaningful in all the previous conferences. We need to take practical steps to solve our multilateral problems as a country and stop wasting time and scarce resources to organize irrelevant talk shops.