Barring last-minute changes, any of the trio of Retired Col. Hameed Ali, current Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service [NCS], outgone Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, or former Lagos State governor and outgone Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Raji Fashola, will be named as substantive Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari in what is gradually emerging as part of the president’s plan to attract less controversies and rejig his cabinet for the next four years.
With the presidential inauguration last week, which ushered in President Buhari into his second tenure in office, all eyes are now set on who gets appointed into his kitchen cabinet and the federal executive council made up of ministers and key appointees.
The Office of the CoS and key ministerial appointments have become subject of intense lobbying, intrigues and horse trading among friends and family members of Buhari, it was learnt. This, according to the newspaper findings, became apparent after the president made plain that he intends to effect sweeping changes in the next four years. Even more, there are those who say that Buhari might not have been impassive about the cabinet composition which appeared lopsided with the bulk of his key men coming from his geographical zone and religion.
The president, earlier in April had made a short trip out of the country to UK ostensibly on a private visit. But as exclusively reported by Sunday INDEPENDENT even before the trip was made public, President Buhari had the trip in order to consider reports on his ministers and to consider possible candidates for his second term. According to presidency sources, Mr President came to the realisation that unless a clean sweep is made of his kitchen cabinet made up principally of his close relatives no federal cabinet can function well.
“Unknown to many, President Buhari follows up on many of those complaints made about his principal staff like Abba Kyari (chief of staff). It will be by an extremely weird circumstance that he will make it back into his cabinet,” explained a presidency source to the newspaper.
Though there had been talks, too, that Kyari may well be under the influence of Mamman Daura, a powerful uncle to the president who is believed to nudged the president into appointing Kyari and some key other members of his inner caucus.
The source further explained that with Kyari gone, Daura, President Buhari’s uncle’s influence in the presidency will reduce. This is because, according to the newspaper’s source, Daura, actually took Buhari from Dumurkul, a border village near Niger and raised him.
“He was his teacher and uncle, just like he was, too, to Kyari. So with Kyari as CoS, Daura was practically calling the shots from home,” the source concluded.
There were other stronger mitigations favouring the changing of Kyari. One was his alleged docile mien during the election period. While other ministers and members of the Buhari’s kitchen cabinet were up an about seeking ways to return Buhari, Kyari was said to have been lukewarm. Except for some write-ups in newspapers, little could be attributed to the president’s Chief of Staff considering the enormous powers he wielded. This aspect, particularly, rankled on the nerves of the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, when she made that famous allegation that two people were responsible for the problems of her husband’s administration before the election.
The sources say Aisha might be referring to Kyari and Daura.
According to those who were present in the Villa when she made those comments, the first lady had planned to mention their names at the event but was actually restrained by Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice President.
Another reason why Kyari may be axed may not be unconnected with what insiders say is the frosty relationship between Kyari and the vice president. As gathered, reports had reached the president on how Kyari had often shielded the VP from the president on key issues like security, economy and even in anti-corruption fights.
In fact, indications that Kyari might have been slated for the chopping block emanated during the president’s trip to the UK.
As learnt, Sabiu Tunde, a personal assistant had informed the President that Kyari intended to come and see him in the UK, but was learnt that the president had rebuffed his CoS, stating that if whatever he is coming over to discuss is so urgent, he should meet the VP.
The president’s resolve to effect changes in his administration has in the last one month evoked intrigues, intense lobbying with homes of Buhari’s friends turning overnight into a Mecca of a sort. Arriving at the choice of who is axed, remains or brought on board hasn’t been easy despite Buhari’s attempt to be his own man on the matter.
“Buhari’s weakness is his steadfastness once you are his friend or he gets to know you. Unfortunately, a lot of people have taken advantage of this to the detriment of his presidency,” explained a North Central governor to the newspaper in confidence.
The governor explained that the president has been under tremendous pressure on the list of his proposed cabinet.
“I can say that its 100 percent ready. But changes could occur at the last minute. It’s the nature of politics,” he added.
On the CoS matter, for instance, it was learnt that as at the time of the inauguration of the president for the second term last week, lobbying was still on for any of Adamu, the outgone minister of Education, Ali, the Customs boss and Fashola, the former governor. Except for Adamu, the point against the choices is their rather poor interpersonal skills. Ali and Fashola are believed to be too bull headed and inflexible and may not get along well with other key appointees. Here, Adamu appears to be a better choice, especially given that he has, in previous instances acted as Buhari’s secretary before he became president. Fashola, however, appears to be Buhari’s favourite choice.
At the ministerial level, there are indications that the duo of Hadi Sirika, outgone minister of Aviation and Rotimi Amaechi Minister of Transport, will make it back for different reasons. Sirika initially had eyed the governorship in Katsina his state and that of the president. The calculation of having both the President and the state governor coming from Daura province, Katsina, had forced Sirika to concede the ticket to the incumbent. Dropping Amaechi, for President Buhari, was not an option. Though the president is said to be happy with the strides in the railways that he oversees, the thorough shellacking the ruling party got in Rivers pointed to a possibility that Amaechi was all but wiped out politically. Leaving Amaechi out of his appointments will end him politically. Buhari is believed to have reasoned.
Other appointments as gathered may feature more former governors like Akinwumi Abode of Lagos, Godswill Akpabio and probably Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State.
But most Nigerians are of the opinion that President Buhari must up the ante of governance by being proactive in effecting changes where and when necessary.
They further argue that a situation where some ministers were made to complete the mandatory four-year tenure of the first term left much to be desired of a government that desires the recovery and growth of the economy.
However, what is most important to many Nigerians is how the President and those to be appointed ministers are going to “recover” the country from insecurity and sluggish economic growth to the benefit of 200 million people. Today, Nigeria is home to over half of its population who are poor and are wasting away in poverty and nearly 60 million illiterates.
With the latitude given to the president by the constitution to appoint his ministers and other aides to work with him, Nigerians are apprehensive over the quality of those Nigerians that would be appointed as aides and cabinet members. Nigerians would want to know the track records of the would-be cabinet members and aides.
According to them, Mr President needs a team of leaders, not the management team because of numerous challenges facing the country. Leaders take over where managers stop. It’s hoped that the President will not take up to six months to form his cabinet as he did in 2015.
There were some observed shortcomings of the last cabinet that they feel Mr President must guide against.
In fact, there were ministers who willingly compromised ethical standards and were favourably disposed to all forms of corruption. The Maina Gate and the former SGF corruption scandal are still fresh in the minds of Nigerians. It’s very appalling to see Nigerians who served under the President as ministers thinking they are the repository of knowledge but most times they don’t have solutions to teething troubles faced by the citizens.
For instance, one wonders why the country has not significantly diversified its economy from oil. Why is the inequality between the rich and the poor increasing? Today, Nigeria has the unpleasant record of being at the bottom of the world’s inequality ladder for the second year running, according to IMF reports. The commitment to reducing inequality between the rich and the poor by the President and his ministers hasn’t yielded significant results. The middle class is shrinking in size and capacity, such that the rich get richer and the poor poorer.
There is no doubt that the President and his team tried their best during first term, but their best has not improved Nigeria’s economic growth. Most of the challenges we face as a nation aren’t addressed because a few of the President’s cabinet members in the last four years have only applied archaic ideas to solve local problems.
Specifically, they took exception to some utterances of the president at the valedictory meeting last week where he paid tributes to those that started with his administration and praised the ministers, who remained till the lifespan of the cabinet, saying, repeatedly to them “to be proud” to have served Nigeria to the best of their ability.
According to Buhari, the ministers should be proud to have been part of the government that liberated the local governments previously under Boko Haram’s rule; to have contributed to the country’s food security and economic diversification, leading to a rural agrarian economy; and to have been part of the team that developed the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which led to Nigeria exiting its worst recession in decades.
Besides, he enjoined the ministers to be proud to have introduced the social investment programme that enhanced the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians; and to have overseen the most ambitious road, rail and airport rehabilitation programmes in the history of the country.
Then President Buhari had an answer for Nigerians, who had queried why he didn’t change his cabinet since 2015. He said the FEC members, through heated debates, always offered differing views on the best way to achieving government’s goals, thus making the decisions taken “all the more rational.”
“It is this quality that made me retain my cabinet for the full term,” Buhari told the nation, adding that each of the ministers had a unique skill and strength.
“We (FEC members) are a reflection of the Nigeria we aspire to achieve: A diverse but tolerant nation where no one is silenced and where every opinion should be heard and considered,” he said.
However, some analysts and public commentators said last week that all human beings have certain unique qualities, adding that opportunities should be given for new ideas rather than being fixated to some individuals, even, when it was obvious that the fortunes of the country were dwindling.
“We want to see proactiveness and occasional changes when necessary in both his kitchen and federal executive cabinet,” says an analyst, who preferred to be anonymous.
Culled from Sunday INDEPENDENT