Globally, ministers are appointed by presidents and prime ministers to assist in policy formulation and the discharge of executive function, but the caliber of newly-appointed cabinet members by President Muhammadu Buhari suggest that these individuals were selected as a reward for helping him win his re-election bid rather than for the purpose of moving Nigeria forward. There will be no difference in the performance of these men and women at the end of four years compared with cabinet members of the last four years. This is due to the silence of Nigerians in the face of bad governance and leadership. The election that brought Buhari to power for a second term was regarded by international observers (EU, IRI and NDI) as lacking credibility and falling short of standards set in 2015. Furthermore, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, accused lecturers used as ad-hoc staff during the 2019 elections of conniving with politicians to compromise the integrity of the polls. One expects Buhari to work towards leaving a legacy in the next four years by ensuring that he appoints people with capacity and competence to help him steer the ship of the country. This brings me to the question of whether what we have in the new Buhari cabinet are “misfit-ers” or ministers.
Many Nigerians agreed that Buhari failed on every indices during his first term in office and expect him to make amend in his second term. Buhari was returned elected during the 2019 general elections despite his poor performance. In 2015, he was perceived as a reformed democrat who would help address the problems of insecurity, youth unemployment, corruption and economic mismanagement, but alas, Nigerians were wrong.
Many Nigerians have concluded that it was a big mistake electing Buhari in the first place. In the last four years under his administration, the spate of insecurity has reached an unprecedented level. He has failed to address issues of Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, Fulani herdsmen and farmer conflict, youth unemployment, corruption, fuel subsidy, epileptic power supply, high exchange rate and low FDI among others. Worse still, Nigeria’s debt profile increased from N12 trillion in May 29, 2015 to N24.9 trillion in May 2019 without commensurate development. As it is the usual case, most of these monies have ended up in private pockets.
These problems are there for everyone to see except we want to continue to live in denial. Some Nigerians have failed to acknowledge the enormity of these problems. This is mostly due to ethnicity, religion and partisanship. The list of newly appointed cabinet members makes one wonder whether Buhari truly means to take Nigeria to the next level. The last four years of the administration saw cabinet ministers retain their jobs till the last day despite their incompetence and poor performance. This was perhaps due to his believe that “he did not make a mistake in his appointment of this cabinet members besides his decision was carefully and strategically made to bring about the needed change and achieve the promises made during his campaign in 2015”. Many of the cabinet ministers lack knowledge of the different sectors/ministries and do not have a concrete plan of action. This is to be expected when a president appoints misfit-ers rather than ministers. Misfit-ers are members of the government who are a square peg in a round hole, hence, lack knowledge of the different sectors/ministries and do not have a concrete plan of action. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020 is yet to achieve the desired impact despite Buhari Administration’s optimism. It took Bill Gates to let us know that the ERGP execution priorities does not reflect Nigeria’s needs due to the prioritization of physical capital over human capital investment and human development.
The next four years of the Buhari Administration will not be different from the first four years going by the appointment of the new cabinet misfit-ers. These men and women are professional politicians who are trained in the art of abusing power. Little wonder Abubakar Malami (SAN), who did not live up to his responsibility as the Chief Law Officer of the country, was reappointed as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. Malami told Nigerians what to expect in the next four years when he said: “When individual interest conflict with public interest, public interest must prevail.” Malami, despite being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is working with Buhari to jettison the rule of law and take away the independence of the judiciary. This amounts to trying to be God on earth.
Zainab Ahmed, who was appointed to replace Kemi Adeosun as Minister of Finance, was also reappointed by Buhari with an expanded portfolio. Her headship of the Ministry of Finance did not improve key economic indicators such as inflation rate (11.08%), GDP annual growth rate (2.01%), poverty rate (69%), youth unemployment/underemployment (55.4%), unemployment rate (23.1%), underemployment rate (20.21%), exchange rate (N360 to $1), debt profile (N24.95 trillion in May 2019), monetary policy rate (14%), Human Development Index (0.532), Human Capital Index (152 out of 157 countries) and tax to GDP ratio (6.1%) due to lack of policy direction on the economy. Little wonder the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, is now taking fiscal policy decisions. The recent statement credited to Ahmed that the Buhari Administration plans to raise VAT rate from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent shows what the next four years will look like in terms of the economy. Ahmed should know that VAT, which is taxes on goods consumed by mostly the poor, is regressive. The Buhari Administration’s plan to increase VAT on goods consumed by the poor will worsen their situation and push them deeper into poverty.
It would be important to ensure efficient tax collection, improved tax administration and expanding the tax base rather than raise VAT. Despite the lack of capacity to manage the country’s economy, Buhari has expanded Ahmed’s portfolio to include Budget and National Planning. There is no doubt that the mismanagement and underdevelopment of the Nigerian economy will continue.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed was also reappointed as Minister of Information and Culture by Buhari. He was very effective in his propaganda campaign during the last four years. Mohammed labelled every statement made by critics of the Buhari Administration as hate speech. The propagandist extraordinaire has been reappointed to gain support for Buhari during his second term in office. Mohammed needs to know that the Minister of Information and Culture is not an attack dog.
Buhari has reappointed Adamu Adamu as his Minister of Education despite his poor performance during his first term. Adamu was proud to acknowledge during the ministerial confirmation that there are now 16 million out of school children but provided no policy prescription as to how the Buhari administration would reduce this number in the next four years. The reappointment of Adamu confirms Buhari’s prejudice against education.
Dr. Chris Ngige who had series of running battle with members of the labour unions/health workers/academic and non-academic staff, and also made a blunder by saying that Nigeria has enough medical doctors, was also reappointed by Buhari as Minister of Labour and Employment. Ngige has proven that he is a poor manager of industrial dispute. Little wonder members of organized labour threatened to revolt against his reappointment as Minister of Labour and Employment. As evident in the rate of youth unemployment/underemployment (55.4%), unemployment (23.1%) and underemployment (20.21%), Dr. Ngige failed to create jobs, which is one of the policy agenda of the Buhari Administration. It remains to be seen what Ngige will do differently during his second term in office.
Geoffrey Onyeama was reappointed by Buhari as his Minister of Foreign Affairs. Onyeama despite being seconded from the UN also failed on the foreign affairs front. The chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Enugu State, confirmed that Onyeama performed below average during his first term in office. Under Onyeama’s watch as Minister of Foreign Affairs, at least 118 Nigerians were killed in South Africa. The Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora Matters, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was more visible than Onyeama in responding to these killings. During the ministerial confirmation at the senate, Onyeama defended the South African Government, saying they are not complicit in the killings of Nigerians in South Africa. Furthermore, Nigerians living abroad do not get the necessary support which is a major responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For instance, it is a nightmare getting Nigerian passport and visa for Nigerians living abroad. Nigerian embassies are also poorly administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Majority of the Nigerian embassies are in a state of decay. Onyeama certainly has his job cut out for him in this second term.
Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) was returned as a minister albeit as Minister of Works and Housing. Fashola failed to fix power in four years despite being quoted as saying that “any responsible government should be able to fix the power sector in six months”. During the ministerial confirmation at the senate, Fashola said “left the ministry better than he met it in terms of building roads across the country, repair of bridges, building internal road network of universities and construction of affordable houses in 34 states including the FCT”. Yet, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has been split up. About 80 million Nigerians are not connected to the national power grid. Despite the promise of providing steady and uninterrupted power, Nigeria still experiences epileptic power supply. Worse still, majority of Nigerians are made to pay estimated bills. Fashola did not fight for the masses in this regard by putting an end to the fraud perpetrated by the Discos. It is hoped that Fashola will deliver on his new mandate.
Buhari has appointed Dr. Osagie Ehanire as his Minister of Health. Dr. Ehanire was Minister of State for Health during his first term in office. There was no significant improvement in health outcomes and other measures of health system performance in the last four years. According to the 2016-2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey and the 2018 World Health Statistics, life expectancy at birth for both sexes is 55.2 years, maternal mortality ratio is 814 per 100,000 live births, under-5 mortality rate is 132 per 1000 live births, neonatal mortality rate is 38 per 1000 live births, infant mortality rate is 67 per 1000 live births, mortality due to NCDs is 22.5%, antenatal care coverage (at least four visits) is 56.8%, health facility based delivery is 39%, proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel is 43%, exclusive breastfeeding rate is 29%, national immunization coverage is 23%, prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age is 37%, proportion of married women who use modern family planning method is 12%, unmet need for family planning is 19%, IPTp-SP uptake (three or more doses) is 16.6%, ACT treatment among children under 5 years of age is 28% and UHC service coverage index is 39. Primary health care (PHC) as the foundation of the Nigerian health system remains bad. The National PHC revitalization initiative failed as none of the targeted 10,000 PHCs across Nigeria were revitalized. It is doubtful that the new Minister of Health who is a Surgeon will carry out the needed health sector reform to address the problems facing the Nigerian health sector. PMB reappointed himself as Minister of Petroleum despite his failure to turn around the fortunes of the ministry during his first term. The refineries are not working. Nigeria continues to pay fuel subsidy. We keep flaring gas losing hundreds of billions of naira. It remains to be seen what PMB will do differently in his second term as Minister of Petroleum.
It is laughable that Dr. Okechukwu Ogah, who is a consultant physician/cardiologist, was appointed as Minister of State for Mines and Steel. Ambassador Maryam Katagun, an education expert who worked in UNESCO for eight years, was appointed as Minister of State for Trade, Industry and Investment. Sunday Akin Dare, a media expert, was appointed as Minister of Youth and Sports Development. Goddy Jeddy-Agba, an oil and gas professional, was appointed as Minister of State for Power. Festus Keyamo, a lawyer and human rights activist, was appointed as Minister of State for Niger Delta. Architect Olamilekan Adegbite was appointed as Minister of Mines and Steel. One can go on and on. Truly, nothing ever changes. Interestingly, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who was governor and chief security officer of Osun State for eight years, confessed that he doesn’t know anything about the Ministry of Interior except what he has read in the newspapers.
Buhari has made a wrong decision in appointing these misfit-ers in his new cabinet. Despite the general consensus that majority of the cabinet members during his first term performed poorly, Buhari has decided to make his ministerial appointments consolation prizes for loyal party members. Worst still, this cabinet that comprised of older generation will make decisions for future generations — this is an aberration. The number of cabinet members also increased from 36 in 2015 to 43 in 2019. So much for reduction in cost of governance. Nigerians have now come to the realization that the “change” and “next level” mantra are only a hoax.
Nigeria is no doubt heading for a catastrophe and it is evident that the Buhari Administration lack the capacity and is bereft of ideas needed to solve Nigeria’s problems. The new cabinet misfit-ers need to prove Nigerians wrong and fix the broken political and economic system of Nigeria. They need to come up with concrete plan of action to address the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria. The design of policies such as Rural Grazing Areas, ban on forex for the importation of milk, establishment of radio station for herdsmen among others must not repeat itself again. Buhari’s cabinet misfit-ers should employ the services of technical experts and put their ego asides.
The caliber of individuals that made the new Buhari cabinet shows that Nigerians are in for another four years of incompetent government. The reward of loyal party members with ministerial appointments, the charade that characterized the ministerial confirmation at the senate and the appointment of cabinet members who are square peg in a round hole—all shows what the course of events would be in the next four years.
Nigeria is no doubt in trouble besides the new Buhari cabinet misfit-ers lack the capacity and competence to take Nigeria to the next level. It is up to the Buhari Administration to prove its critics wrong that what we have in the new cabinet are ministers rather than misfit-ers.
. Bolaji Samson Aregbeshola is an Op-Ed contributor and the author of: “Nigerian Political Parties and Politicians: Winding Road from Country to Nation.”