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How Politics Trumped Policy In Buhari’s Ministerial Selection


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It was empowerment for stronger members of the APC who lost the last elections and for others who could win elections in their localities. That the list reflected a preference for politics above policy, is revealed in the bringing of more politicians and the weeding out of technocrats.

It took President Muhammadu Buhari six months in 2015 to put together a ministerial team for his first administration. In spite of the long delay, Mr Buhari would later confirm the claim by his wife, Aisha, that his government was hijacked when he stated on July 19 that his first ministers were foisted on him by his party.

Mr Buhari had a second chance to act faster, but he did not change his style. He was reelected in February 2019, but it took him months to put together his team.

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While addressing the leadership of the legislature, the president promised he would appoint only those he knew. Many took his statement for a hint that a good number of his ministers in the last administration would return. Fourteen eventually returned.

Constitutionally, the president is not expected to know personally all persons nominated for the office of ministers. The requirement is that each state should produce a minister.

There is no fixed political formula in the nomination of ministers from the states. The governors, if they are members of the ruling party, wield much influence in determining who represents their state. When the state is in the opposition, the party hierarchy in the state holds the aces. Majority of the nominees in the APC ruled states were obviously nominated by their governors. However, powerful players had overbearing influences that curtailed the powers of the state governors.

In the making of the 2019 ministerial list, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that it was the game of the governors and the godfathers, showing their strength at the corridors of power. There are others, notwithstanding, who are ready to take on the governors in the fight for a share.

Making good his promise to appoint those he personally knows, the president ensured the return of 14 of his former ministers. They are Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Chris Ngige (Anambra),Ogbonnaya Onu (Ebonyi), Geoffrey Onyema (Enugu), Zainab Ahmed (Kaduna), Hadi Sirika (Katsina), Abubakar Malami (Kebbi), Lai Mohammed (Kwara), Osagie Enahire (Edo) Suleiman Adamu(Jigawa), Mustaphar Shehuri (Borno), Musa Bello (Adamawa) and Adamu Adamu (Bauchi).

Most of the new ministers-to-be were either nominated by state governors or by the top party hierarchy, PREMIUM TIMES learned. The president is, therefore, not completely immune to the problem of not knowing most of his ministers. Besides those who worked closely at his campaign organisation, like Festus Keyamo and Adeleke Mamora, the larger number of his new cabinet seem to be new faces.

Buhari’s Men

Mr Keyamo, who represents Delta State in the new cabinet, was the Director of Strategic Communication in the Buhari 2019 Campaign Organisation. His rabid support for the president’s reelection bid may have earned him a place in the government. In the same manner, Godswill Akpabio, a recent APC stalwart in Akwa Ibom, risked all when he dumped the Peoples Democratic Party to support the Buhari reelection. He lost his bid to return to the Senate and it is only natural for the APC to give him a political lifeline, moreso, since he is the party’s most senior figure in the state.

In the southwest, where the national leader of the APC, Bola Tinnubu, calls the shots, things were a bit different. While he is the politcal king of Lagos, his allies in Messrs Fashola and Mamora may have attained a status of their own.

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Having served the Buhari government well as minister in the last administration, Mr Fashola had the platform to strike his own bargain. Ditto for Mr Mamora, who had served as the Deputy DG of the Buhari Campaign Organisation and earlier appointed as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority.

The Governors versus the Godfathers

The Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, and his counterpart in Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi, ensured that their candidates in Tayo Alasoadura and Niyi Adebayo respectively scaled the hurdles to be nominated by the president. Mr Akeredolu virtually abandoned his duties in Ondo, relocating to Abuja to ensure that a swap or a last-minute delisting of his candidate did not occur.

Even the out-of-favour former governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, successfully pushed his candidate, Lekan Adegbite, through to the amazement of Mr Tinubu and the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Mr Amosun’s smooth ride against the tide could only be a testimony of his closeness to the president, especially considering his antiparty activities during the governorship election in Ogun State. Mr Adegbite served as Commissioner for Works under Mr Amosun as governor.

The emergence of Sunday Dare for Oyo State could not have been possible without the invisible hands of Mr Tinubu. Mr Dare, a former Editor with The News, had served as Mr Tinubu’s Chief of Staff. His choice was at the expense of Adebayo Shittu, former communications minister, who PREMIUM TIMES gathered, made efforts to return to the government; and Adebayo Adelabu, who lost the last governorship election on the ticket of the APC.

Rauf Aregbesola, the immediate past governor of Osun State, is comfortably the winner in Osun. While it could be taken for granted that his emergence was deserving, owing to his records as a party man close to both the party leaders and Aso Rock, his nomination did not come easy. PREMIUM TIMES learned that the state governor, Gboyega Oyetola, had pushed for the appointment of Iyiola Omisore, to cement the memorandum of understanding reached between Mr Omisore and the Osun APC during the rerun of the governorship election.

It was learnt that Mr Oyetola had forwarded his name to the Presidency, not in any particular effort to thwart the ambition of his predecessor, but to secure two nominees from the state as is the case in Lagos, Edo and other states. Mr Omisore’s loss, reports say, could mean his political nemesis, as his supporters are said to be grumbling as no benefit seems to be accruing from the pact.

Tinubu’s 2023 stakes

Mr Tinubu’s rumoured ambition to run for the Presidency in 2023 seems to have its imprints on all his political moves. It is believed that his plan to have his men in place ahead of the event has been successful so far. Despite the fact that he did not nominate all of them in the southwest, he is on political high ground, capable of drawing loyalty from the current beneficiaries. Having the southwest firmly in his grips is non-negotiable. His team comprising Messrs Aregbesola, Mamora, Fashola, and Dare are salutary to his interest.

Although Niyi Adebayo was nominated by the governor of Ekiti State, Mr Fayemi and the former Lagos governor are allies. While the same cannot be said of Mr Akeredolu and his candidate, Mr Alasoadura, the governor’s return bid is offering him a humble pie. He had expressed his willingness to “partner” for the benefit of their respective ambitions. Generally speaking, analysts believe that Mr Buhari’s ministerial list is a consolidator ahead of the 2023 general elections. It was empowerment for stronger members of the APC who lost the last elections and for others who could win elections in their localities. That the list reflected a preference for politics above policy, is revealed in the bringing of more politicians and the weeding out of technocrats.

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Party influences

Emeka Nwajiuba, a member of the House of Representatives, was a surprise beneficiary of the politics of ministerial nomination. He was in Accord Party before his nomination. He was a beneficiary of a court verdict which upturned the election of Chike Okafor of the APC for not being validly nominated. Mr Nwajiuba defected from the AP to the APC barely 24 hours after he was nominated for ministerial appointment. He is reported to be a staunch Buharist, and a founding member of the APC who served in the constitution drafting committee of the party. His emergence has a rationale of the party’s growing need of a stronger foothold in the southeast region.

Feelers from Abia State indicated that Uchechukwu Oga was nominated from the state on the strength that he was the governorship candidate of the APC in the last governorship election. The party in the state had complained earlier in the year that the former Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, was not performing and representing them well.

“We have a minister on paper, but nobody feels his impact. Throughout the campaigns he showed no interest; he is supposed to help in building his party, but he has remained unconcerned and lackadaisical to the interest of the APC,” were the words of the publicity secretary of the party in the state, Benedict Godson in April. The party had resisted his nomination while projecting the nomination of Mr Oga. It was gathered that the president had to bow to the party’s pressure.

From Bayelsa, former Governor Timipre Sylva is replacing Heineken Lokpobiri in the federal cabinet. Mr Sylva, who had attempted to return to the governorship seat on the platform of the APC in previous elections, might be leaving the space for Mr Lokpobiri, who has already picked his form to contest for the governorship ticket of the party in the state. Mr Sylva’s nomination is not unexpected, given that he is the leader of the party in Balyesa.

Gbemi Saraki was a surprise pick from Kwara. But analysts suggest it was a strategy to keep the party in the minds of the people coming from the stalk of the Saraki patriarch who still enjoys a post humous adoration from many people in the state. It was learnt that she was particularly pencilled for a ministerial position owning to her standing by the party when all others, including her brother, Bukola, moved away to the opposition. Lai Mohammed, the returnee minister, was outstanding in ensuring the prosecution of the routing of the Bukola Saraki structure from the state. To many, Mr Mohammed deserved his “wages” and should it have been otherwise, it would have been a slight on his efforts.

The losers

Audu Ogbe, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, did not get a second chance to serve as minister. He debunked the rumour that he rejected the offer to return to the cabinet. According to Mr Ogbe, the president did not offer him a chance to return to cabinet after the left office on May 29. He also said he did not lobby for any appointment because he had a cordial relationship with the president and did not have to lobby for any position.

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However, sources close to the former minister had revealed that the minister actually expected his reappointment, but was disappointed that his name was dropped, blaming it on a powerful cabal in the presidency. His replacement, George Akume, is a loyal party man, who is a former governor of the state and represented the people of Benue North West senatorial district for three consecutive terms of 12 years. During the period, he was the minority leader of the Senate between June 2011 and June 2015. But he could not secure a fourth term mandate occasioned by the defeat APC suffered at the 2019 polls in the state. His nomination is certainly a reward for his stand for the party, especially with the defection of the governor, Samuel Ortom, to the PDP, opening the way for Mr Akume to assume the role of the leader of the party in the state.

Solomon Dalung did not hide his crave to return to the federal cabinet, when in an interview, he said no one could stop him from returning to the cabinet if God wants him to. Mr Dalung sparked national outrage towards the end of his tenure when PREMIUM TIMES revealed his refusal for two years to repay the international athletics federation $130,000 the body said was paid to Nigeria in error. Rather than pay back, Mr Dalung attacked the body and argued about the genuiness of its error. Shocked Nigerians questioned his judgement and its implication for the country’s image.

His failure to make the list was a disappointment, as another former minister emerged to take the Plateau slot in the list of ministerial nominees. Pauline Tallen, a former deputy governor and former minister, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the APC. She had turned down an ambassadorial appointment last year for reasons that she could not leave her sick husband behind in the hands of others.

The absence of the name of former Lagos Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, on the list of nominees, in spite of his earlier humiliation from the governorship race, was another shocker. His nomination was widely speculated but he eventually lost out to the heavyweights in his state. With Mamora and Fashola on the list, Mr Ambode could not survive the politics.

Adebayo Adelabu, who contested the Oyo State governorship election on the platform of the APC after resigning from the Central Bank of Nigeria, was tipped to clinch the Oyo slot.

There are strong indications that a former governor of Ondo state also made an unsuccessful bid to be nominated. His nearness to the APC reportedly stemmed from his posture during the last election as he was said to have helped the APC to shore up votes for the House of Assembly seats.

There is every reason to agree with analysts from all political divisions, that the 2023 elections are in focus with the configuration of the new cabinet. The summoning of the political juggernauts from the “four winds” of the nation’s polity in preparation for the battle could be setting the stage for another bloody affair when the time of transition finally comes.

 

PREMIUM TIMES.

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