The Long Wait For A Short List, By Zainab Suleiman Okino
…if only President Buhari had looked beyond his surrogates in the villa, the job of choosing ministers and aides would not have been such a big deal, thereby causing policy implementation drawbacks. It’s been a long wait for a short list of 43 Nigerians.
When I thought of writing on this topic last week, I dithered a bit, thinking it would be overtaken by events, by the time it was due for publication, considering the mountain of pressures from all angles on the issue of cabinet formation. I did dither, for a different reason though, but the ministerial list never came. As I was putting finishing touches to this article, the long-expected list came out. If you thought the names would come from Mars, you were wrong. With the exception of a few, there is nothing earth-shaking about the list. They are people already in the public domain and not worth a 55-day wait. Now, we know why President Buhari was not in as much hurry as Nigerians and his supporters, who felt he had turned a new leaf, and would submit his cabinet list to the Senate for screening as soon as possible. Before the list made it to the Senate, the country had moved on, with or without ministers in place, as the citizens too had chosen to put other serious matters of national importance, such as security and the structure of our federation, on the front burner.
Ordinarily, there should be nothing extraordinary in choosing about 40 people from an adult population of 70 million, out of 200 million people, but under the current dispensation, this has been a daunting task. Going by the president’s admission, that the list must reflect his persona and must be people known to him personally, President Buhari was on an endless journey, since in actual fact, no two people are alike, and while many know him, he cannot claim to know everyone that should make it into his cabinet. In the end, it turned out that he appointed only people he has always known. So, why the fuss and the wait?
If the president was looking for supermen and near angels to help him run the country, those around him, those appointed before yesterday and the new list of people are not close to that. For example, the president earlier appointed his chief of staff, Abba Kyari; secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha and a host of other personal staff and close allies – people whose antecedents we know are not close to perfection, but who possess special traits, capacities and skills that endear them to the president nonetheless. We are not complaining and can’t dare complain before we are reminded that it is the president’s prerogative.
While appointing some personal staff is easy for the president, getting the calibre of ministers who he wants to be his alter ego has almost been a herculean task, at least for the oracle himself. It might have involved a lot of work — sifting the chaffs from the grains, spiritual divination, prophetic fore-telling, etcetera in order to determine the 43 wise men (and women)-strong cabinet. Who knows! Jokes apart, does it really mean that there are no people of integrity; people with impeccable and unassailable character to be pronounced ministers within the first week of Buhari’s inauguration or the problem is that of the president’s peculiar style of leadership.
…the delay has already done incalculable damage to the administration, such that even his ardent supporters ran out of excuses to justify the delay, thereby making people doubt whether the president actually reads the mood of the nation through the lens of the conventional and social media
Notwithstanding, the delay has already done incalculable damage to the administration, such that even his ardent supporters ran out of excuses to justify the delay, thereby making people doubt whether the president actually reads the mood of the nation through the lens of the conventional and social media.
Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves what would have happened in a Buhari presidency without the compulsory institutional framework like the Constitution, which makes certain things like appointments by the president and screening by the Senate a constitutional requirement? Does it mean we would have had an imperial presidency where orders are dished out on the basis of the president’s whims and at his convenience? If the environment had allowed an imperial civil rule, perhaps this administration would have been glad to adopt it, in order for the president to dish out his “good intention, integrity and frugality” at his own pace. Unfortunately, civil rule makes no room for such elastic patience of the populace.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, I can suggest at least 10 ministerial materials from the 36 states of the federation, who are either All Progressives Congress (APC) members or the president’s sympathisers, among the 15 million who voted for him. You do not really need a crystall ball to pick and choose the special ones among 15 million people who adore and practically worship you, yet that was what the president spent 55 days doing. In the end, it was an anti-climax. The ministerial list turned out to be a mere shortlist, even after the long wait by the nation.
The delay in ministerial appointments was attributed to even the delay in the president’s appointment of his chief of staff and the secretary to the government of the federation, a personal decision that does not require consultations with people at the state level. These key appointees would have helped the president fast-track the search for the “best brains the president can rely on”. Also, the president’s distance from the party apparatchik does not help matters. Fourth is his disconnect from the people whose yearnings and aspirations are now digital, while the president still prefers a cocoon-like arrangement, so much that APC members’ engagement with the people is at variance with his own.
The task would not have been difficult if the president had looked in the direction of the over 40,000-member Nigerian Medical Association (NMA); the hard-fighting and powerful Nigeria Bar Association (NBA); the influential Nigerian Institute of Architects and its affiliates; and the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Then we have the gender-based National Council of Women Societies (NCWS)…
Besides, there is this perception, wrongly or rightly, that the president wallows in an entitlement mentality and that he is doing the nation a favour by offering himself to serve. The right to feel that way or otherwise is his, but the people around him who canvassed for votes on his behalf, also wanted a bite from the national cake. So while these people defended the president’s actions and inactions, the man simply looked the other way. With the exception of Festus Keyamo (SAN), I’m not surprised their names did not feature in the list. Yet another reason is President Buhari’s seeming immunity to criticisms, suggestions, advice and admonitions, even from his support base, perhaps with the exception of the famed cabal. Now that everything in the closets is out in the open, methinks all next levelers jostling for recognition can go back to the drawing board. By now it should be clear to all that the more you think things would change, the more they would remain the same. Therefore, all nuisance agitations, protests and demonstrations in support of or against one ministerial aspirant or the other do not make sense anymore.
For many who made it and others who are left disappointed, the waiting game is now over. The task would not have been difficult if the president had looked in the direction of the over 40,000-member Nigerian Medical Association (NMA); the hard-fighting and powerful Nigeria Bar Association (NBA); the influential Nigerian Institute of Architects and its affiliates; and the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Then we have the gender-based National Council of Women Societies (NCWS); Women in Business (WINBIZ); National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ); and the young, restless, assertive and forward thinking Not Too Young To Run youth group. Also, the implementers and technocratic civil service groups; the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria; Nigerian Union of Journalists; Nigerian Guild of Editors; the rich and affluent captains of industries; the civil society groups; the famous people of the entertainment industry; the many vociferous and fierce critics, analysts, and commentators; and the street credibility group of men and women. In addition, the retired generals and officers from the military and paramilitary structures; the thinker-aristocrats and those in the academia; the ex- and serving diplomats; the standby force of demonstrators/supporters of the president and the cyber war kings and queens who are ever ready to defend the president and devour his detractors.
With these groups, who says we lack men of timbre and calibre as ministers? And if only President Buhari had looked beyond his surrogates in the villa, the job of choosing ministers and aides would not have been such a big deal, thereby causing policy implementation drawbacks. It’s been a long wait for a short list of 43 Nigerians.
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