Four months after winning power in Nigeria’s first ever transfer of power, President Muhammadu Buhari has finally named his preferred cabinet. According to the president and his supporters, the delay in appointing the cabinet was due to his determination to appoint a set of clean Ministers untainted by the politics of the past. But critics have suggested that a more significant concern was the lack of consensus within the All Progressives Congress (APC) government about how the most important positions should be distributed.
Until Tuesday 6 October, the only Minister that had been officially named and appointed was the president himself, after Buhari decided that he was the only person who could be trusted to fulfil the all important role of Petroleum Minister. One problem with waiting so long to announce his list of preferred candidates was that Buhari built up expectations. It was therefore unsurprising when many Nigerians were disappointed with the list of individuals that the president submitted for vetting to the upper house of parliament, the Senate. This sense of disappointment was exacerbated by four problems with Buhari’s announcement.
The first problem was that Buhari only named 21 of 36 cabinet positions, meaning that Nigerians will need to wait even longer to see the final line-up. The second problem was that while the president named the people he would like to serve in his Cabinet, he did not name the positions he would like them to serve in. This calls into question how effectively the Senate will be able to vet candidates if they do not know what responsibilities they will be required to carry out. The third problem was that – as in the past – there was a depressing lack of women, who comprise just 3 of the 21 people named (14%).
A fourth and potentially more significant problem was that the much-vaunted “new cabinet” was not that new. Key figures within the APC party machine, such as the former governors of Lagos, Rivers and Ekiti states were included. In particular, the fact that Rotimi Amaechi – the governor of Rivers State from 2007 to 2015 – made the list has drawn a lot of commentary. Amaechi was a central part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) political machine and only defected to the APC in 2013. His appointment appears to be reward for his decision to cross the political divide, rather than because he has a reputation for being “clean”. Already, an anti-corruption organization, the Integrity Group, has called for the Senate to reject Amaechi’s candidacy until he deals with allegations of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fraud relating to the sale of power plants and unlawful payments to Clinoriv Specialist Hospital and Messrs Collect Nigeria Ltd.
However, supporters of the president have pointed out that the list also contains some of the leaders credited with providing development and effective leadership in their areas, such as Babatunde Fashola, who many credit with turning around Lagos State. The list also includes a number of career professionals such as Osagie Ehanire, a surgeon who was trained at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. However, even this appointment smacks of old political logics upon further investigation, because Ehanire’s most recent high profile role was not that of a doctor, but as the Edo State Coordinator for the president’s election campaign.
Time will tell how many of Buhari’s nominees will make it through the Senate. The ruling APC holds 60 of the 109 Senate seats, and so enjoys an absolute majority. However, disgruntled factions within the APC, who feel that they have not been sufficiently represented within the list of nominees, may seek to expose unflattering information about some of the weaker candidates on the list. This may be the reason that Buhari has decided not to release the names of his nominees for the final 15 positions: by holding them back, he leaves open the possibility that further factions will ultimately be included. This both defers the backlash from those who will ultimately lose out, and means that the president still has a set of valuable positions to give out, which can be used to build support within the APC for his first batch of nominations.