Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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Implications of Buhari's new cabinet 11 Sep 2019

When President Muhammadu Buhari, on July 23, submitted his ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening, he did not attach their respective portfolios. This meant the ministers could not be assessed on their suitability for the portfolios they would later be assigned. Therefore, the initial value judgement that could be made was on the overall quality of the cabinet for his second term and the thinking behind it.
The popular verdict was that, for many reasons, the cabinet was uninspiring. One, there was scant inclusion of people with notable technocratic pedigree on the list. Two, many of the reappointed ministers had performed very poorly in Buhari's first-term cabinet. Three, some of the nominees actually confirmed the notion of lack of commitment to holistic anticorruption by the government. And, four, the cabinet is seriously wanting on women and youth inclusivity.
Now that portfolios have been assigned to the ministers, the cabinet is even worse than it could have been. A junior minister in the previous cabinet, who initiated a major public project that became defunct within months, was promoted to senior minister, signalling a system that rewards failure handsomely. Another nominee of a professional seniority, was appointed a junior minister in a ministry that has nothing to do with his training, highlighting a cabinet of square pegs in round holes.
What's more, one of the ministers openly admitted that he knew nothing about the portfolio he was assigned. This then triggered a bigger debate as to whether ministers, as “managers”, need technocratic competence to function. But if ministers don't know what their ministries do, or they are proven moral and leadership failures, the assumption that they would be able to “manage” their portfolio well is unreasonable.
The Nigerian economy has since the first term of the Buhari administration been in a non-cyclical underperformance. The economy has remained weak on growth since the oil price collapse of 2016 through to the following two years of price recovery. Between 2015 and the end of 2018, the GDP grew at average 0.97 percent. Whereas in the previous 10 years, a period that included the years of the Great Recession, following the 2008 global financial crisis, growth averaged 6.5 percent.
There are two possible reasons for the lingering weakness of Nigeria's economic performance vis-à-vis its potentials. One is unfavourable external factors. The second is weak domestic policymaking. Both hold true. The external factors are many and complex. They could be summarised as occurring political, economic and technological changes in the world order. A cabinet that is ill-equipped to understand the evolving phenomenon and adapt domestic policy to counter their local negative effects is unfit for purpose.
There are ample indications that, given his new cabinet, the Buhari administration is not only struggling to grapple with policymaking to address the domestic economic challenges, he is tolerant of failure and he himself may have quit trying to succeed. In 2015, he promised to rationalise the ministries as part of his plan to trim the bureaucracy. Now, he has expanded his cabinet size to 43 and created five new ministries.
By reverting to a separate Ministry of Power in 2019, it took Buhari the better part of three and half years to accept that his decision to fuse the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing in 2015 was wrong. Or more importantly, it took him such a long time to correct the mistake. But he has arguably recreated the same problem elsewhere now, by subsuming the Ministry of Budget and National Planning in Ministry of Finance.
Before announcing his new lacklustre cabinet, the president had undermined its capacity to deliver. He said only those who he knew personally would be appointed to his second-term cabinet. That has translated to mean that all the ministers from his Northwest geopolitical zone got “juicy” ministries and are designated as senior ministers. This nepotism now combines with his palpable indifference to performance. Whereas the reappointment of 14 ministers from his last cabinet raised eyebrows, it is significant that he waited till the end of his first term to drop any of the then-ministers, despite their poor performances. With these, the president could hardly be taken seriously on his promise to measure the performance of his new ministers.
The lack of inclusivity in the cabinet is also a strong indicator of sort. Not one of the new ministers is under the age of 40, effectively shuttering the youth from the cabinet. The number of women in the cabinet only marginally increased to seven, from six in his previous cabinet. But the youth constitute over 60 percent of the electorate while women constitute nearly half of the country's population.
The near-total shutting out of women and complete exclusion of the youth in his cabinet are self-indicting, suggesting President Buhari is not operating a popular mandate. Given that the cabinet itself has been described as more of a political cabinet, constituted overwhelmingly by politicians and political hangers-on and constructed with the 2023 general elections in mind, it means the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is not relying on popular mandate in its strategies to remain in power.
Whereas the new cabinet is short on technocratic competence, the presidency has appointed a motley crew of media aides. The government has therefore oiled its propaganda machine for the next four years. False realities and unfounded hope would be provided to mask the true situations, obfuscate and polarise the people as either “hailers” or “wailers”. While at it, more Nigerians would be falling into extreme poverty. The promise of the president to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty would be unrealisable. More likely, six Nigerians will continue to fall below the poverty line every minute, according to the estimate by Brookings Institution, with the absolute number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty rising from 91 million at the end of 2018 to 103 million by the end of the Buhari administration in 2023.
The remedy for this is for the people to raise their voices. We have to demand that as much water as possible must come out of this rock of a cabinet and government. We must counter government's false narratives and propaganda with the true situation of things and demand accountability. The people, especially the youth and women, must assert their demographic relevance to the governance of the country. Nigeria cannot remain a democracy of the rule of the incompetent few. We must be advised that the failure of an incompetent leader is inevitable, and it would inevitably lead to the suffering of the people as has been the case, more acutely since 2015.