Analysis: ‘Nigeria’s new cabinet a blend of experience’

Deutche Wella

DW spoke to Garba Kare, a lecturer of political science at the University of Abuja, to hear what he makes of the new cabinet.

After more than five months, Nigeria finally got a new government. A total of 36 ministers and junior ministers swore the oath of allegiance and were assigned formal roles.

DW: Were there any surprises in the composition of the new cabinet?

Garba Kare: There are a number of surprises, maybe pleasant surprises. When the cabinet list was announced, it did not conform entirely to what had earlier been predicted. Pundits had attempted to guess that particular persons were going to be posted to particular ministries; I think they largely failed. It was only two or three ministries that the pundits predicted correctly like agriculture, information and finance. That is not to say that personalities posted to those ministries can’t handle the portfolios.

When the former Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola was announced as the minister of power, works and housing, many Nigerians were shocked – understandably – because all the three used to be independent ministries of their own and they have now been combined. I think that has clearly made him a super minister. There is apprehension whether he can actually deliver. He performed astoundingly well as governor of Lagos, but to now handle energy, with the history of epileptic power supply in Nigeria, and then works, with all the construction going on all over the place, and housing – might be challenging.

Another surprise was probably in the Ministry of Education where a notable journalist who has very little to do with the education system was picked. Mala Adamu Adamu from Bauchi State was posted to the education ministry but he will be assisted by a professor. Among all the ministers, he appears to be the closest to President Buhari. The president probably has a particular agenda in the education ministry that he wants his closest protege to accomplish.

It has taken President Buhari more than five months to finally form a cabinet, was the delay meant to send some kind of message to the new ministers?

I think yes, in the past, he has attempted to explain the delay. First, he said he received reports of activities of government from his predecessor very late and that there was need for him to take time to study the report. Also, many people have been saying that most of the appointees have been secretly going through tutelage and briefing on exactly what they are supposed to do.

Super minister? Former Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola who heads power, works and housing ministry.

Therefore, we expect the ministers to be quite familiar of their responsibilities and as the president charged them, to hit the ground running and to begin to perform immediately they assume office.

More than five months without a government, one could have expected some sort of protest. How come this has not been the case in Nigeria?

[Laughs] Probably because Nigerians have given the president and the ruling All Progressive Congress a long rope with which to hang themselves, so to say. Again, probably because the honeymoon is still on. They are still viewing the government of Buhari with some kind of optimism and giving them the benefit of doubt. But I am one of those who believe five months was rather too long to form a cabinet.

How different is Buhari’s new cabinet from those of his predecessors?

There are a number of differences. For the first time, governors and other political chieftains did not have much if any input in the nomination and appointment of the ministers. It was solely the responsibility of the president. Secondly, for the first time, there was a total absence of allegations of money changing hands during the screening of ministers. In the past, the Nigerian senate – which has the responsibility of screening the senators – was notorious for allegedly collecting money from ministerial nominees. This time, there was no such thing.

If you look at the ministers individually, you can hardly fault any of them. Most of them are accomplished in their own different areas. I think the cabinet is a fine blend of experience: there are politicians, half of the ministers have been in partisan politics, some of them have been governors, some of them have even been ministers before. So, unlike in the past, many of them are not political novices at all. There are a few of them that are in government for the first time but it’s probably because of their pedigree, educational qualifications, experience in business and the corporate world and so on. Of course one or two of them have had a controversial past but largely most of them are fresh.

Ever since President Buhari took office, there have been a lot of changes in the petroleum ministry. For instance, he has renegotiated oil contracts and banned some companies from lifting oil. What can we expect from him as the head of the ministry?

I must admit that Buhari’s take-over of the petroleum portfolio was a very controversial move. However, he knows one or two things about the petroleum industry. He was minister of petroleum in the late 1970s; in the middle of the 90s, he also headed the petroleum special trust fund. Therefore he is quite familiar with the ministry. During the campaign and even after the election, he has been talking about the rot within the petroleum industry. I think what he wants to do is to clean up the industry to ensure that corruption and graft within the oil industry, if not completely eliminated, is substantially reduced. He wants to stabilize the oil industry which has been facing a lot of hiccups. Generally, he wants everything to be transparent.

Most of the corruption in the oil industry is being perpetrated within the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC]. The group managing director of the NNPC, Ibe Kachikwu, is now the State Minister of Petroleum Resources and within the few months that he has been in the saddle, he has introduced a number of reforms and innovations and they seem to be working. Even though, the president is going to head the oil ministry, most of the work is still going to be done by Kachikwu. We have also heard that there is going to be a special adviser on petroleum and energy who will also assist the president and the minister of State.

Garba Kure is a lecturer of political science at the University of Abuja.