On Tuesday, November 10, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sacked 17 permanent secretaries in the civil service – part of a corps of secretaries hired in undue haste and apparently irregularly by outgoing president Goodluck Jonathan just before his term expired. On the same day he named the permanent secretaries to their 36 posts, in advance of the ministerial nominations. These are the civil servants who will have to work with the new ministers. On Wednesday, November 11 Buhari named and swore in his new cabinet. The ceremony had been long awaited – long overdue, in our estimation, and that of many other observers.
However, some political imperatives forced Buhari to go slow. The most important of these was the vetting process, in which the Senate had to confirm his nominees. To ensure that no nominees were blocked, Buhari and his team had to pick people with good reputations for integrity, and, in the case of nominees from states dominated by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had to pick relatively non-partisan figures owing to a rule that two senators from a nominee’s home state must approve his or her nomination.
The process did not always go smoothly – some complicated behind-the-scenes negotiations with and pressures on Senate President Bukola Saraki were involved – but ultimately the Senate approved all 36 of Buhari’s nominees on October 29. On Wednesday, then, Buhari was able to announce their portfolios. As expected, the president trimmed the total size of the cabinet, nominating the constitutional minimum of 36 ministers, but naming only 24 substantive (senior) ministers and 12 ministers of State (junior ministers).
Most eyes were on the finance portfolio, which went to Kemi Adeosun, the British-born former Finance Commissioner of Ogun State. She has experience and training in economics, accounting and investment banking, and we are confident that she has the credentials to effectively manage her portfolio. The ministers who will be working closely with her are equally encouraging: Udo Udoma, the Minister for Budget and National Planning, is a director in several companies and has a strong network in the corporate sector. His nomination was a nod to bipartisanship, as he served two terms as senator for Akwa Ibom for the PDP.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, comes from private equity, and his deputy, Aisha Abubakar, is a well-known northern businesswoman. As had been expected, Buhari kept the substantive petroleum ministry for himself, and confirmed Ibe Kachikwu, the head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), as Minister of State for Petroleum. The arrangement will, we think, permit for effective management of the oil economy, as a small team including the head of State will oversee the oil sector and the linkages between that sector and the treasury.
We are also optimistic about what the nominations indicate about diversification away from the oil economy. Three key sectors were given to former governors with executive experience and relatively good reputations for service delivery, which, in Nigeria, largely means utilities and roads. Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos, was named Minister of Power, Works & Housing; Rotimi Amaechi, the outgoing Rivers governor, is the new Minister of Transport; and Kayode Fayemi, former Ekiti governor, is now Minister of Solid Minerals.
The latter sector has been especially neglected in the past, and we hope to see some moves there in a time when Nigeria can no longer depend on the large inflows from oil that it has been used to. Audu Ogbeh is the new Agriculture Minister, a large-scale farmer who has made sensible public statements about boosting domestic food production. Mr Ogbeh, interestingly, was a minister in 1982, until he was deposed by the coup Buhari led the following year.
The nominations in the security portfolios were a bit of a surprise. Two military men were named to the interior and to defence, but the more senior of the two, Abdulrahaman Danbazau, was named Minister of Interior, while the more junior, Mansur Dan-Ali, was named to defence. We do not think this matters, and Mr Buhari has already brought plenty of experience to the security sector in the nominations of his service chiefs. We hope, though, that the nomination of a soldier to the interior portfolio will not impede the very urgent matter of de-militarising policing and addressing rights violations by the Joint Task Force in the north-east. This has tended to fuel the Boko Haram insurgency and has further devastated that region.
Two loyal party men got good nominations. Lai Mohammed, who was publicity secretary for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and ran an outstanding election campaign, was named Minister of Information. On his form over the past year he will do a good job communicating government policy, always a plus from an analyst’s point of view. And Abubakar Malami, a lawyer who played an important role in the merger of different parties to form the APC, is the new Justice Minister.
While everyone hopes the new ministers will hit the ground running, we should expect some delay as the new men and women get to grips with their portfolios and establish working relationships with the people in their departments. We do not have serious reservations about the team named – with the possible exception of Labour Minister Chris Ngige, a pure product of old-school godfather politics. The key sovereign ministries, though, are in good hands, and we are confident in the new cabinet’s ability to deliver action on the most important issues – cleaning up the oil sector and diversifying the economy.
François Conradie, Political Analyst, NKC African Economics