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Will Buhari’s new team boost the economy?

By Eromo Egbejule
Posted on Friday, 17 May 2019 18:55

President Buhari of Nigeria has yet to ratify Africa's free-trade agreement. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

President Muhammadu Buhari recently nominated central bank governor Godwin Emefiele for a second term in office, the first such occurrence in the apex bank's 61-year history.

The fifth successive civilian-to-civilian transition in Nigeria since its return to democracy is set to happen in two weeks – on May 29 – and many of Buhari’s current cabinet hope that Emefiele’s good luck rubs off on them.

Back in 2015, Buhari named a cabinet of mostly old political allies and loyal stalwarts of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) after six months of taking office. Neither timeframe nor pattern is expected to change drastically, but there are speculations that most of the current ministerial line-up will be dropped as he makes his appointments.

Already, the presidency named members of boards of federal parastatals and agencies in February and March, including the controversial appointment of a 27-year-old rookie to the board of the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offences Commission. That decision generated a furore on social media last week.

Youth and women

According to Nigeria’s constitution, at least one minister is to be selected from each of the thirty-six constituent states in accordance with the concept of federal character. This has led to a series of permutations and combinations, even as intense lobbying and politicking has been going on within the APC at state and federal levels. Governors often nominate a candidate from their state, as do party chairs in opposition states.

  • It remains to be seen if Buhari, who is historically not a fan of appointing youth and women, will change this time around, despite loosely committing to more youth appointments earlier this year.
  • Former broadcaster and current presidential adviser on diaspora Abike Dabiri is desperately lobbying to replace her supervising minister at the foreign affairs desk. She has been in a thinly veiled tussle with minister Geoffrey Onyeama for months. If her record in her present role is anything to go by, Buhari’s second tenure could be replete with avoidable gaffes on the international scene.

Progressive policies or populist economics?

The most important ministries remain those of finance and trade and investment as well as petroleum, with more than 70% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings coming from crude oil.

A number of names have been mooted for the finance minister position, which is currently occupied by Zainab Ahmed, who has been more forthright in the role than her predecessor Kemi Adeosun.

  • There is a possibility that she will retain the position or be replaced by minister of budget and national planning Udoma Udo Udoma. Both are seen as astute options but lack the larger-than-life image and sheer willpower of former minister Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala to convince Buhari to implement radical fiscal policies.
  • Yemi Osinbajo, like the vice-presidents before him since 1999, remains head of the economic management team even though he had no prior background in economics. He makes policy recommendations to Buhari, who then takes the final decision. Osinbajo’s advocacy for open markets and other progressive policies have been in direct contrast to Buhari, who remains fixated on “dredging up old social policies” from three decades ago, as The Economist put it.
  • With Emefiele back in the saddle as well, any hopes of economists and investors about a devaluation of the naira or radical transformation towards currency stability can be put to bed now.

Goldman Sachs alumnus Okey Enelamah, who has been minister of industry and investment, could also be let go after a relatively quiet spell in favour of a more seemingly aggressive appointee. Nigeria’s economy remains in the midst a hangover from 2017’s recession, and the government is seeking to generate vast amounts of revenue and investment.

Jockeying for positions

A number of outgoing and ex-governors could also make the transition to a federal calling for their campaigning during the election cycle. Three names in particular stand out.

  • Oyo State’s Abiola Ajimobi, who lost his senatorial bid, is expected to be get a ministerial slot. But APC grandee Bola Tinubu could throw a spanner in the works due to his disappointment at a poor showing of the APC in the state in the last elections.
  • In Lagos, the unpopular governor Akinwumni Ambode, who lost his godfather’s support and consequently the party primary, has been on a commissioning spree of a string of mostly uncompleted projects including an airport project that Buhari launched with funfare. He is expected to take up a ministerial slot too and perhaps replace his predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, as minister of works, power and housing.
  • With the flamboyant Ibe Kachikwu potentially on the way out, a popular Niger Deltan would be needed to keep the peace in the usually restive region as deputy minister of petroleum to Buhari, given that the managing director of the national oil corporation is a northerner. Godswill Akpabio, a senator who once invoked a Hitler quote in a campaign speech, has seen his popularity plummet after losing his senate comeback bid and his hold on his home state of Akwa Ibom. He has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Kachikwu.
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