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Nigeria: New cabinet, old wine, cracked bottles

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Thursday, 22 August 2019 16:26

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari greets his supporters after Friday prayers in his hometown Daura, in Katsina State, ahead of the country's presidential election, Nigeria February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Six months after taking office, President Buhari has named his cabinet.

Twelve of the 43-member ministerial list are returning appointments from his first tenure, but the remaining names are an assortment of party loyalists and politicians, rather than technocrats. All have been assigned portfolios, and five new ministries have been created.

The five new ministries are:

  • Special Duties and International Affairs
  • Police Affairs
  • Power
  • Humanitarian Affairs
  • Disaster Management and Social Development

Delta, and the politics of oil money

Buhari remains Petroleum Minister, assisted by Timipre Sylva, former governor of oil-rich Bayelsa State.

  • The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested Sylva in 2013 over a N19bn fraud and seized 48 separate homes belonging to him, which were later returned.
  • It is thought that the appointment of Sylva, accused of funding militants in the Delta, may be crucial in pacifying them to stabilise the economy and/or mobilising them to disrupt the November 2019 elections in Bayelsa.
  • Festus Keyamo, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC in Sylva’s case was a spokesman for the president’s re-election campaign. He will serve as a junior minister for the Niger Delta, reporting to Godswill Akpabio, former senator and governor from Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio was also under investigation by the EFCC, before he defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), but the charges were inexplicably dropped.

Super minister Babatunde Fashola has had his powers whittled down as his three-in-one ministry has now become two (Works and Housing) while Power has become a separate ministry under Sale Mamman, a former ministry of works official.

  • Hadi Sirika and Rotimi Amaechi remain Ministers of Aviation and Transportation, respectively, in separate ministries.
  • Lai Mohammed and Abubakar Malami, who serially ignored and discarded a string of court orders between 2015-2019, remain Minister of Information and Culture, and Minister of Justice, respectively.
  • The largely invisible Minister of Education Adamu Adamu and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mohammed Musa Bello also make a comeback.

A grip on the levers

Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed retains control of finance and the economy but also seems content with being pulled toward favourable policy directions by Aso Rock. It remains to be seen what her position will be on subsidy payments and allocations to heavily indebted states that still need bailouts for salary payments.

She is undoubtedly popular; on her return from a cabinet retreat, she was welcomed gleefully by the civil servants in her ministry.

The two youngest ministers are former APC treasurer Umar Sadiq Faruk (43) who will head the new Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs and Isa Ali Pantami (46), the former chair of the National Information Technology Development Agency, who was named Minister of Communications.

Bottom line: With an average age of 60, few women, and a dearth of technocrats, the new cabinet is dominated by party loyalists and has-beens recycled from old roles. Nigeria’s ministerial affairs for the next four years will be run mostly by square pegs in round holes.

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