By Ken Ugbeche

Give the man the credit due him. President Muhammadu Buhari achieved a feat. A milestone. He sent a 43-man ministerial list to the National Assembly under 60 days after his inauguration. It was a full list. This was what took him a good nine months to accomplish in his first term. In 2015, the lists came in two batches of six months and a complete ensemble in nine months. Not this term. The president has morphed to the next level. That’s a positive.

Yet another positive: the list has only 14 former ministers returning. The president shunned 18 of his old ministers; some for good reasons. It was a huge relief to see the back of Solomon Dalung, the calamitous sports minister; Audu Ogbeh, the agriculture minister who cooked up dubious statistics to support his delusionary success in agriculture; Mansur Dan Ali, the defence minister who fed Buhari with the fib of Boko haram being decimated and sustained it till his tenure lapsed when the reality is the very opposite. Under his watch insecurity festered and flourished; Abdulrahaman Dambazau, a retired General and the man whose tenure at the Ministry of Interior saw the nation spend N3.5 million monthly to feed a VIP ‘prisoner’, even Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the iconoclastic Shiite leader. Add to this list the worst disaster of them all, a certain Barr Adebayo Shittu, a complete analogue man wrongly posted to mind the nation’s ministry in charge of digital economy. An irksome irony. Adebayo was a misfit, pure and simple.

But the list was long on politicians and short on politically untainted technocrats. It had only seven female nominees, short on the 35 percent Affirmative Action. My surprise was the non-return of Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, the urbane minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. I guess he fell to the whims of filthy politics, not non-performance. He was never a politician, albeit the Nigerian variant. Another shocker was Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the man who restructured NNPC as Group Managing Director and minded the petroleum ministry with the president himself. Kachikwu was a fit and proper person for that office. Coming from the private sector with loads of experience, perhaps he underestimated the miasma in the oil and gas sector especially the sorry state of the nation’s money-guzzling refineries. And here, he punched above his weight. He promised to get the refineries working at optimum capacities by 2019. He even said he would resign if the contrary happens. This never happened.

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And that letter he leaked to the media where he chronicled some not-too-decent dealings by the NNPC which were kept away from him even as Chairman of the Board. Well, in Nigeria, a letter can put you in trouble. I still recall the case of my uncle Audu Ogbeh. As Chairman of PDP he wrote a one-page letter to then President Olusegun Obasanjo. That letter, harmless if you ask me (it only called Obasanjo’s attention to the drifting ship of state and sundry acts that desecrated the altar of democracy) got Obasanjo livid.  For that singular letter, Ogbeh got into trouble, real trouble with the Owu chief. He was forced to resign as PDP chairman under some very strange circumstances. You don’t write a letter to Obasanjo who is the chief letter-writer of the Federal Republic. Lucky old fox, Obasanjo’s letters never got him into trouble. They are usually well-received by the public and celebrated by the media. All animals are not equal, Dr. Kachikwu and Uncle Audu Ogbeh.

And then the strangest part: no youth in this team. They are all over 40 years of age and do not in any way represent the youths of Nigeria against the president’s pre-election promise. Never mind, even the youths have not demonstrated enough hunger and readiness to lead. They are stuck on social media debates and activism. Lazy youths!

Among the 14 new faces, I’m in shock to see Rauf Aregbesola, the failed Taliban governor of the State of Osun. A failed governor cannot make a success of any ministry. Notwithstanding, there are bright spots in the president’s ministerial garment. The likes of Emeka Nwajiuba, Dr. Ikechukwu Ogah, Sharon Ikeazor, a worthy amazon who strove to revamp and clear the rot in the nation’s pension scheme; Sunday Dare, a sprightly award-winning journalist and Barr Godswill Akpabio, the man who turned Akwa Ibom from a civil service state into a tourist destination through uncommon infrastructural development. Four years after office as governor, Akpabio still holds the record as Best Infrastructure Governor in the nation’s annals. He was just bullish with infrastructural development. I pray Buhari gives him the Ministry of Niger Delta. He’s by far the only nominee on that list that has the charisma and people skill to calm the oil-rich region through development. To get to the next level of economic buoyancy, Nigeria needs peace in the Niger Delta and Akpabio holds the ace.

No matter, we must salute the courage of the president this time. I learnt he did not accept just any name thrown at him by party men, especially governors and those who think they own the APC having started out with President Buhari from the CPC days. Some governors simply forwarded the names of their stooges and persons with unknown pedigree of performance. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the Lion of Bourdillon, was smarter. He had his wish.

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Making appointments especially after elections appears the hardest part of governance in Nigeria. A former governor friend once told me he had to switch off his phones for a period and made himself unreachable because he was almost losing his sanity. He could not keep up with the deluge of pressure from those who ‘helped’ him win the election.

In assigning portfolios, Buhari must resist the pressure of handing three ministries to one man. Babatunde Raji Fashola, in spite of his obvious disposition to excellence, was overwhelmed by the triple burden of Power, Works and Housing ministries. Let’s have the ministries split so they can run lean and mean.

I want to give Mr. President benefit of the doubt this time. He should make good use of his ministers. Let the professionals mind portfolios allied to their profession, training and competences. Yes, there are persons endowed with polyvalent skills but it’s always better to have a core professional superintend a ministry with strong bearing to his profession. Buhari’s first term was not a success. He had too many ministers and aides too busy reading his body language rather than getting the job done. His protracted ill-health also conspired to impair his performance. This time, I desire to see a more demanding Buhari. He should make a demand of performance from his ministers. Proper assignation of portfolios is key to performance. But it would have been far better if these portfolios were assigned to each nominee before the screening. That way, the right questions would be asked at the point of screening.

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In his quest to get Nigeria to the next level, Buhari should make the most of established performers like Akpabio, Dare, Ogar among others. A culture of performance, not political correctness should be the chief determinant for assigning portfolios.

(C)Sun Newspaper

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