After his inauguration on May 29, Nigerians have anxiously been waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to unfold his cabinet that is expected to drive the change mantra of the ruling government of All Progressives Congress (APC). While some believe that the President is too slow in taking this critical decision, not a few feel that such a crucial assignment should not be done in a hurry in view of the perceived bad shape of things in the country.
Aside this, what has also been dominating public discourse is whether or not a chunk of the cabinet members would be composed of either politicians or technocrats. Nigerians want to equally know whether the new government, in trying to cut cost, would be able to get the right persons on board without violating the law, which provides that each state of the federation should have at least a minister in the Executive Council of the Federation, as stated by Section 147 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Perhaps, because of the delay in rolling out the ministerial list, the media have been awash with various names and personalities being speculated as the preferred candidates for the cabinet positions. Certainly, the APC as a party would have a considerable influence on who becomes what, as I am sure that the President should also have an idea of a number of Nigerians that he would like to work with in bringing about the transformational change that the country truly deserves now.
In a heterogeneous environment like ours, where political relevance is a big deal, seen and made to be perceived as the shortest route to national prosperity, it should be expected that intense lobbying would be at its peak to ensure that vested interests succeed in getting a feeling that they truly have their own share of the national cake. While this has been the trend over the years, in terms of allocation of political offices; where the sharing is based on political patronage and influence, it should be appreciated that the desired improvement in the socio-economic status of the nation and people’s lives may remain elusive until there is a collective resolution on the part of all stakeholders that there is the need to this time around, do things differently.
That is the more reason why the President should ensure that he is not stampeded into choosing the wrong persons and imposed candidates that could constitute clog in the wheel of progress of the new administration of which the people are looking up to in revamping the declining fortunes of the nation. He should not allow sentiments and parochial interests to trap him into appointing mostly candidates of political grabbers that have been feeding fat on the nation and would rather prefer to maintain the status quo ante than bringing radical change into the polity.
The way to go is to ensure that only qualified men and women of proven integrity, track records and patriotic zeal make the ministerial list irrespective of whether they are technocrats or politicians. He should search thoroughly beyond the political party platforms in order to get the best materials that would help him drive the country towards the path of posterity.
The precarious situation in the nation may not be restored overnight but taking the right step in the right direction by putting the square peg in the square hole, would go a long way in rekindling hope that things would definitely be fine. To achieve effectiveness in the fight against corruption and impunity, Buhari should get the team that would make it possible for his administration to carry out an extensive restructuring and overhauling of the country’s anti-graft agencies by strengthening them for optimal performance. Most of these agencies, as they are currently constituted, are unable to carry out their duties as expected. Various problems ranging from poor funding, lack of administrative autonomy, deliberate legal encumbrances and lack of political will to punish offenders remain their lot. These challenges should be addressed by the new government.
Those coming on board in the new cabinet should see the need to properly rejuvenate the parlous state of infrastructure in the country. The economy is not only weakened, basic amenities such as power, fuel, medicare and food supply have since become inaccessible for the ordinary citizen. Insecurity and criminality – caused mainly by severe unemployment of able-bodied young people and poor enforcement of the laws – have become more intense and sophisticated by the day. It is not contestable that many Nigerians are suffering today because of bad governance. There is an urgent need to restore life back to the nation.
As we look forward to Buhari’s cabinet list, I would like to appeal to members of the Senate not to fail in carrying out their constitutional duties in the screening of the ministerial nominees. In the past, the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly has been accused of not doing the needful in this area. Without prejudice, senators have been blamed for allegedly colluding with the Executive to clear unqualified persons to assume leadership positions in the country. The unbecoming ritual of just letting most ministerial nominees and other political appointees’ off-the-hook on the floor of the Parliament simply amounted to bringing high public into disrepute. The practice has breed mediocrity and it is high time we stopped it forthwith.
It is common knowledge that since 1999, Senate confirmation hearings have been more of mere formality. At such sessions, our senators have been found to ask pedestrian and not-too-serious questions such as asking for the names of capital cities of states! Some candidates are simply asked to ‘take a bow’ and that it all. This is not how it should be. It is more worrisome to know that nominees’ names are sent for screening without attaching any portfolio to them. How then do they assess the candidates correctly? This is pure impunity because at the end, wrong persons are cleared and appointed causing the nation to suffer from this dereliction of duty on the part of our very expensive legislators.
In a country like the United States of America, where government business is conducted more seriously, confirmation hearings of such national importance are made to pass through different committees where the nominees are drilled to answer specific questions that border on the tasks ahead of them before the proper screening exercise. The essence is to ensure that nominees have a full grasp of public administration, understand the needs of the people and what it takes to render quality service to the nation in terms of policy formulation and implementation. The Senate members, as senior law makers, should not be found culpable in perpetrating ineptitude when transparency and efficiency are demanded of the Legislature.
Therefore, as Buhari takes this crucial decision in the life of the nation, he should always remember that the buck ends at his table. As the chief executive, he takes the glory as well as the blame for whatever happens to the nation under his care. He should be made to realise that his success or otherwise would depend largely on those he appoints as his ministers, special advisers and others. He should certainly never be found wanting in this regard.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta