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Tinubu’s delayed ministerial list: What’s going on?

PRESIDENT Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s continued delay in releasing his ministerial list is beginning to cause serious apprehension among Nigerians. This has led to wild speculations about his real intensions and the bandying of concocted lists of appointees from several quarters in the last three weeks. The president came in with an initial energy which gave the impression that he was prepared to hit the ground running. His initial actions were seen as a welcome departure from the drudgery that characterised previous administrations.  

To boot, some of his aides had given notice that constituting the federal cabinet would be in a matter of few weeks, but it has dragged on. By July 28 it would be two months, which is the deadline given by the Constitution (60 days) for the president and state governors to get their cabinets in place for the serious business of governance.

Already, some state governors have sent the list of commissioners to their respective legislatures and are awaiting clearance, but the list of federal ministers is still travelling the long road of speculations. Last week rumours were rife that the list, which has gone through several rounds of tinkering, was eventually with the Senate, but no such information was forthcoming from the upper legislative chamber as at the close of legislative business last weekend.

The apprehension in the land is triggered by the experience of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first tenure, which first list came six months after inauguration without anything spectacular to show for the delay. Although the Buhari experience was blamed on the restructuring of federal ministries as recommended by the Ahmed Joda-led Transition Committee, the Tinubu administration is yet to say what is keeping his list.

At this point it might seem late in the day for us to recommend any policy change, even if there is going to be a change in the floating list, but it is hoped that President Tinubu who has a reputation for picking fit-for-purpose leaders, given his antecedence as governor of Lagos State, will not disappoint in this case. Already, speculations are out there that politicians and powerful interests are pushing hard to either get on the list or fix their protégés. This development is believed to be reason why the list is still in hibernation in the Villa.

It is normal in the political run of play for such developments to occur; and given his long sojourn in the political terrain, the president should be at home with such happenings. He must be reminded that his team will determine his win. While trying to satisfy all political interests, it should ring very clear to him that he takes the flak at the end of the day if the government fails. He should also know that he does not have all the time in the world to deal with this situation. The honeymoon is not going to last forever. The machinery of government should be running in earnest by this time.

We dare to say that the delay in appointing ministers has serious implications for the smooth running of a democratic government. It slows down the system. Although both the legislature and the judiciary are in place, the president functioning with only his deputy and personal aides cuts an autocratic picture because he is not functioning with the constitutionally provided structures. No matter how smart the president is, he cannot drive the entire system effectively or diligently supervise the operations of a cumbersome bureaucracy that Nigeria is running.  

If the situation is not addressed immediately, it might create space for another chapter of distractions where both the president and the government would become subjects of intense attacks from critics and the opposition. The country can do without avoidable distractions at this time. It is in the interest of both the president and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to speed up the process and get the issue sorted out without further delay.

We are not unaware of the challenge the president is facing on this score. In the first place the constitution requires that every state must have a slot in the ministerial team. This presents a duty to pick at least a nominee from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, for reason of equitable spread. This requires wide consultation with the political leaders in the respective entities. The constitutional requirement for spread does not in any way preclude the obvious need for integrity and capacity, as persons with such qualities can be found in every part of the country. 

It would be a monumental disappointment if President Tinubu treads the beaten political path of past leaders, by filling his ministerial list with partisan politicians, some of whom are known to have very uncomplimentary pasts. It is hoped that he would have the courage to pick or accept only persons with the right capacity and integrity to drive the process, especially as the country is in a hurry to move away from the ugly past.

It would be necessary to re-emphasise here that Nigerians are going through very tough times. Therefore this is not the time for court jesters or frivolous politicians who will assume office only to increase the burden of the already traumatised people. The country itself is going through a lot of stress and requires, at this time, strategic builders that would help salvage it from the precarious situation it has been driven into. 

The president therefore must take full responsibility for the list he is submitting, and the National Assembly must rise to its constitutional responsibility of ensuring that only fit-for-purpose nominees are cleared for appointment as ministers. Although the president takes the flak if he decides to run with a clay-footed team of ministers, the National Assembly cannot escape judgement for complicity.

The office of a minister is a serious one in the overall governance process. Going by the provisions of Chapter 6, Part 1, Section 148 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), minsters are critical advisers to the president. Ministers advise the president generally and help in coordinating his executive functions. They meet regularly with the president and the vice president at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the purpose of determining the general direction of both domestic and foreign policies of the government.

The serious business of running government should not be left in the hands of political wayfarers who parade a sense of entitlement. The office should not be used to service partisan political expediency. It should be left for those with relevant capacity to deliver the goods; people who are smart and intelligent. The president should summon the courage to look for technocrats who know their onions and are ready to work. Given his pedigree, we expect a clear departure from what now looks like a tradition. He can find other engagements to service political expediency since it is part of the game. Being a seasoned politician himself, it would be foolhardy to expect him to run away from it.  

Also, the practice of running government with the same set of ministers for a whole tenure should be jettisoned. The tenure of ministers should be based on relevance and competence. If at any point the president finds any minister wanting, he should not hesitate to show the fellow the way out of the cabinet. Experience has shown that keeping political appointees for too long, particularly when they are unproductive, could be dangerous to the government and certainly very unhelpful to the people. Such appointees should be relieved of their duties immediately. 

Having delayed the list for this long, we hope what will eventually surface will not bring back memories of the Buhari era. President Tinubu should use his long standing experience on the political turf to manage the intrigues and come out with a presentable list. The people are eagerly looking to see a definite departure from the past and are hopeful of a better future. His ministerial list would be a test case for the seriousness of the administration to tackle the various challenges bedevilling the country and the troubled sub-Saharan region of Africa.  

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