With reports from multiple sources confirming that an impending shake-up in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, there has been tension among the ministers as to what there fates may be at the end of the exercise.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that since the president returned from his recent medical vacation in the United Kingdom which spanned over 100 days, he and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, have been “rubbing minds” on a possible cabinet reshuffle.
“Mr President and Mr Vice President have met several times over a cabinet reshuffle. This started when Mr Vice President paid an emergency visit to Mr President in London sometime in July. They are still discussing the issue. Mr President has sought to know how the ministers fared when he was away in London,” a source said.
The impending reshuffling was believed to have caused delay in the deployment of two new ministers, Stephen Ocheni (State for Labour and Employment) and Sulaiman Hassan (State for Power, Works and Housing). It took Osinbajo, who was then acting as president, three weeks before announcing their portfolios.
“You would recall that when Professor Yemi Osinbajo was acting as president, he did not immediately swear in the two new ministers. And when he eventually did, he could not give them portfolios until few weeks after. The agreement was that the vice president should only inaugurate them and wait for the president to reshuffle the cabinet. This is likely to happen soon, now that the president has fully resumed official duties,” said a source.
To many observers of events in the presidency, the reshuffle is not coming as a surprise with the cabinet being perceived as largely failing to excite Nigerians with their performance over the last two years.
It would be recalled that President Buhari took four months after his inauguration to constitute a cabinet, raising expectations that he is keen on getting people who would transform the country in a short period.
In the four months it took the president to announce his cabinet, from May 29, 2015 when he was sworn into office and Septemer 30, when the minestarial list was finally submitted to the National Assembly, there were serious concerns in the country over the slow movement of the president.
Apart from naming one protocol official, Lawal Kazaure (State Chief of Protocol and three media aides: Femi Adesina (Special Adviser, Media and Publicity), Garba Shehu (Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity), and Laolu Akande (Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity, to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo), Buhari didn’t make any other key appointment.
His delay in filling important government positions, especially the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was considered by critics as capable of hurting the smooth running of government businesses, especially the day to day operations of the different ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
Yet the president would not be rushed and his response to agitations over the delay then was that he was bidding his time to avoid making mistakes.
“Fellow Nigerians, there has been a lot of anxiety and impatience over the apparent delay in announcement of ministers. There is no cause to be anxious. Our government set out to do things methodically and properly. We received the handing over notes from the outgoing government only four days before taking over,” the president had said.
“Consequently, the Joda Transition Committee submitted its report on the re-organisation of Federal Government structure after studying the hand over notes. It would have been haphazard to announce ministers when the government had not finalized the number of ministries to optimally carry the burden of governance.
Maintaining that ‘impatience is not a virtue’, Buhari said, “Order is more vital than speed. Careful and deliberate decisions after consultations get far better results. And a better result for our country is what the APC government for change is all about.”
His spokesman, Femi Adesina had insisted then that the absence of ministers did not affect the smooth running of government affairs.
“Business need not be grounded at MDAs because the permanent Secretaries and other technocrats are in place to take decisions,” Adesina had said, adding: “It is the prerogative of the President to make the appointments. He will make them (appointments) at the fullness of time.”
In those months of anxious waiting, amidst the president’s insistence that he would only appoint credible people, untainted by the pandemic of corruption that has crippled the country’s growth, the myth of “Buhari’s angels” was born, with observers expecting a radical list of ministers that would shake up the country in a short while.
President Buhari reportedly said then that the need to restructure the Federal Government ministries and to effect his party’s mantra of change in government processes and operations accounted for why he did not send names of ministerial nominees to the senate much earlier.
But two years on, no one is surprised by news of a reshuffle, which has been circulating for months, even before the president travelled to London for treatment.
An economic analyst and columnist, Mr. Tope Fasua thinks this administration needs to revive itself with a new cabinet.
It’s certainly past time for the Buhari government to rejig its lineup. Any system should be subjected to reorganisation even when times are good. In this instance, we got a few things wrong ab initio. Nigerians have been expecting a reshuffle. It will be great for Baba to pump in new blood in the hope that he can finish the remaining two years with a flourish. I wish him good luck,” he said.
“A cabinet reshuffle is a very high possibility. Don’t be surprised if it happens soon. The president is disposed to effecting a major change in his cabinet. Some members of the cabinet will have their portfolios swapped, and if need be, some could be dropped,” another source said.
This certainty has caused anxiety amongst the ministers, with one of them stating that, “We always discuss this (cabinet reshuffle). We know it is going to happen. So, we won’t be surprised if it happens. The problem is that only the president knows the criteria he is going to use, and this is our fear. No one knows who will be affected,” the minister, speaking anonymously, said.
Already, the ruling All Progressives Congress is positioning itself to make significant input in the new cabinet, having felt that it was sidelined by the president when he constituted his cabinet in 2015.
However, the presidency is keeping its cards close to its chest as regards the planned reshuffle, with the president’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, when contacted, refusing to confirm the move. He did not, however, rule out a reshuffle.
“The president assembled his cabinet. He is the only one who can assess them and he is the only one to decide if and when he will reshuffle the cabinet,” Adesina said.
Mr. Adesina’s perspective however contradicts sharply what the president had said on the first anniversary of his inauguration when he said he was relying on the verdict of Nigerians to determine if there was a need to rejig the cabinet.
“I am waiting for the newspapers to tell me the performance of my ministers and whether I should make changes,” the president had said at the time.
With the country slumping into recession shortly after the administration took over in 2015, the policy statements from the cabinet have been baffling and inconsistent at most, with most analyst believing the ministers are slow to push through policy directives.
The first prominent critic of the president’s appointment was no other than his wife, Aisha Buhari, who in an October 2016 interview with the BBC, said.
“Not only me in person, because after receiving complaints upon complaints, I decided to tell him”. “But all the same, a lot of people have been coming on their own and also collectively to tell him that things are not going the way it should when it comes to putting people in certain positions.
“Because most of those that are occupying positions in agencies, nobody knows them and they themselves don’t know our party manifesto, what we campaigned for. They were not part of us completely. People were sitting down in their houses, folding their arms only for them to be called to come and head an agency or take a ministerial position. They don’t have a mission or vision of our APC…”
Her frustrations were echoed by the Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum and Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha in October last year when he urged President Buhari to heed the advice of his wife, Aisha, and other Nigerians to rejig his cabinet.
Okorocha who spoke to State House correspondents’ days after returning with Buhari from Germany, said there was need to bring in people who would help actualize the vision of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Nigeria.
“Quite frankly, I am a governor and I know where the shoe pinches most. It is like somebody in the game and those who are outside seem to see more. So it’s natural. I think for any reason, if there is a clarion call on Mr. President to look into his cabinet and bring in more people, there is nothing wrong in taking note of the comments from Nigerians.
“If everyone keeps saying the same thing, there must be a sense in what they are saying. But that is not really the situation that should create a big hullabaloo like this big thing we are all attaching to it,” Okorocha reportedly said.
With Buhari’s return on August 19, there have been renewed calls on him to rejig his cabinet. The National Association of Nigerian Students had expressed delight over the return of the president but urged him to reposition his cabinet.
NANS’ President, Chinonso Obasi, had in a statement said: “We urge the president to use the opportunity of his return to quickly introduce a new sense of vigour into his administration by re-positioning his cabinet for effectiveness and efficiency. There is need to bring on board, cerebral, competent, vibrant, contemporary and dynamic young people to stimulate the administration and revive the ailing economy,” he said.
While the President is said to be disposed to shaking up his cabinet, a presidency source confided in Daily Trust on Sunday that Buhari may be applying his characteristic ‘methodical’ approach in carrying out his cabinet reshuffle.
The source who said that his ministers, who are all aware of the likely changes to take place, have been lobbying Buhari through their governors or close allies of the president, to either retain their ministries or be moved to other ministries said: “The President may be applying his methodical principle of taking time before he does things.”
It was also gathered that another major reason the anticipated cabinet reshuffle by the President may take some time is because the National Assembly which has the statutory responsibility of screening and confirming his ministerial nominees is currently on a recess that would last for eight weeks.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives embarked on eight weeks annual recess to reconvene on September 19.
Senate President Bukola Saraki announced the recess at the end of plenary session last week.
There were reports that when Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo visited the president last month in the United Kingdom, he had sought Buhari’s permission to reshuffle the cabinet and also presented Buhari with a draft list of ministers for his consideration and approval.
The president was said to have asked his deputy to tarry a while until he returned to the country, informing Osinbajo that since the administration was midway into its tenure, it would be the only opportunity for him (Buhari) to reshuffle the cabinet.
Upon his return to the country, Osinbajo swore-in Prof. Stephen Ocheni from Kogi State and Alhaji Suleiman Hassan from Gombe State, who had been confirmed by the Senate as ministerial nominees, without assigning any portfolios to them. They were eventually assigned portfolios three days before Buhari’s return from the UK.
Two years into the president’s four-year term, the country is yet again gripped the anxiety of forming a new cabinet. The long wait might come to an end soon.