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Abubakar Usman: Tinubu, incoming cabinet and the ides of March



In the month of March, which wrapped up the 2023 general elections with the governorship and state assembly polls, the country has been drenched in a national debate over who should make the list of the yet-to-be-constituted cabinet of president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This is gradually culminating in an intrepid confrontation among stakeholders of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and some analysts who, as usual, have started setting agenda for the incoming government.

It is the month of March, which literally made it instructive for the incoming Tinubu presidency, as party stakeholders are already engaged in intense lobbying for key positions in government, including ministerial and other juicy appointments. This, no doubt, is healthy for any democracy.

But the lingering impression of a presidency will be largely determined by the selection of cabinet members. Most of the men and women often chosen as cabinet members are personally known to the president. Some are among his closest friends, while others have just finished running his campaign. All have reputations that are easy to check out. Besides, the historical record shows that the president is given considerable latitude by the public, the press, and even the legislature.

Ironically, while these high-profile appointments are the easiest every new president would ever make, personnel mistakes, sometimes serious errors, have plagued them even before they actually take office. These lessons should be heeded early in the transition process if the president-elect must avoid the accusation of drifting from his own campaign promises.

No doubt, Tinubu’s table may have been already jam-packed with memos and lists of names of persons considered as qualified for appointments from states, zones, regions and even individual party bigwigs.

Good enough, in the wake of the clamour for appointments, the president-elect has stated categorically that he is out to constitute a government of national competence, which he said would form the basis for his appointments. He subtly passed a message that he is not one who would sheepishly throw caution to the wind by ignoring a note of warning, unlike the great Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, who treated the premonition from the soothsayer with disdain to his own peril.

With ethnic and religious sentiments being weaved into the lobby for appointments into his cabinet, Tinubu is not unmindful of the reality that he too could as well beware of ‘the Ides of March’.

In a statement he personally signed, the president-elect noted last week that his quest for competence is an ambition that is higher than even a government of national unity. He however said even though religion, ethnicity and other similar considerations would not determine appointments in his government, he will ensure a full integration of youths and women.

“In selecting my government, I shall not be weighed down by considerations extraneous to ability and performance. The day for political gamesmanship is long gone. I shall assemble competent men and women and young people from across Nigeria to build a safer, more prosperous and just Nigeria. To secure our nation and to make it prosperous must be our top priorities. We cannot sacrifice these goals to political expediency. The whims of politics must take a backseat to the imperatives of governance,” he stated.

This declaration is instructive. In total agreement with Tinubu, “the whims of politics must take a backseat to the imperatives of governance” because he needs as ministers and other political appointees only very patriotic, hardworking, committed, experienced and knowledgeable Nigerians who have not been compromised.

A national daily newspaper, Business Day, had a few days ago reported that no less than 20 people have been tipped to be in Tinubu’s cabinet, after he declared that competence rather than politics would weigh heavily on his choice of ministers.

Among the people the report said are being speculated to make the next cabinet are high-fliers from the previous administration who might also have been cut loose due to manners in which they have abused official privilege. However, a cursory look at the news report would readily confirm that fifth columnists and political jobbers are already at work campaigning for some of these actors to be returned to the commanding heights of the nation’s revenue generation agencies.

It would amount to a monumental disservice to Nigerians who elected Tinubu to be presented with folks who were sacked from leadership of some of the country’s prime revenue generating institutions, who however have the albatross of financial sleaze and malfeasance running into billions of naira hanging over them.

The confidence reposed in the Tinubu presidency will be dead on arrival if they find in the next cabinet people who have the notoriety of being axed for contract scamming and other acts of grand graft. Also, some of these persons were said to have blatantly contravened government policy in ways that fell short of the level of compliance with the Public Procurement Act, 2007. In a few of these past instances, procedures were said to have been flagrantly violated, while huge expenditures running into billions of naira could not be justified.

In one of the noted cases, according to Aso Rock sources, President Muhammadu Buhari was shocked that there was very scanty evidence of compliance with public Procurement Act and that most of the CSR projects/programmes of the agencies involved were startlingly inflated. More so, the President was said to have noticed that the deliveries of CSR items were not accompanied by delivery letters and in a lot of cases, there was no evidence of actual items delivered and evidence of the receivers that signed for them.

Also, there is the case of another prominent insider jostling for space in the new cabinet who was said to have independently awarded contracts, approved contracts, cancelled contracts, and initiated the bidding process to award contracts in the agency of government the person worked in. And, contrary to public service rules, this privileged person approved and cancelled leases and concessions without the knowledge and approval of the agency’s supervisory Ministry.

This was while also being fond of taking draconian decisions with utter disregard for the agency’s officials, and running the place like a private empire and showing disdain for official communication channels with the supervising ministry.

Yet, there is a person who had earlier in public service as head of a critical agency of government been accused of having an adversarial relationship with the agency’s board, and had a critical member of the board removed for questioning the loopholes and infractions in the financial statements of the agency. And that, even without the consent of the ministry with oversight over the agency.

Some of these persons are certainly not the type that Nigerians would want to see in Tinubu’s incoming cabinet. In being wary of the Ides of March, the president-elect must filter all that he gets as lists of nominees for appointment on a screen of truth and take only credible people Nigerians would readily identify with. He must avoid a number of perceived party men and women considered as party faithful presented to him for appointment as either ministers or heads of government agencies because they have been compromised.

There are numerous decent technocrats and politicians who are qualified to head ministries and important parastatals and not the likes of those with baggage of corruption allegations – who have been in the system, but had compromised their personal and professional integrity. The president-elect should know that while genuine servants of the people who had earlier been in government should not be denied a place at the table, however if compromised people are appointed as ministers, the country would be back to square one and Nigerians who voted for him would be the losers.


Usman, a public analyst, wrote from Abuja.


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