In September of 2015, more than four months after he was inaugurated as President of the Federal Republic, Muhammadu Buhari, under pressure to constitute cabinet, told Nigerians that ministers were not actually necessary to run a government. His reason? They make a lot of noise. He simply dubbed them noisemakers. He professed his preference to rather work with permanent secretaries. His professed dislike for ministers did not however deter Nigerians from pressurising him to constitute a cabinet and give jobs to some politicians who worked to make him president.
A few weeks later, President Buhari forwarded names of his preferences for ministerial jobs to the Senate for confirmation. The list came in two batches. When the names were read out, many Nigerians expressed disappointment that it had taken the president almost six months to identify the same persons, who had worked with him in his numerous campaigns to become president from the All Nigeria Peoples Party to Congress for Progressive Change to All Progressives Congress. However, Nigerians expressed hope that the new-old team would help the President to turn things around and deliver the promised change.
So, on November 11, 2015, the ministers were inaugurated and portfolios assigned to them. This means that by November 11, 2017, the ministers would have been 24 months in office. They are about 20 months in office now. The level of impact they have made on society from their different offices is directly proportional to their understanding of their roles and the need for change. Publicly, some of them are known while some are unknown. Some of them have become ubiquitous while some have been reclusive. Some confirm Buhari’s view of them as noisemakers while some seem clearly like crabs smoked out of their holes.
A cursory look at the ministers would show that Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has been more involved in the politics of Aso Rock than he has been in interpreting legal conundrums around the federal government, though he has managed to keep a low head. His legal opinion, and interpretation of Section 171 of the constitution, as it affects Senate’s rejection of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, creates a constitutional issue for government.
His colleague at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has done well sharing pictures and updates of visits to him, and by him, on twitter than he has done impacting on Nigeria’s foreign relations. It is to his credit that Nigeria has lost its place on the continent and in ECOWAS. Under his watch, many Nigerians employed at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja have lost placements to francophone employees. He supervised Nigeria’s disastrous outing at the African Union general assembly in January 2017 and also watched as Francophone West Africa upstaged Nigeria in ECOWAS. He also failed to rise to the occasion when Xenophobia rose again in South Africa hitting Nigerians there hard. It took a bold challenge by Abike Dabiri-Erewa to wake him. But he is very good with his twitter nevertheless.
The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, is seen as representing everything that is unserious about the government. She has failed to betray public opinion that she is a classic misfit for the assignment. Though she speaks refined English, she creates the impression that the task of a finance minister has nothing to do with economic planning but more with catching ghost workers. Publicly, she has laid claims to catching more ghost workers and saving the country what would have been lost revenue than she has been able to lift one SME from the sands with her policy. Many Nigerians clearly do not seem to understand what exactly her economic focus were and are. It is believed that her demonstrated lack of capacity was responsible for her name featuring in almost every insinuation about cabinet shake-up.
Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali, has remained a professional. He has refused to play for the gallery and remained focused on achieving results. He is not seen to have made as many public pronouncements as many of his colleagues. Many Nigerians believe that he is on the top of his assignment but his counterpart at the Ministry of Education, Adamu Adamu, has courted more destructive controversy than any of his predecessors. He often leaves many wondering if the office was the same once occupied by Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i. The minister presents himself as an executioner of biased policies, which aim at expanding the gulf between Nigerians over religious education. His decision to implement the policy on the removal of Christian Religious Knowledge from primary school curriculum has created more negative impressions than he may have envisaged.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Pastor Okechukwu Enelamah seems as lost and empty as many people’s wallet. No one seems to have felt the impact of his ministership. There have been more divestments from the economy than there are investments under his watch. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said that by the end of 2016, about 272 firms had shut down. 50 of the companies were involved in manufacturing. This accounted for the loss of more than 200,000 jobs. The index of investments within same period is not encouraging. His counterpart at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, though visible and noisy, has talked more than he has delivered. With him in the saddle, more jobs were lost. From the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, we learn that “unemployment rate in increased to 14.2 percent in the last quarter of 2016 from 10.4 percent a year earlier”, and the “number of unemployed went up by 3.5 million to 11.549 million”. According to the NB, in the “fourth quarter of 2016, there were a total of 28.58 million persons in the Nigerian labour force that were either unemployed or under-employed compared to 27.12 million in the third quarter, 26.06 million in second quarter and 24.5 million in first quarter 2016”.
From the FCT, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Musa Bello, has looked more like misplaced priority. Under him, Abuja became dirtier and disorderly. Traffic lights failed recklessly and street trading returned. However, he has done quite a lot battling to undo legacies of his predecessor especially, the Centenary City Project, which foreign investors have literally pulled out because of alleged frustrating administrative issues. His colleague at the Science and Technology Ministry, Ogbonnaya Onu, seemingly one who does not crave media reviews, has maintained his traditional low profile in government. Many think his quietness is associated with outrage over his initial disgraceful boast that Nigeria will begin to manufacture pencils by 2018. A lot of people argue that the pronouncement was one of lack of vision when indeed a look at Project Development Agency (PRODA), at Enugu, would have given the minister much more to project and market nationally and globally. Not just pencils.
Kayode Fayemi of the Ministry of Solid Minerals features in the news, more for allegations of corruption against him by the Ekiti state government, and probe by the Ekiti State House of Assembly, than for efforts at resuscitating the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, a promise he made on his first visit to the complex in 2016. Tracking progress of investments in solid minerals have been difficult, probably because not much is happening except for illegal mining which he is unable to arrest. However, he has done very well in securing for Ondo state, a licence to own and mine bitumen deposits there.
Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, probably would have been more effective as Defence minister. His supervision of the Interior ministry has witness more allegations of clandestine recruitments into agencies under the ministry, albeit, in direct abuse of the federal character principle as enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria. He has however shown good interest in the welfare of prisoners and the need to build more prisons across the country. His friend, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, who is calculated in his approach, has remained elegant in office as he was in and out of the senate. He has remained focused and gives the Buhari administration some good rating.
However, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, demonstrates helplessness in addressing functions of his ministry. He has nonetheless shown capacity to talk his way through problems. He is on the lips of most Nigerians and enjoys negative ratings because of his failure to live up to his pre-appointment billing as the best thing to happen to governance after security vote. His impact has been very well felt, albeit, negatively in the power sector. Not many know exactly what he is doing, and has done, in the housing sector. The biggest minus to his prowess in the works sector was the collapse of the bridge on Mokwa-Jebba expressway, which construction his ministry supervised. Fashola comes across as a minister who needs more help. He has never been lacking in excuses.
The good old man, Audu Ogbeh, who is Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has managed to recreate himself and moved up from the embarrassment of telling Nigerians that their country would be importing grass from Brazil to feed freely-grazing cows, to now mopping up and exporting yams to the United Kingdom and United States. That puts Nigeria on the map of yam exporting countries. That also creates possibility of the creating of an Origination of Yam Exporting Countries (OYEC) which Nigeria may be pioneer President. However, the rural development component of his job is as uneventful as the p in psychology. But his counterpart at the Ministry of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has since November 2015, conducted himself like he is still the Director General of a campaign organisation fighting a party that has held back his biscuit. He has been in the news more for his tactless fight against his former Chief of Staff, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike than he has been addressing transportation hitches in the country. He never concludes a public outing without some venom for his former party PDP and erstwhile President, Goodluck Jonathan. He does so like there are elections next week. Recently, he shifted his fight to Sen. Magus Abe while keeping an eye on Wike, not the transport ministry. This minister, many people say, represents everything that is rascally with the Buhari cabinet though he has managed to talk a lot about a railway project which he hopes to achieve.
Prof. Isaac Adewole was expected to do very well as Minister of Health but his handling of the meningitis outbreak in parts of the country last April, left much to be desired. He was seen as having practically lost grip on the development with about 300 lives gone. The profession of faith by the Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, that the epidemic was punishment from God for the sin of fornication, called more attention to the ‘punishment’ and raised awareness that led to its containment. He has however been in the news lately with the controversy of the suspension of the Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme rather than any major breakthrough in healthcare management.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, has been reclusive and remained unimpactful. The only time she surfaces on national consciousness is when there is a female dignitary visiting, or when she has to go on regional tour of IDP camps in north. Not many know exactly what her functions are as minister beyond attending gender based seminars. Same goes for the Minister of Niger Delta, Usani Uguru Usani, who is seen, also, as an uneventful quantity in the cabinet. The Niger Delta region seems to feel more of the impact of the Amnesty Office than the ministry. Beyond the East-West road, there don’t seem to be any other thing of serious impact the minister has pushed for. The Ministry of Environment has been without a substantive minister since the very active Amina Mohammed moved over to the United Nations headquarters in New York as Deputy Secretary General.
The most impactful guy in the cabinet is Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed. He has been wonderfully great for his sophistry than he has been with projects. He is ubiquitous and has continued to be the director of communication of the APC presidential campaign as well as APC spokesman than he has been minister of information and culture. He is totally lost in the culture component of his assignment but made little impact when he suggested that dressing masquerade would create meaningful and life-sustaining jobs for Nigerians. A lot of Nigerians seem to give him an ear for comic reasons. He is classic in his failure to fit landmarks left at the ministry by his predecessors. Many Nigerians seem to be in a hurry to see him laid off. However, he is more popular, for wrong reasons, than the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu Kazaure whose impact as a minister is rarely felt. But his Youth and Sports counterpart, Solomon Dalung, has been good in entertaining Nigerians with his brand of loyalty to Nigeria and to the President.
Dalung handed Nigerians a lot to chew with his handling of the AFCON Women Championships in Cameroon which Nigeria won. He has been creatively disappointing in his handling of sports development in the country leading to Nigeria’s below par outing at Rio Olympics and IAAF U-18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, in which Nigeria failed to participate. Dalung’s impact on youth development has been regrettably abysmal. Beyond his red beret, he has been unable to introduce any specifics that would up the ante in youth and sports development.
Minister of State for Aviation , Hadi Sirika, stole the show when he pushed for the reconstruction of the runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. Staking his job and promising to quit if the delivery date was exceeded, was an action that showed that he mattered much as a round peg in a round hole. He showed class and gave Nigerians regular update on the progress of job. He showed concern and worked to deliver on the mandate unlike his counterpart, Minister of State for Petroleum, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, who promised a lot upon appointment but delivered very little. Kachikwu entered office with a lot of applause as an industry expert. In November 2015, he did promise that if the refineries could not be brought back to functionality by end of December of that year, they would be sold off in January 2016. This is July 2017. But Kachikwu is good at theoretical analysis of the problems and prospects of the petroleum sector. He has capacity to mesmerise with analysis of the industry within minutes such that novices will marvel. However, developments that ought to bring the refineries to maximum productivity go beyond sweet English. Anyway, he is just the minister of state and a fine dresser. He has a supervising minister and that is President Buhari.
The Minister for Communication, Adebayo Shittu, is doing fine pushing for the commencement of Communication University in Lagos. Beyond that, he seems totally lost on what exactly the ministry ought to deliver to Nigerians especially in the light of the marks left by Omobola Johnson. Upon assuming office, Adebayo said; “I will turn the Ministry Of Communication into a cash cow that will help to revive the economy as oil revenue alone cannot help the country; I will run an open and inclusive government that will ensure prompt and quality service delivery in the ministry; we will mobilize communication technology to boost agriculture produces; I am here to bring in income stability and quality service; I promise that Nigerians will get value for every kobo they spend on telecommunication services.” Not much have been experienced in these regards since then.
The others are minister of state, who like deputy governors, are not heard or seen more than their ministers. Though it is argued that all the ministers are equal in rank, but functionality keeps the Ministers of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibrin; Foreign Affairs, Khadijat Buka Abba Ibrahim; Solid Minerals, Bawa Bwari Abubakar; Health, Osagie Ehanire; Niger Delta, Omole Daramola; Power, Works and Housing, Mustapha Baba Shauri; Education, Anthony Onwuka; Agriculture and Rural Development, Heneiken Lokpobiri; Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and that for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, largely unknown and unheard.
*Uchegbu is a journalist and writes from Lagos