New Ministers, Check Old Templates

Nigeria’s new Ministers

By Mahmud Jega

Each and every one of the 45 ministers that President Bola Tinubu swore in should commence his or her ministerial tenure with a quick study of the ministry’s schedule as outlined in the Federal Government’s Gazette [if they still publish one]; the ministry’s history, if any; its approved budget; and the former minister’s handing over notes.  If he or she discovers these to be unpalatable and the hand-over notes paint a dismal picture, a minister could still lobby for a last-minute portfolio switch.

It happened before. In 2011 when President Goodluck Jonathan swore in my late friend Malam Inuwa Abdulkadir as a minister during a Federal Executive Council meeting, protocol officers had already reserved for him the chair vacated by his townsman, the former Sports Minister Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman. The president did not mention any portfolio after the swearing-in. He apparently assumed that Inuwa will go to the Sports Ministry. But then, there was a hurried whisper between the then Minister of Youths, my professional colleague Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, and Jonathan’s Chief of Staff. The COS then went over and whispered something in the president’s ears. Then, in the open mike, the President said, “Ok, let them switch.” Protocol officers quickly reseated Inuwa in the Minister of Youths’ chair.

The new Defence Minister, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, is likely to shiver when he reads his predecessor’s handing over notes, beginning from a brief on military customs. Since soldiers are not allowed to sport a beard, except sea-going naval officers, the new minister may be advised to shave off his long white beard. He has two urgent tasks on his plate. One is to avenge for the death in Niger State last week of 36 soldiers in the hands of bandits. As a thorough civilian, Badaru might be tempted to forgive, but soldiers will quickly remind him that when vigilantes killed soldiers in Odi or Zaki Biam, revenge operation was swift and merciless. This time, nothing less than bringing bandit leader Dogo Gide’s head on a clay platter will do. His second urgent task is to wipe the smile off the face of General Abdourahamane Tchiani in fulfillment of ECOWAS Authority’s mandate. As the former overlord of Jigawa State’s Maigatari International Market, I suspect that Badaru must be scratching his head and thinking of the trailer loads of cattle now stranded at the Niger border.

Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Mohammed Ali Pate, is world-renown in the field of primary health care. Which is good; was he in Nigeria in the 1980s when then Health Minister Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti unleashed Oral Rehydration Therapy [ORT] and Expanded Program on Immunisation, EPI? These two rank among the most successful government programs in Nigeria since 1960, for they saved the lives of millions of children. Ali Pate must unroll two or three programs of comparable impact, perhaps to end malaria, maternal mortality and diabetes once and for all.

The Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, has already headed Nigeria Law School and Baze University. His inheritance is a difficult one; what can he do about public universities now introducing many fees; ASUU threatening another strike; shortly to be followed by those of other university staff; enforcing standards in dozens of newly licensed private universities; and out-of-school children now estimated to be 20 million, 47 years since the launch of Universal Compulsory Free Primary Education [UPE] and 24 years since its transformation into Universal Basic Education, UBE?

Mr. Wale Edun is thought to know financial matters better than most other people in Nigeria. He also arrives the Finance Ministry at an opportune time. Last month alone, two trillion naira poured into the Federation Account, three times more than previous, on account of removal of subsidy on petroleum products. Edun’s other portfolio, Coordinating Minister of the Economy, is much less enviable. The N500 billion palliative fund disbursed to states and FCT is already generating controversy. N5billion is hardly enough for any state, and at the minimum, politics will creep into the sharing formula. A governor arrives from Abuja with N5 billion for distribution to poverty-stricken persons, and you expect his party members to allow him to use a non-partisan, so-called Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Households?

Even though NNPC Ltd has borrowed $3 billion to ameliorate the naira’s dizzying race to N1000 to the dollar, one top economist has said $15 billion is needed in the next six months, otherwise the naira will resume its pell mell race to 1,000. Besides, two major factors that could throw a monkey wrench in Mr. Edun’s economic calculations are beyond his control, namely crude oil production levels and international oil prices. More immediately, he may have to find many billions to finance a military operation in Niger Republic.

The former governor of my native Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, will take charge of Budget and National Planning from this morning. Unlike in the US, for example, where, once passed into law and signed by the president, every single item in the budget has the force of law, in Nigeria the budget is at best a guideline and at worst a nuisance. The US Treasury must finance every budgeted item, if necessary by borrowing, but here we hear that some projects are “not cash-backed.” Bagudu’s first task is to ensure that budgets are realistic and are implemented 100 percent, not 35% as is often the case here. As for national planning, could we kindly continue where the First, Second and Third National Development Plans stopped in 1980? I know that only a military government could make all three tiers of government to key into the same national plan, but at least Federal Government could adopt its own plan and encourage the states to key in, instead of governors unleashing projects according to political whims.

Senator Abubakar Kyari takes off as Minister of Agriculture and Food Security this morning at a time when many people are complaining about food price and lack of availability. Sure, he cannot grow enough food this year for all of us to eat; only Jesus Christ could split one loaf of bread to feed 5,000 people. Maybe it is beyond Kyari’s power to ensure food security this year, but he needs a clear plan to accelerate food production by the next rainy season through the widespread adoption of simple technology. An Israeli agricultural scientist one visited my office in Kaduna and asked me why tomato here is cheap during the dry season and very costly during the rainy season. I answered that tomato grows best during the dry season. To which he said, “No! You Nigerians, you don’t know how to farm! Just remove the humidity!” Imagine my hurt pride, to hear that an African does not know how to farm when my ancestors had been farmers for 5,000 years! But that Jew told the truth.

New Power Minister Adebayo Adelabu must have once thought that no figures in Nigeria could be more complicated than those of Central Bank, where he was Deputy Governor. He reckoned wrongly. As soon as he arrives at his new desk this afternoon, he will find that NEPA figures from meters to estimated billing, distribution lines, transformers, sub stations, transmission lines, generating stations to gas pipelines are much more intricate than unaudited CBN accounts. Where should he even start from? Sure Mr. Adelabu has capacity, but even though few people in Nigeria have more technocratic capacity than Babatunde Fashola, he left the power sector after four years more or less as he met it. It reminds me of a Military Governor in the 1980s who said he was leaving the state treasury as he met it, i.e. empty.

Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar arrives at his new desk in the Foreign Ministry at an inopportune time. Deeply intellectual and very measured, he is just leaving his ambassador’s desk in Germany, where everything is as precise as a Mercedes car engine, to wade straight into the ECOWAS/Niger quagmire situation. Nigeria has not had a major crisis with a neighbour since Bakassi, and to a lesser extent since President Obasanjo closed our border with Benin Republic until it handed over the cross-border robbery kingpin Hammani Tidjani. Maybe after the Niger crisis fizzles out, Tuggar will pick up from where his predecessors Prof Ibrahim Gambari’s “concentric circles in foreign policy” and Prof Bolaji Akinyemi’s “concert of medium powers” stopped and evolve his own, perhaps “zero tolerance to coups” foreign policy.

Expect the biggest fireworks at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory. For eight years under the steady and very cool hands of Mohammed Musa Bello, there was neither scandal nor much controversy at MFCT. Things are about to change from this morning with the coming of Barrister Nyesom Wike. There are more on-going projects in Abuja than probably anywhere else in Nigeria, so “Mr. Projects” will visit them with the force of a hurricane. Wike must engage Abuja’s highway contractors in Roforofo fights for delaying projects; dance his way into Abuja’s open spaces, since converted to drinking joints; chase street beggars, hawkers and motorcyclists that creep back into the city at the earliest opportunity; storm into houses all over FCT left unoccupied for years; lie in ambush for thieves who steal Abuja’s drain covers; and Wike must also chase taxi drivers who believe that Abuja’s numerous recently installed traffic lights are meant for private vehicles, not taxis.

If it is dressing down a traditional ruler who was nodding his head as the governor spoke, Minister Wike will have plenty of nodding heads in Abuja to dress down. And if it is dressing down military delegations and accusing them of oil theft, Defence Headquarters is only two kilometers away from Wike’s new office. Abuja’s greedy estate agents are already casing joints such as PDP’s uncompleted headquarters building; its current office at Wadata Plaza; Atiku Abubakar’s house; Iorchia Ayu’s abode and Rotimi Amaechi’s residence, saying they are marked for immediate C of O revocation, followed by instant demolition.