President Bola Tinubu will today swear in the 45 ministers confirmed by the Senate on 7 August out of the 48 he had sent to the lawmakers in three batches for screening. Former Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, former deputy and acting governor of Taraba State, Abubakar Danladi, and Stella Okete from Delta State were the three who did not scale through the confirmation process with the Senate stating that the nominees had not secured security clearance.
The president had last week allocated portfolios to the 45 nominees but on Sunday made a minor reshuffle that included the redesignation of some ministries. When he inaugurates the ministers, Mr Tinubu will have the largest Federal Executive Council since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999. The Council usually includes special advisers, 20 of whom the Senate had earlier approved for the president to appoint.
The size of the cabinet has drawn criticism from some Nigerians who are concerned by the high cost of governance. Many of them expect the president to look at the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies constituted by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. The committee, headed by a former Head of Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaiye, submitted an 800-page report on 16 April 2012, recommending the abolition or merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals. It also recommended that some others be made self-funding. Mr Tinubu’s incoming large cabinet indicates the President does not see the need to trim the federal bureaucracy.
Anyway, with each of the 36 states entitled to a ministerial position, Nigeria will always have a large federal cabinet. In the 48 he nominated for screening, the president had added 12 to the 36 he is mandated by the constitution to appoint. However, the immediate concern that arose was over geo-political representation in the list.
From the 12 extra slots, he gave the North-west and South-west three each but overlooked the South-wast entirely. The North Central, North East and South South got two each from the remaining slots.
So what are the factors that influenced Mr Tinubu’s choices?
Politics appears to be the dominant consideration, notwithstanding the fact that many of the nominees have glittering academic and professional records that ordinarily qualify them for high public offices.
But the heavy weight of politics on his mind is not altogether surprising, given the political environment. While a government is elected to govern, politics always determines whether it gets into or remains in power.
President Tinubu won a narrow victory in a three-way electoral fight only five months ago and his victory is still being challenged by the opposition in court. His 37 per cent is the lowest share of the vote that has put a Nigerian president in office since Shehu Shagari in 1979. Although his All Progressives Congress (APC) has a majority in the Senate, it does not in the House of Representatives. And the nerve-wracking contest for the senate presidency must also have reminded the president that he cannot take the support of his party members for granted even in that chamber.
What we see in Mr Tinubu’s picks is an effort to build his government on the political coalition that helped him into office. That coalition excludes the PDP and LP, the two major opposition parties whose combined votes in the 25 February presidential election constitute over 54 per cent of the total.
Pillars: Northern APC Governors
The pillars of that coalition are mainly loyalists of the president in the ruling party and his sympathisers outside it.
The most prominent of the pillars is the 2015-2023 class of northern APC governors. The class has the largest group representation in the ministerial list.
The list has nine former governors overall. Five of them – Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna, Mohammed Badaru of Jigawa, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, Bello Matawalle (he served only one term 2019-23) and Simon Lalong – were in the northern governors’ caucus that forced the APC to cede its presidential ticket to the southern zones.
The caucus foiled a convention-eve ambush by the party’s former national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu – suspected to be acting the script of some shadowy figures around the president – to foist former Senate President Ahmad Lawan on the party as its presidential candidate.
Most of the governors worked for Mr Tinubu in the primary and in the general election. And when it appeared to them that the CBN policy on naira redesign was designed to frustrate Mr Tinubu at the poll, the governments of Kaduna, Kano, Zamfara, Kogi and Niger ran to the Supreme Court to challenge it.
Messrs El-Rufai and Matawalle had difficulties in the elections, which they later attributed to intra-party sabotage at the highest levels, as punishment for the role they played in fighting the CBN and the president over naira banknotes.
In Kaduna, the APC led by Mr El-Rufai had a bloody nose from the first day of the election. It lost the presidential and National Assembly polls to the PDP before bouncing back to narrowly rescue the governorship seat two weeks later.
Amazingly, Mr El-Rufai, who hinted to senators at his screening that the president wanted to assign him the task of reforming the energy sector, is one of the three nominees not cleared for appointment. The former governor posted a tweet on Sunday with a cryptic message indicative of a sense of betrayal.
In Zamfara, Mr Matawalle helped Mr Tinubu and the APC to prevail on 25 February but suffered a devastating personal reversal two weeks later when he lost his second term bid.
Mr Bagudu was the chairman of the APC governors’ forum. The party was beaten in the presidential poll by the PDP in Kebbi and the governor also lost his bid for the Senate.
Mr Badaru led the party to victory in Jigawa and had given up his senatorial ticket to cement party unity in the state. He, like his four other colleague former governors, appear to have been compensated with ministerial positions.
In Plateau, the APC lost in the presidential poll to the LP and to the PDP in the other polls, with Mr Lalong also failing in his senatorial bid.
Although Mr Lalong supported Rotimi Amaechi in the APC presidential primary, he accepted the appointment as the director-general of the Tinubu campaign organisation, a role proposed for him by his colleague northern governors in the party. The former governor was also the chairman of the bi-partisan Northern Governors Forum at the time.
After being overlooked for the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (which went to former governor George Akume from the neighbouring Benue State) and APC national chairman (now taken by former Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje), it would be a shock had Mr Lalong also missed the ministerial appointment.
Wike and the G5
Mr Wike’s nomination drew mixed reactions. But it would also have been widely discussed had he not been invited by the president. Any proper review of the 2023 presidential election will locate the significant influence that Mr Wike in particular and his group of dissident PDP governors had on the outcome.
Long before 2023, the election had shaped up as one for the opposition to lose, due to the poor states of security and the economy. The PDP alone was the opposition and was expected to go a step further than it did in 2019 when it gave President Buhari a good fight.
However, the scent of victory catalysed dynamics that forced the PDP to abandon power rotation, perhaps the main glue that had kept the party together since its formation in 1998. It is debatable which between that development and his denial of the vice presidential ticket angered Mr Wike more, resulting in his implacable rebellion against the party and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Had the PDP ceded its ticket to the south as the APC did, Peter Obi would probably not have fled the party to run as a virtual independent candidate.
The party’s southern candidate would certainly have been a southern Christian, which would have removed a major plank on which Mr Obi stood in the election. It might also have discouraged Mr Tinubu from picking a fellow Muslim as running mate – probabilities that might have altogether reshaped the contest.
Mr Wike’s contribution to Mr Tinubu’s election went beyond his tossing Rivers State into his column. Through their demand for the reconstitution of the PDP leadership to hand over the chairmanship to the South, Mr Wike and his G5 unsettled the major opposition party and kept it divided. Eventually, the rebellion and the Obi phenomenal seizure of PDP southern and northern Christian voters undid Atiku and helped Mr Tinubu to snatch victory from the jaws of certain defeat. The president has gone on to award Mr Wike the high-profile Federal Capital Territory ministerial portfolio, making him the first Southerner to head the ministry since 1979.
So why are the other members of the G5 missing in the ministerial frame?
Mr Tinubu won in two of the other four states that Mr Wike and his friends governed – Oyo and Benue. While Governor Seyi Makinde might have helped Mr Tinubu by merely staying out of his way in Oyo, the victory of the APC in Benue was in spite of Governor Samuel Ortom. He campaigned for Mr Obi, but it was the combination of forces by Mr Akume and new Governor Hyacinth Alia that triumphed, such that Mr Ortom also lost his senatorial bid.
Mr Akume is believed to have nominated Joseph Utsev in Benue while Mr Tinubu himself picked Adebayo Adelabu, a former CBN deputy governor who was the APC governorship candidate defeated by Mr Makinde in 2019 and again beaten in 2023 as the candidate of the Accord Party. Oyo APC leaders are not happy with Mr Tinubu for picking a party deserter.
In the South-east, Mr Wike’s allies in Enugu and Abia were helpless against the Obi Tsunami in the region. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s camp lost all the elections in Abia, including the governorship to the LP. In Enugu, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi fared better only because he narrowly salvaged the governorship for his anointed PDP candidate.
The president largely picked his party’s defeated candidates from the zone. But in Abia, Nkiru Onyejiocha has a reputation as a strong politician, having been elected to the House of Representatives four consecutive times from 2007 to 2019.
David Umahi is the only governor in the region to deliver most of APC’s candidates in his state. But even he could not repeat the feat in the presidential election. He is the only election winner from the South-east on the list, having been elected to the Senate. The former Ebonyi governor in fact had his eyes on the Senate presidency but deferred to the choice of the president for the position – Mr Akpabio. His ministerial nomination is probably what he asked for in compensation. The former governor, a civil engineer, has been given the key Ministry of Works portfolio.
But Mr Umahi would also have been disappointed that the president isolated his region from the allocation of extra ministerial slots. No other party has as many governors as the APC in the South East, a fact that suggests that the perception of the region as hostile to the APC may be slightly exaggerated.
However, President Tinubu may be justified in thinking he can never win over the voters in the region, no matter his gesture. He is widely seen there as the enabler of Mr Buhari in denying President Goodluck Jonathan a reelection in 2015. Whether or not they have evidence for it, many voters there also believe that he stole Mr Obi’s “mandate” in 2023.
Mr Tinubu does not appear to be loved even among APC leaders in the region. He did not campaign much in the South-east for the APC primary and most of the party delegates from the zone were believed to have voted for other candidates at the party’s national convention. It is safe to say his ministerial list will not encourage many of them to warm up to the president unless something different drops from under his sleeves along the way.
This is the president’s home zone, where he has been the leader of his own political group since 2003. He has since remained at the centre of the region’s politics and got 26 per cent of his votes from the South West.
He picked three extra nominees from the zone, the same as from the North-west where he received 30 per cent of his votes in February. Ogun alone produced three of the nine nominees from the six states in the zone, with Lagos producing two.
However, none of the nominees is a political heavyweight. The only name close to that is Gboyega Oyetola, who last year lost a second-term governorship bid in Osun. The APC was virtually obliterated in Osun this year, despite Mr Tinubu being long associated with the state. The president ignored his old close associate, former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, and Iyiola Omisore, who just lost his position as APC national scribe.
There had been speculation that prominent figures like former governors Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti; and former Minister of State for Works Adedayo Adeyeye, who led a support group for the president in the region, would be appointed as ministers. But the president did not look their way.
Local politicians in the zone are not happy with the development. One of the nominees, Bosun Tijanni from Ogun, immediately came under fire after some of his old social media posts bashing the APC federal government and proclaiming support for an opposition presidential candidate, were recirculated.
Kwankwaso vs Ganduje
Rabiu Kwankwaso, one of Mr Tinubu’s opponents in the election, was also speculated to have been offered a ministerial slot. But he is locked in fierce political combat with Mr Ganduje, the president’s ally who is leading the APC forces in the state. The president has apparently decided to take sides rather than seek a reconciliation of the two adversaries. Mariya Mahmud, who made a last-minute appearance on the list as a replacement for Maryam Shettima, was recommended by the new APC national chairman under whom she served as commissioner for four years.
Once his ministers have taken their offices, President Tinubu will be forced to pay more attention to governance with the ministers in the critical sectors expected to be welcomed to their ministries by overflowing in-trays.
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