Nigeria: Baba Go-Slow and the cabinet that hasn’t been named

By Frank Charnas 21 September 2015

Three months after his election, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has still to announce his cabinet. The challenge of creating a unified and uncorrupt cabinet, while maintaining the internal support of the composite members of the ruling party, and exerting influence over opposition-held areas, may explain why the man nicknamed Baba Go-Slow has yet to act. By FRANK CHARNAS.

Fairly or not, in his first three months in office Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has earned himself the nickname Baba Go-Slow. Buhari won the elections on a ticket of corruption-busting reform, as well as a promise to rid the country of the Boko Haram insurgency in the north. However, the president has yet to announce his cabinet, the team that will be tasked with delivering on the words of the leader, and has stated that the final announcements will only be revealed at the end of September.

The challenge of creating a unified and uncorrupt cabinet, while maintaining the internal support of the composite members of the ruling party, yet exerting influence over opposition-held areas, may explain why Baba Go-Slow has not yet announced his cabinet. Buhari represents the All Progressive’s Congress (APC), an amalgamation of progressive opposition parties, which banded together to combat the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), before that the only ruling party in the history of democratic Nigeria. That said, it is likely that the APC may not be as unified within government as it was as an opposition group, with leaders from various parties campaigning for high profile positions. In fact, there is a clear danger that Buhari may alienate some of his support as he clarifies the designation of party supremacy for the purposes of defining the ministerial list.

Buhari will be combating the inertia of history, and previous practice with regard to ministerial appointees. In the Federal Nigeria, it was common for powerful state governors to dictate to the federal government who should be appointed as a minister. The system of ‘godfatherism’, in which in return for their support for the government (financial and otherwise) powerful figures gain influence over the decisions and policy direction of the state, is deeply entrenched. Should he truly wish to emerge as uncorrupt, the president will be forced to ignore this practice, drawing the inevitable ire of many and resulting in friction, particularly in the form of opposition to federal policy doctrine. Emerging reports have revealed that some state governors have unsuccessfully attempted to suggest ministerial appointments, and have been angered by Buhari’s insisting on independence for these choices.

The federal structure of Nigeria means that 13 out of the 36 states are governed by the now-opposition PDP. Crucially, the majority of these states fall within the economically critical, oil-rich Niger Delta Region. This means that despite its position as the opposition, the PDP still wields considerable economic influence over the government through its administration of oil production. States in the Niger Delta have long felt that they receive a raw deal, with economically unsuccessful northern states influencing federal oil policies to their benefit. Buhari, who himself hails from the north, may thus be further hamstrung by distrustful opposition southern states.

This reality may influence ministerial appointments, as the federal government will be well served to gain influence in this region by appointing indigenous leaders into federal positions. Here however, the president may need to weigh his desire to influence the region against the seriousness with which he is prepared to combat corruption. Oil infrastructures are heavily influenced by ‘godfatherism’, and years of dirty practice. Indeed, newspaper reports indicate that the highly influential former governor of Rivers State and a key figure within the APC, Rotimi Amaechi, has not passed security screening, due to alleged malpractice and corruption. Two other former governors, Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State and Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, are also reported not to have passed the screening process.

For too long Nigeria, Africa’s most powerful economy, has been underperforming and held back by poor leadership, in-fighting, inertia and corruption. The composition of the cabinet, and its ability to affect meaningful policy will be crucial for the West African giant’s awakening. However, in order to achieve meaningful change, the nation’s leaders will need to swallow their pride, realise that the practices of the past are no longer applicable, and commit to the federal doctrine. Africa needs a powerful effective Nigeria, and Nigeria needs a powerful, effective cabinet. DM

Photo: President Muhammadu Buhari addresses members of the National Working Committee during the meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party at the headquarters of the party in Abuja, Nigeria July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde


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