Tasks Before The New Ministers


Muhammad Al-Ghazali



If President Muhammadu Buhari refuses to change the precedence set since the return of democracy to these shores in 1999; the much anticipated inauguration of his cabinet should hold tomorrow, being the first Wednesday since the screening and confirmation of nominees by the Senate.

That has not stopped the rumour mill from going berserk as usual, in the various permutations on the sharing of ministerial portfolios. In one particular probable list on the social media for instance, we had the name of our very own Adamu Adamu pencilled down as the likely Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

Another pundit, however, completely laughed off the idea. He triggered my prolonged laughter when he jokingly suggested that the Saudis would never contemplate granting Adamu Adamu an entry visa when he becomes the Foreign Minister given his Shiite leanings, and well-documented criticism of the Kingdom’s ruling class!

Mercifully, by tomorrow, hopefully; all the speculations should come to an end when the various nominees receive their portfolios, and are also duly sworn into office as widely expected. One thing they can count on is my heartfelt sympathy because they will surely have their work cut out for them.

This, certainly, will be one set of Ministers that will not be arriving at their various Ministries with imperial impudence. The president has already foreclosed that possibility with his personal conduct and example. Also; this note of warning to all the loafers and middlemen in the country who have made an industry out of hanging around the corridors of various ministries to facilitate deals: this promises to be a ministerial era of accountability and due process.

And the president will not have to lift a single finger to ensure that that is the case. All the incoming Ministers will know, if they are not already aware; that their tenure is not going to be business as usual. They will have to declare their assets before they assume office. The various anti-graft agencies whose operatives perpetually snored or were coerced to look the other way in the past will be on their case. The Minister’s every move will be watched with gusto. But that is not even their only problem.

When they arrive at their various ministries, the Ministers are likely to be confronted by waves of petitions from disgruntled bureaucrats who are also badly demoralized by the non-payment of salaries and other allowances, as well as the irregular promotions, postings and miss-postings done in the life of the previous administration.

They may as well perish any thoughts they previously nursed about hitting the ground running. They will have to deal with those problems first because they have a direct bearing on the optimal performance of the bureaucrats the minister’s will work with.

In one particular ministry for instance, the controversial Minister shamelessly cajoled one of the agencies he supervised to embark on an employment spree that included fresh female graduates from his ethnic stock who were then swiftly packaged and posted abroad in the place of thousands of superior officers they met when they joined the service. It was not surprising when nemesis soon caught up with the Minister with his involvement in another recruitment scandal currently under investigation by ant-graft agencies.

The Ministers will also have to deal with the mountain of expectations from ordinary Nigerians who expect all the campaign promises and the much needed change the All Progressive Congress (APC) promised delivered yesterday! I have particular sympathy for the Minsters of Power, Agriculture, Works, and Transport; not to mention Finance, Trade and Investment and Petroleum. How these ministries synergise to add value to the intended deliverables will come to define the performance of the Buhari administration.

With Power; well, we know exactly what the minimum expectations of Nigerians are in both the rural and urban centers of the country. The provision of abundant energy supply is not a matter of luxury. It is the critical resource that is expected to unlock the enormous economic potentials of the country, particularly in the growth and proliferation of small-scale enterprises critical to the revival of the nation’s middle class in particular.

But any Minister saddled with the enormous challenges in the power sector will first have to deal with the task of managing the shoddy privatization of the sector; fix the problem of poor transmission and generation capacities, not to mention the delicate tango between the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC); the electricity Generation and Distribution Companies (GENCOS and DISCOS); and long suffering Nigerians who have seen their wages stagnate in the face of heightened inflation.

The first major problem for the new Minister of Power, will be how to balance the need for increase in electricity tariffs demanded by the GENCOS/DISCOS in the face of poor quality of service delivery and the dwindling income of average Nigerians. How he manages the situation will determine the success or failure of the entire privatization of the sector in my opinion. It has the capacity to dissuade or encourage new investments into the sector.

With Works; well, a single word will suffice and it is CRISIS! If the size of the task confronting the new Minister with the state of our roads; he now has to deal with the additional problems of adequate funding brought about by greatly reduced income from the sale of crude oil. Massive investments will have to be sourced from the private sector to supplement the short-falls.

In the Ministry of Agriculture, the new Minister will bear the burden of gargantuan expectations from Nigerians. Not only is the sector relied upon to lead the revival of our comatose economy by providing the much-needed jobs for our jobless millions; along with maximizing our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR); Agriculture is equally expected to reduce our over-reliance on forex from crude oil sales through the enhanced production and export of farm products.

To impress, the new Minister of Agriculture will have to improve on the records of the smooth-talking former Minister Akinwumi Adesina, who produced most of the templates for the rapid take-off of the sector, even if the jury may still be out on his exact impact on the bottom-line.

With the Finance Ministry I am praying that what the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said about the scrapping of the dubious title of “Coordinating Minister for the Economy” added to the responsibility of the minister is factual. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now obvious that the job title served only to provide a virtual clearing house for the perpetration of sundry crimes against the nation such as the granting of interest waivers to undeserving operators in the economy among others.

In any economy, not just that of Nigeria; visioning and strategic direction, along with the over-arching responsibility for the implementation of key strategies is the exclusive privilege of the presidency and not any super Minister. The fact that the Jonathan administration agreed to the role of a coordinating minister was a reflection of his own limitations.

Space constraints will not allow me to address the issue of the challenges in the other ministries; but permit me to add that recent events in the oil sector including the reforms in the NNPC have shown just how much can be achieved if the operators of key sectors of the economy key into the compelling vision of the leadership of the country. 

That was certainly missing in the past. I hope that Mr. Ibe Kachwukwu, the nominee widely expect to head the Petroleum Ministry, will continue with his broad reforms and empowerment of local content. But I also expect the Presidency to organize a retreat for the Ministers to formally communicate the vision of the new administration to them before they are sent on their way. By now, I expect that the presidency must have a fair appreciation of the sort of strategies required to deliver on its economic blueprint. It now remains the critical matter of the appropriate initiatives.

This is where the ministers are crucial. In normal circumstances; while the presidency is expected to determine the broad economic strategies; the various ministries should be allowed to articulate and determine their own initiatives to deliver on the key objectives. But even if the initiatives have already been drawn up for them, it is now critical that they take individual and collective ownership to deliver on each and every one of them.

I wish them good luck because they will need it.