Before the new ministers assume duties

Casmir Igbokwe


There is nobody who does not know the name of his mother. “Mummy” is just for the sake of respect. Since he assumed office in May 2007, President Umaru Yar’Adua has laboured to convince us that he means well for Nigeria. He had declared his assets; enunciated a seven-point agenda; dreamt of Vision 2020; composed some rule of law lyrics; and made some policy reversals that presented a façade of a man fully in charge. However, discerning Nigerians know the truth though some, for political reasons perhaps, choose to play the ostrich.


For about five months or so, the Presidency regaled us with stories of a cabinet reshuffle. Rumour-mongers went to town with all manner of speculations. They mentioned some names of those who will make the new cabinet. Even some ex-governors standing trial for some corrupt practices were touted. When it seemed that the wait was becoming too long, the President decided to make some moves.


The first step was to sack his erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe. Most of us clapped and said, “So this man can bite.” As if to remind us that his rumoured ill health would never stop him from taking any action, not even a game of squash, our President announced the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta.


Over one month after this announcement, we are still debating who will be the minister and from which zone he will come from. Almost one year after the forced resignation of the former Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange, we are yet to have a substantive minister for that ministry. And after about five months the cabinet reshuffle rumour started, the President finally announced the sacking of 20 ministers.


I will not be surprised if the constitution of a new cabinet takes another five months. The question is: what does it really take to constitute a cabinet? But for what happens in other countries, I would have been tempted to believe that it’s a very difficult task. Soon after taking over government last year, for instance, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced the list of his ministers. Even without looking outside, I don’t remember any Nigerian leader who has made a snail-work of constituting a new cabinet like the present leader.


On Tuesday, November 4, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president. From the look of things, the incoming President Barack Obama (there is no harm in being optimistic) may announce his cabinet before our own president.


Of course, there will be fresh excuses to rationalise the delay. Now, the speculation is that the new ministerial list has gone to the State Security Services for security checks. According to a front-page report in THISDAY yesterday, the security check is to ensure that the nominees are of impeccable character. Some people are already being touted as new ministers. Former military administrator of Borno State, Col. Abdulmuminu Aminu (ret.) is one of them. The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Dora Akunyili, is another. Such names as Chief Ufot Ekaette, Prof. Babatunde Oshotimehin and Adamu Aliero have also been mentioned.


What else can I say now than congratulations to the new ministers! The position is worth celebrating. Otherwise, the erstwhile minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, would not have shed tears last Thursday while handing over the administration of the territory to the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola. He must have enjoyed the work so much that it was difficult for him to let go. My sister Akunyili, if her position is confirmed, should go there and prove that women can still do more than what a man can do. She should look at the performance of the Minister of Transportation, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, as a guide on how not to work as a minister.


The major task for the new ministers is to reverse the confusion, the slow motion, the inexplicable reversals and the general lack of direction that define this government. Official policies must be well thought-out before ever anybody makes any announcement for implementation. The new ministers must avoid the World Cup syndrome by all means.


World Cup syndrome? Yes! We accepted to host the Under-17 World Cup next year. FIFA had done some preliminary inspections. Suddenly, the Presidency announced that the country could no longer host the competition because it was not a priority. Then, the Local Organising Committee reduced the cost from N35bn to N9bn. The FG reversed itself again, saying it would now host the competition. We are very good at marketing our idiocy to the outside world. I will be very surprised if FIFA is not already preparing another country to host the junior World Cup.                  


The new ministers must also avoid profligacy in government. Shortly after taking over the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the supervising minister, Dr. Idi Hong, reportedly said that that ministry under Chief Charles Ugwu wasted $10bn in pursuit of foreign investment.


He reportedly said, “$10bn was wasted in the search for investors and not even one billion dollars worth of investment came into the country. Investors won’t come because they know you have come to engineer stories to them…Yearly, about $700bn indirect investment goes to China, Dubai, Asia, etc. In these countries, they don’t run after investors. Investments chase them.”


Our leaders know what they are doing. Most of them know that they are pulling the wool over the eyes of Nigerians. The President knows that he is not too healthy. He knows that he does not have a firm grip of the Nigerian problems and the solutions to them. But he is pretending to be in control. He must realise that Nigerians are not fools. In the midst of the confusion called governance in Nigeria, they tend to resign themselves to fate. They know that their mother’s name is Nigeria. But some have chosen to stylishly call it Naija just to cushion the negative connotation associated with their motherland.


Mr. President, we need the new ministers now!


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