On Monday, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu welcomed 45 out of 48 ministers with just three more to complete his boated cabinet. Hours before their inauguration, some minister-designates swapped offices. Should we call that cabinet reshuffle or what? Or is it another sign of the ill-preparedness of the president to govern, as some critics are suggesting? While it is damn too early to categorically affirm such a thing, the morning, as they say, shows the day. So, the president must watch it. He needs to put his acts together. Too many unforced errors make even the best of tennis players lose a match.
As I watched the ministers take their oath of office on Monday, my heart went to the immediate past two-term governor of Kaduna State, petit Nasir el-Rufai, who was dropped in controversial circumstances. Some reports said he was not cleared by the Department of State Service (DSS) in what some other sources described as high-wire politicking within the Tinubu presidency. Sources said that a cabal has already coalesced within the less-than-three-month-old Tinubu administration and that it is this cabal that orchestrated the DSS report that unhinged el-Rufai’s ministerial ambition.
Reports also have it that preparations and permutations for the 2027 and 2031 presidential elections are already in top swing. Some other sources said the fear of any eventuality in the presidency (God forbid bad thing) is also already receiving serious and urgent attention from those who are eager to position themselves to reap bountifully from it. So, any would-be opponent must be put at an arm’s length.
It is difficult to say at this point which is true but one thing that is certain is that there are usually competing forces and centres of influence and power in any administration. The Tinubu administration will not be different. At different times, one centre will be dominant and will use that advantage to clip the wings of others and establish its suzerainty. At other times, depending on shifting alliances and circumstances, a dominant group may miscalculate or be unhinged by forces beyond its control and lose relevance and have its power and influence whittled down and another cabal may overrun it. So, those that were dominant yesterday may become less relevant today. The powers-that-be yesterday, the untouchables, may become featherweights who are easily disposable today. Yesterday’s assets may become liabilities today. Such is the way of politics and politicians!
Some sources said that is what has happened to el-Rufai. He was courted and reverenced during the campaign, both for the APC presidential flag and the presidential election proper. He was a beautiful bride. He was also the “ajantala” boy whose dare-devilry helped to whip the then President Muhammadu Buhari and other APC top shots in line to reluctantly support Tinubu’s presidential aspiration. Remember that he even led some other governors to drag the Federal Government and the then CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to court over their naira colour change policy. Truth be told, el-Rufai did a lot for Tinubu; whether his reasons are altruistic or not, as some have alleged, I cannot say. It may be that el-Rufai wanted to put Tinubu and his government in his pocket! One thing I am certain about, though, is that the political enemies of el-Rufai had their game plan up their sleeves even when the then Kaduna State governor was gallivanting up and down selling the candidacy of Tinubu; they knew that once the goods are delivered, they will throw the enfant terrible under the bus! Whether this was also the thinking of Tinubu, I cannot now say!
Unfortunately for el-Rufai, he has a reputation that has travelled far ahead of him as an alleged serial betrayer. They said he betrayed Atiku Abubakar who brought him to Olusegun Obasanjo; that he betrayed Obasanjo and also betrayed Goodluck Jonathan; that he betrayed Buhari and would, in time, betray Tinubu. Under his governorship, Kaduna State in general and the south of it became a killing field. Some have said they hold him, his utterances and the policies of his government accountable.
In his second term, he discarded the Muslim/Christian ticket and settled for a Muslim/Muslim ticket. Many also fingered him as having something to say about the influx of killer herdsmen into the country. Could these, then, be what his enemies unearthed to have him unhinged? Even at that, he still has my sympathies. He had gathered a team and was already working behind the scenes as Minister of Power and Gas before the bombs exploded in his face. What now happens to the assemblage of talents he was already working with? Will the (new) ministers of Power and Gas take them over and continue where el-Rufai had stopped?
I also feel for the minister-designate for Kano State, Dr. Maryam Shetty, who was dropped at the 11th hour. Congratulatory messages must have started flooding into her phone lines. Application letters to be her aide in this or that capacity must have filled a bedroom. “Aso-ebi” to celebrate and committees to welcome her from Abuja back to Kano or whichever is her village must have been set up – only for the rug to be pulled from under her feet! If we understand the case of el-Rufai, what was this woman’s own offence? Sources said her case was elimination by association; that it was hire-wired politicking between Rabiu Kankwaso/New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje/APC. The latter had overhauled the former in the last governorship election in Kano but Ganduje is today the APC chairman. Dr. Shetty is said to have been Kwankwaso’s nominee but Ganduje would have none of it! How can Kwankwaso have the governor and also have the minister? The same Kwankwaso was encouraged to work for Tinubu during the presidential election and he helped deliver votes to Tinubu/APC. But that now belongs in the past! An aggrieved Kwankwaso has since started hobnobbing with Atiku Abubakar.
Now that most of the ministers are in place, we should see less of knee jerk policies like “subsidy is gone” and floating of the Naira, twin policies that have made life miserable for ordinary Nigerians. With the way the floated Naira is tumbling at the parallel market, despite the effete “shakara” of the government, and its attendant effect on market prices, including that of petroleum products, Nigerians are wondering whether this government will not be forced to retrace its steps and do a policy summersault. The politicians are on board now; they are in a position, more than the technocrats, to speak to the president in the language he will understand. If a policy is not working, review, rethink and rework it. Laws are made for man; not man for the law.
So far, I am impressed about two things: Tinubu appears to listen and act on public opinion, which was not the case with Buhari. He has acted on criticisms of some of his policies, which is good. He is making efforts to solve the problems that Buhari mindlessly created, even if some of the policies he has enunciated so far may not have had the desired impact. This is far better than Buhari who was laidback, who was piling one problem on top of another without solving any; and who picked his teeth and threw his hand up in resignation while his aides looted the treasury with reckless abandon.
Let Tinubu tell us what mandate he gave each minister. We need to know so that, together, we can hold their feet to the fire. So far, all we know is that it seems Tinubu has deleted the fight against corruption from the three-pronged agenda he inherited from Buhari, leaving him with the fight against insecurity and rescuing and reshaping the economy. A man ought not to deceive himself! With Gandu-Dollar as party chairman, Akpabio and Senate president and Tinubu’s own antecedents, he will be a laughing stock if he tells anyone he will fight corruption.
That is not to say, however, that he cannot and should not. Without taming corruption, no policy will work effectively and not much progress will be made. If Buhari was wrong in all things, he got it right when he said corruption will kill Nigeria if Nigeria does not (quickly) kill corruption. Had Nigerians heeded that clarion call and Buhari himself an object lesson, we would not have been in the mess we are in today.
Why Wike stole the show
Former two-term governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, expectedly stole the show at the swearing-in of ministers. Say whatever you like, it was an indication that the man is popular. His person or politics or both resonate with the people. Every government needs such personalities in the cabinet. So, it would have been a minus for Tinubu had Wike missed the ministerial list. Should he defect to the APC? I think he should not! Let him remain in the PDP and continue to torture and unsettle them there. So he can also continue to sing his song: As e dey pain them/E dey sweet us/As he dey sweet us/E dey pain deem” Politics, like writing (journalism) is also about entertainment!