By DICKSON OMONODE
COME January 17, no fewer than 10 members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet will either get the boot or be moved around in a shake-up.
The restructuring has sent jitters into some of the ministers, especially those from the southwest. The National Daily learnt some of them are already making peace with their state governors and godfather Bola Tinibu they once dumped for Buhari.
Apart from Environment Minister Amina Mohammed the UN just called up, the names of those affected are still under wraps. But analysts can bet their shirts on a number of lucky candidates, including Edo’s ex-Gov. Adams Oshiomole, among others that will get a leg-up to Abuja.
On visiting Aso Rock recently, Oshiomole ignored journalists’ questions relating to Buhari hauling him into the federal cabinet in 2017. In spite of his silence, the odds remain high Oshiomole might make it to the cabinet.
Buhari, obviously, is enamoured of the former labour leader. “Oshiomhole is a hard working governor,” he said on his official visit to Edo last November. “We will need his services in Abuja.”
If he ever makes the cut, Oshiomole, many speculate, could be of help to Buhari in the labour ministry. First, the ministry lost his junior minister, the late James Ocholi, to an auto accident in March. So the portfolio is still there to be filled. And being a hard-core unionist, Oshiomole seems the only candidate that fits the bill.
Besides that, the president is also moving around a couple of his ministers to fill different portfolios. It’s not impossible Labour Minister Chris Ngige be moved elsewhereif he’s not among those already on the hit list.
Ngige had a hard time tiding the APC government over a gale of labour unrest last year. His slender success was not without a beat-back, though.
For instance, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) was out with him when he saidthe banking industry shouldn’t embark on mass retrenchment last year.
The angry NECA dubbed him ignorant, reckless, and unprofessional. The body also accused him of arrogating to himself the power of the federal government.
Maybe there is little a medical doctor can do when it comes to labour management and horse trading, But all these are a familiar turf for Oshiomolewhich is the more reason he could be asked totake over the labour ministry.
As for the members of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet that will lose their hides, SGF David Lawal Babachir ranks the most likely. His role in the diversion of funds meant for the internally displaced persons, confirmed by the Senate, makes it necessary for Buhari to kick him out.
Lawal’s likely replacement, however, is a subject of a major speculation. Originally, Buhari was said to have pencilled down Agric Minister Audu Ogbeh for the top scribe job.
A trumped up debt scandal ruined the appointment then. And many believe Ogbeh, a member of the old brigade, may eventually move in as SGF.
The 69=year-old has been in government since the second republic in 1979. Then Sen. President Bukola Saraki’s father, the late Olusola Saraki, was senate leader. Ogbehalso chaired the PDP in its heady days before the Olusegu Obasanjo administration put a gun to his head to yield the chair mid-2000s.
In case the Ogbeh theory fails, another equally old hand may clinch the SGF post. Babagana Kingibe, the running mate of the late M.K.O Abiola, SDP’s flagbearer in the June 12, 1993 presidential election, is heaving into sight again. Kingibe, 72, has been in politics since 1988 in the Peoples Front of Nigeria founded by the late Musa Shehu Yar’ Adua. The PFN joined the SDP later. He has served as Nigeria’s rep to the AU mission in Darfur, and later as the late President Umar Yar’ Adua’s SGF. Kingibe has been one of the unseen hands toggling the Buhari government, too.
While the rumour is rife these federal executives and close associates of Buhari might be redeployed, it is almost settled that no fewer than five will definitely be elbowed out of the federal executive.
The Senate last year mooted the idea that some of the ministers be relieved of their duties because they were just fixtures in the federal cabinet. Sen. Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) was down-right critical of Budget and Planning Minister Udo Udoma and his finance counterpart Kemi Adeosun. He even asked for their dismissal. The complaint is that the two key members of Buhari’s economic team have no idea of how to steer the country out of recession.
Another APC chieftain Baba Ahmed, appealing to public opinions last year, also noted some of the ministers are just filling up space.
“There is a case to be made for the argument that the president should critically assess his ministers and remove those that he believes have not performed as well as they should,” he said
Among those Nigerians have fingered for non-performance is Sport Minister Solomon Dalung who has been carrying on like a loose cannon in Nigeria’s sport. His stewardship has been marked by crises and blunders in speaking and administering.
In addition to Dalung is Communications Minister Adebayo Shittua lawyer given a 21st century ICT portfolio to handle. He’s a staunch loyalist of the president, no doubt. But his performance in the highly technical ministry has been below par. Shittu has committed a couple of faux pas that made Nigerians wonder if ICT is about politicking.
The minister got caught up in the MTN-federal government fine negotiation where he crowded out the supervising agency Nigeria Communications Commission, and accepted N50 billion in about N1 trillion fine. There was also a communication break-down between the minister and the commission in a tariff policy the federal government had to spike as fast as possible last December. One more woman Buhari may relieve of her job is Women Affairs Minister Aisha Alhassan. Hers has been a low-key administration of a dynamic ministry no thanks to poor health.
Mama Taraba, a 2015 governor wannabe in Taraba, is still recovering from an orthopaedic procedure she underwent in the U.S. last year when she had to abandon her ministry for two months. Pressing gender issues in IDPs and elsewhere are mounting while her health hinders her from giving due attention.
Analysts believe it might just be a needed relief if Buhari gives her the pink slip as soon as possible.
Other ministers in sound health the scale might tip against include minister of trade and that of solid minerals. Geoffrey Onyema and Kayode Fayemi whatever they are doing right haven’t got much to flaunt.
Either reshuffling or relieving, the only snag, according to observers, the exercise may have is the geo-political distribution of the appointments. In that case the president will have to scout hard for capable alternatives in the region the affected ministers are from.
He may have to sacrifice competence again if geopolitics becomes inevitable.
Following that is the thinking that Buhari might be stoking the embers of godfatherism again. And that largely concerns the president’s biggest benefactor and APC’s national leader.
Bola Tinubu is believed to have been schemed out of the power loop by leeches and opportunists that crept up on Buhari after the Lagos former governor muscled him into power in 2015.
According to PDP critics like Femi Fani-Kayode and others, Tinubu was being humiliated by the power mongers, and even some of his own protégés, including Ogun Gov. Ibikunle Amosun and Ondo Gov-elect Rotimi Akeredolu, who have wormed their ways into Buhari’s heart of hearts.
The presidency has, however, been insisting there’s no bad blood between Buhari and Tinubu. “Any suggestions that the president and the party machinery were working to destroy Mr. Tinubu had no foundation in truth or any credibility,” said Garba Shehu, media aide to the president. To clear the air, Buhari recently described Tinubu as a priceless asset to the ruling APC.
So the pacifists, especially Tinubu’s supporters in the party and across the southwest, now hope Aso Rock will prove it values him that high in the coming reshuffle.
In the first cabinet picks in 2015, Buhari discountenanced most of Tinubu’s candidates. Lagos ex-Commissioner Wale Edun, and others were dropped in 2015 after they successfully went through screening by the Department of State Security and the Senate.
And Buhari making amends now will restore Tinubu to his loft as the APC leader in the southwest a position the featherweights among the party men in the region have been trying to undermine.