After much delay, President Bola Tinubu has sent a partial list of ministerial nominations for Senate confirmation. There are issues being raised about the nominations.
By Chudi Okoye
It is perhaps inevitable that in a complex and chaotic democracy like ours, it requires extreme political artistry to stitch together not just a winning electoral coalition but also, post-election, to assemble an efficient leadership team to manage the machinery of government. As perhaps a testament to the growing complexity of our politics, it has seemed in recent time to take newly-elected presidents an inordinate amount of time to assemble a ministerial cabinet for their administration, forcing a recent amendment to the constitution which requires new presidents to complete the task no later than 60 days after their inauguration.
After much delay, the new but seemingly fast-ageing administration of President Bola Tinubu has submitted, in the very nick of time, an initial list of ministerial nominees for Senate screening and confirmation.
There are several issues arising from the composition of the ministerial list, but I will focus on just two: representativeness and competency. I will deal with the issue of representation in this piece, and subsequently turn to competency when I’ve properly studied the résumés of the nominees.
The Nigerian constitution requires at Section 147(3) that a minister be picked from each of the 36 states of the federation, and (per Constitution Alteration Act No. 23 of 2023) that women comprise at least 10% of nominations.
The constitution also sets out other criteria for ministerial nominations, aside from federal character and gender representation. These include the provision at Section 147(5) that ministerial nominees meet the same minimum entry requirements prescribed for members of the House of Representatives. These requirements are set out at various subsections of Section 65, including a minimum age of 30 (65(1b)); a minimum of school certificate education (65(2a)); and membership of a political party (65(2b)).
There are also, at Section 68, the usual eligibility criteria pertaining to citizenship, criminal record, bankruptcy, authenticity of certificates, sanity, and so on; and a provision at Section 149 that nominees declare their assets.
It would appear from basic scrutiny that the initial list of ministerial nominees submitted by the presidency meets only a part of the key constitutional requirements. Women constitute about 25% of the list, thankfully exceeding the paltry 10% minimum imposed by the amended constitution.
However, as to geopolitical spread, Awka Times checks and other media reporting indicate that the current list omits some 11 states. The 28 nominees so far submitted to the Senate hail from a total of 25 states, one each from 22 states and two each from three states (Kaduna, Cross River and Katsina). The presidency cannot of course ignore the constitutional requirement of appointing at least one minister from each state of the federation. So it is expected that a supplementary list is forthcoming, even though the delay seems to offend the new 60-day rule for ministerial nominations.
One issue that may arise regarding the extant ministerial list concerns the ‘political caliber’ of nominees from each geopolitical zone. The current list is not particularly star-studded, speaking specifically in terms of national political stature, although it includes several ex-senators and ex-representatives, as well as ex-governors. Among the latter are relatively well-known names like Nyesom Wike and Nasir el-Rufai – former governors, respectively, of Rivers and Kaduna States. Still, there are already stirrings of unease in some quarters about the political profiles of those on the ministerial list. There is in particular concern being expressed that the South East contingent is made up of political lightweights who would likely end up as junior ministers in the administration. None of the three women and two men from the region, except perhaps for Dave Umahi (former governor of Ebonyi State), is a recognizable name. This is being theorized as a deliberate ploy to deny the region control of any strategic ministries.
This concern is exacerbated by the fact that the South East zone is again facing the prospect – which became egregious under Muhammadu Buhari’s regime – of being locked out of all the high offices of state: President of the Federation, Senate President, House of Reps Speaker, Secretary to the Federal Government, etc. There was also such concern in the recent appointment of service chiefs, with dispute arising as to the true ethnic identity of the appointee from the South East, Chief of Naval Staff Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla, attended by complaints about the particular service portfolio ‘assigned’ to the zone.
It is unfortunate that such concern persists, though it is not totally unexpected in an environment of hypersensitive tribal politics. A theory of moral sentiment would require indisputable fair play in the allocation of ministerial portfolios. We shall yet see who gets what when ministerial portfolios are allocated; but, as an anticipatory step, let’s deal here with the fear about the recruitment of so-called political light-weights from the South East.
One reaction to this concern might be to shrug it off either as a non-issue or to justify the expectation on grounds of realpolitik.”Such is life,” some might say. “Elections have consequences!”
In Nigeria’s crusty culture of distributive politics, there’s a norm of survival of the fittest (or, more appropriately, survival of the stiffest), and a tradition of winners appropriating a lion’s share of political goods. In this environment, the South East might be told to suck it up since, unlike other regions which hedged their bet in the recent election by spreading their votes, the region voted overwhelmingly for the opposition Labor Party.
Indeed this has always been the case in Igbo voting behavior. As I pointed out in March in another Awka Times article:
“We the Igbos of the South East are reputed for our republican streak and rugged individualism. Yet, when it comes to presidential elections, we tend to vote in a concorant manner, offering a disproportionate share of our votes to a single candidate we favor in the contest, whether or not they are fellow Igbo. In 1979, the two South-eastern states as they existed then gave Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe over 80% of their votes. In this Fourth Republic the five South-eastern states have offered a preponderant share of their votes to their preferred candidates in successive elections: Olusegun Obasanjo, nearly 70% in 2003; Goodluck Jonathan, 84% in 2011 and 91% in 2015; Atiku Abubakar, 76% in 2019; and Peter Obi, 88% in 2023.”
I also argued as follows in that piece:
“It is a high-stakes political gamble to continue to place the bulk of one’s chips behind one candidate; and it bucks the trend of other geopolitical zones hedging their bets, in successive elections, by distributing their votes competitively among leading candidates. Only the South East votes so lopsidedly for its preferred presidential candidates.”
I further argued therein:
“With a high-stakes gamble, you could win big or lose big, depending on whether or not you place a successful bet. Alas, the South East’s strategy has seemed so far to secure only suboptimal outcomes in the political game, yielding low payoffs when we pick a winning candidate but maximum pain when our electoral bets have been unsuccessful.”
It is germane to argue, with the cold logic of electoral choices versus political payoffs, that the South East should not expect to reap what it did not sow, so to say, having so unequivocally rebuffed Tinubu in the last presidential election (he secured only 5.7% of South East votes), just as it did Buhari before him.
However, although this would not be an unreasonable partisan argument to deploy, we have to ask if it augurs well for national integration. The continuing political minorization and marginalization of the South East cannot be in Nigeria’s long-term interest, even if it serves the narrow, near-term political ends of certain groups.
A plausible retort to this argument might be to ask: if South-easterners wanted ‘national integration’, why did they not vote for it in the last election? Why did they vote so lopsidedly for a candidate from their geopolitical zone? It would be a good question, but indeed some might argue that the South East did vote for national integration. Having voted nearly en bloc in previous elections for contestants from other regions, South-easterners voted this time around for a candidate who, in their opinion, offered the best chance for national integration after the fractious years of Buhari rule; someone also, again in their estimation, who stood the best chance of restoring the collapsing structures of Nigerian political economy left behind by Buhari.
It was indeed a rational choice, one might argue, made in the best interest of the country. As such, it would seem inequitable and particularly invidious to penalize the region – arguably still reeling from the traumas of being exceptionalized by Buhari – for the choice it made in the last election.
But even without appealing to any notion of geopolitical justice, it makes little tactical or pragmatic sense to ostracize any region, let alone one of the major constituents of the polity.
Politics is, or should be, about inclusion. Tinubu was declared winner only with a narrow plurality of the votes (36.6%), and he might not have sailed through had the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) not disintegrated and thus split its bloc of votes across several splinter parties. As such, if Tinubu intends to seek re-election, it behooves him to canvass political support in areas where he had underperformed, especially the South East where he made far the least inroad. He could start now to cultivate the zone and plant propitious seeds by trusting the region with strategic ministries in his administration. This would help to balance out the current distribution wherein the South East has only managed to secure as its highest office the deputy-speakership of the House, a rather meager accomplishment in the grand scheme of things.
Bringing the South East “back in” could be great for Tinubu’s governing agenda and his re-election prospects; and it would be a boon to national integration.
Let us wait to see how Tinubu fills out his ministerial nominations, and how he will eventually allocate the portfolios. At that point, if there’s sufficient data, I will turn to the issue of competency to assess whether the right team is in place to deliver Tinubu’s superlative campaign promises.
On 2nd August 2023, a week after submitting his initial list of 28 ministerial nominees which had covered only 25 of 36 states, President Bola Tinubu sent the Senate an additional list of 19 nominees for screening and confirmation, covering the rest of the states as required by the constitution. This brought his total ministerial nominations to 47.
The distribution of nominees across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones is clearly uneven, seemingly correlated to zonal share of votes received by the president in the February 2023 presidential election:
There is in fact a strong correlation of ministerial nominations to electoral votes, a coefficient of 0.97, which is perhaps unsuprising in a politics of spoils system.
There are some cases of over-indexing, however. The South East zone, for instance, produced the least share of votes for Tinubu, and it has the least number of nominees. With five nominees from its five states, it is the only zone to get merely the statutory minimum. But its percentage share of nominees (10.6%) is higher than its share of Tinubu votes (1.4%) – clearly due to the forcing function of the constitution.
The North East over-indexes as well in terms of its share of nominees versus share of votes. This probably reflects the influence of President Tinubu’s vice-president, Mr. Kashim Shettima, who hails from the zone.
The South South zone produced the second least haul of votes for Tinubu in the February presidential election, and, correspondingly, the second lowest number of ministerial nominees. But it over-indexes on share of nominees, likely a nod to Mr. Nyesom Wike, former governor of Rivers State and PDP stalwart whose efforts helped to scuttle his party’s electoral chances over primaries grievances, paving the way for Tinubu’s victory.
It would appear, on the whole, that political settlement was a stronger factor in President Tinubu’s ministerial nominations than technocratic competence, a disturbing fact considering the complex task confronting this administration.