Lagos — As President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua formally unveiled his new cabinet two days ago, swearing-in the 16 incoming ministers and reshuffling the old ones, he appeared to have renewed his mission in government.
Unfolding the new cabinet, the President said serious challenges lay ahead of his administration and told the ministers that as they were expected to meet their individual targets, they must also work as a compact team.
But even as the jury is out assessing the ministers against the backdrop of the enormous challenges confronting them in their various ministries, THISDAY can reveal that some key ministers to watch in the unfolding dispensation have emerged.
These ministers include those of Finance - Dr. Mansur Muktar, Power - Dr. Rilwan Lanre Babalola, Niger Delta - Chief Ufot Ekaette, Petroleum-Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, Education - Dr. Sam Egwu, Works and Housing - Alhaji Hassan Muhammed Lawal as well as Transport-Alhaji Ibrahim Bio.
Others are ministers of Health - Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, Environment - Mr. John Odey and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja - Senator Adamu Aliero.
The Senate yesterday approved the nomination of former Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Dr. Mansur Muhtar, (Kano State) as minister.
As THISDAY reported yesterday, Muhtar, whose name was forwarded to the Senate on Wednesday night for ratification, is taking over from Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman as Minister of Finance.
Although his screening was not listed on yesterday's Order Paper, the Senate had to fast-track it because it was due to proceed on Christmas recess yesterday.
And after the confirmation of Muktar, the Senate adjourned plenary to January 13, 2009.
President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who forwarded Muktar's name to the Senate, also re-nominated Alhaji Abdulrahman Adamu (Adamawa State) who was last week rejected by the upper legislative chamber for allegedly evading straightforward questions.
But for the key ministers identified, the challenges and people's expectations are enormous.
- Mansur Muhtar, Finance
For Muhtar, the former Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO) during the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, the challenges of organizing the nation's financial system and protecting the country from the turbulence in the international financial system seems a Herculean task. But Muhtar, a renowned Economist who is coming to the ministerial job from Africa Development Bank (ADB), is well equipped for the job. Before coming to DMO, he was a Senior Economist with the African Region of the World Bank. At DMO, he was first Director of Portfolio Management and Strategy. As DG DMO when Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala held the saddle as Finance Minister, Muhtar was generally managing Nigeria's debt portfolio and played a major role in the negotiations that led to Nigeria's exit from Paris and London Clubs of creditors. Supported by his Minister of State Remi Babalola, National Planning Minister Shamsuddeen Usman and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Chukwuma Soludo, Muhtar appears to be on a solid footing to properly guide Nigeria's financial system in this troubled time.
- Rilwan Lanre Babalola, Power
Possibly the youngest member of the President's cabinet, Babalola will bring considerable depth and expertise to the all important power sector. A Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) protégé, he has come highly recommended for the job having been responsible for most of the power reform measures, including the establishment of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the electricity market structure, which led to the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) started by former President Obasanjo. He will have to draw from his experience and institutional knowledge of the electricity sector to carry the weight of the expectations placed on his shoulders. After 18 months of extremely erratic power supply, he will be expected to meet the near-term target set by the President to increase power generation to 6,000MW by the end of 2009 or mid 2010.
But at 6,000MW, Nigeria's electricity generation capacity will hardly be sufficient to meet growing demand for power. Babalola would therefore have to develop a holistic medium and long term strategy that envisages sustained investment in electricity infrastructure across board that is private sector driven.
An energy economist with specialization in electricity market structure, Babalola boasts an excellent pedigree having worked as an investment banker with Lead Bank in charge of the Public Sector and Infrastructure Department of the bank. In November 2001, he was head hunted by the BPE to lead the Power Sector Team in the reform agency under the USAID, and later World Bank, assisted programme.
- Ufot Ekaette, Niger Delta
With the appointment of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ekaette from Akwa Ibom State, as the Minister of the newly created Niger Delta and Godsday Orubebe from Delta State as Minister of State, what President Yar'Adua seems to be saying is that these two sons, being prominent indigenes of the area, should be able to resolve the Niger Delta problem, which has become intractable. Ekaette was backed for the job by former President Obasanjo while Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan and Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark, rooted for Orubebe. Apart from the new ministry, there is also the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which has drawn up a Master Plan for the development of the Niger Delta. The major challenge facing Ekaette and Orubebe is the continued restiveness in the area and to succeed, they have to devise a way of working with the Joint Task Force in the area to rein in on militants operating in the creeks
- Sam Egwu, Education
As Minister of Education, the former two-time governor of Ebonyi State is undoubtedly in a familiar terrain. Before venturing into politics, the Ph.D holder in Agronomy was a University lecturer. He will therefore be at home in the midst of his fellow members of the academia, his later background as a seasoned politician notwithstanding. Egwu is assuming the mantle in the critical ministry at a time in which its policy formulators appear to be groping in the dark. The former PDP national chairmanship aspirant is therefore expected to give a clear-cut direction for the education sector. He is taking charge at a time when there is a seeming confusion in the sector following the half-implemented reforms initiated by the past administration of ex-President Obasanjo. Egwu must devise measures to arrest the rapidly falling standard of education at all levels. He must halt the infrastructural decay in government colleges, colleges of education, polytechnics and universities.
- Mohammed Hassan Lawal, Works & Housing
Lawal who served as Labour and Productivity Minister from 2005 until his present appointment last Wednesday as Works and Housing Minister brings his characteristic zest and drive to his new office. Since January this year, he has also been overseeing the Health Ministry, in addition to his Labour portfolio. A lot is expected from the Nasarawa-born Lawal as he takes over in the Works and Housing ministry. He has been widely described as a man of action based on his antecedents in the Labour and Health ministries. A major challenge is the deplorable state of federal roads and bridges across the country. There are also some new federal road projects that have been on card year in, year out without the commencement of their construction. He must ensure that the projects get on steam to facilitate movement of persons and goods. One more hurdle ahead of Lawal is the near comatose housing sector which needs a breath of new life if the needs of the people and the dream of decent housing for all must be achieved.
- Rilwanu Lukman, Petroleum
When Lukman's name was mentioned as a possible nominee for President Yar'Adua's cabinet, concern was raised over his age and frail health but this did not deter the President from forwarding his name to the Senate for confirmation. The President's confidence in Lukman stems from his eminent qualifications and enviable track record in the oil and gas sector. In fact, the President's decision to relinquish the petroleum portfolio after it had been held for nine years by his predecessor, Obasanjo and himself, is considered by observers as major mark of the supreme confidence Yar'Adua has in Lukman's ability to superintend the critical oil and gas sector.
Lukman is the arrowhead of the President's ambitious reform agenda for the oil and gas sector. The reform agenda, which forms one of the planks of the administration's seven point agenda, is aimed at reducing the government's investment in the joint venture programme, which presently accounts for more than 70 per cent of Nigeria's crude oil output. To achieve this, the government plans to restructure the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and incorporate a new successor company, National Petroleum Company of Nigeria (NAPCON) that will be structured along commercial lines that will enable it source for funding from commercial banks and financial markets for the joint venture programme. On this, he has a lot of battles ahead with NNPC, which appears unwilling to embrace its unbundling. Under the reforms for the oil and gas sector, the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) will be hived off from NNPC and made an autonomous company to be known as National Oil and Gas Assets Holding and Management Company that will be responsible for managing NNPC's assets in the joint ventures. Lukman will therefore have to lean heavily on his vast reserves and knowledge to come up with measures that will see the reforms through. He will have support from his younger Minister of State, Odein Ajumogobia, who has proved to be a steady hand since his appointment 17 month ago.
- Adamu Aliero, FCT
Ailero is a deft politician who has come a long way first as a two-term governor in Kebbi and at present a serving Senator. He has to go the extra mile to get experienced modern age technocrats to assist him if he must catch up with the fast-paced demands of the capital city and its burgeoning residents. The FCT constitutes over 8,000 square kilometres in landmass and has an estimated population of over five million, which is growing daily. The residents could be sub-divided into two broad categories, namely the indigenous elements that are mainly peasant farmers living in the suburbs and the urban residents comprising essentially Nigerians who migrated from other parts of the country and settled in the FCT. Renewing the momentum of reforms in the FCT including the strengthening of the machinery for enforcement of the Abuja Master Plan are among the greatest challenges facing the former Kebbi State governor as he settles down to work as minister.
- Ibrahim Bio, Transport
The former House of Representatives member and immediate past Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly takes the reign in a troubled ministry. The Transport Ministry ordinarily is supposed to be the engine room propelling efficient transport system for the country. However, as things are today, Nigeria is relying on one mode of transport - road, which is far from normal. To break away from the vicious circle, Bio must rise strongly to straighten things in the vital sector by prosecuting the rail project to its logical conclusion. The proposed dredging of the River Niger and its tributaries to facilitate inland water transport must also be pursued vigorously. Experts are united in their opinions that the only way to remove the overbearing pressure on the country's roads and highways is by inter-modal transport development approach involving road, rail and water. If he successfully prosecutes his assignment, Bio who has the powerful support of the Saraki family may be on his way to the governorship of Kwara State in 2011.
- Babatunde Osotimehin, Health
Former Director-General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Osotimehin, may have bagged his ideal portfolio but that does not make his job less strenuous giving the fact that health is very key and the state of medical health services in the country is prostate. Imbued with both local and international experience and exposure on health issues, the Professor of Clinical Pathology has to hurdle over the health obstacles and challenges facing Nigeria. Among these are the National Primary Health Care (PHC) system, which is comatose, inadequate human resources in the medical field, high rate of maternal mortality and child morbidity, paucity of drugs in the nation's hospitals and health centres and lack of basic infrastructure to support adequate healthcare delivery to suffering citizens. Not the least is the problem of HIV/AIDS prevalence level in Nigeria, which requires more awareness creation and the issue of synergy among all health-related organisations, agencies and government parastatals
- John Odey, Environment
Coming into his new position as the erstwhile Minister of Information and Communications, Odey, who many have described as a round peg in a square hole, has his work cut out for him to successfully perform in a seemingly obscure but key ministry. Active within the media, with positions such as General Manager for South-South Communication and Chairman of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the politician now has to address the global topical issue of climate change within the Nigerian context. The banker-cum-politician has to contend with and solve the issue of desertification in the Northern part of the country; the ocean surge along the coastline (where Lagos and Bayelsa are said to be in danger); the economic impact of a drying Lake Chad; and the political and environmental issues surrounding the N36 billion Federal Government dredging project of the River Niger. The 49-year-old powerful member of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) will also do well not to forget the issue of flagrant gas flaring in the nation's oil sector; flooding and deforestation; and the emerging global culture of tree planting. But Odey is a team player and may just end up turning around an obscure but strategic ministry such as Environment.