Two names of ministerial nominees sent to the Senate for approval by President Goodluck Jonathan last week ends the persistent clamour to fill the vacuum in the power and defence ministries. GEORGE AGBA reports that it was also a form of relief to some ministers who were tensed up over reports of an impending cabinet shakeup.
A letter by President Goodluck Jonathan to the Senate last Wednesday asking it to approve the nomination of two ministerial nominees, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki from Kebbi State and Prof Chinedu Nebo, from Enugu State, has put to rest, the clamour by certain individuals and groups for the appointment of Power and Defence Ministers respectively.
It is also indicative of the fact that the president is not ready to carry out a major cabinet shake-up this year as against pressure mounted on him to sack most of his ministers over alleged non-performance. Some of the ministers are now heaving a sigh of relief.
Above all, Jonathan has demonstrated that he is not ready to sacrifice competence on the altar of primordial considerations that usually originate from regional, ethnic, political and state quota sentiments. National security and power are two vital vehicles through which any country in the world can reach a remarkable peak in economic development.
The president may have thought it wise that there was no need to be in a hurry in appointing substantive power and defence ministers since qualitative leadership in these sectors should not be consumed by mere politics. The idea here could be justified by the axiom that "it is not how long, but how well".
Since Bello Haliru was removed by Jonathan in June last year, following the growing spate of attacks by members of the Islamic extremist sect, Boko Haram, the Minister of State, Olusola Obada, has been piloting the affairs of the ministry the same way Gaius Dickson, before the swap of positions involving power and Niger Delta ministries in November, had been acting when Prof. Barth Nnaji also resigned his appointment as the Minister of Power in August.
His resignation followed allegations of vested interest in the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The decision that the junior ministers should hold forte in acting capacities in the two ministries attracted public outcry, with stakeholders contending that the appointment of senior ministers would make greater impact.
Also, from Enugu and Kebbi States that were represented in the federal cabinet by Bello and Nnaji as defence and power ministers respectively, came pressures on the president to appoint persons from the states to fill in the two key positions. Their agitation became more strident with speculations, which suggested that the president may have deliberately refused to fill the vacuum in these ministries just to keep them directly under his watch.
But the president's men had argued strongly that these two ministerial positions were not such that should be thrown open to mere politicking. According to them, the sensitive nature of national security and superlative role of power to national development makes it imperative that Jonathan should ignore the clamour for regional balancing.
On the other hand, the opposition had also accused the president of symptomatically not willing to move the country towards progress. But Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Dr Reuben Abati, countered this position when he contended that it was erroneous to think that because of the absence of substantive ministers, there was a vacuum in the affected ministries. He said Jonathan was only taking his time on the appointment of the ministers because it goes beyond filling the quota of certain states.
Abati had argued: "The thing to note is that when people ask that question, they give the impression that maybe because those two ministries do not have substantive ministers yet, there is a vacuum. But the truth is that there is no vacuum in the real sense because the ministers of state who are there are running those ministries well.
If there is any vacuum that people are looking for, they are probably saying certain states are to get those positions or the quota and they want it filled so that those states can benefit. All of that is coming out of our federal character approach to appointments. But in terms of the functioning of these ministries, nothing has been lost and nothing has been sacrificed.
"But I can assure you that the president, at his own time, will fill those positions because it is not just that you fill positions. A lot goes into it. I have not had the opportunity to appoint anybody, but from watching the president at work, I know that you don't just wake up and appoint people into offices. There is a lot that goes into it and once the time is ripe, you can be assured that the president will do it.
So, people should stop putting him under pressure. Those ministries are functioning. If you look at power, since the minister of state for power took over, that ministry has been functioning. In fact, progress has even been made. If you look at defence, the woman who is there has been running the ministry very well. So, it is not as if because two slots have not been filled that anything has happened and in any case, people must also realize that ministerial positions are delegated positions".
True to Abati's pronouncement on the true position of the president in this regard, Senate President David Mark informed senators last Wednesday of Jonathan's request when he read the correspondence from the President to senators, seeking their approval for the two ministerial nominees. Although the president did not specify which position should be occupied by the nominees, the question yawning for answers now is whether these two persons are competent enough for these sensitive offices.
Turaki, 52, is a lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He was the chairman of the Northen Union, a political pressuire group promoted by the late Dr. Olusola Saraki. Nebo is the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti - one of the newly established universities. He was Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka.
It is possible, however, that Turaki and Nebo may not necessarily be assigned the power and defence portfolios. There had been speculations about a possible cabinet shake up this January over what many considered non-performance of some ministers.
Keen observers say President Jonathan might just be waiting for legislative endorsement of the new ministers before making a cabinet reshuffle. Whether the cabinet reshuffle would involve the sack of non-performing ministers is another issue altogether. But the two names sent to the Senate for approval last week, according to presidency sources, was a vote of confidence on the serving ministers by the president.
"If there was any plan for a major cabinet shakeup in which non-performing ministers were to be sacked, the president would have done so before sending the names. Since he decided to send two names, it is quite clear that he is only interested in filling the vacuum in the defence and power ministries. Anything to the contrary would amount to putting the cart before the horse", one of the sources told LEADERSHIP in Aso Rock.
Besides, a marching order given by Jonathan to the ministers penultimate Wednesday that they should either sit up and produce results as promised Nigerians during his 2011 election campaign or resign from their positions, was also an indication that he was ready to give the ministers a second chance. Jonathan was said to have warned the ministers severely that he was ready to sacrifice any of them who was not ready to work in order to change the negative public perception about the government.
"He told them that although most of the criticisms against the administration were being orchestrated by the opposition for some selfish reasons, the ministers must keep tab with his transformation agenda to ensure that most of the things said against the administration are proved wrong at the end of the day", a source who preferred not to be named said.
More so, Mr. Labaran Maku, while briefing State House correspondents after the first Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in 2013 presided over by the president, confirmed that the president read the riot act to Ministers. Maku said, "Mr President gave us a marching order to work harder, faster and deliver results. He said we must all buckle up and make sure all our agencies deliver results. Last year was very good for the country, by the grace of God Nigerians will see greater results this year".
An emergency FEC meeting summoned by Jonathan last December, which was later cancelled, had reportedly caused panic among the ministers over a possible cabinet shake. The fear was that some of the ministers may lose their jobs if the president bows to pressure from aggrieved Nigerians who feel some cabinet members in the current administration had no business being where they were.
But in a swift reaction, presidential spokesman, Abati, foreclosed the possibility of any cabinet shakeup. He said, "There was no reason for any minister to panic about the emergency FEC that you referred to. I just told you that the last few meetings at the end of the year were devoted to a performance review.