Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has come under fire for stacking his new cabinet with ageing party loyalists despite hopes he might opt for more technocrats in his final term.
The senate this week approved the list of 43 ministers after the former military ruler finally settled on their names some two months after his inauguration in May.
Buhari, 76, is yet to hand out their portfolios but already his choice of stalwarts from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party has caused dismay.
« One would have expected that the president would shop for more people with more expertise » to assuage worries about the future, said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, head of Abuja-based Transition Monitoring Group organisation.
She said she doubted the ability of those chosen « to push the agenda for development for Nigeria ».
Buhari faces a raft of challenges in his second term at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation — from tackling a grinding Islamist insurgency and spreading insecurity to trying to bolster a fragile economic recovery.
During his first four years he earned the nickname « Baba go-slow » after he took six months to name a cabinet and was seen to proceed with decisions at a glacial pace.
Far from cutting lose for his second, and final stint in power, he now appears to have fallen back on familiar faces.
In a country with more than half the population under 30, not one of the ministers is less than 40 years old.
Only seven of those chosen are women.
« 16.3 percent representation is abysmal, » Ndi Kato, a 28-year-old female politician told local media.
« We have an abundance of qualified women and we have been advocating throughout the process of selecting ministers. The disrespect of tossing out the requests of women like it doesn’t matter is traumatic. »
– ‘More patronage’ –
Analysts said the decision to reward loyalists and keep key players in place means there are unlikely to be major reforms in the years ahead.
Fourteen of the ministers in the new cabinet served Buhari during his first term from 2015 to 2019.
Among those coming back are heavyweights like Babatunde Fashola, a former Lagos governor, transport minister Rotimi Amaechi, who ran oil-rich Rivers state, finance minister Zanaib Ahmed, foreign minister Geoffrey Onyema and education minister Adamu Adamu.
« Rewarding APC powerbrokers will improve party cohesion in the second term but also risks eroding first-term gains in curbing patronage, » said the Eurasia consultancy group in a note.
The president appeared to be prioritising APC unity and making up for 2015 when some leading backers in the party complained they had been overlooked, the group said.
« It also signals to party officials that Buhari will condone more patronage and possible leakages from government coffers than during his first term, » it said.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is still challenging Buhari’s election victory, has been quick to criticise the government selection as uninspiring and unable to tackle the challenges ahead.
« In recycling failed yesterday’s men for today’s assignment, President Buhari and the APC have left no one in doubt that they have no vision to move our nation out of the economic and security predicaments into which they have plunged us in the last four years, » the party said in statement.
– Rooting out graft –
Anti-graft crusaders also worried that the appointments did not look promising for attempts to seriously tackle Nigeria’s endemic corruption.
Rooting out graft was one of Buhari’s big pledges in 2015 and he has promised to step it up this time round.
But critics have accused him of using the corruption crackdown to target his political opponents.
Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) pressure group, pointed to new ministers with major questions hanging over them.
Although Adeniran did not give their names, Fashola has been asked by CACOL to step down over fraud allegations while at the helm in Lagos.
Goodwill Akpabio, a former opposition leader, senator and governor of southern oil-rich Akwa Ibom state who defected to Buhari’s ruling party ahead of the 2019 elections has also faced accusations of looting his state treasury.
Another name is former information minister Lai Mohammed, who has been summoned by a court to clear his name over a phony contract awarded in his department.
« I don’t think there was due diligence on the nominees. Otherwise, the president would not have considered many of them, » Adeniran said.
« For Buhari’s integrity and fight against corruption to be taken serious, he has to do away with many of his appointees. »