One week after firing all Ministers picked by the now-incapacitated President Yar'Adua, acting President Jonathan submitted his list of cabinet members to Nigeria's Senate. Some on the list are fired Ministers getting another opportunity, many have served as politicians or technocrats in the past and at least one individual has 'Yar'Adua' as a last name. Certain international media outlets have called the list of potential new cabinet members "pro reform" and stated that it signals stability to the international community. However, the key issue is how Nigerians are reacting to the list and what a new cabinet under Jonathan could mean for citizens in the months before elections.
Nigeria's constitution requires that a Minister must come from each of the nation's 36 states. When Jonathan submitted his list of Ministers, he submitted 33, with the knowledge that more candidates would be necessary. Nine of the individuals were from Yar'Adua's cabinet. They include,
- Godsday Orubebe (former Minister of State for Niger Delta)
- Nuhu Soho Wya (former Minister of State for Power)
- Fidelia Njeze (former Minister of State for Agriculture)
- Adetokunbo Kayode (former Attorney General & Minister of Justice)
- Henry Odein Ajumogobia (former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources)
- Akinlabi Olasunkanmi (former Minister of Youth Development)
- Diezani Alison Madueke (former Minister of Mines & Steel Development)
- Shamsudeen Usman (former Minister of National Planning)
- Dora Akunyili (former Minister of Information & Communication)
Twenty four other individuals were shortlisted for Ministerial positions. Segun Aganga, a graduate of Oxford University and current executive with Goldman Sachs, is reportedly in line to become Minister of Finance. Bala Mohammed is a current Senator who was a key supporter of Jonathan in the National Assembly. Nduese Essien is considered a "close aide" to the acting President. These individuals, Diezani Alison Maduekwe and Dora Akunyili are all considered loyalists being rewarded for their support of Jonathan.
Sanusi Daggash is a current Senator and is Chairman of the House Committee on Finance. He also managed to get booed when his name was read as a member of the list before the Senate body. President Yar'Adua's nephew, Murtala Yar'adua, also made the shortlist. He is a business man who, like Josephine Tapgun, has no previous experience in public office.
There are many other individuals on the list, but most noticeably absent are the controversial Michael Aondoakaa, a former Minister of Justice that was demoted by Jonathan, and Ojo Maduekwe, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs who once said that there were no homosexuals in Nigeria.
IS THIS "FRESH BLOOD"?
When Jonathan dissolved the cabinet, his spokesperson, Ima Niboro, explained that it was necessary "to inject fresh blood and bring even greater vigour to governance"[sic] and that the move was "part of a larger strategy to frontally confront the core challenges that face the nation at this critical moment of our history." While Niboro is correct that Nigeria does have challenges and that this is indeed a critical moment in Nigeria's history, the majority of the individuals on this list of potential Ministers is in no way shape or form resembling anything fresh. In fact of the 33 names, only 18 can be considered new faces in politics. And, amongst those 18 new faces, there are last names that Nigerians are intimately familiar with thus nullifying their 'freshness'. Aganga is distinguished from the rest for his creation of the Nigerian leadership Initiative which works to encourage and empower younger generations of Nigerians.
ANOTHER YAR'ADUA IN OFFICE?
In addition, the inclusion of Yar'Adua's nephew is extremely troubling. Well established rumors have consistently painted the Yar'Adua family and especially the President's wife, Turai, as power hungry. Although Punch newspaper reports that Turai wants him to reject the nomination, naming a Yar' Adua for consideration furthers the image of a family desperate to cling on to power by any means. It smacks of oligarchy and nepotism especially as one publication noted that it was done to groom the younger Yar'Adua for future office.
With regard to Jonathan, adding Murtala Yar'Adua gives the impression that he had to appease the family in order to maintain his position. Whether or not that was the case, the mere perception of this possibility serves to weaken Jonathan and will only make his ability to perform more difficult before the next Presidential elections occur. Jonathan must not ignore the fact that the perception of weakness was a crucial factor in the downfall of his predecessor/former boss and ensured a lack of confidence by the public and even fostered a lack of respect on the international scene. Jonathan has a few months before the next elections, and if he is to get anything done during that time, being seen as capitulating to the Yar'Adua's will not work in his favor or the national interest.
JONATHAN SHOULD HAVE TAKEN MORE RISKS
Of any Nigerian leader, Jonathan had the opportunity to take incredible risks when picking his cabinet members. The recent amendment of the nation's Electoral Act means that Presidential elections will occur much earlier than previously expected, from April 2011 to possibly January 2011. Also, his party announced that it would field a Northern candidate in the 2011 elections thus technically eliminating Jonathan from running for President under his party's flag.
Given these realities, Jonathan should have picked individuals that are not simply recycled from previous government outings. Doing so, and then ensuring that he used the full force of the President's office to ensure that these individuals were productive would encourage more confidence and hope in his ability to use executive powers to better the country. Instead, Jonathan selected the same old individuals so as to assuage the political elite and not rock the boat indicating his aspirations for a future as President.
The result is that many Nigerians are reacting to the list with some pessimism. However, the inclusion of Akunyili on the list is being congratulated by many on the online forum - Nairaland. A commentator on the Facebook NigeriaPage simply called the list "The Nigerian comedy show". Another individual asked on NEXT, "Why [are] they re-cycling ministers?" And then, there is also the incredible silence from so many who are uninspired or simply waiting to see what this list really means for the country.
Nigeria faces many challenges and needs leadership that will enable the government and the people to effect positive change. The list of Ministers submitted by acting President Jonathan comprises some familiar names and some surprises but what remains to be seen is whether this group will be able to do what Yar'Adua and his Ministers failed to do - inspire hope and accomplish credible successes in the quest for development. Jonathan is lucky in that the failures of his predecessor has lowered the bar for him. He simply needs to do one thing that Yar'Adua failed to do such as generate and supply more electricity to more Nigerians to be considered a success and possibly cause a clamor by Nigerians for him to remain in office.