In one yet-to-be-released poll, the two leading contenders in Nigeria’s February 14 presidential elections – Mohammadu Buhari and Goodluck Jonathan – are “running neck-to-neck.” In another analysis, Zainab Usman and Oliver Owen, both of Oxford University, are projecting that a run-off will happen. Frontier markets consultancy, DaMina Advisors, thinks that Buhari, the opposition candidate, will win by a slim margin.
All of these scenarios are unusual in a country where incumbent presidents have always won by a landslide, and their existence means that no outcome can be taken for granted this time.
The analysis that follows is premised on a Buhari win – however unlikely some might regard that possibility – and seeks to make projections as to what to expect from a Buhari government, in terms of policies and personalities. The starting point for this conversation is this: whoever wins the presidential elections will be inheriting an economy in dire trouble; seventy percent of Nigeria’s government revenues come from oil, which has halved in price since July last year.
Buhari’s 1984 cabinet was initially hailed as one that focused on technocrats, not politicians. It was understandable at that time, considering just how discredited Nigeria’s political class was after four years of a deeply unsatisfying democracy.
Appointing Ministers in Nigeria’s democracy is a task in which geography tends to trumps merit. Nigeria’s constitution stipulates that “the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State.” (Obasanjo’s 2003 had, in addition to one Minister from each state, one from each of the six geopolitical zones). PDP Governors have historically played a significant role in nominating Ministers. In 2007 President Yar’Adua reportedly asked state governors to nominate three names each, to constitute a long-list from which he selected the final line-up. In states without a PDP Governor, party leaders are typically expected to nominate. The President of course would also have his own candidate(s), as would the Vice President, and other party leaders.
If Buhari wins, this will be the first time the APC will have to pick a federal cabinet. Will the party follow the PDP template, or devise its own?
APC Governors will very likely play a key role in his government – as they have in the campaign. Governors Amaechi, Kwakwanso, Fashola, and (immediate past Governor of Ekiti) Fayemi are arguably the most influential today within the party’s ranks, and will likely play key roles in a Buhari government. Governor Amaechi, currently the director-general of the campaign, would be a formidable candidate for Minister of Petroleum. He is from the Niger delta, where Nigeria’s oil comes from, and has publicly opposed the federal government’s amnesty programme, appearing to instead prefer a military crackdown on those he refers to as “criminals.” With Amaechi in the government, there is a strong basis for confidence that the militancy in the delta, even if it resurges, will not swing out of control.
Other power brokers include Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, influential members of the APC, and one-time contenders for the Vice Presidential and Presidential tickets respectively. They will be expected to nominate Ministers to a Buhari government. Their influence can already be seen in the campaign structure. Vice Presidential candidate Yemi Osinbajo is firmly in the Tinubu political camp; he served as Tinubu’s Attorney General when the latter was Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007. Garba Shehu, head of the campaign communications team, was drafted from the Atiku Media Office, which he has headed for several years. He also served as spokesperson to Atiku when he was Vice President.
Another influential bloc will be Buhari’s long-time associates and supporters. Before now they were organized chiefly as “˜The Buhari Organisation’ (TBO), a campaign group founded in 2006, and which, in 2010, became the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the political party that Buhari founded in 2010, and on whose platform he contested for office in 2011. Key members of this bloc include Sule Yahaya Hamma, who ran the Buhari campaign in 2007 and 2011; Buba Galadima, National Secretary of the CPC, and also a member of the party’s board of trustees, retired Colonel Hamid Ali, Buhari’s Chief of Staff. They are the ones likely to form Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, and gatekeepers to his presidency.
The spectrum for Vice Presidential power lies between the influence that Atiku Abubakar wielded in his first term, and the near invisibility of the then Vice President Jonathan until the death of President Yar’Adua. Will Osinbajo demonstrate the sort of power that Idiagbon, Buhari’s military regime deputy, did? (Idiagbon was so powerful that the coup plotters who overthrew the Buhari government waited until he was out of the country before striking). Or will Osinbajo be a largely ineffectual Vice President, as Jonathan was to Yar’Adua – a US Government list of most influential Nigerians in 2008 did not include the then Vice President Jonathan).
Economy & Security
A recent publication by the head of the Buhari policy team sheds some much-needed light on the economic direction of an APC federal government. The party is promising “a massive programme of public works, building houses, roads, railways, ports and energy plants.” In response to concerns about how it will fund its ambitious plans, the party says it is “confident that by blocking avenues of wastages and corruption alone, savings could run into billions of Naira that could be deployed for productive use.”
This might involve a reduction in the controversial allocation to the National Assembly. There will very likely be a review of decisions made by the current petroleum Minister – the Ministry has been involved in some of the biggest scandals that have rocked the government in recent years. (President Obasanjo did not appoint a petroleum Minister throughout his eight years in office; preferring instead to oversee the ministry himself; Buhari was Nigeria’s “˜Federal Commissioner’ – now “˜Minister’ – for Petroleum and Natural Resources between 1976 and 1979).
The Federal Civil Service offers an avenue for expenditure reform; a 53 percent increase in 2010 almost doubled Nigeria’s federal wage bill, so that it now accounts for close to a third of the annual budget. During his military dictatorship thirty years ago, Buhari cut thousands of public service jobs. Will he take a similar route this time?
The military is more likely to get direct and hands-on leadership from President Buhari, considering his past as an army general, who once ran Nigeria’s North-Eastern State (as it was then known; today the territory it covered includes the three states worst hit by Boko Haram) between July 1975 and February 1976, and then served as Commander of an army brigade that in 1983 repelled an invasion of Nigeria by Chadian troops; pursuing the intruders deep into Chadian territory.
Buhari’s previous stints in public office hint at a laid-back administrative style. As military Head of State his deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, a Brigadier General, was seen by many as the de facto Head of State. The coup that overthrew Buhari did not take place until Idiagbon was out of the country, on pilgrimage to Mecca. It appears that Buhari is comfortable delegating power and authority; unlike former President Obasanjo he does not have a reputation as a micro-manager. During his time as Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund – a quasi-government infrastructure agency set up by then Head of State Sani Abacha to invest accruals from an increase in petrol prices – the Executive Secretary of the Fund, Tayo Akpata, reportedly wielded significant power, as did Afri-Projects Consortium, the project management consultancy which almost singlehandedly managed the Fund’s projects across Nigeria.
Tolu Ogunlesi is a journalist. He lives in Nigeria. @