Tinubu’s cabinet nominees: Renewed hope or recycled tropes?
Tinubu’s cabinet is stacked with political heavyweights: nine ex-governors, several former cabinet ministers and legislators. An indication, perhaps, of growing anxieties about the forthcoming presidential petition?
Nigerian president Bola Tinubu took office at a pace that appears designed to break with his predecessor’s legacy. The removal of the decades long fuel subsidy, the harmonisation of exchange rates and major replacement and reshuffle of service chiefs were meant to be signs of a president who, unlike his predecessors, owed his presidency exclusively to his ability to navigate the country’s difficult political terrain.
Yet even a political insider like Tinubu has been stumped in selecting a cabinet to perform the necessary dual responsibilities of inspiring citizens and investors and addressing party dynamics after a tight election. The constitution requires the president to nominate a cabinet within 60 days of taking office. Tinubu seemed to be trying to a constitutional loophole by submitting a partial list of nominees on day 59 before submitting the full list days after. The result is a 48-person cabinet – the largest in Nigerian history – made up of political veterans, a few inspiring technocrats and many getting rewarded for keeping the party viable.
Power blocs within the cabinet
The constitution mandates the president to nominate a minister from each of the 36 states in the country – meaning that its size is already bloated to begin with. Most presidents end up selecting an additional minister from each of the six geopolitical zones for political expediency, giving the president a sizeable number of key posts to distribute.
In 1999, soon after the return to civilian rule, President Obasanjo was able to attract many experienced Nigerians to join cabinet independent of political affiliations. Regrettably, politicians are now the majority on most lists, with presidents expecting them to wield significant influence in their states and presumably give the party a head start in the race to the next elections.
Besides former heads of state, only state governors have risen to become president. Tinubu is himself one of the latter. With more than a nod to their influence in the the party, he has nominated nine former governors as ministers – the most in Nigeria’s history.
Some, like Nasir El-Rufai and Badaru Abubakar, needed such positions to return to power having decided not to seek senate seats. Others, like Simon Lalong, Atiku Bagudu, Bello Matawalle, Adegboyega Oyetola were compensated for losing elections to the senate (in the case of the first two), and for unsuccessful re-election bids in the case of the latter two. Ibrahim Geidam and Dave Umahi, having already won senate seats, will leave vacancies expected to be retained by the party , while Nyesom Wike, still a member of the major opposition, is rewarded for leading a division within his party that greatly aided Tinubu’s election.
Campaign and party officials have also been considered in the nominations, with three current special advisers getting elevation to the cabinet and key party officials including the acting party chair and women’s leader are on the list of nominees. There are a handful of party nominees who lost election bids being compensated and some largely acknowledged non-partisan nominees, such as Bosun Tijani, a leader in the Nigerian tech space, and Ali Pate, a former minister of state for health who shunned an appointment to lead GAVI, the global vaccine alliance in order to join the cabinet.
Lastly, as expected, there is a sizeable contingent of present and former lawmakers on the list, with twelve former lawmakers and four present legislators on the list. Naturally, with the nature of Nigeria’s politics, quite a number of them have also served as governors.
Politics over policy
Tinubu appears to have assembled a cabinet with the major emphasis of going to war should the judiciary decide to declare a rerun of the 2023 election. While former presidents have notably gone to war with former governors in a bid to reduce their influence, Tinubu has all but acknowledged the need to keep this important bloc on side and happy. This might make for good politics now, but could easily lead to unnecessary intra-government clashes down the line. The sheer size will also affect the cost of governance, an issue that has been exacerbated with recent economic challenges. Nigerians will be understandably frustrated at many former elected officials continuing to receive state patronage after underperforming and, in at least four cases, being defeated at the polls.
There is a strong possibility that this administration will significantly change the nature of federal-state relationships. Tinubu, his deputy and the president of the senate are former two-term governors, as is the secretary to the government of the federation, a key official who will largely coordinate the executive. His cabinet will have nine former elected governors – and a tenth who acted in that position. These experiences will be influential after a campaign that highlighted the difference in federal and state responsibilities and how these are likely to evolve. This might take on a different dynamic when former governors and successors naturally clash and begin jostling for power and relevance over the next four years.
If we are to find signs of what this cabinet means for the Tinubu administration, we can see a considered attempt to bring in more young voices but a similar disregard for gender inclusion with only nine women among the 47 nominees. The lack of any former military officers means a defence minister with no military experience, which continues a growing disassociation with Nigeria’s military past – this is already the first government with no retired military officer at the leadership of the executive or legislative arms. Finally, the president has used the cabinet to reward zones that supported his bid. Of the 12 extra slots, three have gone to the North West and South West, while the South East – that strongly backed Peter Obi – did not receive a single one. This might be problematic for governance, especially with the tacit hint that zones matter more than others.
Tinubu’s election and administration was always going to redefine Nigeria politics – for better or for worse. The focus on rewarding political cronies and trying to keep a divided party united will affect the way governance is carried out for the next four years. Only time will tell if this is a reflection of what is needed to triumph in Nigeria or a destabilising mistake.