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Nigeria set to finally get government ministers

18 October 2015, 18:54

Lagos - It's taken nearly five months but Nigeria may get a government this week.

Final screening of 36 ministerial nominees is due to take place from Tuesday, ending a lengthy process that has earned President Muhammadu Buhari a less than flattering nickname.

Buhari, dubbed "Baba Go Slow" for the time it has taken him to appoint ministers since he took office in May, will then assign the candidates portfolios once they are approved.

Since the first names were submitted to parliament on September 30, speculation has been rife about which post goes where.

But some appointments look clearer than others.

Ibe Kachikwu, the new head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is a virtual certainty to serve as junior oil minister, after Buhari said he will personally oversee the ministry himself.

Former army chief Abdulrahman Dambazau is in line for the defence portfolio, which has been dominated for the last six years by the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.

Former Ekiti state governor Kayode Fayemi has been tipped for foreign affairs.

- Pragmatic, balanced -

Since he was sworn in on May 29, Buhari has been running Nigeria with permanent secretaries (senior civil servants), laying himself open to charges of autocracy.

But the 72-year-old, who headed a military government in the 1980s, has blamed the late reception of handover notes from the previous administration for the time taken to make his nominations.

Political commentator Chris Ngwodo suggested that as well as the "political back-and-forth" about potential nominees, he has also been looking at revamping failing government structures.

"He wanted to finish all that. He wanted to be able to conduct a proper audit of the federal bureaucracy before getting ministers," he told AFP.

As for the candidates, Buhari -- elected on a promise of "change" -- is constitutionally bound to nominate candidates from each of Nigeria's 36 states.

"'The List' has much to commend and cause for thought too," said Max Siollun, a historian and author of "Oil, politics and violence: Nigeria's military coup culture (1966-1976)".

"It is a pragmatic list that combines technocratic talent with the need for careful ethno-regional balancing.

"Buhari could not appoint an entire cabinet 100 percent composed of trailblazing reformers.

"He had to take vested interests into account and include ministers who may not be his personal first choices but who are allied to the politicians that helped him to get elected."

The technocrats include Kachikwu, a former ExxonMobil executive, and Ogun state finance commissioner Kemi Adeosun, a former investment banker and accountant, who has been tipped for finance minister.

Both reflect Buhari's priorities to overhaul the notoriously-corrupt oil sector and boost the economy, which has been battered by the fall in global oil prices since last year.

Figures such as the former Lagos State governor Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi, his counterpart in oil-rich Rivers State, were his "political IOU", said Ngwodo.

"It's generally a good balance... personally I think it's a decent list for both considerations," he added.

"He's covered the right bases. A lot of it has shown his own individual mindedness. He's been able to assert himself against the interests of the party."

- Corruption cloud? -

Buhari declared before his election: "Corruption will have no place and the corrupt will not be appointed to my administration."

He has already begun a purge of the NNPC, appointing Kachikwu and ordering an audit of the group's opaque accounting practices to identify and recover stolen funds.

At the same time, former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke was arrested in London as part of a British investigation into international corruption.

Her arrest -- and the sealing of her house in Abuja by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission agents -- has left few in doubt at Buhari's seriousness in tackling graft.

But his nomination of Amaechi, his presidential campaign manager, could muddy the waters as he is subject to a probe ordered by the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers.

Amaechi switched sides from the PDP to the APC in 2013 and the elections in March, which the APC lost in Rivers, were marred by violence, bad blood and claims of electoral fraud.

Malte Liewerscheidt, senior Africa analyst at political consultants Verisk Maplecroft, said the claims against Amaechi could dent Buhari's image as a "Mr Clean".

"Buhari's open support of Amaechi, who is enveloped in corruption allegations, will furnish the opposition with opportunities to undermine Buhari's trademark anti-graft image," he said.




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