If things go according to plan, President Muhammadu Buhari would present a list of his new cabinet members to the Senate this week for approval, a principal officer of the National Assembly disclosed to THISDAY last night.
Buhari had recently hinted at a possible cabinet expansion following a meeting with the leadership of his All Progressives Congress (APC) as part of moves to close ranks and consolidate ahead of the 2019 elections.
Even though he has not pronounced his intention to seek re-election, Buhari is said to have perfected the list of at least eight new ministers and some of the current ministries he plans to split like Transportation and Power, Works and Housing.
In his address on Tuesday, October 31, Buhari had promised the APC leadership that he would expand his cabinet above the current 36-member structure to accommodate “fresh ideas and fresh blood”.
Although this is believed to negate his pre-election promise to run a relatively lean government in order to reduce the cost of governance, the president said the new Federal Executive Council (FEC) would be expanded to bring in more supporters at the federal level. He also promised to re-constitute the boards of parastatals as pledged in 2016.
Describing the current FEC structure as compact, Buhari reiterated, “The compressed federal executive council will be expanded to bring in more supporters at federal level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government. Last year, I said we would re-constitute the boards of parastatals. I must regret the fact that we have not done so, for many reasons.
“Some of us in this meeting may know I had given instructions since October 2015 for this exercise to start. But there have been inordinate delays through several committees in an attempt to get the balance right and to make sure all parts of the country are equitably represented.
“On the other hand, I am keenly aware that our supporters are very eager for these appointments to be announced. By the grace of God, these appointments will be announced soon. Especially now that the economy is improving, we will have the resources to cater to the appointees.”
The president is said to have concluded work as well as consultations, particularly with the governors on the list of the new ministers and is billed to make this public by sending it to the Senate for constitutional screening and approval.
But while the president gave the impression that the move was informed by the need to further energise the cabinet with fresh ideas, there is also a growing belief among the people that it is simply jobs for the boys, especially with another election fast approaching and the fate of the party critically at stake.
Already, the president is said to have resolved to toy with the idea of splitting some key ministries in order to create fresh openings for the new intakes.
Thus, to accommodate the eight new prospective cabinet members, the plan, according to sources and as reported recently by THISDAY, is to get the president to split the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing into three ministries that will be manned by full ministers, and hive off the aviation and marine transport units from the Ministry of Transportation. One minister, it is said, will man Aviation and another may lead Marine Transportation.
According to the earlier report, the proposal sent to the president provides for the appointment of one minister each from the six geopolitical zones in the country and one from Lagos (who may be a nominee of Tinubu) and Kano State (who may be a nominee of Rabiu Kwankwaso).
The appointment of two more ministers from the two most populous states in the country is deemed strategic and is designed to ensure that the appointees from Lagos and Kano play crucial roles in delivering both states to the APC in 2019.
Particularly on the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, the president is said to have stooped to pressure from some quarters that the three ministries put together may have been too much of a responsibility for an individual, even though he is believed to be comfortable with how the current minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has so far handled his brief.
Fashola, THISDAY had reported, is expected to retain Works and Road Infrastructure, while an appointee from the North-east geopolitical zone will be appointed to man the Ministry of Housing and at the same time, an appointee from either the North-central zone or the South-east will be handed the Ministry of Power.
In the same spirit, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, another ally of the president from Kano is expected to retain the Ministry of Interior, while Police Affairs Ministry may also be hived off from the Ministry of Interior, THISDAY had further learnt.
But the situation is not the same in the transportation ministry, where the minister, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, has been locked in a battle of supremacy with his junior counterpart in aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
Their rivalry, which Amaechi has allegedly attributed to insubordination and reported to Buhari, is said to have remained so without any effort by the president to call the parties to order. Instead, the president is alleged to be considering severing the two as the solution to the problem.
To that extent, once the ministry is split, Amaechi will man the Ministry of Rail Transportation while Sirika, who is currently a Minister of State in the transportation ministry (aviation) will most likely be made a full Minister of Aviation. Another appointee will be given the Ministry of Marine Transport once it is severed from the transportation ministry.
Another minister, whose fate is also believed to be hanging in the balance, is the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, because his recent letter which highlighted some of the ills in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), headed by Dr. Maikanti Baru, embarrassed the president and the presidency.
Largely believed to be on top of his job, presidency sources claimed Buhari has been pondering his options on how to handle Kachikwu’s case as he is no longer comfortable with him in the petroleum ministry, especially as the ministry might be useful in the countdown to the 2019 election. Sources claimed that while Buhari may not remove him outright on account of his capacity and ability to deliver, he might be moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to save face and avoid being seen as persecuting a member of their own team. A new nominee might be appointed Minister of State for Petroleum.
But the new cabinet structure, sources hinted, seemed to have significantly taken into account the core of the interest of a national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, who has been unhappy with the Buhari administration for allegedly side-lining him.
Buhari and Tinubu have met about three times in the last three weeks, an indication that the tide of their relationship might have begun to change significantly.