Barring last minutes changes, President Muhammadu Buhari is set to take a short leave abroad expressly to vet both ministerial performance audit report and a list of ministerial candidates with their curriculum vitae, (CV).
Sunday Independent learnt that the president is set to embark on total cleansing of the house with at least 80 per cent of the current ministers and other federal appointees in his cabinet likely to go.
It was also gathered that so far, only three ministers; Rotimi Amaechi, Chris Ngige, and Babatunde Raji Fashola are the most likely to reemerge in the new cabinet post-May 29 after the president is sworn in for a second term.
It is, however, unclear whether President Buhari will undertake the short working leave before or after May 29, but insiders inform the newspaper that the trip became necessary after worries became palpable in the presidency that decisions on the proposed federal appointments may upset powerful stakeholders in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Buhari’s support base and other deeply entrenched interest groups who are believed to have begun lobbying the president on the choice of ministers and other federal appointments to be made. The president intends to work on the final reports and list of potential aides without pressures from any quarters, it was learnt.
The tension arising from intense lobbying and outbreak of political dogfight, according to close associates of the president could stymie plans by the president to clean house in his second tenure.
As part of his campaign promises before the last general election, President Buhari, apparently overwhelmed by clamours to effect changes in his cabinet, had promised just that. Backed by a comprehensive audit of the performance of his ministers and kitchen cabinet at his behest and undertaken by powerful friends of the president, ministers and federal appointees within his inner circle would either be given the boot or retained on the basis of given set criteria.
The criteria according to insightful gist from sources are: the appointees’ demonstration of capacity in office; political baggage, especially if such a minister has cases of corruption; acceptability from his professional/political constituency and base; internal assessment by party leaders and the need to reflect gender balance and youth.
Exceptionally, few ministers and other appointees are believed to have made the cut, according to insights on the said audit. As a result, President Buhari, before the election, the newspaper was reliably told, set his mind on sacking 80 per cent of the current members of his cabinet.
To that effect, the President had commissioned a national and international head hunt on suitable candidates that will at once meet the criteria needed for appointments and assuage both the public and global partners.
“Some of us came on board the President’s campaign train after we were assured by the president on this planned turnaround,” explained a youth leader and prince from the Niger Delta.
The source, who also headed one of the president’s election committees, told the newspaper that he is a part of a presidential team charged with vetting performance and impact of ministers from his geopolitical zone and make appropriate recommendations.
Like the source, there are others in the vetting and headhunting team made up principally of private friends of the president; including a billionaire in-law, political associates who have been with him since his days with the defunct All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and some (Nigerian) members of diplomatic community in the country.
But those said to have helped the president in vetting and auditing the list of both serving appointees and prospective replacements were reported to have been chagrined in the last few weeks over what appears to be a lull in the presidency over pushing for an overhaul of the cabinet as May 29 draws near. As gathered, there was an initial fear that the president has begun slowing down after dogfights broke out on many fronts on the choice of which minister to drop.
“There was no doubt before now that Mr President had already concluded plans to clean house post-May 2019. We already knew ministers and other kitchen cabinet members who would not make it back into Buhari’s ministerial list by the end of March,” explained an APC national officer to the newspaper who elected to speak off record.
The source explained that there have been some strange developments after then which have put the presidency in the same quandary like 2015 when it took Buhari more than six months to appoint ministers.
“At that time, the president needed to compensate those who worked for him and APC, thereby, forced to bring in politicians over whom he has been much criticized. The consideration this time around revolves around the politics of who succeeds Buhari in 2023,” explained the top party source.
According to the newspaper’s informers, the cause of friction allegedly stems from perception by some political hawks that the President is in consultation and consorting with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the ruling party, over choices of ministers to come on board and those to go.
Politicians in the North with abiding suspicion of the former Lagos State governor had deployed their arsenals into further making the president see the folly of such an alliance. One of such ploys has been the rash of negative social media attacks on Tinubu in traditional northern media outlets.
But according to another party source, the angst against Tinubu on the ministerial nomination is a waste of time because Buhari will definitely consult with Tinubu on his ministerial lists as strong national party leader.
“Of course a lot of people may not like it because of the perceived political ambition of Tinubu in 2023,” added the source. The informer further added that these political interest groups are largely core northerners with powerful allies in the south. These allies are APC governors from South West who perceive Tinubu as overbearing and are not keen on seeing the political leader consolidate towards mounting a challenge for the party’s presidential ticket in 2023.
Ordinarily, with the president securing a second term and having compensated key politicians who helped his electoral success in 2015, the expectation was that Buhari’s second term would leave him free to make independent decisions since there would be no third term to lobby for constitutionally. But there are indications that the outcome of the election may not offer much leeway for the president to be his own man.
Apart from the political infighting in APC, the improvement in the political lot of the leading opposition is another cause for worry for the president and his team.
With the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winning more states, controlling highly vocal and experienced crop of lawmakers in the National Assembly, the president, say those close to him, wants a crop of apolitical appointees who can convincingly defend his agenda without any taint of partisanship.
“But those keen on the succession battle in 2023 after Buhari is expected to wind up his tenure believe that a key step is to have a hand in Mr Presidents choice of appointments,” explained the source from the Niger Delta.
These contending interests may well have necessitated the president’s plan to seek a working leave to select his ministers without distractions.