In June 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint Professor Eyitayo Lambo his minister of health, he faced opposition, even from his inner circle. Lambo is an economist, not a medical doctor, and by conventional wisdom and practice in Nigeria, it is a doctor that should be health minister. Boxed, as it were, into a corner, Obasanjo decided to explain his dilemma to Lambo, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Ibadan and the University of Rochester, US, and a PhD in operational research applied to health systems from the University of Lancaster, UK. I will now paraphrase their conversation.
“Tayo,” Obasanjo said. “People say you are not a doctor, that you should not be health minister.”
Lambo, who had a good relationship with Obasanjo, responded: “Mr. President, it is ultimately your decision. If you want a minister of health who will be treating patients, diagnosing ailments and performing surgeries, I think you should go for a medical doctor. But if you are thinking of the administration of the health sector so that you can deliver healthcare effectively, you don’t necessarily need a doctor to do that.”
He got the job. Within three years, he midwifed the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), which had got stuck in the policy womb for 40 years; developed and implemented the first health sector reform programme in Nigeria; and got many policies and legislations on board, including the controversial National Health Bill. So much for not being a medical doctor! I don’t know where this idea that doctors must be ministers of health, journalists must be spokesmen and engineers must be ministers of works came from. The civil service structure has a technical department that deals with specialist issues. The minister is basically an administrator and team driver.
If we have to follow the conventional logic to the letter, the governor or president must have a PhD in public administration/political science; the secretary to the government of the federation must be a graduate of secretarial studies; the minister of trade must come from Alaba; the minister of labour must be a truck pusher; the minister of water resources must be a “mai ruwa”; the minister of transportation must be an experienced Molue driver; and the minister of budget must be an Ijebu or Igbo. That is my message to those who say a professor should be minister of education, and not Adamu Adamu, a seasoned journalist who trained as an accountant.
I would rather focus my energy on the tasks ahead of the ministers. My initial fears and reservations about the ministerial list are disappearing by the day, especially with the distribution of portfolios. I think President Muhammadu Buhari did a damn good job there. I was disappointed with a couple of the appointments, but — by and large — I came away impressed with the key ones. We all know the president cannot be involved in the day-to-day workings of his administration, so the most important step is to put the right people in charge of the strategic areas, and I think he has done a good job of that. All eyes will now be on the ministers to deliver the goods.
Babatunde Fashola, former governor of Lagos, is an infrastructure junkie; putting him in charge of power, works and housing is a masterstroke. Power is effectively more of an oversight function since the sector is privatised. No wonder, Buhari collapsed the ministry. The real job for Fashola will be works and housing, and as an administrator who works with targets, what a job he has got. The Goodluck Jonathan administration built 30,000 kilometres of roads in five years. Fashola must deliver more. Jonathan also started the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company to simplify mortgage. Fashola must better that, and deliver millions of housing units nationwide.
I was excited that Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers state, was given transportation. That is essentially railways, maritime and aviation. Amaechi has promised to complete the rail projects started by Jonathan. This is very commendable, given the bitterness between the two men. Jonathan did a lot in rail. It only makes sense to take it to the next level. Interestingly, Amaechi also started a rail project in Rivers, so Buhari knew what he was doing. The airport remodelling started by Jonathan has fallen apart, so Amaechi has his job well cut out there. Results in transportation are easily measurable. Amaechi is result-driven. Perfect match.
I thought Okechukwu Enalamah, highly proficient in finance, would be in charge of the finance ministry, but Buhari chose Kemi Adeosun, former Ogun state commissioner for finance, instead. Adeosun is an economist and a chartered accountant, and has some training in public finance. She certainly does not have the intimidating CV of her predecessor, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but she can decide to build her own CV by doing an excellent job as finance minister. I will be sincere and say Adeosun got the toughest job. Managing the Nigerian economy at this time — with falling crude oil prices, forex crunch and monumental debts — is not going to be a cakewalk.
Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau, former chief of army staff, has been speculated to be all things — first as national security adviser and later as minister of defence. But Buhari finally decided to make him minister of interior, combining prisons and immigration with police. It is a security job, albeit internal, and that makes it a tough one. Our prisons can be better than this. Immigration control, or lack of it, has worsened internal security problems. And the Nigerian police are still far off from being an effective civil force in which Nigerians would be well pleased. Dambazzau, who has a PhD and is well trained in modern administration, is going to be constantly in the public eye.
A lot of reforms have been on the agenda in the justice sector. Jonathan signed the criminal justice law before leaving office and it will be the duty of Abubakar Malami, the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, to follow it through, or propose modifications where necessary. Our prisons, meanwhile, have more inmates awaiting trials than serving jail sentences. This issue has been with us for decades. Also, the attorney-general is easily one of the most controversial figures because of issues of rule of law in a growing democracy like ours. Buhari has committed many “due process” blunders already, and Malami will hope to minimise them.
Other ministers who will constantly be in the public eye are: Adamu — will he continue with, and improve upon, Jonathan’s Almajiri and special girl-school education programmes as well as extensively reform school curriculum and instruction quality? Mohammed Bello — will he be the new Nasir el-Rufai in FCT? Udoma Udo Udoma – now that budget is under national planning, how well will he set realistic goals for national development? Audu Ogbeh — will he be able to keep pace with the modern thinking in agriculture? Isaac Adewole – will public health bounce back to life, now that we’ve conquered polo and are expanding access to healthcare?
Kayode Fayemi has a grossly underdeveloped sector in his hands: solid minerals.
Fayemi is highly cerebral and can function anywhere, so he must take the ministry to higher grounds. Ogbonnaya Onu, one of the finest gentlemen around, is a brilliant product of engineering. He has promised to be the best minister from his position at science and technology. I love that. Putting someone from the south-east in charge of science is spot-on; what he achieves with that will define him in the end. Amina Mohammed, in charge of the environment, will have to mainstream issues such as alternative energy and recycling, as well as scale up the fight against pollution, flooding, erosion, desertification and deforestation. Big job.
In the final analysis, I am convinced that Buhari has picked a good team. But picking a good team is only a starting point. He must set specific tasks for each member of the team. Ministers should go to their duty posts, evaluate what is on ground and develop a work plan. They too must set timelines and milestones for themselves. The weekly federal executive council meetings must be more about appraisal and examination and less of awarding contracts. Buhari must give his team a free hand and a helping hand, and then we can begin to see the possibility of transformational change. Anything less and we would return to lamentations — yet again.
Those who think anti-terrorism is an easy war must be baffled by the different shades and turns terror takes all the time. The massacre in Paris, France, on Friday evening is yet another proof that terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime, any day, anyhow. It is not all the time they have to use bomb or bring down an aircraft. With 120 killed at a concert, stadium and bars across town, it is yet another evidence of how terrorists thrive on attacking soft targets — not fortresses, not anywhere you would easily pick them out from the crowd. Scary.
The military said three Boko Haram suspects, declared wanted through a poster, have been arrested. I initially did not take the poster seriously, having seen Abubakar Shekau appear twice on it — as No. 97 and No. 100. An error as glaring as that ought to have been spotted. Chindo Bello, Danladi Abdullahi and a Cameroonian, Ishaku Wardifen, have now been arrested through “visual matching”. Bello, whose family has denied the terrorist tag, was boarding a flight to Lagos. Pray, who was he in constant communication with? How did he buy the ticket? Most worryingly, what was he going to do in Lagos? Posers.
THE BIAFRAN SPIRIT
In my opinion, if Nigeria is ever going to break up, it will not be at a roundtable. It will be by bullet. I could be wrong, I know, but that is always my conclusion based on our peculiarities. Nevertheless, we must contain the rising political tension in the land. The feeling in the south-east is that they are being excluded them from power; the youths of “Biafra” are only giving this a voice. Clearly, the “one Nigeria” sentiment is not yet unanimous. Buhari must handle these agitations with tact and without compromising his constitutional responsibilities. Things must not get out of hand. Wisdom.
In the first transparent elections in Myanmar (Burma) in 25 years, the opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), has won a landslide victory. This is a democracy teleguided by the military, yet they watched helplessly as their preferred party lost power so humiliatingly. Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD leader, would not be president though, having been targeted and barred by the constitution for marrying a foreigner. But the woman, who had been under house arrest for nearly 15 years, will hope to amend the skewed constitution or, instead, appoint the president. Whatever, she fought a good fight. Bravo!