With the swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term tenure, the next great expectations from Nigerians will be to see the characters that will constitute the cabinet of the president for the next four years.
Already, the President has assured that unlike what happened during his first tenure, Nigerians will not have to wait six months this time around to see the list of his cabinet members. While the President will be expected to keep to his promise on the early appointment of the ministers, the quality, virtues and moral standing of those to be appointed, especially as related to the character of the government itself must be important considerations in making that decision.
Of course, the issue of competence cannot also be waived aside. Many Nigerians believed that some of the ministers in the first term cabinet of the President were not only ‘deadwood’ in terms of performance, but in character and moral standing, were the very antithesis of the anti-corruption stance of the administration, and dark stains on the widely acknowledged integrity of the President himself.
Certainly, the linkage of some members of the outgone cabinet to National Youth Service Corps Certificate scandal, allegations of corruption and ego-driven political struggles back in their homes state to the detriment of their duties in Abuja were definitely out of sync with all the anti-corruption and purposeful bent of the Buhari administration.
There are already suggestions in the public space on how the President should choose his next set of ministers. To ensure that the country is availed the opportunity of using its vast and rich human resources for its development without limitations of political affiliations, some have argued that the President should look beyond his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in constituting his cabinet this time around.
But some have also argued that the President cannot shut out party chieftains who traversed the nooks and crannies of the country to ensure he was re-elected for a second term. Indeed, chieftains of All Progressives Congress, APC, are already positioning themselves for appointment into the cabinet, using different subterfuges.
But even at that, the onus on patriotic members of the ruling party who understand what their party stands for to as much as possible help the President make the right choices. It is in this vein that I viewed the recent intervention by a pro- Buhari leadership and integrity advocacy group on the kind of person(s) that should represent Akwa Ibom in the President’s new cabinet as commendable.
The group, Akwa Ibom Integrity and Servant Leadership Culture Initiative had in a letter to the President, dated May 24, cautioned him against appointing Senator Godswill Akpabio or any other personality with corruption charges into his cabinet for the second term.
In the letter, entitled “Ministerial Appointments: Why Appointing Akpabio May be Counter Productive”, signed by its national coordinator, Dr. Asuquo Edidem Etim, the group had warned the President on why the former governor should not be on his list of consideration for appointment as minister. The group cited the profligacy with which the former Governor ran Akwa Ibom State for eight years as one of the reasons for the warning.
It also rightly warned that the former governor’s “corruption case with the EFCC has the potential of exploding into national embarrassment and credibility question for your government, should he be made a minister in a government that prides itself as anti-graft champion. We wish to remind you of your famous words, that ‘if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us’.”
The group, which seems to be aligned to the APC, also spoke about the potential of Akpabio to become even a more destabilising factor, especially, to the Akwa Ibom chapter of the ruling party if he is more empowered with a ministerial position.
It’s also apt to acknowledge that the State Working Committee of the APC Akwa Ibom State has disowned the group and its leader which it accused of engaging in “disparaging campaign against l Akpabio and “evil fireworks meant to generate bad blood and disaffection in the party. In the same vein, a chieftain of Akwa Ibom APC, Mr Umana Okon Umana, who is also the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, has also disowned the group as well as their recommendation that he should be appointed as minister to represent the state in President Buhari’s new cabinet.
But the group’s assertion of the need for Buhari, the ‘African anti-corruption champion’ to keep off the former governor is one that cannot be faulted. This is more so given the speculations that Akpabio’s defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the APC last year was inspired by the former governor’s bid to escape the searchlight of the anti-graft agency. The former Governor has been under the searchlight of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since he left office after serving as governor of Akwa Ibom State in 2015.
He was first quizzed by operatives of the anti-graft agency a few months after he left office following a petition by a lawyer who is also an activist.
It can also be recalled that the former Akwa Ibom governor had during his defection to APC claimed that he was no longer under investigation. But this was swiftly denied by a former spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, who in a text message to journalists emphatically stated that Akpabio corruption’s case was still ongoing. “EFCC does not close cases or give clearance to anybody,” Wilson said.
It’s true that the former governor has not been taken through the judicial process, much less, declared guilty of the allegations.
But one of the grounds frequently used to dismiss the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration in the past four years was that it was more or less aimed at ‘persecuting’ politicians in opposition or with opposing views. The inference was that the anti-graft agencies usually become powerless once any top politician under their searchlight identifies with the ruling party. There is the need to put an end to this perception of the noble efforts of the President to fight corruption.
Therefore, as one of the admirers of Buhari, I believe that the opportunity of the second term should be used by the President to indeed take anti-graft war to the next level with actions aimed at dispelling such insinuations.
The President can do this by ensuring that actions and initiatives that raise doubt about the intentions of his government on the anti-corruption war are given wide berth. And that take off point should be by ensuring that persons with corruption cases dangling on their necks like gory necklaces are not part of his cabinet. That’s why the President should heed the advice of the Akwa Ibom APC group on Akpabio.
After all, the Akwa Ibom chapter of APC has in its ranks persons who are not just even more qualified in terms of experience, academic attainments than the former governor but have also worked tirelessly to sustain the party in the state in the past four years.