By Our Reporters
It has been an eventful two weeks of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s stewardship of Nigeria. What with the gale of suspension of highly visible government appointees like the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele and Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, the signing into law of the Electricity Act which effectively deregulated power generation, transmission and distribution, presidential assent to the student loan bill, and of course the President’s insistence that petrol subsidy “is gone” in his inaugural speech, which sent the energy sector into a flurry of activities and a market-modulated increase in the cost of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). Then there was a slew of appointments of presidential aides.
These developments seem to have redefined what it means to hit the ground running in Aso Rock, as Nigerians gasp for breath, trying to catch up with dizzying speed at which events have been unfolding in the Tinubu Presidency.
However, while fuel subsidy and matters connected with it as well as the suspension of Emefiele and Bawa appear to have to have caught the public imagination the most, perceptive Nigerians are filtering out the decibels of these particular events to focus on President Tinubu’s team-building activities in Aso Rock as represented by the presidential aides thus far appointed to work with him.
Three days after his inauguration, President Tinubu got the 9th National Assembly to approve a list of 20 advisers for him. The President only asked that that number of advisers be approved for him, hence his request had no names attached. Naturally, the opacity of the request sent the rumour mills running and all sorts of names flew around.
But President Tinubu did not leave the rumour mills to run amok for long before making the first, really big appointments. His Chief of Staff (Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila) and the Secretary to the Government of the Federal (SGF) in the person of Chief George Akume were the highest appointments to be reckoned with made by the President. Both Gbajabiamila and Akume were not unknown entities in the body-politic and as prominent politicians on the national stage, their appointments did not raise eyebrows.
Although he was re-elected into the House of Representatives where he was the immediate past Speaker, Gbajabiamila’s appointment registered on the public imagination primarily because of the fact that it would mean him quitting the House because he cannot hold both positions concurrently. As a long-time associate and political mentee of the President, Gbajabiamila’s appointment was seen as par course since the Chief of Staff to the President is usually a close confidant of the nation’s Number One man.
Senator Akume’s appointment is both a reward for his personal efforts in getting the North Central votes for then Presidential Candidate Tinubu and a nod to the Nigerian Christian population following the hues and cries over the All Progressives Congress (APC) Muslim-Muslim ticket. (As an aside and as far as ethno-religious appeasement and geo-politics balancing go, the President also made sure that a Christian from the South-South, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, emerged the Senate President in the 10th National Assembly.)
What got public affairs analysts buzzing were Thursday’s 15 June, 2023 appointments announced by the Presidency. On the day, eight Special Advisers were named as approved by President Tinubu to work with him in Aso Rock. These were Mr. Dele Alake Special Adviser, Special Duties, Communications and Strategy; Mr. Yau Darazo, Special Adviser, Political and Intergovernmental Affairs; Mr. Wale Edun Special Adviser, Monetary Policies; Mrs. Olu Verheijen Special Adviser, Energy; Mr. Zachaeus Adedeji Special Adviser, Revenue; Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Special Adviser, Security; Mr. John Ugochukwu Uwajumogu Special Adviser, Industry, Trade and Investment; and Dr. (Mrs.) Salma Ibrahim Anas, Special Adviser, Health.
Now, the appointees are a mixture of the known and the unfamiliar. Former EFCC Chairman, Ribadu, needs no introduction to millions of Nigerians nationwide.
Also, most politically-conscious Nigerians know the part Alake played in the 2023 presidential election campaign and expected that he was a frontrunner for the post of presidential spokesman.
Similarly, not a few Nigerians know Edun as a member of President Tinubu’s inner circle. Hitherto, Darazo has some presence on the political landscape.
However, few Nigerians would claim to know the rest of the appointees that well, except those in the organized private sector. Those close to the Tinubu Campaign told The Dream Daily Newspaper that both the familiar names and the unknown faces served as members of the Tinubu think-tank which came up with the “Renewed Hope” Manifesto on which Candidate Tinubu ran for the Presidency.
Where the President sidestepped all speculations and beat public affairs analysts to it is that the eight appointees are coming into the administration as Special Advisers, and not as Ministers. This development, coupled with the titular phrasing of the advisory offices the latest appointees got, has set tongue wagging to the effect that the country is about to experience a Presidency unprecedented in its recent history.
This is because these Special Advisers – note also that they are not “Senior Special Advisers” though they belong to the upper crust of technocrats the President is reputed to surround himself with – were prominent on the unofficial lists of the very names expected to make the Tinubu cabinets as ministers.
For instance, Edun – a financial expert tested and trusted in the administration of Lagos State as a former Commissioner – was widely touted as either the next Minister of Finance and National Planning or Emefiele’s replacement as the CBN governor.
Also, Ribadu was touted as the nation’s incoming National Security Adviser (NSA) – though some analysts disputed that, citing his Police- rather than military – background as a obstacle to the NSA path for the ex-EFCC chairman.
Even Alake, to some analysts, was in the running for the important cabinet post of the minister of information, which they deemed higher than being a presidential spokesman.
However, a close look at the special advisory positions carved out for most of these new Special Advisers would reveal that the President appeared to have loaded up their scope work to cover what cabinet ministers had handled in the recent past.
For instance, the “Special Duties” lobbed into Alake’s “Communication and Strategy” role was a cabinet job description with a minister under the immediate past regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. How would that work out with a substantive minister for Special Duties?
Edun’s “Monetary Policies” and Adedeji’s “Revenue” job descriptions have had public affairs analyst scratching their heads and asking several questions. Why was Edun not simply made the Minister of Finance where he would supervise the CBN governor (a new man or woman as Emefiele is expected to be fired eventually and soon too by the President)?
What would be Adedeji’s role in revenue generation as a Special Adviser in the Presidency when he could as well be drafted into one of the federal revenue generation agencies where he can then get his hands directly on the plough and set new, higher revenue marks for the country? Is he going to supervise such federal revenue-generation powerhouses like the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Customs, Nigerian Port Authority, etc?
Why is Ribadu not made the National Security Adviser, and not just Special Adviser, Security? How would his relationship look like with the NSA, the Service Chiefs? What impact would he have on national security as Special Adviser, Security? Who would have the President’s final ears on national security matter, the retired police officer Ribadu or Generals, top military brasses to be made Service chiefs when the current ones are – again, expectedly – pulled out of service?
Yes, the President can have a Special Adviser on Energy in Mrs. Verheijen. The question is: Why make the brain behind your energy manifesto a Special Adviser on Energy and not the Minister for Power so that she can then implement her ideas directly in the power sector, instead of giving it to another hand as minister to implement?
Why is the brilliant Mr. Uwajumogu – Special Adviser, Industry, Trade and Investment – and the exceptional Dr. Anas, Special Adviser, Health – not made ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, and health respectively?
Opinions are divided on why President Tinubu has decided to keep his technocrats within his Aso Rock orbit, instead of making them ministers. A set of Aso Rock watchers claimed that the latest round of appointments in the Presidency indicated that “absolute control on policy direction and implementation will truly reside in the Presidential Villa this time, unlike under President Buhari when ministers were lords unto themselves and therefore acted as they like in cahoots with Aso Rock cabal who kept President Buhari in the dark for the best part of his two terms of eight years.”
The source who craved anonymity continued: “I am not saying that there will not be some power brokers in this government. What I am saying is that you are going to see order, not the chaos we experienced here under Buhari when former recharge card sellers, etc were calling the shot, and even the Vice President dare not challenge them. Can you imagine that!
“What I am saying is that I think we would have ministers – that is what the constitution says, it is compulsory. But I think the next ministers would have their tethers firmly nailed down inside Aso Rock. These Special Advisers you see will be their supervisors, assessors, examiners if you like, although they are not higher than the ministers in ranking according to the constitution”
In similar vein, another public affairs analysts who shared this line of thought pointedly stated: “What I see here is a President who means business and has therefore decided that he would use ministerial appointments to settle his political IOUs but retain his technocrats in the Presidential Villa to drive governance and the Renewed Hope Agenda. This time around, the ministers will get their job descriptions, projects to pursue, etc from the Presidency and this will be strictly based on the President’s vision. Any minister who does not keep in line will be booted out with time; his appointment in the first place would have meant that he had been rewarded for his contribution to electing President Tinubu. But appointment under President Tinubu is not carte blanche. Only performance based on well spelt out KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will save any minister from getting the sack. Dead woods will not be tolerated. This is not President Buhari. This is the progressive government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
However, The Dream Daily Newspaper took our sources to task by raising the spectre of ego and personality clash that is likely to ensue between the Special Advisers and the “nominal ministers” that the federal cabinet would appear to have if they get their orders not from the President directly but from these Special Advisers, especially if the latter abuse the strange system these sources claimed would be the framework of running the Tinubu Presidency.
One of our sources said: “Well, you cannot discountenance personality clashes under any system of governance. That is a possibility as you have pointed out. But trust President Tinubu to step in decisively in such circumstance. I have no doubt that nobody would be allowed to work at cross purposes in this administration. Everybody must stay in line. Deviants will be dealt with and very timeously and decisively.” Doubtless, President Tinubu has left the Nigerian public breathless through his barrage of opening policies in Aso Rock. While the nation expects his ministerial list at the National Assembly any time soon, how the President would manage the relationship between his high-profile Special Advisers and the soon-to-be-unveiled ministers remain to be seen.