Ministerial Appointments: How Buhari Is Building His 2023 Political Army
By Emmanuel Aziken President Muhammadu Buhari is to use his proposed ministers to foist a political legacy that will enable a smooth transfer of power to his adopted successor in 2023, associates of the president and chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC have said. The move which is aimed at positioning the party to win re-election in 2023 at the federal level has also seen the president bending back to promote many of those who were in the 2015 election campaign that first brought him to power. There are also indications of strategic realignments within the power arrangements around the president with First Lady Aisha Buhari apparently making a detour in her confrontations of the cabal. Indeed, minutes after the list of ministerial nominees emerged from the Senate last Tuesday, the old boys and girls network that projected the president to his 2015 election victory sprang back to life. The network of supporters had over the last four years laid fallow as many who trudged around the country for the president’s first election victory were abandoned as the newcomers around the president took the shine in the appointments that were made between 2015 and 2019. Many of them in the Presidential Campaign Council, PCC and the directorate of field operations which marshalled the 2014/15 campaign started exchanging calls in appreciation of their comeback. The most prominent resurgence was Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora, the former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly and senator who was the deputy director-general of the 2014/15 Buhari Campaign. Mamora’s recognition after the formation of the 2015 government came about two years after the administration came to power when he was appointed chairman of a board in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. That was equivalent to the former senator serving as the chairman of a board in a state government. The humble pie was one that the normally modest and unassuming Mamora did not mind rejecting. There were, however, many others close to the president who were also involved in the 2015 campaign who have now been promoted. Among them is Dr Mahmood Abubakar, who served as vice-chairman of the Directorate of Field Operations in the 2014/5 campaign. His initial appointment was as chairman of the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC. A likeable man, his relationship with the president, was partially exposed this April after he and his daughter were kidnapped along the Abuja-Kaduna Express way. Others who were promoted include Sharon Ikeazor, a very passionate Buharist who was until now, executive director of the Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate, PTAD; Sa‘adiyia Umar Farouk, a close associate of the Buhari family who until now had served as – Federal Commissioner of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons and Emeka Nwajiuba, a member of the House of Representatives. Nwajiuba was among the first in the inner circle around Buhari to plot the strategy for Buhari’s re-election. He was interestingly elected to the House of Representatives in 2019 on the platform of Accord after Rochas Okorocha allegedly put hurdles on his way. He had been with Buhari even before the CPC days. Also promoted was Dr. Ramatu Tijani Aliyu, the immediate past national woman leader of the APC who before then was the treasurer of the Congress for Progressives Change, CPC. Mahmood, Farouk, Nwajiuba, Aliyu and Ikeazor all who got promoted from their otherwise juicy positions to ministerial offices were members of the CPC, and were deployed or deployed themselves ahead of the 2015 campaign. As Buhari approaches the end of his political era, the need of empowering his loyalist subordinates was said to have been a central issue in the appointments, according to sources. However, there is still muttering that only a select few of those who worked in 2015 were rewarded as one source disclosed that not more than 10 state coordinators were recognized for appointment by the government. Incidentally, almost all of those who were recognized were members of the defunct CPC which continues to be the most powerful bloc in the government with the return of the likes of Abubakar Malami, Haidi Sarika to the cabinet. But beyond looking back to reward some faithful disciples, the president, multiple sources say is also looking forward to the future with the commitment to empower politicians who can unify the party and deliver for it in 2023. It is in that respect that some former governors like George Akume, (Benue) Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Timipire Sylva (Bayelsa) among others were considered as strategic. The former governors, it was learnt, are being empowered to build the party in a way to advance the party that lost ground to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in several states during the last General Election. Sylva’s nomination for example is expected to bring himself and the immediate past minister of state for agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri together to try and wrestle the state from the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election due in November. Before now, both men who were working at cross purposes as they both approached the APC August governorship primaries during which they were preparing to contend against one another. It was no surprise that within minutes that the list emerged that Lokpbobiri who earlier removed himself from consideration for a second tenure as minister called Sylva on telephone to congratulate him on his nomination. Sylva’s exit after all, removes a major contender against him for the election. Similar thoughts were said to have been given to the emergence of Akpabio and Akume on the list. Despite the avalanche of petitions allegedly written by APC stakeholders against Akpabio, to wit, to stop his ascendancy, the presidency reportedly looked the other way to use him for the future job of attacking the PDP. The nomination of Mrs. Paullen Tallen despite her close relationship with First Lady, Aisha Buhari, according to sources in Abuja could mean a redirection of the politics of the First Lady. “The First Lady has seen that fighting the cabal has not done her any good so she may well have decided to play along with them and hence her Man Friday, Tallen is now there,” the source revealed. The influence of the cabal other sources whisper may have also led to the exit of Gen. Abdulrhaman Dambazzau, the immediate past minister of interior. A very close associate of Buhari’s, Dambazzau who has a Ph.D. was, however, believed to have carried some swagger that was not to the liking of the cabal. “You know Dambazzau can look arrogant especially with his Ph.D.,” one source said. However, the cabal as it is was not able to stop the re-emergence of Rotimi Amaechi despite alleged whispering campaigns against him. Amaechi and some of those in his camp like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) had in the days leading to the release of the list even gone to the extent of publicly eulogizing the former minister of transportation for his efforts in the sector. Meanwhile, about the biggest influence wielders in the new cabinet will be Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who has many of his political allies in the cabinet. Unlike in 2015 when none of his close allies made the cabinet list, this time his former Chief of Staff, Sunday Dare is there on the list besides Akume among his most faithful loyalists. That the cabinet was mostly compiled to pander towards political considerations is also reflected in the emergence of Senator Gbemi Saraki, the blood sister of one of the most disliked figures in the top circle of the APC, Senator Bukola Saraki, the immediate past president of the Senate. Besides reportedly serving as a form of humiliation, it is envisaged that Gbemi who reportedly helped to eviscerate Bukola’s political legacies in Kwara, would be well positioned to ensure that he does not return to political reckoning in the state that was once at his beck and call. Four years ago President Buhari said that ministers were noise makers and proceeded to appoint only 36 ministers in his first cabinet. Now he has exceeded records in the Fourth Republic by nominating 43 reflective of the change in the political stances of the president.