Nigerians are in for a few surprises as President Bola Tinubu unveils his new cabinet in a few days. Both in composition, size and structure, the next federal executive council would far different from what we’ve always known.
A Lagos banker and politician, Senator Mukhail Adetokunbo Abiru will likely emerge as the new finance minister when President Bola Tinubu unveils his cabinet in a few days. The president has only 20 days left out of the 60 allowed by the constitution for him to send his list of ministers to the senate.
Senator Abiru currently represents Lagos East senatorial district in the senate. Born March 25, 1964, he was also the group managing director & chief executive of Polaris Bank. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Lagos State University and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). In addition, Senator Abiru had also attended several courses at Harvard Business School and Lagos Business School. He was executive director at First Bank (2013-2016) and commissioner of finance in Lagos state (2011-2013) under the Babatunde Fashola administration. He resigned as the bank CEO in 2020 to run for the senatorial seat.
Contrary to expectations, the new cabinet would be a large one, consisting of 42 ministers and 20 special advisers. But unlike in the past administrations, there will be no minister of state in the Tinubu government. Special advisers will contribute to discussions of FEC, unlike in the past when they were only silent participants.
Some large ministries would be broken into two and some into three to create enough portfolios for the cabinet members. Those to be split include works & housing; agriculture & rural development; humanitarian affairs, disaster management & social development; sports & youth; health; education; transport; finance, national planning & budget; petroleum and a few others.
Dele Alake, currently special adviser on special duties, communication & strategy will move up as minister of public communication, a new name for the information ministry. He will also double as the presidential spokesman and may continue to work out of the presidential villa or split his time between the villa and the ministry at Radio House. So far, Alake is one of the closest persons to the president and a very influential member of the administration. In a way, renaming the information ministry and combining it with the function of the presidential spokesperson is akin to what obtains in many advanced democracies where the press secretary is the only official responsible for the public communication of the government.
In addition to restructuring the government, the president has also been busy trying to sift his preferred nominees from a long list of interested party officials, some of whom were recommended by party bigwigs in different states. Former Ekiti governor Kayode Fayemi is being considered as the new foreign affairs minister. It is a portfolio he’s always craved even in the Buhari administration in which he served as minister of mines and steel. But he lost out to Geoffrey Onyema, who came highly recommended by the late chief of staff to the President. Both Onyeama and the late Abba Kyari were childhood friends, dating back to their school days in the UK.
Bayo Onanuga, who also worked hard for the president’s election, is also being considered for a job in the government. Onanuga was one of the spokesmen of the Tinubu campaign, but Nigerians will readily remember him by the inflammatory statements and ethnically insensitive outburst that he made in the immediate aftermath of the elections in Lagos. A versatile journalist, he was the managing director of NAN in the early days of the Buhari administration. “Although Bayo embarrassed himself and the president with his incendiary outbursts, he may not be left behind,” a political leader from Oyo state told me in the course of researching this article.
Festus Keyamo, SAN, has been fighting tooth and nail to be the new minister of justice & attorney-general. He wanted that position badly in the Buhari government, but he stood no chance against the all-powerful Abubakar Malami, another SAN. At his senate confirmation hearing in July 2019, Keyamo told the lawmakers that his priority would be to decentralise the supreme court into six, one for each geopolitical zone. It is not clear if Keyamo would be lucky this time.
Another new face to look out for in the Tinubu cabinet is Tunji Bello, a veteran journalist of impressive track record, who is also a longtime associate of the president’s. Like Dele Alake, Bello was also editor of the National Concord, the defunct newspaper owned by the late MKO Abiola. Bello later served as a commissioner under Tinubu and Fashola, and SSG under Ambode and returned as a commissioner under Sanwo-Olu. He has been in the government of Lagos state since May 1999. His wife was appointed the VC of Lagos State University in 2021. Don’t mess with some Lagosians!
What will also surprise many Nigerians would be the emergence of some very senior politicians, who had held almost all leadership positions in the past, in the cabinet. Two former governors of Kano, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso and Abdullai Umar Ganduje, are fighting hard to join the cabinet. The former was the presidential candidate of NNPP in the February elections. He was minister of internal affairs (now interior) in the first term of President Obasanjo. Of course, former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, is also interested in returning as a minister. He served President Jonathan as minister of state, education. Nigerians usually scoff at the “recycling” of old politicians into government. But their experience could also be useful. “These people are not looking for a job in that sense of the word. They just cannot shake off the urge to be in public office all the time, for whatever reasons,” a senior government official told me last night.
I have also been told that the president may rationalise some agencies and parastatals to achieve optimum functionality. For instance, three important revenue earners – FIRS, NIMASA and Customs – could be consolidated under one big group to be headed by the special adviser on revenue, Zacchaeus Adedeji. “This is essentially to block leakages and tighten fiscal control,” one of the highbrow members of the administrations said this morning.
Journalists will be pleased with the preponderance of their colleagues in the new administration: Alake, Bello, Onanuga and Tunde Rahman. Rahman is a former editor of Thisday newspaper who has served Bola Tinubu as a media staff for a long time. He has since assumed duties as the president’s principal private secretary. Certainly, a good journalist can fit into any role. But in which other administration have journalists been this plenty, and how will this help the profession?
Remember my article a few weeks ago on the appointment of Wale Edun as the special adviser on monetary matters? I had argued that the rather unusual designation could be a pointer to his eventual elevation as the new CBN Governor. I have nothing more to add.