Close to two weeks into President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term, many of the ministers who were confident of being re-appointed are no longer sure about their fate as the waiting game continues.
Technically, Buhari could not have released his ministerial list before the inauguration of the national assembly, which is due for Tuesday, June 11.
He is expected to send the list to the senate as “executive communication” and could get in trouble with the lawmakers if he officially made the content known to the public before the letter is read on the floor of the upper chamber.
However, Aso Rock insiders told TheCable that the gap between the end of the last administration and the inauguration of the national assembly has provided the president an opportunity to reflect on his decision to retain most of the ministers that worked with him during his first term.
There has also been intense lobbying, home and abroad, for positions in the cabinet.
CLOSE TO HIS CHEST
An insider told TheCable that the president has continued to keep everybody guessing on the final list.
“The president has given nothing away basically,” said the insider who is ordinarily in the know of things.
“Up till now, we do not know if he would pick 36 ministers, as he did in 2015, or 42 by picking an additional minister per geo-political zone. And nobody can say for sure that they know who is on the list and who is not. The president is keeping everything close to his chest.”
It had been speculated that Boss Mustapha would retain his position as secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) and Abba Kyari would return as chief of staff.
It is still speculative if these key officials would be returned even though they still function in such offices.
“There is a big battle for the office of chief of staff, which many consider to be the prime minister position if it were a parliamentary system,” the insider added.
Those thought to be interested in the position are Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state; Adamu Adamu, a long-time ally of the president who served as education minister from 2015-2019; Abubakar Malami, who was attorney-general; as well as Tunde Bakare, pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly who is very close to the president.
Hameed Ali, the comptroller-general of Nigeria customs, is also said to be in the mix. He served as chief of staff to Buhari before the 2015 presidential election. The retired colonel was reluctant to go to customs before his associates prevailed on him.
Before the hiatus, some ministers had been shoo-in for re-appointment and while there is yet no indication that they will not return, “everything has become fluid”, according to another Aso Rock insider.
Rotimi Amaechi, former minister of transportation, was naturally expected to return having failed to install a candidate of his choice in trying to unseat Nyesom Wike as the governor of his home state, Rivers.
“Buhari, for obvious reasons, cannot drop Amaechi from the cabinet. It would amount to double jeopardy for Amaechi after the events in Rivers,” the insider said.
Suleiman Hussein Adamu, who was minister of water resources, is still expected to return. He is one of the closest ministers to the president and a very influential one at that.
Hadi Sirika, minister of state for aviation, is also on the list of probables, along with Suleiman Hassan, minister of environment who previously served in the housing portfolio, AbdulRahman Dambazzau, interior minister, and Lai Mohammed, who has a personal relationship with the president.
Babatunde Fashola, erstwhile minister of works, power and housing, was initially thought to be on the list of probables and was being considered for minister of federal capital territory but things have become hazy with the entry of Akinwunmi Ambode, former governor of Lagos state, into the fray.
Ambode, a possible, was muscled out of the Lagos governorship after falling out with Bola Tinubu, his estranged godfather, and appears set to be compensated with an appointment by Buhari.
“If Buhari goes for 42 ministers, Ambode will fill the slot of either Lagos or south-west, but nobody can say for sure how the president’s mind is working,” the second insider said.
Malami, despite his interest in the chief of staff position, is considered to be a possible and may be returned to his former portfolio. TheCable understands that he is already preparing to return to his former position and has informed his associates about it.
Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum resources, is also a possible returnee, according to Aso Rock insiders.
Kachikwu, a man of big ideas, found it particularly difficult to push through his reform agenda during Buhari’s first term.
He did not get along with Maikanti Baru, his successor as the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Baru is due for retirement from NNPC and is interested in replacing Kachikwu as minister.
Baru could be one of the new faces in the cabinet if the president picks him.
Hadiza Bala Usman, the managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), is one of the possibles as she enjoys the confidence of the president, but TheCable understands she is not keen on a ministerial appointment.
Who are the likely new faces?
“That is one of the best-kept secrets of the president,” the insider told TheCable.