By Ehichioya Ezomon
The valedictory meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, was convivial. When the ministers arrived at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, everyone was in high spirits.
There’re shouts of “Hello, and how are you?” the type asked of a long, lost friend. There’re handshakes, hugs and backslapping. The hall was full of banter: chitchat, gossip, repartee, ribbing and small talk.
When the pleasantries were done with, President Muhammadu Buhari, like a doting father, gave the ministers a chance to summarise their experiences as members of the FEC in the last three and half years.
Remarkably, and amid further wit and humour, the ministers, one after the other, saw the FEC in the image, character and quality of leadership of the president, which they said majority of Nigerians, who had no such opportunity of close contacts with him, didn’t know, and appreciate.
At his turn to assess the ministers, Buhari first paid tributes to those that started with his administration, but had to move on (one of them died in an auto crash), and praised the ministers, who remained till the lifespan of the cabinet.
In heaping encomiums on them, the president was dramatically poetic, repeatedly urging them “to be proud” to have served Nigeria to the best of their ability.
According to Buhari, the ministers should be proud to have been part of the government that liberated the local governments previously under Boko Haram’s rule; to have contributed to the country’s food security and economic diversification, leading to a rural agrarian economy; and to have been part of the team that developed the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which led to Nigeria exiting its worst recession in decades.
Besides, he enjoined the ministers to be proud to have introduced the social investment programme that enhanced the livelihoods of millions of Nigerians; to have participated in settling outstanding pensions of many senior citizens, while supporting state governments to meet their salary arrears; and to have overseen the most ambitious road, rail and airport rehabilitation programmes in the history of the country.
Then President Buhari had an answer for Nigerians, who had queried why he didn’t change his cabinet since 2015. He said the FEC members, through heated debates, always offered differing views on the best way to achieving government’s goals, thus making the decisions taken “all the more rational.”
“It is this quality that made me retain my cabinet for the full term,” Buhari told the nation, adding that each of the ministers had a unique skill and strength.
“We (FEC members) are a reflection of the Nigeria we aspire to achieve: A diverse but tolerant nation where no one is silenced and where every opinion should be heard and considered,” he said.
There’s no better testimonial than this for the ministers! Yet, they would rather these “kind words” were reserved for another day, preferably at a distant future in the “new government,” and not when they’re sitting, for the last time, at a FEC meeting.
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Because, beneath the façade were a thousand and one thoughts going through their minds, as to whether, in the estimation of the president, they had performed to merit their consideration for re-appointment into the cabinet.
Except those that had decided – none had publicised such intention prior to the meeting – to go into the private sector, serve humanity in other spheres, or retire entirely into a quiet life, every of the cabinet members would want to join the “next level” of the administration commencing on Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
But that won’t be possible for a variety of reasons, chief among which is the evaluation of performance of the ministers, not only in the eye of their appointer, President Buhari, but also in the judgment and perception of his “kitchen cabinet” and family members, chieftains and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the general public.
Actually, save for Buhari’s “belief” in the ability of the ministers to discharge their assigned duties in a very difficult political, economic, security and social environment these past years, some of them wouldn’t have remained on the job for six months.
The ministers had hardly settled down when calls for a cabinet reshuffle began to mount, and the pressure didn’t go away even in the lead-up to the 2019 polls. If nothing else, some people just wanted a change in the make-up of the cabinet.
Prior to the Buhari government, Nigerians were used to incessant cabinet shake-ups, whether minor or major, so long as “new bloods” were injected, to bring the so-called “fresh ideas” into the system. But self-interests were mainly the underlying orchestration for such adjustments in the cabinet.
All this Buhari would have seen through, and held back and allowed the ministers to prove their mettle in the duration of his first term in office. So, it won’t be his fault if any of them failed to measure up to his expectation, or the anticipation of other Nigerians.
Hence, at the valedictory FEC meeting, the president thanked them for being “proud” members of a record-achieving body in the face of many odds since 2015.
As he told the ministers: “I want to put on record, that your achievements in the last three and a half years have guaranteed your position in the history books of this nation.” Alas, the ministers would wish it had read, “You have guaranteed your position in the new government!”
Still, Buhari wasn’t ready to quickly sever the umbilical cord. He gave the ministers until Tuesday, May 28, 2019(tomorrow), to officially hand over their schedules to their respective Permanent Secretaries, and the “handing over letters” submitted to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
It’s a dignified, face-to-face farewell from an appreciative appointer. Yet, it would be all well and good if any of them were to be returned to the cabinet.
Otherwise, the former ministers, going into their new frontiers in life, would long cherish their relationships with members of the FEC, particularly President Buhari, who gave them a chance against the agitation for their replacement in the government.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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