Too Big to Fail? Evaluating the Tinubu Cabinet

In less than 100 days, the Tinubu administration has had to deal with the removal of the decades-long fuel subsidy, labour protests and a coup in neighbouring Niger. In dealing with the aftermath of a contentious and long election cycle, Tinubu has had to delicately manage the election of party members to lead the two chambers of the National Assembly, as well as appoint senior government positions and oversee the selection of a new party chair. In finally naming a cabinet, he completes the selection of senior government staffers who will ensure the delivery of his campaign promises. Yet, his picks and their portfolios show a government that has not departed from the approach of its predecessor – for better and for worse.

One Size Fits All?

The 45 confirmed picks represent the largest cabinet in Nigerian government history. The number will increase by at least one, as Kaduna State is without representation following the Senate’s decision to decline to confirm former Governor Nasir El-Rufai alongside two others. In a time of economic uncertainty and cuts, expanding the size of government does not speak well of an administration aware of the situation in the country. 

There is also the concern of the structure of the allocations. There are 32 ministers and 13 ministers of state, akin to a ‘junior portfolio’. This breakdown is telling when it is looked at in line with the original focus on geopolitical strength in cabinet. Despite the North West boasting ten of the original 48 nominees, it has been reduced to 9 ministers, of which only four are senior ministers – with Kano State recording two ministers of state. On this basis, it has the same number of ministry heads as the South East, where no state had an additional nominee. Perhaps expectedly, for the home zone of the president, the South West retains a lion share of the cabinet’s positions, with seven of its nine ministers leading ministries. This focus on a part of the country reinforces the do-or-die approach to power in Nigerian politics because of the expected returns for having a person from the same zone elected. 

A lot has been made of the composition of this cabinet. There are eight former governors, eleven former and four sitting legislators and several campaign staff rewarded on the list. There are also eight women, representing less than a fifth of cabinet – a far cry from the clamour for 30% women in power. This does not deter from accusations that ministerial positions have been used to compensate for campaign activities and not necessarily for ensuring governance functions effectively, with a key example being a nomination for former opposition governor Nyesom Wike who ensured a win for the president in his state. Despite Wike’s statements that he received the permission of the party in accepting the nomination, it is clear that he is being rewarded for going against his party in the presidential election.  

Round Pegs in Round Holes? 

There are some well thought and considered appointments. Wale Edun and Yusuf Tuggar at the Finance and Foreign Ministries are inspired picks, owing to their experience both in and out of government, and will provide some confidence to investors and partners in their respective areas. As ECOWAS Chair, and with a possible intervention in Niger, Tuggar’s experience as Ambassador to Germany will help in his engagement with allies and demonstrate some experience in working towards a diplomatic resolution. Furthermore, for a country dealing with some economic challenges and now charged with chairing the regional body, both appointments will be key in supporting the government. Ali Pate, who turned down a role leading GAVI, the vaccine alliance, will be returning to familiar surroundings as Health Minister, with a nominal deputy in Tunji Alausa who has extensive experience in the private sector. 

Nigeria’s democracy has not matured to the point where many of these processes are handled during the roughly three months between an election and inauguration. Regrettably, it appears to have affected the composition of this cabinet and the portfolios made. For starters, the Kaduna state slot has been determined despite no nominee being made – a Minister of Environment and Ecological Management. While this should help in terms of the administration knowing the kind of nominee being sought, it is unlikely that this will make any difference due to the political exigencies that affected the other roles. Lateef Fagbemi, the Attorney-General designate, is also the ruling party’s counsel at the presidential tribunal, pointing to a potential conflict of interest in any case between the government and the party. 

Tinubu has also retained the Petroleum portfolio, which could come with some unnecessary distraction and potential micromanagement if not handled correctly.  There is also the negative optics of Atiku Bagudu, an associate of former dictator Sani Abacha, handling the budget and national planning. Likewise, neither Abubakar Badaru nor Bello Matawalle overseeing the defence portfolio is likely to inspire confidence in troops that might be deployed as part of an ECOWAS force to Niger. Despite the former governors having served in the North West, with rising rates of insecurity, the lack of defence-related experience – even among Matawalle’s parliamentary committee assignments – is grounds for concern during a particularly tight time in the country. 

Some positions also don’t appear to have leveraged on the expected strengths of the nominees. Dele Alake’s expertise in handling communications, including during Tinubu’s terms as governor of Lagos State, would make him suitable for the Information Ministry rather than the Solid Minerals portfolio he has been saddled with. Imaan Suleman-Ibrahim, as a current commissioner in the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons, appears better suited to the Humanitarian Affairs portfolio, like the former occupant, than Police Affairs as named.  Lastly, Tanko Sununu’s role as former chair of the House Committee on Health would help a Ministry team with liaising with the legislature, rather than supporting on Education.

On the Agenda

The portfolios also show a reassignment of focus points based on the titles for the ministries. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development has been shortened to cover Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. It might mean strengthening the National Emergency Management Agency, which clashed with the Minister during the Buhari term. There is also an acknowledgment of diverse aspects of the economy, with the creation of a ministry to focus on Marine and Blue Economy and the move of the Creative Economy portfolio to the Art and Culture brief. 

However, these laudable acknowledgments could be seen sceptically – with a cabinet of at least 45 members, it is expected that new portfolios would be created, and previous roles split. It is why creating some ministries such as Steel Development, separated from a Solid Minerals Development role, and adding Sanitation to Water Resources could be considered a waste in expanding the size of government.

Afolabi Adekaiyaoja is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Democracy and Development. 

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