Nigeria’s new president Bola Tinubu looks set to appoint trusted lieutenants connected to the political scene in Lagos to key posts, handing power to technocrats and officials credited with revitalizing the country’s economic powerhouse.
After assuming office yesterday in the capital, Abuja, attention has turned to who Tinubu, 71, will choose to join his cabinet and head government agencies to address the multiple challenges facing Africa’s largest economy.
Former aides from his time as Lagos state governor — 1999-2007 — are expected to fill roles at the finance, justice, and petroleum ministries, as well as at the state oil company and central bank, political insiders and analysts told Semafor Africa.
Those considered to be in the running for top jobs include Wale Edun, 67, an economist and investment banker who was Tinubu’s finance commissioner in Lagos, and Babatunde Fashola, 59, who succeeded Tinubu as Lagos governor after serving as his chief of staff. Another mooted name is Mofe Boyo, 56, a top oil industry executive at Oando, where he is a deputy to Wale Tinubu, a nephew of the new president.
Another politician from Lagos — Femi Gbajabiamila, the current speaker of the House of Representatives — is widely tipped by analysts to be Tinubu’s chief of staff. It emerged as a crucial role in the Buhari era when the then-president was out of the country for extended medical trips in 2017.
The new president, who is seen as the ruling party’s most influential kingmaker, has always taken care of those loyal to him. Former President Buhari’s vice president Yemi Osinbajo had been Tinubu’s attorney general when he was Lagos governor. Fashola, potentially in line to be the next attorney general, was Tinubu’s hand-picked successor as governor of Lagos.
Tinubu must nominate ministers for Senate consideration within 60 days under a constitutional amendment passed in March. The rule aims to prevent a repeat of 2015 when Buhari took six months to appoint a cabinet.
Tinubu’s top team is important because his closest allies may end up effectively taking control of Africa’s biggest economy if the president’s health becomes a problem. Concerns about the septuagenarian’s health came to the fore during the election campaign when he was often absent from public events and then spent more than a month away in France to rest between the election and his inauguration.
His term begins at a precarious period of rising inflation, grinding poverty, and “emergency levels of food insecurity” in the northeast. He needs people familiar with these problems and have demonstrated the political will to solve them.
Nigeria owes 77 trillion naira ($166 billion) to local and foreign creditors due to high levels of government borrowing under Buhari. Managing that burden demands creative, sustainable revenue generation innovations. Nigeria has not returned to pre-Buhari GDP figures of over $500 billion after two recessions during the former president’s two terms.
Solving these economic problems will largely fall on the next finance minister, a position for which Edun is among the front-runners. He is seen as “sort of a financial whizz with the pedigree and connections to get things done,” said Cheta Nwanze, chief executive of Lagos-based political risk consultancy SBM Intelligence. “Regardless of what people may say, Lagos’s finances during Tinubu’s years as governor improved tremendously and Edun was responsible for a lot of that.”
But whatever Edun’s pedigree, Nigeria’s government is a bloated machine consisting of dozens of often conflicting agencies that Tinubu must marshal towards one direction. Two are particularly important for the economy: a politicized central bank, and the state oil company NNPC. Tinubu is expected to replace the current heads at both institutions with people he knows well.
Every Nigerian president must name at least 37 ministers to represent each state and the federal capital. That stipulation, intended to ensure a geographical spread of ministers that reflects the country’s makeup, means many of his Lagos lieutenants are likely to be political appointees at state agencies rather than cabinet members.
It means Tinubu will have to look further afield to form his ministerial team. Earlier this month in Paris, Tinubu met with Rabiu Kwankwaso, an influential opposition leader and former ally from the politically important northern state of Kano, the second largest state by population after Lagos. A former governor of Kebbi, Nigeria’s highest rice-producing state, also in the north, will likely be agriculture minister, said SBM’s Nwanze.
Room for Disagreement
Matthew Page, an associate fellow at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, said speculation over Tinubu’s cabinet is “a parlor game” with too many names chasing just a handful of key positions.
“Rather than attempting to predict who will get what portfolio, let’s ask what kind of leader Tinubu is,” Page said. “We know he will value competence more than Buhari but also has a strong godfather mindset. Sub-national political factors and godfatherism — more than competence and integrity — will shape his cabinet appointments.”
The View From Washington
Ethnic and religious divides deepened by the elections “could easily reopen barely healed wounds" if Tinubu fails to make long-term efforts to include members of marginalized groups in high office, said Ebenezer Obadare, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank. “The incoming administration will ignore this need at its peril.”
- Before the presidential election, Tinubu referred to his time as governor of Lagos as leaving “a legacy of technocratic governance” that was “instituted by enlisting talent from the private sector.”