Predictably, the constitution of a new ministerial team and the assignment of portfolios was the news of the week. It had been a long wait for an anxiety-ridden public. There is nevertheless a lifting of the pall of uncertainty as well as the triggering off of the characteristically Nigerian cautious optimism. There are a lot of areas of expectations in a society ridden with dysfunction. Unfortunately, space will allow us to focus perfunctorily on a few areas. The list is long, for example, the rational has been done by fusing Finance, Planning and Budget under one roof with a promising minister who has demonstrated a steady gait. Hitherto without the vital planning and budget levers, the finance minister was assuming the hapless toga of a glorified cashier. With dark fiscal clouds on the horizon, this is a sensible indeed laudable realignment.
Interwoven with the fiscal landscape, indeed decisive, is the internal security framework. A key component, Police Affairs has been detached from the ministry of internal affairs, nevertheless, if the second Buhari administration is to make a lasting impact, the attainment of a society constructed on the foundations of social justice will be key. The choice here of the former governor of the State of Osun Rauf Aregbesola is inspired. The conventional wisdom had converged on Aregbesola going to an infrastructure-linked department. Not unnatural this expectation, for he had been an innovative and invigorating infrastructure Czar in his stint as works commissioner in Lagos State. Furthermore, his intervention in Osun State had unleashed a revamp of both the physical and social infrastructure. Men, of course, to paraphrase Marx, make their history in ways that they would neither have wanted nor asked for. And so it is to the social as opposed to the expected physical infrastructure that Aregbesola has been thrust into. In this manner, the betting odds is that the unabashedly progressive Aregbesola will reinvigorate the perceived backwater of internal affairs with a management retooling reflecting social justice.
If as expected he carries out this feat, he will be compared to Roy Jenkins, the outstanding British Home Secretary [internal affairs minister] under prime minister Harold Wilson. One of the best and brightest of a generation, Jenkins brought a reformist zeal to every area of internal well being which laid the institutional foundations for a kinder, more just. It is almost like a premonition of what was to come, that the Prisons has become Correctional, trust Aregbesola an old fashioned social democrat to interpret the change as more than routine administrative rebranding. The opportunities at the ministry of the interior is vast for a reformer. Across the components – Correctional/ Prisons, immigration, the fire services there is a vital opportunity to redefine the social contract, widen the scope of civil society, enforce rights, do human capital enhancement of the staff and their welfare in the process building a more humane society. With the appointment of Aregbesola, this is a clear restatement of “cometh the moment, cometh the man”.
Another Vista of opportunity goes to the deliberately understated former Chairman of the Universal Basic Education [UBEC], Dr Mohammad Mahmoud, an accomplished professionally certified environmentalist with international exposure from Kaduna State, the new Environment minister. Again this ministry is perceived as another quiet backwater just like the internal affairs ministry. The ministry is not associated with the odious depiction of “juicy post”. It is, however, a definitive pillar of our time. Saving the planet, desertification, a myriad of ecological problems a lot of them interwoven with the security situation must be tackled. Even in the vital area of revenue generation, the environment ministry has its work cut out. The scope for employment creation, GDP expansion and tax collection in waste – to – wealth schemes is immense. The new helmsman at Environment Ministry, as he demonstrated at UBEC, has the imagination and the managerial savvy to exploit this Vista of opportunity.
There is a lot to be optimistic about. The country, it is true, is at a crossroad. Nevertheless, danger, as depicted in the Chinese calligraphy, must be converted into opportunity. It is a time to recollect the admonition of the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, “The crises lies in an old order that is fading away, a new one is struggling to be born. In the interregnum, all manner of morbid symptoms are revealing themselves “. With a bevvy of good people on board, we must confront and slay the demons.