Economists can't seem to understand why President Buhari is taking forever to assemble his cabinet, given the damage the delay is causing to a fragile economy.

Economists say the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari to assemble his cabinet is hurting the Nigerian economy in more ways than one.

Nearly two months after he was inaugurated for a second term in office, the Nigerian leader is yet to assemble his team, with the National Assembly now handing him something resembling a deadline.

“Of course the delay is slowing down action on the economy because a Permanent Secretary cannot play the role of a minister”, Sheriffdeen Tella, a Professor of Economics, told Punch.

Permanent Secretaries won't do

With Permanent Secretaries forced to fill in the void until ministers arrive onboard, Tella says there is just so much they can do because the task of policy formulation and implementation is really above their pay grades. 

President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan met with President Muhammadu Buhari in his office at the Presidential Villa, Abuja recently [Twitter/@SPNigeria]

“A minister is supposed to actually carry out the party agenda. The Permanent Secretary is a technocrat and so the delay is actually slowing down action on the economy in all ramifications because the Permanent Secretary’s function is different from that of a minister.

“And when you don’t have a minister, it simply means the President is doing everything and the President cannot do everything effectively.

“So it has serious implications for the economy”, Tella said.

A developmental economist, Odilim Enwagbara, also said it is a shame that five months after his re-election, President Buhari is finding it difficult naming his cabinet.

According to Enwagbara, there are agreements that Permanent Secretaries cannot sign on behalf of the country.

Enwagbara said: “The President won a re-election in February and five months after, he cannot constitute a cabinet. Such is not good for our economy. There are critical roles that ministers perform in the running of the government and without them, things will not move.

“There are certain agreements that Permanent Secretaries cannot sign. A one-man government is a dangerous government and that is not the way to go. We are beginning to experience what we went through in 2015 when it took the President about six months to form his cabinet.”

Investor confidence takes a hit

The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Muda Yusuf, told Punch that the delay in appointing ministers is capable of undermining investor confidence.

“The delay contributes to the challenge of uncertainty that you have in the economy, and uncertainty can undermine investors’ confidence. When that happens, it has a negative impact on investments generally.

“So, from the point of view of investors’ confidence, it is not good for the economy, because when you have ministers in place, you have better clarity as to how the government wants to move forward, how it wants to function, implement its policies and such things. Therefore, that team is very important.

President Buhari at Valedictory Session of FEC in May (NGRPresident)

“Then, there are things that the permanent secretaries in the ministries cannot handle if they don’t have ministers and some of those decisions could have implications for the economy and the investment environment. That is also an issue.

“Also, the absence of ministers means that you don’t have a Federal Executive Council, which meets once in a week to take very important decisions that affect the economy and certain aspects of budget implementation.

"You know that sometimes when talking about awarding major contracts, they take it to FEC and if you don’t have FEC in place, you may not move forward with such decisions. That is also taking its toll on the economy and it means those decisions and the projects cannot take place”, Yusuf said.

Pat Utomi has a different take

However, the Founder, Centre for Value in Leadership, Prof Pat Utomi, said there is nothing to worry about and that risk analysts would have factored in the delay based on precedence.

“Well, I really can’t say anything for a fact. People who do risk analysis, I think may already have factored in the fact that there could be a delayed period of that pattern in the past, so in their calculation that has been accounted for.

Prof Pat Utomi has a different take on the delay in appointing ministers (Punch)

“There should be more long- term view and perspective plan on issues so that it will reduce uncertainty and, therefore, does not matter whether there is a cabinet or no cabinet. The elite generally have a shared vision of what their country is going through and that things will continue to run.

“That is what is more problematic in Nigeria. We don’t quite have the shared vision – people are going in different directions and all of that,” Utomi said. 

Buhari gives reasons for delay

In a maiden dinner affair with the new leadership of the National Assembly at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa on Thursday, July 11, 2019, Buhari said he is taking his time to put together a team because he doesn’t want to settle for the wrong persons.

“I’m very much aware about it (public expectations over the list); I’m under tremendous pressure on it. But the last cabinet which I headed, most of them, the majority of them I didn’t know them. I had to accept the names and recommendations from the party and other individuals.

President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office in May [Twitter/@BashirAhmaad]

“I worked with them for three and half years at least; meeting twice or two weeks in a month. So I know them now.

“But this time around, I’m going to be quite me in the sense that I will pick people I personally know”, he vowed.

Lawmakers' vacation

The National Assembly will embark on its annual vacation on July 26, 2019 and won’t resume until September 26, 2019. 

Lawmakers have the constitutional responsibility to screen and confirm Buhari’s ministerial nominees. If they do not receive the list on or before July 26, the nation would have to wait till September for ministers.

Senators Ovie Omo-Agege and Ahmad Lawan met President Buhari after their victory on the floor of the chamber in June (Presidency)

Pulse had reported that President Buhari is under immense pressure from party chieftains in the 36 states to enlist their handpicked candidates as nominees for the federal cabinet.

There is also the likelihood that about half of the president's first term team would be making a return to the 'Next Level' cabinet.

The president famously took six months to unveil his team in 2015 as the economy slipped into a recession, infrastructure collapsed around him and the value of the Naira depreciated.