Your Excellency, please, permit me to congratulate you on your recent selection of some more distinguished Nigerians into your prospective cabinet. The nominations clearly vindicated the views expressed in my column last week about the quality and calibre of those earlier selected. Both lists generated some big controversy. Many argued that you merely recycled some old and antiquated politicians. Some claimed that the list was tarnished by the inclusion of persons tainted by allegations of corruption and that this dented your image as an anti-corruption crusader. Others wondered why it took you so long to appoint these men and women and some more merely dismissed your list of nominees as an anti-climax.
You cannot absolutely blame your critics sir. It is the burden you have to carry and the heavy price you have to pay for raising the hopes of Nigerians from incurable pessimists to born-again optimists. What has happened is that some of our people still imagine that you have military and dictatorial powers and can hand pick anyone you want without consulting your party or the multitude of stakeholders that litter our political terrain. They are also unaware of constitutional hurdles in your path, particularly the fact that you must pick at least one Minister per State.
In one of the much publicised phantom lists that circulated before your nominees were made public, I saw several names from the same State and knew something was definitely amiss.
If you had announced your cabinet much earlier some people would still have complained that you did not balance the selection well, that it was lopsided in terms of politicians rather than technocrats; that there were more Muslims than Christians; or more Northerners than Southerners and other sinister conspiracy theories. Such is life.
However, what I saw in your selection was a product of meticulous research, political configuration, ethnic harmonising, religious consideration, and so on. The only problem I have is about gender and youth. I believe there is a distinct lack of women on your proposed Team and this may send wrong signals as to your perception and proclivity in relation to women. Equally I feel that you have omitted to recognise that the future belongs to our youths and the sooner that they are involved in governance the better for our nation.
Please kindly recall that in years gone past, including during your first coming, most of our leaders were below forty and had been involved in government from their late twenties. The youths and women also did a lot to ensure your success at the polls and it would be sad if you fail to recognise their contributions to your Change campaign by neglecting to include them in your government. I hope you will compensate these two special groups in subsequent appointments because they are worthy of inclusion. Nigeria parades so many bright and talented women and youths who should not be relegated to the background. Indeed it would be a shame and travesty to do so.
I was very impressed with most of your nominees when I saw their names and alluded to some of those in your first list in my column last week. I was very certain they would shine brilliantly during the Senate screening exercise. I was happy to be proved right. I cannot obviously write about everybody but I want to single out a few more people who I know will be placed with significant responsibilities when your administration fully takes off within those coming on board.
Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu was outstanding in his performance. His deft handling of questions and his complete understanding of his brief was spellbinding. You could see that this was an accomplished technocrat in his field and a man that could be trusted to run the Ministry in control of the premier resource of the country. There is little wonder about the quality of his presentation to the Senate considering the fact that he was the Executive Vice Chairman and General Counsel of the multinational conglomerate, Exxon Mobil (Africa) before his appointment as Group Managing Director of NNPC.
He graduated with a first class degree in Law from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and was the best graduating student from the Nigerian Law School, winning seven of the available nine prizes. Dr Kachikwu holds masters and doctorate degrees in Law from the Harvard Law School. Indeed he was the best graduating student in 1980 and set a record with a PhD/SJD Harvard Distinction at Doctorate level which he completed in record time.
Kachikwu is a Fellow, Society for Corporate Governance (FSCG); Fellow Chartered Institute of Arbitration; and Fellow, Chartered Institute of Petroleum Policy.
Despite his huge corporate workload Kachikwu has found time to be a visiting professor in various universities in the world including Harvard. Kachikwu has more than thirty years experience in policy making positions in the petroleum industry in Nigeria and Africa. He has influenced over $10 Billion dollar investment from Exxon Mobil Group into Nigeria and other African countries and he has set major policy planks on government relationship, investment policy and corporate governance for Exxon Mobil in Africa. Kachikwu does not simply believe in and practice corporate social responsibility, as an individual he is also a philantropist of note. Kachikwu has singlehandedly financed the provision of tarred roads and other infrastructure in his Onicha Ugbo town and awarded several scholarships to his kinsmen.
You may wonder why I have waxed lyrical about Dr Kachikwu. It is not simply because he has been a publisher and journalist since 1989 having started Hints magazine, he is also the publisher of Complete Fashion magazine, and is heavily involved with Hello Nigeria Magazine. His literary accomplishments include the authorship of several law books. The reason I am totally enamoured by him and his inclusion in the cabinet is that Kachikwu is likely to be the pin-up man of this administration. How he is able to rescue our precarious petroleum industry by marrying some of the positive policies of the previous administration with his own avant garde futuristic policies will determine the success of this government.
The two days of Senatorial screening witnessed what I believe is the remarkable good sense of judgement displayed by President Buhari in choosing his Cabinet. The Senate was treated to intelligent discourse replete with provision of solutions for the myriad of problems besetting Nigeria.
Nominee after nominee demonstrated their confidence in their chosen profession and those who had formerly served in executive and legislative capacities gave insights into their stewardship and participation which left no one in doubt that they had contributed to national growth and would even do more under President Buhari.
The Senate, Nigerians and indeed the world watched and listened with rapt attention as stand out nominees like Kayode Fayemi, Babatunde Fashola, Amina Mohammed, Kemi Adeosun displayed their stellar qualities and proficiency. Even those nominees who were asked to “bow and go” because they had previously been distinguished members of the Red Chamber still displayed their competence and knowledge of their field and discipline. Senators Udo Udoma, Chris Ngige, Aisha Jummai Alhassan and Hadi Sirika were eloquent during their brief presentation as were others like Audu Ogbeh and Ogbonnaya Onu who for various reasons were given the same privilege as the former Senators. Lai Muhammed was also asked to “bow and go” probably because he is from the same State as the Senate President and has been a notable opposition spokesperson for more than 10 years.
Indeed his screening took the shortest possible time of the nominated Ministers so far examined. I was also glad that the security of our nation would partly be entrusted to Lt. General Abdurahman Dambazau (rtd). He was very robust and powerful in his presentation. One simply felt safe knowing that he is in our corner.
I was equally impressed by the contributions of the lawyers. You could see the way in which their minds worked and how they articulated their position in a legal fashion. I noticed that there is a significant number of high profile and erudite lawyers in the list of nominees. Day Two of the screening seemed to have been reserved for the lawyers as five of the six so far screened were before the Senate on that Wednesday.
The lawyers so far screened include two SAN’s namely Babatunde Fashola SAN, Abubakar Malami SAN, Ibe Kachikwu, Senator Udo Udoma, Senator Aisha Alhassan and Solomon Dalong. The big fish being awaited by most Nigerians is Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Lion heart himself.
At the conclusion of the screening exercise on Day Two the Senate approved and confirmed all the persons so far screened as Ministers. Given the excellence of their performance there was little cynicism that their confirmation was well deserved. Sir, I was visibly pleased about the class and capability of people that you have brought together to form your core team and happy for Nigeria.
Let the race begin…
THE AUDACITY OF ALIKO DANGOTE
The invitation letter was as simple and humble as Alhaji Aliko Dangote himself: “My dear Chief… On behalf of the Board, Management and Staff of Dangote Cement Plc, I would like to invite you to attend the forthcoming commissioning ceremony of our 3.0 million metric tonnes per annum Cement Plant in Mtwara District, Tanzania, by His Excellency, Dr. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania…” The mail contained details of our chartered flight provided by ARIK, the sumptuous accommodation at Hyatt Regency Hotel and sundry other fine details.
This was my fourth invitation from the Chairman of Dangote Cement Plc in a spate of three months for similar commissioning around Africa. I had been honoured to accept his invitation and be on his entourage to Ethiopia and Zambia but I missed the one to Cameroon due to circumstances beyond my control. I wasted no time in responding to the latest invitation and confirmed my interest pronto. I’m always happy to celebrate Nigerians who are doing great by breaking down barriers and demolishing long-held superstitions that led to the underdevelopment of Africa. Aliko Dangote is taking giant strides to remedy and reverse this position as quickly as possible.
The trip to Dar es Salaam was worth the effort. I had been a great fan of Tanzania for so long because of my love for its former leader, the great Mwalimu, Dr Julius Nyerere, of blessed memory. We landed around midnight local time on our ARIK Boeing 737-800 aircraft which was certainly appropriate for the occasion given the great effort being made by that airline to integrate Africa and Africans through its flights to diverse parts of Africa.
I was desperate to get to the hotel to finish my Pendulum column which I started on the flight but could not finish because the battery of my laptop packed up. Unfortunately, the visa on arrival procedure was a snail-speed affair and I could not get to the hotel early as planned. In the process, I had to rush my article and mixed up some of the paragraphs. My sincere apologies for the legion of errors that reared its ugly head. I am not going to blame the proverbial ‘Printer’s Devil’ for this.
We woke up early to prepare for our flight to the Mtwara region. Let me note that Alhaji Dangote is an incredibly energetic worker. He is also very courageous. His bold moves across Africa are amazing and he is going at the speed of light. His network of friends is even more remarkable as they cut across ethnic and religious divide as well as age and gender. His three elegantly simple daughters were on hand to work with their wonderful team.
Dangote’s exceptional and touching gesture of getting on our Aircraft, before he left for another engagement in South Africa, to thank us all and wish us a safe journey back to Nigeria, was truly humbling as he ensured that he acknowledged every single person. Superbly, he was able to identify each of us and warmly greeted all individually. He received a loud ovation from his appreciative guests, who had witnessed a business wonder in the heartland of Tanzania, for this grand gesture on his part.
The cement plant was as usual very inspiring, spectacular and outstanding. It reflected the audacity of its originator and Alhaji Dangote did not disappoint in his creation of a magnificent industrial environment. We all stood tall and proud as Nigerians. The few Tanzanians that I met and spoke with were full of praises for this gargantuan business effort. The President of Tanzania, Alhaji Dangote and Governor Nasir El Rufai (the cerebral orator) all gave beautiful speeches at the splendid occasion.
From Tanzania, the Dangote train is scheduled to travel to Senegal and South Africa for the commissioning of further business initiatives in the cement industry. Bon voyage.