[From NEXT] Making a cabinet from tired wood

By Tolu Ogunlesi

If there is one thing Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has going for him, it is the fact that as a politician he is often underestimated. Perhaps this has to do with his mien, or the fact that his political trajectory has largely been circumscribed by accident, not ambition. 

This tendency to be underestimated automatically confers on him the ability to catch people by surprise. Which is what he has done since he was designated Acting President by the legislature on February 9. When he was expected to dissolve the cabinet, he instead settled for a minor reshuffle. He then set up a Presidential Advisory Committee, reportedly with minimal input from the powerful state governors. Then he fired the National Security Adviser and replaced him with a previous occupier of the post. He delayed the sacking of the cabinet, and when he eventually did, he caught most of its members unawares. 

But the most surprising move of all in the one-and-half-month old Jonathan administration is the ongoing reconstitution of the cabinet. There were hopes that Mr. Jonathan, burdened by a sense of urgency (his administration has only a year to run, and the PDP’s zoning policy appears to rule him out of a shot at the Presidency in 2011) would fill his cabinet with technocrats who would bring much needed change to governance, especially in terms of infrastructure. 

However, the list, which has just been made public, appears to signal the emergence of a government that is far less a meritocracy than an oligarchy. Dominated as it is by persons who have occupied prominent political positions especially over the last decade, it raises questions about the extent to which Mr. Jonathan is prepared for a radical departure from the status quo, and casts serious doubts on the potential of the new bureaucracy to register a dent on Nigeria’s perennial challenges.

At least a third of the thirty-three nominees are returnees to ministerial office.

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