Nigerians applaud as Buhari fills Cabinet with nonpoliticians
''Enter your ministers,'' shouted a newspaper headline last week. ''Buhari picks his ministers,'' proclaimed another of the many rival papers in this congested city of voracious newspaper readers.Skip to next paragraph
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At the crowded intersection of Martins and Breadfruit streets, where hundreds of narrow market stalls line up like teeth in a comb, newspaper sales are outstripping purchases of shirts, sheets, suitcases, and ice buckets.
Beeping taxis nose or shove their way through waves of people and crosscurrents of tied-up traffic in what is perhaps black Africa's most congested city. A slim young girl, arms rhythmically swinging at her side as she balances a swaying bucket of water on her head, takes it all in stride.
''Nice ice water, nice ice water,'' she calls out musically.
But the public seems more thirsty for news of the Cabinet Maj. Gen. Muhammad Buhari named Jan. 18 - a group faced with the awesome task of lifting Nigeria out of its economic morass.
Hit externally by the slump in oil prices and internally by many venal politicians who plundered the treasury, the country is struggling with an external debt of about $14 billion.
What newspaper readers discover amid the pulsating sounds of the catchy African song ''Yeah, yeah, yeah, Africa is my home'' coming from sidewalk loudspeakers is that civilians outnumber the military 11 to 7 in the 18-man Cabinet. But top policymaking decisions rest with the Supreme Military Council.
The new Federal Executive Council responsible for the day-to-day running of the country is a neat balancing act with all but 1 of the 19 states in Nigeria represented in this group. The lone state not represented is Bendel, but it has been amply compensated with the appointment of G. Longe in the crucial position of head of service.
In swearing in his new Cabinet, General Buhari pointed out that the ministers would be held accountable for the success or failure of their departments.
''It is necessary to restate that this administration, born out of the circumstances very well known to you, will not tolerate fraud, indiscipline, corruption, squandermania, misuse and abuse of office. . . .''
Asked for his reaction to the new government, a Nigerian businessman in a dark cinnamon safari suit gathered his colleagues around a table in a side alley and spread out the newspaper showing the pictures of the 18 new ministers and listing their portfolios.
The men shook their heads. They felt unable to comment. Only one man was recognizable to them - a reflection of the determination of the new military rulers to bring forward new faces with clean records in Nigerian politics.
The recognizable face was the new minister of external (foreign) affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, whose appointment has been widely hailed by both Nigerians and the diplomatic corps here.
A modest, almost diffident, soft-spoken academician and aristrocrat, Dr. Gambari comes from the middle belt region of Kwara State and is a close relative of an emir, a Muslim king. Until his new assignment, he was director general of the prestigious Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
The important and politically sensitive post of the minister of agriculture in a country that ran up a staggering $2 billion food import bill in the early 1980s has gone to Dr. Bukar Shaib.
The challenge facing Dr. Shaib - trying to turn Nigeria from Africa's largest food importer into its largest food exporter, a status the nation held in the 1960s - is familiar to him. He was responsible in 1980 for heading Nigeria's ''green revolution'' campaign, which has attempted to reduce the nation's overwhelming dependence on oil as a revenue raiser. Oil accounts for some 93 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings.