There are fresh speculations that President Muhammadu Buhari will keep the petroleum minister portfolio for himself in the new cabinet rather than trust anyone else with the ministry, which currently contributes over 80 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue.
Reuters quoted some close associates of the President as saying this on Tuesday.
One long-standing associate of Buhari, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the cabinet decision was still under wraps, said Nigeria’s oil sector was so dirty that nobody’s hands were clean enough to do the “surgical changes” needed.
Reuters also quoted another political associate as saying, “He will do it. It would be stupid to give that position to anyone else.”
The first source said Buhari had still not decided on his cabinet and had laughed off media speculation about the figures he would appoint, joking with friends as he read out a newspaper article that mentioned possible names: “They have picked my ministers for me! Have I even told you who I want?”
Buhari has extensive knowledge of the oil sector, having been head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under an ex-military ruler, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, in the 1990s and oil minister in the 1970s under Olusegun Obasanjo.
He was voted in by Nigerians on an anti-corruption platform after years in which graft appeared to worsen under the leadership of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan.
Buhari sent a list of 15 special advisers to the outgoing National Assembly for approval on Tuesday, but the cabinet is unlikely to be publicly revealed until the end of July or early August, Reuters reported.
The Senate, which must confirm the cabinet, will convene only briefly on June 9 before its members go on recess for up to six weeks.
“It’s going to be a lean government; I doubt he’ll have 42 ministers like Jonathan but he must have at least 36 (for the number of states) as prescribed by the constitution, though it does not specify whether they have to be senior or junior,” an adviser in the ruling All Progressives Congress party was quoted as saying.
The new administration had not yet gone through Jonathan’s handover notes on policy, the adviser said.
“There is a huge body of proposals being bandied around the place,” the adviser said, adding that nothing beyond broad strokes had been outlined.
Jonathan has left Buhari with a cash-strapped government, with a rainy-day fund so depleted that the government must borrow just to cover salaries.
The government relies on oil sales for the bulk of its revenues but there has been little oversight on how these are handled. A former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was sacked under Jonathan after he declared that some $20bn in oil revenues was missing between 2012 and 2013.