Nigeria's Buhari to delay Cabinet picks until September as he seeks credible ministers. In 1984 he took just 18 days

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Elected in March, Buhari still does not have aides as Africa's largest country seeks new path. Jonathan took more than two months, and Yar'Adua three.

NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari will delay selecting a cabinet for two months as he takes time to seek credible ministers to lead his government.

Buhari wants to drive out past corruption before appointing ministers who will lead his government, Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, said in a text message to Bloomberg news agency on Wednesday.

Buhari, who defeated Goodluck Jonathan in March elections and became head of state on May 29, pledged during his campaign to clamp down on graft and defeat the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the northeast.

Last week, Buhari disbanded the board of the state oil company and on Tuesday a four-member panel was set up by the National Economic Council to probe the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

Elected in March, the delay will further raise concern about the speed of decision making in the new regime, having run on a platform of change that appealed to many Nigerians tired of graft. 

Buhari’s first stint in power was between 1984-85, having almost apologetically seized power in a December 31, 1983 military coup.

His first Cabinet was picked after only 18 days, and saw civilians outnumber soldiers 11-7. However, as is the style of army regimes, ultimate decision making remained in the hands of a military council.

Ironically, he takes power in near similar circumstances from that era. Wounded by a fall in oil prices and corruption, Buhari found a Nigeria saddled with a staggering $14 billion external debt. 

He resisted devaluing the local naira currency, as he urged with financiers to restructure its debt.

Last week Buhari told reporters that his government is facing severe financial strain from a Treasury that’s “virtually empty” and billions of dollars in debts.

He takes over as a plunge in crude prices forced the government to scale back budgeted spending and devalue the naira while foreign-currency reserves fell. 

The government relies on crude for about 70% of its income. During Buhari’s first stint, oil brought in over 90% of foreign exchange earnings.

The central bank has been using its foreign reserves, which fell to $29 billion as of June 18 from $34.5 billion at the start of 2015, to help defend the flailing local currency.

The delay in appointing new ministers is partly seen as a product of balancing deep competing interests in the wide coalition he ran on.

If events follow some of the earlier script, Buhari may pull a rabbit out of the hat again when he does name aides. In 1984 his first Cabinet was broadly well received, packed with officials with solid credentials and with all but one of the 19 states represented.

Even the problem of an elite that lived large on oil money that he was confronted by then is still present: “It’s just saying the obvious,” Akintola Owolabi, a senior lecturer of accounting and finance at Lagos Business School, said of the state of economic affairs that Nigeria currently finds itself in. 

“We all know about the reckless abandon with which the last regime carried out its affairs.”

Last week, Buhari dissolved the board of the state oil company, which has been without a head since he was sworn in May.

Cabinets in Nigeria tend to take weeks before they are in place: Jonathan’s ministers were named two-and-a-half months after he won April 2011 elections, and they were only sworn in at the start of July. 

His predecessor’s Umaru Yar’Adua’s Cabinet was also named nearly three months after he assumed office in 2007.

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