The LAGOS CABAL: Bola Tinubu’s kitchen cabinet


Nigerian political commentators call it the “kitchen cabinet”: the select few who are brought into the government, civil service or president’s office and will take all the key decisions. Following the return to power of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, this informal cabinet has also often been referred to as a “cabal”. Some of its members do not hold official positions but remain part of the decision-making process on the major domestic and foreign issues of the day, including in the oil sector. Carefully selected, they will hold most of the cards when Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) becomes president of Africa’s leading economic power on 29 May..

A key aide in parliament

The individuals who will form the inner circle of the president-elect will in the first place be those who have worked with him over the last 25 years, particularly during the time he served as governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007. His time as governor was crucial for Tinubu for it enabled him to build a political and business network in all of Nigeria’s 36 states. One of his most loyal aides, Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila, who was re-elected on 25 February for a sixth term as member of parliament for Lagos’s Surulere district, should play a leading role in the kitchen cabinet. A lawyer by training, he has been the National Assembly speaker since 2019 and always enjoyed Tinubu’s support when the latter was Lagos State governor. Since Tinubu is from the same state as himself, Gbajabiamila will have to give up his position as speaker in the weeks to come. The practice in Nigeria is to share out the top posts among the different regions (AI, 26/04/23). The MP could therefore be offered a post as minister or even as the president’s chief of staff. If he remained in the National Assembly, he would be the main defender of the president’s interests there.

Former Lagos commissioners

Another close associate of Tinubu is Henry Dele Alake, who served as information and strategy commissioner (the equivalent of a minister) during Tinubu’s two terms as governor. He could be appointed as minister of communication in the next government, a post currently in the hands of Lai Mohammed. A native of Ekiti State north of Lagos, Alake managed Buhari’s successful presidential election campaign in 2015. He accompanied Tinubu on all the trips he made at home and abroad last year and at the beginning of this year, and was often given the job of fielding journalists’ questions. He knows the media well, having himself worked in television and newspapers in the 1980s and 1990s. He played a role in the election of the Yoruba Moshood Abiola in 1993, before the result was abruptly revoked by the country’s then military leader Ibrahim Babanguida, who was himself ousted that same year by General Sani Abacha, who remained in office until 1998. Another member of the team which worked for Tinubu during his time as Lagos State governor was his special adviser Enitan Dolapo Badru, who served as a member of parliament from 2015 until this year. He too should obtain an important post at the president’s office or in the government. Badru was also a special adviser to Tinubu’s successor as Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola, who served as Tinubu’s chief of staff in Lagos State and has been Buhari’s minister of housing and public works since 2015. He will certainly obtain a decision-making post in the future government, unless the new president appoints him as head of a public body or regulatory authority. Adebayo Olawale Edun, one of the most powerful members of the team appointed at the end of March to manage the transition between the Buhari and Tinubu administrations, is likely to become economy or finance minister in the new government. A former finance commissioner under Tinubu in Lagos, he is seen as the economic mastermind of the president-elect. Another option, however, would be to have him replace the much-criticised Godwin Emefiele, who has been governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria since 2014.

Lagos State governor holds the fort

Babajide Sanwe-Olu, who worked at the central bank and was Tinubu’s trade commissioner before becoming pensions and training commissioner under Babatunde Fashola, has been the Lagos State governor since 2019 and will also be involved in the decision-making of the new administration. In 2016, ex-governor Akinwunmi Ambode – a Tinubu protege until the latter turned his back on him in 2019 for disloyalty – made Sanwo-Olu head of the imposing Lagos State Development and Property Corp (LSDPC). He lost to Sanwo-Olu in the APC primaries for the gubernatorial elections in 2019, however. Sanwo-Olu will certainly be Tinubu’s spokesperson in the Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF), which is currently led by Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the governor of Sokoto and a former National Assembly speaker. Sanwo-Olu will be unable to bid for the position of chairman, however, when Tambuwal steps down as Sokoto governor at the end of May in favour of his APC opponent, Ahmed Aliyu.


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