Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, at Wednesday’s valedictory Federal Executive Council (FEC), explained why he did not dissolve his cabinet contrary to the expectations of Nigerians.
According to the Presicent, the unique skillset and strength of each of his ministers and their collective vision for a better Nigeria compelled him to keep the cabinet intact for his full first term of office.
At the valedictory session, which lasted over two hours, all the Ministers recounted their experiences and lessons working with the President since they were appointed in November 2015.
Speaking, the President commented that: “Over the past three and a half years, we worked together to deliver our campaign promises. I strongly believe that it is this team work that led to the successes recorded during our first term.
“Although we all had a common vision, we frequently had heated debates in this room on the best way to achieve our goals. These differing views are what made the decisions we took all the more rational.
“It is this quality that made me retain my cabinet for the full term. Each of you in this room has a unique skill and strength. We are a reflection of the Nigeria we aspire to achieve. A diverse but tolerant nation where no one is silenced and where every opinion should be heard and considered.”
Buhari encouraged the Ministers to be proud of the achievements recorded by the administration, in view of the enormous challenges they met upon assumption of office.
“We inherited a broken economy which eventually went into recession in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2016. The situation was further compounded by insecurity and massive corruption.
“Many would have given up. Indeed, many outside commentators said our situation was well nigh hopeless. However, we all came together and pushed forward to deliver our campaign promise to rescue our country from its parlous state.
“I want you all to leave this meeting proud to have served your nation to the best of your ability. You should be proud to have been part of the Government that liberated the local governments previously under Boko Haram rule.
“You should be proud to have contributed to our food security and economic diversification agenda which led to the revival of our rural agrarian economy
“You should be proud to have been part of the team that developed the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan which led Nigeria exiting its worst recession in decades.
“You should be proud to have introduced the social investment program that enhanced livelihoods of millions of Nigerians.
“You should be proud to have participated in settling outstanding pensions of many senior citizens abandoned by previous governments while supporting state governments to meet their salary arrears.
“And of course, you should all be proud to have overseen the most ambitious road, rail and airport rehabilitation programs in the history of our country.
“I want to put on record, that your achievements in the last three and a half hears has guaranteed your position in the history books of this nation. You have certainly built the foundations for an improved economy and a more purposeful government,” the President said.
Buhari also appreciated Ministers who left the cabinet earlier on their own to pursue other engagements; and particularly the four-month stay in cabinet of later Minister of Labour, James Ocholi, who died in an accident alongside his wife and son.
The President said though the valedictory session marks the end of the cabinet meetings, the Ministers are to continue working till May 28th, when they should hand over their schedules to their respective Permanent Secretaries, and submit their handing-over letters to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
In his remarks, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo thanked Buhari for the trust reposed in him, which was evident during the President’s medical vacation abroad, having been handed presidential powers without interference.
He added that he treasured the friendships and commitment to work by the Ministers and cabinet support, which contributed to the overall success of the administration.
Minister of State for Agriculture Heineken Lokpobiri and his counterpart in the Niger Delta ministry, Usani Usani, had flayed unnecessarily lengthy deliberations at President Buhari’s cabinet meetings, noting that too much time was spent deliberating on memos.
He noted that some Ministers were allowed to speak more than five times on a particular memorandum, thus leading to sometimes unnecessary deliberations.
The Minister suggested that for the incoming new cabinet, the Secretary to Government of the Federation should draw up a standing order to reduce the length of time of presentations.
Lokpobiri said that, nonetheless, while in the President’s cabinet, he had learnt more in last three years than in past 12 years as lawmaker in Bayelsa and Senate, thanking the President for his exemplary leadership.
“Mr President as you go to the next level let me suggest that as President of Nigeria, you’re the president of the black world, you have enormous responsibility, so you need all the time to attend to other matters apart from the FEC proceedings and so it is my very humble submission that in he next level let the office of SGF develop standing order that will regulate proceedings of the FEC that will save Mr President a lot of time to attend to other matters.
“That will prevent some of my colleagues that will talk four or five times as they would be allowed to talk only once. You will only be allowed to talk twice if you’re the one presenting the memo. It will be nice if we see some of the reforms take place so that we will be able to save Mr President enough time.”
Usani said: “I have seen the passion of Mr Mr President trying to get the Ministers.
“I will like to suggest that in the second run of this administration, there should be deeper discourses for policy articulation which will inform all participants in that administration of the update of whatever decisions the government takes.”
Minister of Communications Lanre Shittu, who said he has spent 40 years in politics but considered his ministerial appointment as the most profound, said the delay in appointment of ministers was worth it.
He said: “I want to congratulate Mr President for the wisdom in selecting the current members of the cabinet. There is no doubt that, while there was some delays in appointing cabinet members, a lot of people had grievances of sorts, but the fact that you succeeded in appointing this creme of Nigerians has justified the fact in the saying ‘it is better late than never’. There is no good for you in rushing to appoint the cabinet only for you to have problems along the way.
“So, I wish to say that the lateness or the delay has been worthwhile because over the last three and half years we have had one team which has been very compact, focus and determine to contribute its quota under your leadership.”
Minister of Defence Mansur Dan-Ali said: “Upon assumption in 2015, we met an ill-equipped armed forces with low morale, and the standard of discipline in the military was eroded due to partisanship over the period of time, leading to neglect of its constitutional role. As you may recall at the time this administration was inaugurated in May 2015, one third of the local government areas of the northeast was under the control of the insurgents, Boko Haram, with bombing across the country.
“Similarly, under your leadership the Ministry of Defense has recorded a lot of achievements, some of which include the review of national defense policy, increased occupational capability of the armed forces, condcut of internal security and the decapacitation of Boko Haram, among others.
“Despite all these achievements recorded so far, the nation is still experiencing serious security challenges, especially in Northeast and North Central. These challenges are not insurmountable. The armed forces and other security agencies are doing their best to address these problems.”
Minister of Education Adamu Adamu, on his part, used the occasion to call for N1 trillion budget for the Ministry of Education if the country is to achieve world standard education.
He said: “As a journalist who has been very critical of government and perhaps a nobody, I would never have become a minister, if not for this gesture of Mr President
“I will like to thank Mr President for giving me freedom (to operate), since I became a minister the president has never asked me to give anybody a contract or directed me to employ anybody and I think this is very rare. In addition, I will like to thank the Vice President for his humility. Like I have said in other occasions, Nigeria has never been lucky to have a combination like this. The President, who is famous for integrity, and the Vice President who is a true man of God.
“Sir, both of you have the greatest burden on your shoulders to ensure that this alliance that produced you prevails and is maintained. And, sir, it will not prevail until something is done because immediately after you what will happen to Nigeria if you are not succeeded by your own type of integrity, then we will be going back to something worse than the one you succeeded. This is very important. I hope this occupies your mind, the mind of the next cabinet and, perhaps, the party.
“Mr President, the Ministry of Education should not get less than N1 trillion. We hope you will save education.
Meanwhile, Minister or Finance Zainab Ahmed spoke on her working experience with the President and Vice President:
“The wealth of knowledge, skills and experience that we have been compelled to learn from each other; for me every encounter I had with Mr President is like going to school. Today, I’m proud to be graduating with first degree from the PMB’s school of governance, integrity, accountability and due process. I’m proud to say that I was in the department of EMT (Economic Management Team) that was ably chaired by His Excllency, the Vice President, which we all call silently a workaholic who expects you to be there sometime till 2am. He is never tired.”
Minister of Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu said of the President that in the three and half years they have worked together, he never asked for an oil bloc nor showed interest in any contract.
“My appointment was unique because prior to now I have never been in politics. Unlike many people, I didn’t know Mr President directly, but you gave me the twin portfolios of Managing Director of the NNPC and Minister of State for Petroleum. This put on me the responsibility to try and cleanse that ministry so that it will be useful to Nigerians.
“I have had the unique privilege of working with Mr President directly, aside from being my president, he was my direct boss. In that position, we had worked together to deal with many problems that beset that industry. Problems of fuel scarcity, dwindling production, transparency, crisis in the Niger Delta, fiscal federalism and the TSA ultimately captured most of the earnings of this country from that sector.
“We have done that with very many sacrifices. This is probably the first president that I will know who would have served four years and I can attest that no oil bloc has been given to him, neither to me. I can also attest that there is no contract that he has shown interest personally, neither have I. This is probably the first crop of ministers that worked with no official residences and some times from their personal cars. But I have learnt that if you come to serve Nigeria, you have come to sacrifice, and if you can’t serve with sacrifice then there is no need to serve.
“Three things I have learnt from you which have been very, very helpful; the first is the power of silence especially if you don’t have anything to say that is meaningful. The second is the power of calm when the water is turbulent. And the third is the audacity of integrity. That integrity is what has led us to take some of the bold steps that we have taken that ordinarily Nigerians wouldn’t have forgiven, inclusive of the lifting of the price of petroleum products which was essential at the time.
“I thank you Mr President for these lessons and the guidance.”
Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi thanked Buhari for disappointing those who thought he had an agenda to Islamise Nigeria.
He said: “Let me begin by thanking God for the opportunity Mr President has availed me to serve.
“Mr President, I met you first in 2007. I had never seen you before because when you were the head of state I was a student in University of Ibadan, a radical one at that, a Marxist, so we were among those who demonstrated against some of your policies. You recalled when you came to my chambers in 2007, I wished you good luck and you turned to me and said, don’t wish me good luck, wish me the best of luck.
“Recall I told you, you are the best material to be President of Nigeria, but unfortunately the elites will not allow you to be president and I was in PDP. I said they will not allow you…
“The next time I met you was not in person but through the phone. You called me after I had defeated Governor of Plateau Jonah Jang for my second term as the Governors Forum chairman…
“Mr President, let me thank you for not converting me to Islam. I say that specifically because in 2014, when I walked into Christ the King Catholic Church, I was literally chased out of the church as a governor because I was accused of supporting a man whose agenda was to Islamize Nigeria. And in Rivers State they began to call me Alhaji Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi. I thank you because they have dropped the Alhaji and back to Mr Chibuike Amaechi.
“I was told in the cause of the campaign that you were autocratic and, therefore, you will not be democratic. Most of us are not happy that you have moved from the autocratic nature of yours to an extreme democrat that everything is put to test of the people, to the extent that the people now feel that the only way things can go on in this country is by the rule of law. We all know that the rule of law is the beginning and the end of this government. Talking about the financial impunity that we saw before, people were making money without having any productive capacity for that.”
Minister of the FCT Mohammed Bello said: “Serving under you is a life opportunity that I never dreamt will come my way. Thank you for giving me freedom to operate. You allowed people to make mistakes and correct them.
“Thank you for making me achieve my mandate with my colleagues, many of whom I used to read about in the newspapers many years go.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said: “Thank you for the opportunity, despite the fact you didn’t know me from Adam. But your leadership has been such that you treated everyone the same, whether you knew them before or not. In fact, unless one was told, one would never know who you knew before.
“Mr President, no one in the history of the country has held as many top leadership positions as you have, so it is intimidating to be called upon to advise you on any matter. But you are humility personified.”