BY DANIEL IDONOR
ABUJA— PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, ordered a comprehensive audit of the financial transactions of all Federal Government ministries and agencies since 2007 as he formally re-launched a fresh war against corruption. He said the renewed anti-graft war will commence from the federal level.
Speaking at the inauguration of the nine ministers, lately confirmed by the Senate, President Jonathan warned the ministers of trying times ahead and quoting from a 1964 essay by the late activist Tai Solarin, Jonathan told the ministers, “May your road be rough”.
The President also used the long awaited cabinet inauguration speech to affirm the integrity of the new ministers who he declared as “change agents” to transform Nigeria from what he described as the embarrassment of having the reputation of a corruption-ridden country.
In that direction, the President also declared his intention to restructure the Economic Management Team which he said would now be coordinated by the Minister of Finance with the specific task of improving efficiency in government.
The President also dismissed predictions of Nigeria being a failed state on account of recent happenings across the land, as he declared that many nations passed through such turbulence on the path to greatness.
The nine ministers inaugurated yesterday were Dr. Mohammed Ali-Pate (Borno); Chief Edem Duke (Cross River); Mrs. Omobola Johnson (Ondo); Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia (Kaduna); Dr. Nurudeen Mohammad (Jigawa) and Mrs. Sarah Ochepe (Plateau). Others were Ms. Ama Pepple (Rivers); Ezebunwo Nyedem Wike (Rivers) and Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina Ayodeji (Ogun). They were sworn-in following a citation on each of them read out by the Principal Secretary to the President, Ambassador Hassan Turkur.
The inauguration of the new ministers raised the number of ministers in the federal cabinet to 40. Two members, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the nominee from Taraba State are now the only ones yet to join the cabinet.
Yesterday’s inauguration came ahead of a two-day retreat for the cabinet members kicking off today.
Declaring the administration’s inclination to transparency and accountability, yesterday, President Jonathan said:
“The anti-corruption agencies have been directed to beam their searchlights on the ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government, and also focus on the states and local government areas, in order to send out a clear signal, that no form of abuse will be tolerated.
We will carry out a comprehensive audit of all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government beginning from June 2007. You must observe due process in all that you do. I expect you to be above board.”
He said: “One critical issue that will also engage our attention is the issue of corruption. There is no doubt that our rating in the Global Corruption Index is embarrassing. Corruption is therefore the monster that we need to confront and defeat, in order to raise the country’s integrity profile. The war against corruption in this dispensation will start at the centre”.
He reminded the new ministers that unlike in the past, their recent appointment into the cabinet may bring to them the worst of times, as they are under probation before Nigerians, saying they have no excuse and can not afford to fail the electorate.
May your roads be rough
Jonathan has warned that hard times await the new ministers as Nigerians, in their quest for the transformation of the economy, would mount pressure on them, stressing that “there will difficult decisions and moments”.
He said “the task ahead is not going to be an easy one. Remember the words of the late Tai Solarin, in a January 1, 1964 essay: “May your road be rough,” he said. “I am not cursing you; I am wishing you what I wish myself every year.
I therefore repeat, may you have a hard time this year, may there be plenty of troubles for you this year! If you are not so sure what you should say back, why not just say, same on you? I ask no more! Obviously the road ahead of us may be rough, but with sincere and purposeful leadership, we will surely succeed in transforming this country.
Everything will be done to provide an enabling environment for you to be able to function efficiently. I will also personally ensure that we remain focused as a team, and that the confidence that the people repose in us, is not taken for granted”.
“There will be difficult decisions and tough moments ahead but we must, through our efforts, show that we are prepared to work in the best way to focus on the people’s aspirations. It only takes committed people to do things differently. I believe you are among the group of Nigerians that can do things differently and help to move our country forward. I believe with a transformational leadership that is willing and committed, we can reposition our country for economic growth and development, and win the support of all and sundry, including those who are in doubt or denial”.
Jonathan stated that as agents of change, the ministers must design deliberate programmes to generate employment, improve power supply, agricultural development, oil and gas reforms and security of lives and property and better living condition for all Nigerians.
The President told the ministers that “our task is to address the issues which pre-occupy Nigerians. We must act quickly while at the same time, working on sustainable responses to long-term challenges. This is the debt we owe the electorate who turned out in large numbers in the April 2011 elections to make a statement with their votes. I will therefore expect the best form of conduct in the discharge of your responsibilities”.
Obviously aiming to nib in the bud the bickering between ministers and their ministers of state, he said: “In particular, I expect that Ministers and Ministers of State will work together as a team, and in so doing, eschew the kind of rivalry and one-upmanship that has been a problem in the past. I expect maximum cooperation among all members of the Executive Council of the Federation. We cannot achieve much if we work at cross-purposes”.
He maintained that one way the new ministers can make a difference in the lives of the electorate who voted the government to power, is for them to learn to do things differently.
Condemning what he described as threats, intimidation and seeming blackmail that shadowed the selection process of the cabinet members, he said:
“I am concerned, however, that in the course of our efforts to select this cabinet, I received disturbing reports of threats of assassination to nominees, their families and friends, and so much campaign of calumny to discourage them from coming into government to serve. This is most unfortunate; service to the nation is a patriotic duty that every citizen must look up to, and support. There is no greater responsibility than service to the nation.”
“I am also aware of the comments that have trailed these appointments, both positive and negative. Honourable members of the Executive Council of the Federation, it is important for us to realize that we are all on probation in the eyes of the public. We are public servants, and we must give proper account of our stewardship to the people at all times. I believe that this Cabinet is made up of men and women who can drive our transformation programme, and work hard to make Nigeria better”.
He vowed to run a transparent and accountable government, and significantly carry out genuine programmes that are capable of growing the economy between now and the next four years.
Nigeria not failed state
Jonathan also dismissed insinuations that Nigeria was becoming a failed state.
“We are definitely not a failed state; as we are a country of talented people, who have the capacity to address whatever challenges our country may be facing”.
According to him, “other nations have passed through their own trying moments. In no way is our experience peculiar. In the various speeches that I gave from the primaries through the campaigns, to the inauguration on 29th May, I promised Nigerians that I will run a transparent government and ensure a significant improvement in our economy. You are to join me and the Vice-President to achieve this.
Our plan is to restructure the economic management team in order to make it more functional; the new structure will be co-ordinated by the Minister of Finance, with a charge to ensure improved performance of key economic sectors and greater efficiency”.
He therefore enjoined them not to see their position as merely another job or a reward for status, but as an opportunity to serve the people of Nigeria; and urged them to remember that Nigerians have serious concerns about the integrity of their leaders.
“We cannot just talk about transformation; Nigerians must see us taking serious steps in that regard. To start with, this is not a government of the ruling party; this is a government of the Nigerian people. Each one of you must prove that you are deserving of the honour of recognition and of the portfolio that has been assigned to you. You are expected to ensure that the Ministry you head, serves the interest of public good, and promotes the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct.”
Noting the rigorous process that attended the selection of the new cabinet members, he said:
“I want to assure everyone that the process of selecting this team of ministers was quite rigorous. We searched far and wide within and outside the country, and finally made a selection based on an assessment of expertise, integrity, experience, qualifications, and after due consultations with a broad category of stakeholders.
The Senate also did a thorough job in screening the nominees. I want to thank our senators for their efforts and their patriotism. We have taken time to put together a Cabinet, and due process, as stipulated by the Constitution, has been carefully observed. Some of the ministers are returning to their old portfolios to ensure, not just continuity, but also the consolidation of projects and processes embarked upon in the last year”.
He told them that “you have been called upon to serve your fatherland at a most trying and challenging period in our nation’s history. On October 1st last year, we celebrated our golden jubilee as an independent nation. On January 1, 2014, we will celebrate our centenary as a nation.
This surely is a transitional phase that requires transformational leadership at all levels. I believe that the best way forward is to have a strong government of determined and capable men and women, who believe passionately in Nigeria and who want to make a difference”.