After over five weeks since he was sworn-in as President and Commander-in-Chief, President Goodluck Jonathan finally constitutes the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, signaling the commencement of real governance. The question is, will this team deliver for Jonathan and Nigerians?
By Jide Ajani & Daniel Idonor
In 2003, when Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo, wanted to form his new cabinet, what he did was in character with his mentality.
Sunday Vanguard was informed by one of Obasanjo’s ministers from the South East zone that what the former President did, was to ensure that he sized up each of the ministerial nominees he would be sending to the Directorate of State security, SSS, for security clearance.
“Do you know what Baba – referring to Obasanjo – did”?
The former minister answered the question himself: “Do you know that all those Baba interviewed personally did not make it to security clearance? He did not send all the names to the security people for clearance”, the former minister said.
“Do you know why”?
He again answered the question himself: “It was simply because he did his own screening first, before sending the names of those he wanted to the security people.
In the present case of President Goodluck Jonathan, it is 48 days since his inauguration and the question to ask is: Did Mr. President personally screen the ministerial nominees whose names he sent for security clearance?
Yes and No!
Yes because there were a few individuals whom Jonathan had to be sure of their capabilities and, therefore, he personally interviewed before their names were sent in for security clearance.
No because in the case of some others, he was said to have relied solely on the briefs prepared on the nominees. In fact, it was because of this process of vetting the nominees that created the seeming inertia of keeping the nation waiting for all of six weeks before constituting the Executive Council of the Federation, EXCOF, Sunday Vanguard was told.
Last Wednesday, against expectations that the EXCOF would meet for the first time, over five weeks after Jonathan was sworn-in as President and Commander-in-Chief, Sunday Vanguard had prepared an elaborate scheme of how to observe the members of the new EXCOF once they arrived for their meeting.
The meeting never held.
And whereas the schedule of Mr. President’s itinerary for the day showed that there would be a swearing-in ceremony instead of the EXCOF meeting by 2pm, that, it self was shifted forward to 4pm.
Finally, having sworn-in members of the EXCOF, what should Nigerians expect from Mr. President?
Well, for those who thought there would be nothing earth-shaking, President Jonathan dropped a bombshell: All former ministers and permanent secretaries since 2007 when he came in as vice president were to be probed.
As if that were not enough, he let it be known to the new members of EXCOF that they were on probation.
Sunday Vanguard learnt from an Aso Rock Presidential Villa insider that the reason why Jonathan said that was because he “was also feeling the heat that Nigerians expect him to deliver and, therefore, was not in any position to begin to suffer fools”.
Having taken this long to constitute his cabinet, “Mr. President wants to make a change and he wants the members of the cabinet also see the need for that change”, the source further said.
He has sworn-in 40 of the 42 ministers expected to be appointed.
The last batch of those he swore-in last Thursday were nine, while Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and yet to be appointed minister from Taraba State will be sworn-in at a later date.
According to President Jonathan, “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.
“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”.
Jonathan, who presented a speech as a charge to all the newly appointed cabinet members declared that current international rating of Nigeria in the level of corruption is very embarrassing to the people and government of the country.
He reminded the new minister 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.
Hard times await ministers
Jonathan warned that hard times await them as Nigerians, in their quest for the transformation of the economy, would continue to mount pressure on them, stressing that “there will difficult decision 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 preoccupy 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”.
According to him, “a responsive, responsible and accountable government is central to a genuine democracy. To continue in your positions, you must always be responsive, responsible and accountable.
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 co-operation 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 lean to do things differently.
We are on probation
He said “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, saying that “you must always remember that we are not alone in government; you will be carefully watched and assessed by other stakeholders who have as much right as you do, to be concerned about the fortunes of our country.
“You have been selected to be the change-agents that Nigerians are asking for. You must know that expectations are high at home and abroad. We are expected to stabilize power supply in the country, as a minimum pre-condition for strengthening national productivity, we are expected to generate employment for our unemployed youth; we are expected to revolutionize the agricultural sector and ensure food security for the people; we are expected to sanitize the oil and gas sector; the people also want good roads, a more qualitative public school system, as well as more efficient public health and transportation systems, and so on. These expectations cut across all sectors. Most importantly, we are expected to protect life and property, and guarantee the welfare and happiness of all Nigerians. We cannot afford to disappoint the people”, he stressed.
Selecting this team
The President reminded the new ministers that they were selected from among over 150 million Nigerians and, therefore, should see themselves as being privileged.
“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”.
The Nine new ministers who took oath of office yesterday after their citations were read by the Principal Secretary to the President, Ambassador Hassan Turkur, are Dr. Mohammed Ali-Pate (Borno) Chief Edem Duke (Cross River) Mrs. Omobola Johnson (Ondo) Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia (Kaduna) Dr. Nurudeen Mohammad (Jigawa) Mrs. Sarah Ochepe (Plateau) Ms. Ama Pepple (Rivers) Ezebunwo Nyedem Wike (Rivers) Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina Ayodeji (Ogun).