By Henry Umoru, Abuja
To many Nigerians, it was an opportunity to have some insight into how President Muhammadu Buhari’s men and women will help the nation’s leader execute his ‘change’ agenda. There are 37 of them, representing each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
These are people the President nominated to constitute his cabinet. The opportunity Nigerians, beset by myriads of problems, most economic, have been looking forward to, to hear from the people to carry out the ‘change’ agenda, as promised by Buhari during electioneering campaign, came when the ministerial nominees presented themselves for screening before the Senate, last week.
Although some of the nominees had their screening deferred till this week, those who have appeared before the upper chambre gave glimpses into how they planned to key into the Buhari ‘change’ agenda.
The President had sent the ministerial list in two batches to the parliament, through Senate President Bukola Saraki.
The first set, made up of 21 nominees,are Abubakar Malami (SAN), Kebbi; Abdurahman Bello Dambazzau, Kano; Aisha Jumai Al Hassan, Taraba; Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Kwara; Babatunde Raji Fashola, Lagos; Adebayo Shittu, Oyo; Solomon Dalong, Plateau; Senator Chris Ngige, Anambra; Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers; and Chief Audu Ogbeh, Benue.
Others are Mrs. Amina Ibrahim, Gombe; Dr. Osagie Ehaneri, Edo; Emmanuel Kachikwu, Delta; Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ondo; Eng. Suleiman Adamu, Jigawa; Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Ogun; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Ebonyi; Hon. Ahmed Musa Ibeto, Niger; Ibrahim Usman Jubrin, Nasarawa; Senator Hadi Serika, Katsina; and Senator Udo Udoma, Akwa Ibom.
The second set of 16 nominees has Khadijah Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, Yobe; Claudius Omoleye Daramola, Ondo; Professor Anthony Anwuka, Imo; Geoffrey Onyema, Emugu; Brig. Gen. Mansur M. Dan Ali retd), Zamfara; and James E. Ocholi, Kogi.
Also on the list are Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed. Kaduna; Okechukwu Enelemah, Abia; Muhammadu Bello, Adamawa; Mustapha Baba Shehuri, Borno; Miss Aisha Abubakar; Heneiken Lokpobiri, Bayelsa; Adamu Adamu; Professor Isaac Adewole, Osun; Pastor Usani Usani Uguru, Cross River and Abubakar Bwari Bawa, Niger.
But in between the days of the screening, the President withdrew Ibeto from the list and replaced him with Bawa.
On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed some of the nominees.
Those confirmed by the senators as ministers to be assigned portfolios by the President are Udoma, Fayemi, Ogbeh, Onu, Ehanire, Dambazau, Mohammed, Amina Ibrahim Mohammed, Suleiman Hussaini Adamu, and Ibrahim Usman Jibril.
Also confirmed are Fashola, Kachikwu, who is also the Group Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Malami, Ngige, Aisha Jummai Alhassan, Dalong, Adeosun, Sirika.
The cleared nominees unfold their ‘change’ agenda for Nigerians.
Udoma, who pledged to serve and assured that he would perform the onerous task ahead of him, said, “We have to look at the various policies for manufacturing. They have to be consistent because that is what investors want. To increase the investment rate from its current 20 to 30 per cent, we have to look at the issue of enabling environment, and the review of our tax policies, and I am ready to help redesign it being a child of the private sector.”
Let’s devolve power
Fayemi noted that borrowing was critical to governance, saying: “I borrowed but not in rank of the figure being bandied around. No country exists without borrowing”.
The former governor of Ekiti State went on: “There is too much concentration of power at the centre; therefore, there is need for devolution of power to be done in Nigeria. Corruption must be tackled headlong. The amount of leakages in our revenues is unacceptable, and must be promptly addressed. We have to reduce our recurrent expenditures and increase our capital expenditures in this country, otherwise we won’t be able to develop meaningfully.
We have to diversify our economy, and it is achievable.
“If we are tough on terror, we also going to be tough on the sources of terror. Our criminal justice system has to be revisited. People don’t get punished for committing crimes in Nigeria. Our prisons have been saturated by those who are denied justice”.
On the allegation that he bought beds worth N50 million each as part of the Ekiti Government House while he was governor, he said: “I challenge anyone to bring an invoice of a bed in the State House that is worth N50m. I did not spend irresponsibly on it”.
Defence policy needs review — Dambazzau
When it was his turn to be screened, Dambazzau, a former Chief of the Army Staff, said, “Defence policy of Nigeria needs constant review because it should centre on the best way to use the military to tackle challenges and come up with order of battle.
“The soldiers are at risk and, if care is not taken, some could lose their lives; if a new soldier loses his life, there is death gratuity for him apart from other benefits derivable by his family. But this could be reviewed upward. We have not taken the advantage of the United Nations reimbursement system; other countries use it to maintain their armed forces but Nigeria relies on annual budget.
“When I took over as Chief of the Army Staff, there was problem of accommodation as three family members were a sharing two-bedroom apartment. We then built the Yar’Adua Barracks through direct labour, making use of our engineers, architects and other professionals and experts in building technology to save cost.”
Repositioning the police —Fashola
Fashola said, “The number available to me is that we have probably a standing police force of about 500,000, less than a million to a population that is heading to 180 million. So, we are under policed and, if the Federal Government decides to take up this responsibility on its own, can it do so in the micro level that is necessary at the state and local government levels?”
The immediate past governor of Lagos State went on: “My recommendation is a compelling urgency for decentralization. I have made the recommendation to some committees on the Constitution amendment where I was privileged to make presentations. There have been argument about why we should not go there but the argument did not go far. It did not address the fundamental responsibilities that government has. I have heard the argument that government will abuse the police for political purposes.
“The abuse of political power is not as important as loss of lives. And everything we do to advance that cause makes us more respected as a government that cares. And there is a process for curing abuse of institution, but there is no process known to me today for recovering lives that are lost. And this is a challenge that is before us as a people and as a nation. At the state level, you can also wonder what governors are going through.
“They have parliaments that make laws but have no capacity to enforce the laws. We are talking about domestic issues – rape and domestic violence – there are criminal offenses in many states across the country but who is prosecuting them because the police officer is too busy chasing robbers?. Our mothers, daughters and sister are expected to tolerate rape. If we are afraid of abuse, one of the things I will suggest is that we start state police.
“I propose a system where we have six zonal commands from existing police force. It is not every state that can start if it cannot fund it. States who can fund can decide to employ 1,000 men, the Police Service Commission will train and graduate and, if at the end of the training, only 800 pass the exam, they would be employed. The state buys their uniforms, there is a national license.
“Now, this is an architecture that we did not owe, it was a Federal Government architecture, the federal police arrangement but at this time, they operate without enough guns, they operate without uniforms, they operate without protective vest and they operate some times without vehicles to even respond. And when there are vehicles, there is no fuel. In my interactions with them, these were the first things that came out and it was clear to me that this was not going to be something one person could do.”
To Ibrahim Usman Jibril,”unless the issue of compensation and resettlement is addressed in the Federal Capital Territory, the haphazard development in the nation’s capital will continue to be there”.
Our internal democracy challenge —Ogbeh
Ogbeh, during the screening, said, “The major problem facing the nation’s political system is the lack of internal democracy in the political parties. Another problem is the tendency for the party in power to surrender its authority to the President or the state governor.
“I am not here because I am looking for anything new. I am here because I believe I can do the job. As a minister in the second republic, what would you do to bring about change?
“Also, what would you suggest the country does with agriculture to make Nigeria address its numerous challenges? Why are Nigerian graduates unemployable? What would you suggest to make education good again?
“Party movements happen everywhere. One time British Minister changed party three times. This happens in emerging democracy. The question of internal democracy is a serious matter but, as we mature, this will die gradually.
“I have been traveling, seeking to know how other countries got it well. Here, we have very bad seeds. There is no seed company in Nigeria. Interest rate also affects agriculture in Nigeria. With 20 to 25 per cent interest rate, it is difficult to invest and make interest in agriculture.”
Options on power generation —Onu
To Onu, “the country is currently passing through serious socio-economic challenges”. He urged all men and women in this country to put their differences aside to tackle the problems together.
The former governor of old Abia State, added: “Nigeria produces crude oil but we are importing fuel; doing a lot of farming but importing foodstuff.
“We need to pay greater attention in the area of power generation. We need to diversify our sources of power generation. Let’s utilize coal as one of our sources. And Nigerian coal is one of the best in the world because of its low sulphur content. We are essentially a consumer nation, and this is not good for our socio-economic existence. We have to improve and become a producer nation.”
In his remarks, Lai Mohammed said, “Four years is a short time to learn the rope in the opposition. You may have to stay there a little longer. In government, we (APC) will not be as harsh as you (PDP) were to us while we were in opposition.”
Health sector reorientation – Ehanire
During his own presentation to the lawmakers, Ehanire said, “ The fight against corruption should be extended to the health sector. I think that many people that go to hospital don’t get the desired attention. I canvass orientation programmes for hospital workers.
“Health insurance is still at infancy. It is being studied right now to be applied in communities. Priority should be given to rural health and one of the issues on focus should be hygiene.
“The traditional medicines have a lot to contribute. Many of the drugs we use today came from native medicine. Traditional medicine has to be better regulated because it is dangerous to allow people who are ignorant to work on citizens. Some should be done to set standards and limits of what they can do before they begin to refer cases to higher level.”
How to reduce poverty
– Amina Mohammed
In her presentation, Amina Ibrahim Mohammed, who warned that with the present economic situation, realising the Vision 20:2020 was no longer feasible for the country, said, “ the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, are a set of 17 goals comprising 169 targets and indicators for reducing poverty and improving environmental sustainability.”
Fixing the oil sector with PIB —Kachikwu
To Kachikwu, “in the next one, two days, you find that individuals will open their stations and products are there”.
The NNPC GMD, speculated to be in the cabinet as Minister of State for Petroleum, while Buhari acts as the senior minister, went on: “First of all, let me say that one of the things I’ve said to myself since resuming as GMD of NNPC is that I will not be constrained by the lack of the PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill) in making sure that holistic solutions to the industry continue to be propelled. So, using existing laws, we have continued to make changes. Because at the end of the day, whether or not PIB is available and passed, it really doesn’t lie within the umbrella of the executive, it lies with this revered Assembly. But I also do not think that the problem with the PIB has been the facts of the versions. By the time the last Senate was rounding off, it had gotten a version that was clearly the version that both chambres were looking at. Am I going to create a new version? Not really. What I will need to do is take the version that you have, look at it again and make changes.
“The key issue is that, as long as we continue to want to pass a holistic PIB, it is going to be a very major challenge. But once you begin to break it up into critical aspects, you begin to make a faster run to passing the PIB. Fiscal regime, for example, you ask yourself, why would you want to have fiscal regime inside the PIB? Because to change those fiscal regimes, which are very dynamic environment, you have to come back to this Assembly to also make changes. You must find a way of pulling out fiscal regimes and leave them to existing tax laws which you can amend. And, additionally, look at the PSCs and Joint Venture Agreements to enable you determine fiscal regimes.
“The advantage in that is that you have the flexibility of changing with the times. At the time when oil price was so low that nobody was willing to invest in your country, you may give some incentives. At the time when they are so high that people are making outrageous profit result, you may increase you taxes. But so long as you leave it in a holistic blue-barrelled, high voluminous PIB, you are stuck in terms of how you are going to get the required votes each time to make amendment. I think the way to go is, first of all, take what is there. I don’t believe in throwing away the baby with the bath water, take what is there, look at it in the context of where we are today.
“But the aspects of PIB that deal with organisation, structure, administration and re-organisation of government agencies that are going to be responsible for stewarding the oil industry are still as relevant as they were before. The interests of communities are still as relevant as they were before. So, we can take those, pass them fairly quickly so that we can have some level of certainty.
“I can tell you that the average source of volumes in investments that we are losing on an annual basis because of the lack of PIB is in excess of $15billion per year. And the reason is simple: it would have been better that you didn’t start at all than announce very flamboyantly that you are going to do PIB and step back from it. Because it creates a level of uncertainty that no international investor wants to grapple with. So, I will urge this revered Senate to fairly quickly come to terms, find a way of working with us and go ahead and pass those elements of PIB of where there’s no much contention.”
Ngige, who took a bow, said Nigeria was at the cross roads and the economy not be in good shape.
A justice system devoid of interference —Malami
To Abubakar Malami, there was the need for the Senate to pass relevant bills relating to implementation of administrative and criminal justice, adding that there was the need for the justice system to be insulated from external interference.
On the part of Aisha Alhassan, she said: “I want to correct an information that is going on within and outside the country that my nomination by Mr. President is a choice between the matter going on at the Taraba tribunal and the ministerial nominee.”
We must chase out cash —Adeosun
In her presentation, Adeosun, who urged government to review its current mono-economic status by engaging in aggressive diversification of the economy, said, “We need to ‘chase out cash. Every where that people transact in cash, there are leakages.”