By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Muhammadu Buhari is a mean man. Make no mistakes about it, he is not the generous President you have been familiar with in the last 16 years. He is your new guy in the saddle whose agenda runs across three issues: the country, the people and the future.
To him, every good thing: power, position, food is earned by a dint of hard work. There is also this sacrifice to make for the country. He is a man with many priorities and, until those priorities are met, there is no merriment.
This was practically the posture, nay the message he unapologetically delivered to the ministers-designate – those who will be his lieutenants from next week at a retreat in Abuja.
Unlike what obtained in the past where appointments, especially ministerial, were avenues to amass wealth, they are now expected to be avenues to give back to the society. At least, this is according to the gospel of Buhari.
If he is taken by his words, Nigeria may witness a regime where some ministers would have to tender their resignations letters before the end of their tenure. This is not because there will be pressure to do so, but because, any expectation of self enrichment may not be met.
The economy is bad, so said the President and so government cannot afford to maintain a retinue of cooks, protocol staff, convoys and aides for the fun of it.
Two Ministers-designate and former governors of Abia and Anambra States, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and Dr. Chris Ngige, respectively, conveyed the President’s mind to journalists at the end of the three-day retreat that wound up on Friday at the Old Banquet Hall of the presidential lodge in Abuja. It was held under the theme, “Delivering Change: From Precepts to Practice.”
Their words: Onu: “The President has asked for a lean working government. You can see what has happened to the economy. We have had a drastic drop in the price of crude oil, more than 50 percent drop over the past one year or around that time.
“So, revenue coming into the country definitely has reduced considerably. Government must really run in a way that we will be able to lead the aspirations of our people to make sure that Nigerians are happy.”
Ngige: “I don’t think that I have not benefitted in a way that will equip me to face the challenges of being a minister now. It is a lean economy in the sense that we are going to block areas of leakages; there are a lot of leakages.
“Yes, lean economy because we are going to block areas of leakages, retinue of aides, protocol staff, large convoys of cars are things that will not fly in this administration. It is a change administration.”
This was foreseen because on the second day of the retreat, after its opening ceremony at Transcorp Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, Buhari, while making his remarks, had warned the ministers – designate against impunity and waste of resources. He was straight with the incoming cabinet members. Unequivocally, the Commander-in-Chief reminded them it is going to be work and work for them to help him rejuvenate the battered and allegedly plundered economy.
Buhari said: “You are coming on board the ship of governance at an interesting time. So much has been said about the state of our economy. It is expected that we make the running of government at all levels as lean as possible, avoid waste and conserve resources. As ministers, you must be the vehicle that will administer the change.
“It is with great pleasure that I address you today, my ministers-designate, at this retreat in preparation for your swearing–in as the cabinet that will run this administration. We must count ourselves privileged to have been chosen among millions of our compatriots at this historic time to be the instruments that will deliver the change we have promised.
“This retreat, therefore, marks your first official contact with the machinery of government, of which you will soon be an integral part. It is important that you are fully acquainted with the direction and priorities of this government so that we can all move together as a team.”
To Buhari, the APC campaign promises to tackle corruption, insecurity and revive the economy must be realised by the ministers. Also, Boko Haram, diversification of the economy, boosting agriculture and improving on physical infrastructures must also be prioritised.
“My election as President of this country”, he continued, “was hinged on my promise to tackle corruption, insecurity and revive the economy.
“We have already taken deliberate measures to plug leakages of government revenue and resources. You all know the steps we have taken to tackle Boko Haram. We have degraded them and in desperation, they are resorting to attacks on soft targets, killing innocent people. Diversification of the economy away from oil will be a major focus of this government.”
Then, this: “Don’t come to me, talk to my Chief of Staff.”
Another area the President sounded a clear caution to the ministers-designate on was on the channel of communication. What this may mean is that the President does not want “gossip-ministers” around him. And so, he asked them to use the office of the Chief of Staff to reach him.
“Let me remind you that clear and effective communication at all levels is vital in modern management. You must keep in touch with your fellow ministers and share information, so that the conduct of government will be more efficient. In addition, all communication and appointments from you to the Presidency should be routed through the Office of the Chief of Staff as is normal in this Presidential System”, he stressed.
A retreat shrouded in secrecy
By every conceivable standard, retreats give participants the opportunity to holistically review a situation and then devise solutions in furtherance of a good cause. Almost always, it is done in the interest of the members of the larger society. But the presidential retreat was conducted in absolute secrecy right from the first day.
Except the reading of Buhari’s remark, done before television cameras on Thursday, journalists were literally barred from covering the rest of the activities. Why? No reasons were tendered, giving an impression of a continued shambolic old system that runs at variance with the change mantra.
More astonishing was the outright refusal of the ministers-designate to speak to the media on Thursday. It took extra-ordinary push and chase for a few of them which included Ngige, Onu, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and James Ocholi, to randomly speak to the State House Correspondents, perhaps, at their own peril at the end of the retreat on Friday. Even at that, they were very tacit with the core issues at the retreat.
As a matter of fact, the organizers of the retreat were furious with a publication from the paper delivered by Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo by a national daily and the consequence of that report was dire on journalists on Friday.
‘We are ready for the task ahead’
Ocholi and Kachikwu said they were, after the retreat, better equipped to face the challenges ahead.
“It’s a wonderful session. It equips us, gets us ready, charges us to action” Kachikwu told Sunday Vanguard.
“Government has to ensure that before we even get inaugurated, we know enough to hit the ground running and many of us, virtually all of us, are highly enlightened. We are grateful that getting into government at this time with the change mantra, we will not be taken by surprise.
“Some of the things we have learnt in the last two days even former governors who have completed an 8-year term never knew them when they were sworn in. So, they were learning on the job and trying to find their way of sorting out things.”
And to Ocholi, “There is a lot of demand on us as Mr. President told us at the opening session and he is preparing us to meet the challenges that we will face. I think it will be better for us ministers and the nation that most of us will hit the ground running from day one.”