By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — Even with the quantum of criticism that greeted his statement that Nigeria at the moment can’t afford to pay 36 ministers in far away India on Friday, last week, president Mohammad Buhari Tuesday in Abuja ruled out the possibility of assigning portfolios to all the confirmed 36 ministerial nominees by the senate.
Though he gave vent to the constitutionally mandatory 36 ministerial slots, he also reiterated that the economy was battered to accommodate the number.
This came as the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki said that the idea of having ministers without portfolio was not entirely novel in the Nigerian political system.
President Buhari spoke when he received the second and last batch of the screened nominees from the senate president at the presidential villa in Abuja.
Saraki had at a brief ceremony to mark the presentation stated that the senate had concluded the assignment.
Aware that the he had come under heavy criticism following his statement on the state of Nigeria’s economy, the president said he would continue to speak the truth about the economy.
He said: “Mr. President, we have finished the screening of the last batch of the ministers on Thursday and we waited for our vote of proceedings today which we finished this morning.
“I want to formally present the list of the 18 ministers who have now been cleared to you and that makes a total of all your 36 nominees that have been cleared by the Senate.
“I was just engaging the SSA to check in the record when last that has happened. So it must be credit to the nominees that were submitted and also credit to the Senate”.
Speaking after receiving the list, president Buhari also thanked the senate for a job well done.
“I thank you the President of the Senate for the work of the Senate leadership in our strive to follow the constitutional provision that states that the President should submit the names of those he wants to form the cabinet.
“If I can remember, there must be a member from each of the 36 states. That was why I limited the number of my nominees to that number, 36.
“The Senate worked extremely hard and they have passed all the nominees. I think there is some enthusiasm in some parts of the Presidency today that portfolios are to be given to the 36.
“The constitution certainly said there must be one member of the cabinet from all the states but the constitution did not say I must have 36 ministries.
“I will explain the details. Because of the economic imperative, to have a lot of ministers, substantive ministers, let me put it that way, whatever somebody speculated in some of today’s new papers, I think that the economy as I have seen it now since my sitting here for the last four months, that we are so much battered. Although some people are saying I am giving bad publicity and scaring away investors.
“Any investor who is interested in investing in Nigeria will seem to know more about the economy more than ourselves. So when I come and tell the truth about the position of the economy of the country, I am going out looking for investors.
“But I am confirming to them that we are truthful, that we need them to come and help us help ourselves by getting in industries, manufacturing and services. They know our needs. The economy of human resources, I believe will make them eventually come and help us.
“Mr. Senate President, I thank you very much for leading the Senate to do this hard work technically within record time. I assure you that we will follow the constitution and all the 36 will be sitting in the cabinet as the constitution stipulates”, he said.
In an interview session with State House Correspondents after the brief event, the Senate President said it was not new to have ministers without assigned duties.
He however urged Nigerians to focus on “major issues”.
According to him, the appointment of the ministers would give room for serious government works to better the lots of the citizenry.
He said: “Well I think before you had ministers of state in the past, I don’t think there is anything new, there was minister for special duties which really don’t have portfolio. I think the key issue is being in cabinet, is being part of government and those that would have the
responsibilities of ministering are those that at the end of the day would do that.
“So minister of state is not new. We had it before, if you remember that very well. Honestly I believe we need to move away from the small issues and begin to focus on the major issues. I think the country presently now is at a very trying time no doubt about it.
“We have the challenges of revenue drop, challenges in trying to boost revenue and create jobs and you know we have some of these issues which we really need to address and I think that it is time for us to address them and these are some of the issues we looked at as a
senate, that it is time for us to give support to the executive to move the country forward and I think all of us apart from those in the legislature and the executive and even those of you in the media, we must begin to proffer and put our country in a positive view otherwise there is no way we are going to have those major issues addressed.
“As I said it is not new in having all not full time ministers, but let us wait to see what portfolio or responsibility some of them will
have. I cannot speak on behalf of the President on that, but we have done our own constitutional responsibility.”
Saraki also scored highly the nominees, saying they had the wherewithal to move Nigeria forward.
“As I said the work was not difficult because of the quality of nominees that came in. Secondly it is the fact that we put in the time to vigorously put the nominees to answer the questions and at the end of the day, we found out that most of them met the requirement and the senate was satisfied.
“You noticed that in some cases we delayed the number of one or two. It is all part of politics of behind the scene but at the end of the day, we finished with them. It is all about give and take and eventually I am happy with what the senators have done. The entire 108 senators, we have done a good job and I believe we have laid the platform for the government to fully take off”, he said.
Asked why he had to delivered the names personally to the president, the Senate President hinted that there were other private issues to discuss.
He however denied discussing his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunals.
“Because there were other things we discussed. As you can see after you left we discussed for about 20 minutes on some major issues as well. So it wasn’t just about the letter.
I think at the right time they will get to know. I have a constituency which is the senate which I must first engage and I am sure with
time… the major issue has to do with moving Nigeria forward.
“Did you think that will come up in this kind of situation? No, it didn’t come up”, he said.