*Agriculture Ministry inherited N67bn debt —Audu Ogbeh
*Our change agenda is real, irreversible —Lai Mohammed
By Emeka Mamah & Francis Igata
ENUGU—The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chief Chris Ngige, yesterday, in Enugu, flayed the Gen. Abudulsalami Abubakar regime that jettisoned the National Constitutional Conference crafted under late Gen. Sani Abacha which provided for rotational presidency, arguing that it would have quelled the strident agitation for Biafra Republic by different separatist groups in the south-east geopolitical zone.
The former Governor of Anambra State revealed that rather than adopt the NCC which Gen. Abubakar met as Abacha’a successor, he back-tracked and amended portions of the 1979 Constitution which is responsible for the country’s woes.
He was answering a question from the former Minister of Information, Chief John Nnia Nwodo who complained that the country was not only moving too slow but needed to be restructured in line with the recommendations of the 2014 National Constitutional Conference, NCC. Nwodo also complained that it took Buhari five months to appoint ministers and another five months to prepare his budget.
This came on the day the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, also during a Town Hall Meeting held for political, religious, judicial and faith-based groups at the Nike-Lake Resort Hotel, said that the Buhari administration inherited a bogus debt of N67 billion under the guise of procuring seedlings by the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
However, according to Ngige,”the agitation for restructuring did not start now. It has been there for a long time. No democratic regime in the history of this country has been able to create states.
Apart the First Republic when the Mid-Western State was created, all other states created were under the military era. The six geopolitical zone structure is not even in the 1999 Constitution. But the NCC recommendations under Abacha which I consider as excellent made provision for rotational presidency and residency rights. Late Abacha crafted a wonderful constitution but Gen. Abubakar back-tracked. Instead of using what Abacha did, he went and amended portions of the 1979 Constitution which is responsible for the country’s woos. The NCC convoked by former President Jonathan is suspect because the members to the conference were not elected. So, there is no sovereign element in the outcome of the conference. The only sovereignty rests with the National Assembly where you have elected representatives from all parts of the country.”
Defending the position of the present administration not to touch the 2014 NCC recommendations, Ngige further said: that “If by tomorrow, President Muhammadu Buhari decides to set up a constitutional conference, the Igbo should go to sleep because whatever gains they make there will not be taken away by anybody.”
Ngige then asked the Igbo to stop wallowing in self- pity over the political problems facing the race, saying that the people should “put on their thinking caps” on how to solve their problems well.
New minimum wage
Ngige also said that the issue of minimum wage for workers was in the Exclusive List adding that the NLC, the TUC and the Council of Ministers would soon meet to empanel a committee that would look into the memoranda that had been received on the issue.
We inherited N67bn debt —Agriculture Minister
However, frowning at the prostrate level of agriculture in the country, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Ogbe lamented that, “we met a debt of N67 billion in the Ministry when I took over office. When I investigated, we found out that contractors took fertilizer to nearby countries like Niger Republic, sold them there and procured invoices to show that they supplied them to us. Jonathan claimed his administration spent N67 billion procuring seedlings whereas they merely spent N2.5 billion. That is padding. We now have a balance of N65 billion to pay back.
That amount is twice my ministry’s budget this year. We have managed to pay back N20 billion; all these are what have been hampering agricultural development in the country. We will establish 774 branches of the Bank of Agriculture in all the council areas nationwide once the economy improves.”
We’re committed to change—Lai Mohammed
Also speaking at the Town Hall meeting, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the change promised Nigerians by the All Progressives Congress, APC, was neither a ruse or false.
Mohammed spoke while declaring open the town hall meeting for the South East organised by the Federal Ministry of Information in Enugu, yesterday, adding that the change mantra was already manifesting in every sector.
According to him, despite the insinuations in certain quarters that the people were not feeling the impact of the government, so much had been done in moving the country forward as it was no longer business as usual.
According to him, the government would remain undaunted in implementing its change agenda to improve the lot of the masses in the country.
His words, “Many have said they are yet to see the change we promised just as others have doubted us.
“The fact is that most people are now mocking us. But we remain undaunted because we know that the change we promised is real.
“In fact, the change we promised is already here, and it is manifesting all around us.
“Before now, public officials simply opened the public till, took as much money as they wanted and walked away without consequences.
“That explains why funds allocated to the military to fight Boko Haram ended up in the piggy banks of many unscrupulous Nigerians
“Today, all those who looted the public treasury are being made to answer for their actions, as impunity has given way to accountability.
“Many have offered to return their loots, and many more are facing charges.”
The minister said that with the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, whereby funds meant for the Federal Government were directly paid in and used for development of infrastructure was already being copied by some state governments.
He also said that the government had successfully identified and stopped salaries of over 30,000 ghost workers expressing satisfaction that some states like Enugu had followed the Federal Government steps by also, identifying over 3,000 ghost workers.
He regretted that the Federal Government delayed the sale of fertilizers for about two months when intelligence reports revealed that Boko Haram insurgents were using the urea in them to manufacture explosives, pointing out that this had led to scarcity of the commodity which affected the price of the agricultural input which rose to N10,000 for a 50 kilogramme bag but stressed that the price was coming down now as both the Notre and Indorama had resumed production of the material.