As Nigerians anxiously await the constitution of the new Federal Executive Council, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday reflected on the last four years of his administration and declared that he would no longer appoint those he personally didn’t know.
Throughout his first tenure, the president was heavily criticised for appointing incompetent persons into his cabinet who did not add value to his government. Pressure was even mounted on him to drop some of the non-performing ministers but the president didn’t yield. There were also some ministers who didn’t present a good face to the President’s anti-corruption fight. They were corrupt. There were allegations against some. There were petitions to EFCC against some. Nobody budged. They were allowed on…and this fuelled more criticisms against the President’s anti-corruption campaigns which were alleged to be one-sided.
In a maiden meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly at the new Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Thursday night, President Buhari explained the circumstances under which some persons he didn’t know found their way into his last cabinet and spoke of his resolve not to toe that path this time around.
He also said that only those tested and capable hands he is sure would deliver on assigned mandates will make the ministerial list.
At the meeting, Buhari said he was under intense pressure to constitute the Federal Executive Council (FEC), but expressed his determination that despite the pressure, only those with track records, honesty and credibility would be appointed.
His words:“Many at this dinner meeting are saying they want to see the list of the proposed cabinet so that they can go on leave peacefully. I’m very much aware about it; I’m under tremendous pressure on it. But the last cabinet which I headed, most of them, majority of them, I didn’t know them. I had to accept the names and recommendations from the party and other individuals.
“I worked with them for three and half years at least—meeting twice or two weeks in a month. So I didn’t know them. But this time around I’m going to be quite me – me in the sense that I will pick people I personally know,” he said.
A source at the dinner told journalists anonymously that “Mr. President said we should give him more time for him to compile the list of ministerial nominees.”
The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who spoke to State House correspondents after the meeting, refuted media report quoting him as saying that President Buhari would submit the ministerial list to the Senate this week.
He said: “Let me take the opportunity to correct that. A senator raised a point of order under personal explanation. He said we should be sent the list of the ministers by the executive arm of government and in my response, I said the executive is working so hard to ensure that the list of Nigerians that will help this administration work is going to be transmitted and we could even receive it this week. ‘We could’ is conditional and I will urge everybody here to report it as it is,” he said.
President Buhari’s spokesperson, Mr Femi Adesina, in a statement issued after the meeting, said the president called for an effective working relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government, saying such will easily translate into more gains for Nigerians. The president according to the statement noted that “it pays to maintain neighbourliness” between both arms.
He said, “cultivating neighbourliness on individual and national level will deepen the values of democracy and speed up development process by saving the cost of delays and repairs.”
The President’s comment can be considered a move to avoid the rocky relationship he had with the eighth National Assembly. Few days before his inauguration in May, the president had reviewed the relationship between the Executive arm of the government and the then outgoing eighth National Assembly and concluded that it was not the best. He said he hoped for a better working relationship between the two arms of government in the Ninth Assembly.
According to the statement, President Buhari said he was pleased with the voting pattern of principal leaders of the National Assembly, “which showed a lot of maturity and patriotism, and also signalled to all Nigerians that love for the nation supersedes party affiliations.
“I was very pleased that people expressed their desires at the National Assembly across party lines. Neighbourliness is very important. It makes sense to cultivate neighbourliness on individual and national level. If you cultivate good relationship with your neighbour, you will save a lot emotionally and materially,” he said
The president noted that Nigeria had benefitted a lot by maintaining a good relationship with neighbours like Cameroon and Benin Republic, noting that the fight against Boko Haram had been jointly carried out with neighbouring countries.
He then urged the legislature to stop comparing Nigeria’s democracy with more developed countries “as every country had its peculiarities and the historical growth patterns had been different, with the developed countries practising liberal democracy for longer years. Along the line of development, we are a developing country. We have different experiences.”
In his response, Senate President Ahmad Lawan assured the president that the legislature was ready to work with the executive to provide solutions to the challenges facing the nation.
He noted that the ninth National Assembly was different in “attitude, composition, and patriotism” and will ensure good “collaboration, partnership and synergy” on national issues.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said elections of principal officers in the National Assembly were transparent, assuring that the National Assembly will work with the president, to improve the lives of constituents.
News Agency of Nigeria reports that others at the meeting included the Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila and the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase. The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and other presidential aides also attended the meeting.