Defends Frequent Foreign Trips
Critics carpeting President Muhammadu Buhari for his perceived slow performance in his 10-month presidency got a reply yesterday with the President responding that the criticisms were too early and hasty since he has three more years to prove his mettle.
“I know you are being harassed since the election that they haven’t seen anything on the ground. Well, if you have any explanation that could be accepted, it is that you have three more years to go,” he said at the opening of the meeting of the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja.
Buhari, who briefed his party leaders on the progress made so far by his administration, also seized the opportunity provided by the occasion to respond to critics of his frequent travels abroad, saying the trips were necessary to present the nation’s case for foreign assistance.
According to Buhari, “Sometimes, you need to present your case on a personal basis to your economic colleagues and neighbours. Nothing is better than personal touch and I believe that we are learning a lot and eventually, the nation will realize so.”
He told his party leaders that his administration appeared slow because it had used the last 10 months to restructure the government, explaining that it had to prune the 42 ministries that the Peoples Democratic Party-led government left behind to 24 for greater efficiency and to save cost.
Buhari further explained that he had to conduct the restructuring along with the demands of producing a national budget, saying that the task were enormous. But he assured that with the 2016 budget in place, the coast was clear for him to fire from all cylinders.
On the economy, Buhari blamed the sliding price of crude oil which he said had continued to keep the economy in bad shape, noting that about 27 states had been unable to pay staff salaries regularly.
But he gave assurances that with a better and a more transparent management structure he was putting in place, better days were ahead.
The President assured that with the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy, over N3trillion had been mopped up by the federal government, adding that details of monies recovered from indicted former government officials and others facing corruption charges, would soon be made public.
He said public disclosure of the recoveries would demonstrate that his administration’s fight against corruption was not a fluke.
Buhari said regardless of the present challenges, nobody could contradict the fact that his administration’s fight against corruption was critical to the development and overall well- being of the people.
The President said, “We insist that we have to know what comes in and what goes out for us to make a comprehensive amendment to the economy. If you go and see the Central Bank Governor, he will tell you that in the TSA, we have more than N3 trillion. Where would this money have been if TSA was not in vogue?”
He also spoke about corruption in the petroleum sector of the economy and said the federal government will soon begin the prosecution of all persons indicted by the reports of the various investigative panels he had set up.
Buhari, however hinted of the frustration the administration was having in securing relevant evidence to prosecute corruption suspects, assuring his party leaders that the challenges notwithstanding, more work was being done to ensure that those indicted were duly and properly prosecuted.
According to him, “We have tried to make sure that NNPC is reorganized, so that we know how much of our crude is taken, how much it is sold and to which account the money is going. But I tell you that up to the time we came, if anybody told you that he knew how much of crude exchanged hands either on the high sea or reaching their destination and the accounts the money went into, that person would not be telling you the truth.
“We are getting the cooperation of countries that have received this crude. But we have to be sure of the facts in our hands before we start prosecution so that Nigerians will believe what we have been telling them.”
In what seemed like a new policy direction, the President hinted that the FG will have to prune down the number of parastatals to conform with the cut in the number of ministries which have been reduced from 42 to 24.
He said that an order rescinding the sack of all boards has been given especially as it affects the university boards, adding that the government realised that “according to their laws, they cannot choose their Vice Chancellors unless the boards are in place”.
On electoral violence, the President described the incidents recorded during the just concluded re-run election in Rivers State as very shameful.
“I am afraid I did not succeed in the election in Kogi, Bayelsa and Rivers. I think that more Nigerians are killed or killed themselves in Rivers than in any particular state. At this stage of our political development, to remain brutal is shameful and as a government, I promise we will do something by the next general election,” he said.
In his opening speech, the national Chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun said notwithstanding some notable progress made by the APC administration, there is need for the leaders to have some introspection and reflections on the best way forward.
Oyegun who later spoke to journalists on the decisions reached at the NEC meeting said that the body has approved the down-sizing of the BoT membership before its formal inauguration.
He said the NEC has given the leadership the nod to organise congresses to fill vacant seats in the NWC.
On the Rivers State election re-run, Oyegun said the party condemns the barbaric acts that were perpetrated during the poll, warning that the culprits would be fished out and punished. “People must not get away with the dastardly acts and such should not be allowed to repeat itself or spread to other states,” he said.
The Imo State governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, also expressed dismay over the violence during the Rivers State election, describing it as unpardonable.
President Buhari arrived at exactly 11 am for the NEC meeting along with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Oyegun and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had arrived 15 minutes earlier along with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume. But the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, missed out on the meeting, obviously due to the date he had to keep at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.