Lai Mohammed: Controversy over Buhari's Handover Letter Needless Distraction

  •  FEC approves negotiations for Lagos-Kano, PH-Maiduguri rail lines concession

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

The federal government on Wednesday dismissed the controversy over President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly, in which he stated that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would “co-ordinate government activities” in his absence.

Fielding questions from State House correspondents on the outcome of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting which was presided over by Osinbajo, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, described the reaction as a needless distraction, adding that the operative phrase in the letter was “in compliance with Section 145 (1)” of the 1999 Constitution.

He pointed out that once the phrase was in the letter, any other words that were included were not of paramount importance.

“I think it is a needless controversy and just a distraction. The operative sentence is ‘in compliance with Section 145 sub-section (1)’ so any other words are irrelevant,” Mohammed said.

After the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, read the letter on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday announcing Buhari’s follow-up medical trip to the United Kingdom, Senator Mao Ohuanbuwa (Abia North) had raised a point of order, questioning the use of the words “co-ordinate activities of government” as against “discharge the functions of my office” which the president had used in his January 18 letter when he embarked on a similar trip.

Ohuanbuwa was of the view that the language in the letter had implied that the full reins of power were not handed over to Osinbajo.

However, Osinbajo in response to a tweet on Tuesday seeking to know if Buhari had officially handed over to him, on his Twitter handle @ProfOsinbajo, confirmed that power was handed over to him by the president.

Irrespective, the wording of the president’s letter has generated heated debate among Nigerians, especially on the social media, with many concluding that the rewording of the letter was deliberate and politically motivated.

During the briefing on Wednesday, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, also told State House correspondents that FEC approved a memorandum seeking to establish the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations.

The minister, who said the memo was approved because trade is “pervasive” and involves a lot of negotiations, added that the government had found that trade activities are initiated by various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government with insufficient co-ordination.

This, he explained, has unintended consequences and costs for Nigeria.
He said the office would be “headed by a chief negotiator of ambassadorial rank who will then work with both the economic management team and the cabinet”.

Enelamah listed the objectives of the office to include co-ordinating various trade discussions and negotiations that will hold, and to achieve coherence in the country’s policies so that policies will pull trade together.

In his briefing, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said council also approved a memorandum authorising the introduction of a new yellow card with advanced security features.

The minister said the new card had become necessary in view of challenges surrounding the current yellow card, noting that “it could be issued by anybody and those who did not even receive the vaccination could also get a card signed for them”.

However, he said the new card, unlike the current one, cannot be counterfeited.
“Using a card reader, we can also document your vaccination status. So we know whether you have been genuinely vaccinated or not and as soon as we start the roll out, we will let the Nigerian community know about the date of commencement.

“We will also let them know that with the card they are holding, they are assured that it will be recognised abroad. We will also let Nigerians know when we will phase out the old one,” Adewole said.

Also, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said two memoranda were approved by FEC for his ministry to commence negotiations on an Outline Business Case (OBC) for the concession and construction of the rail lines that was submitted by General Electric (GE).

“The transaction advisors will now commence negotiations with GE to conclude the concessions for the narrow gauge line which starts from Lagos-Kano-Funtua-Kaura-Namoda, and then from Port Harcourt-Maiduguri which includes Aba-Umuahia,-Enugu-Markudi-Jos-Bauchi-Gombe-Maiduguri.

“The next memo that was approved has to do with the consultant that will supervise the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan rail line and when we award the Kano-Kaduna rail line the same consultant has also been approved,” Amaechi stated.