• President pledges to expand cabinet, constitute boards of agencies soon
Omololu Ogunmade and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Rising from its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting Tuesday, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) said that it has not started consideration of offering an automatic presidential ticket to President Muhammadu Buhari to contest for a second term in the 2019 presidential election, but this was just as the party’s governors threw their weight behind the president to fly the party’s flag during the election.
The party at its NEC meeting held in Abuja, however, unanimously passed a vote of confidence on Buhari over what it described as his satisfactory performance.
The confidence vote by the party came just as Buhari yielded to pressure to retool the federal cabinet so as to inject fresh ideas that will improve governance.
Apparently responding to agitations by his party men who had complained of being shortchanged in appointments, the president in his opening speech at the meeting, said he would expand the cabinet to accommodate more supporters of the party, whom he said would inject fresh ideas into the government.
He equally promised to make public soon appointments into the boards of federal government parastatals.
The president said he regretted that the boards of the parastatals had not been constituted two years after he made the promise, blaming the delay on the committees saddled with the responsibility of ensuring equitable representation on the boards across the country.
“Last year, I said we would reconstitute the boards of parastatals. I most regret the fact that we have not done so for many reasons. Some of us in this meeting may know I had given instructions since October 2015 for this exercise to start.
“But there have been inordinate delays through several committees in an attempt to get the balance right and to make sure all parts of the country are equitably represented.
“On the other hand, I am keenly aware that our supporters are very eager for these appointments to be announced. By the Grace of God, these appointments will be announced soon, especially now that the economy is improving, we will have the resources to cater for the appointees.
“By the same token, the compressed Federal Executive Council will be expanded to bring in more supporters at the federal level with fresh ideas to be injected into the government,” he said.
Buhari, who thanked the party leaders who had prayed for him while he was undergoing treatment for his illness in the United Kingdom, also expressed gratitude to the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and the leaders and members of the National Assembly, including the opposition whom he said “rose above petty party interests and acted in the national interest”.
He also thanked the state governors whom he said maintained unity and tolerance among their communities in the face of the stiff challenges confronting them as he proceeded to reel out what he described as the achievements of his administration.
According to him, progress had been made in the fight against Boko Haram and other areas including peace in the Niger Delta, regular fuel supply, improved power supply, agriculture and the fight against corruption.
Claiming that Nigeria’s reputation had improved among the comity of nations, Buhari said Nigeria was now creditworthy as the country’s Eurobond was four times oversubscribed.
Irrespective of the progress made so far, the president said he was not unaware of the challenges before him.
“In my remarks to the Caucus meeting yesterday (Monday), I enumerated the progress that our government has made in the implementation of the programmes of government and the party manifesto.
“We can be proud of our achievements in the last two years – Boko Haram, Niger Delta, regular fuel supply, improved power supply, the TSA (Treasury Single Account), agriculture and fertiliser, and above all the knowledge that corruption will not be tolerated in this government. We all know there is change.
“Nigeria’s prestige has gone up, Nigeria is now creditworthy, a clear testimony of which was the oversubscription of the Eurobond by four times.
“Nevertheless, we are not resting on our achievements. I am quite aware of the challenges before us.
“Let me thank you all again for the commitment and dedicated service to our party and to remind you that much more will be required of you in the coming months.
“I hope we can continue to depend on you. If we remain united and rise above petty or personal quarrels we will surely achieve the desired change in the country,” he stated.
Addressing journalists on the outcome of the NEC meeting, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said that the party reviewed its activities in the past year and also took decisions on how to reshape its future.
He said following a motion brought by the party, the NEC meeting passed a vote of confidence on the president.
He explained that the meeting also passed a vote of confidence on the national chairman of the party.
Dogara said that there was another motion raised from the floor by a member seeking for a vote for an automatic ticket for the president but it was deferred.
“Even though there was a motion from the floor that called for a vote of confidence on the president, some of us felt it was not necessary because there is nowhere that his confidence is shaken. But the motion was taken and passed.
“But there was a second leg to that motion which called for the adoption of the candidature of the president, but it was deferred and no decision was taken on it because that was not the major reason why we were here,” he said.
Dogara also said that the meeting resolved to pursue reconciliation with aggrieved members as a way forward.
In his briefing, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said the meeting approved the setting up of a committee to help fix dates for all activities leading to the party’s mini-convention and elective convention.
Abdullahi further spoke on the motion on the automatic ticket, saying that the motion was brought by one of the members from the floor but that it was not discussed at the meeting.
He said the meeting could not also conclude action on the proposed party constitution amendments.
However, before the meeting commenced, several governors elected on the platform of the APC said Tuesday that they would support Buhari to fly the party’s flag in 2019.
Regarding the issue of an automatic ticket for the president, Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong said all the APC governors had resolved that they would work for a return ticket for Buhari, adding that the party does not have anyone that could match Buhari for the ticket at the moment.
“I want to say that if Mr. President is performing, is well respected and carrying everybody along, all of us have resolved that we will work for him. Do we have any other person that will challenge the president again? Whatever you call it, as far as we are concerned, we have one president and that is the ticket we will fly,” he said.
Lalong said the APC leaders had used the National Caucus meeting held at the State House on Monday night to resolve all the grey areas, adding that what would be seen going forward is a brand new APC devoid of wrangling.
“I want to assure you that you won’t see any wrangling after the meeting. From now onwards it will be focused governance from Mr. President and all the governors from the states. We have all resolved to support Mr. President,” Lalong added.
Echoing Lalong’s position, the Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu said he would give the president his support based on his “sterling performance”.
“I think for APC members, it is a democratic party, but the performance of the president in the last two and a half years suggests that if he wants to contest, I will certainly support him and I know that our party members feel the same way about him,” he said.
Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha described Monday’s caucus meeting as a turning point in the life of the ruling party.
He said Buhari had shown the right leadership and had taken the right steps, adding that there was silent reconciliation presently going on, which would put APC in the right mood for the 2019 elections.
“From the caucus meeting of last night (Monday night), we can see light at the end of the dark tunnel. APC is coming out of the woods and we are set to take over the nation like we have always done. It is going to get better and better,” he said.
For the Governor of Nasarawa State Tanko Almakura, the greatest asset Buhari has is his acclaimed integrity and impeccable character which, according to the governor, have endeared him to Nigerians.
However, Almakura said any consensus arrangement that did not follow a democratic process was not what the president needed.
“For anybody to preempt the opinion of the people, is to say the least not fair to the vision of our party. I can tell you that if there is anything that is clandestine, the president will not honour it, so let’s wait and see as we embark on these meetings.
“I believe the consensus and the preponderance of opinion of all party members will be what is good for this country,” he said.
One of the fallouts of the meetings of the National Caucus and NEC was the reaffirmation that the state governors are leaders of the party in the various states.
The party resolved to work towards reconciling all aggrieved persons and to reunite members in readiness for the 2019 general election.
Key party leaders that attended Tuesday’s meeting included Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, APC National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun, and the National Leader of the APC Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Others in attendance were Governors Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Jibrilla Bindow (Adamawa), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Simon Lalong (Plateau), Almakura (Nasarawa), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano), Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara) and Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna).
Others included Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Okorocha (Imo), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Mohammed Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa), Abubakar Sani Bello (Niger), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Kashim Shettima (Borno), Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (Sokoto), Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina), and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo).
The senators present at the meeting included Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan, Senate Minority Whip Francis Alimikhena, Senators Abdullahi Adamu, Binta Garba, Andy Ubah, Magnus Abbe, Dino Melaye, Ahmed Sani Yerima, Gbenga Ashafa and Barnabas Gemade.
From the House of Representatives came Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila, and Majority Whip Ado Dogowa, among others.
The pioneer National Chairman of the party Bisi Akande, Minister of Agriculture Audi Ogbe, FCT Minister Mohammed Bello and Special Adviser to the Vice-President on Political Matters Babafemi Ojodu were also in attendance.
Before the meeting, some mild drama played out at the entrance of the party’s secretariat when the presidential guard deployed in the place insisted that the governors must get down from their cars at the gate and walk into the premises.
But the security aides attached to Kogi Governor Bello who was the first to arrive the secretariat for the meeting, engaged in a shouting match, which almost resulted in fisticuffs.
The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara Governor Abdulaziz Yari was furious that his colleagues were asked to disembark and walk into the secretariat, insisting that they be allowed to be driven in and the cars taken out after dropping them, but the head of the president’s security team told him that “it will not work that way”.
In the end, the governors all had to walk into the premises from the gate.