•Promises level playing field in 2019
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Celebrating his 76th birthday in Abuja yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari responded to mounting criticism of his administration’s performance and requested Nigerians to give him more time to meet their aspirations.
Asking for an understanding of his intentions, he said were noble, the president solicited for prayers, pleading that Nigerians ought to take cognisance of the parlous state of the country he took over in 2015.
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a swift response to the president’s passionate appeal, said what he needed was not time but rest, contending that the greatest challenge confronting Buhari was lack of capacity to govern.
“The greatest resource the president needs today is rest, not time,” said the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in an interview with THISDAY, adding, “The obvious fact is that Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) were not prepared for governance.”
Buhari had spoken in the State House while answering questions from journalists during a parade commemorating his birthday anniversary.
The president had jokingly protested when a reporter attempted to reduce his age to 75. “Why would you reduce my age by one?’’ Buhari queried the reporter when he fielded questions in both English and Hausa languages from State House correspondents after a brief ceremony at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The president called on Nigerians to continue to pray for him and the country at large, charging them to continue to show more understanding of his administration’s policies aimed at transforming the country.
He said he would continue to remind Nigerians about all that his administration had done, the state of the country when he took over and what the government had done with the available resources.
He said, “We will keep reminding Nigerians about what we have done, how we met the country, what we have been able to do from the time we came in till now with the resources available to us.
“Nigerians should continue to pray for me and understand my intentions and give me time.”
Buhari said he was impressed with the birthday parade organised for him by his aides and thanked them for the event.
“Well, I am impressed with it. They have put a lot of time behind it. I thank and appreciate them very much,” he said.
The ceremony began with a special rendition that ushered the president into the forecourt, where special parade was mounted by the Guards Brigade.
This was then followed by a special performance by the silent drill squad of the Guards Brigade, which included the formation of words like PMB @ 76.
The event also witnessed special display by the Guards Brigade Band, wishing the president “Happy Birthday’’ with their musical gadgets.
Highlight of the event was the presentation of birthday cards to the president.
The Minister of Defence, Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd), presented a birthday card on behalf of the country’s armed forces, while the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, presented another card on behalf of members of the cabinet.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, presented a card on behalf of presidential aides and the Guards Brigade also made a special presentation.
The high point of the event was the cutting of the birthday cake by the president, who was flanked by ministers and some presidential aides.
Those at the event included cabinet ministers, members of the Diplomatic Corps, security chiefs, presidential aides and well-wishers.
Promises Level Playing Field in 2019
In a related development, the president yesterday in Abuja promised to provide a level playing field for all candidates vying for political offices in next year’s general election.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari gave the assurance while receiving a delegation of the International Republican and National Democratic Institute of United States of America in the State House.
He quoted him as saying, “I am glad you are here to assess our pre-election preparations. It reminds me of the visit by the then Secretary of State, John Kerry, before the 2015 polls. We appreciate the concern of America for stability in developing countries.
“Having run for president three times, ending up at the Supreme Court all three times, before God and technology made a way for me the fourth time, I know what it is to be cheated at the polls. “What they used to do was just to award votes, and tell anyone who was dissatisfied to go to court. But we won’t do that. I am prepared to give the opposition the opportunities I was not given in the past.”
Adesina said Buhari also assured the visitors that he had told the heads of the security agencies not to be partisan, but rather to do their work professionally, and allow the will of the people to prevail.
He also said the president promised that the ruling APC would keep faith with its priorities of securing the country, reviving the economy, and fighting corruption.
The statement also said the president stated that he was happy that the opposition had not been able to successfully fault the focal areas of his government.
“We have done fairly well in the areas we focused on. We know how many local government areas in the North-east were under Boko Haram occupation before we came.
“That does not happen again, save for cowardly attacks, using young girls as suicide bombers. Other areas of security challenge like farmers/herdsmen clashes are receiving attention, and would be sorted out as much as possible,” Buhari was further quoted.
On the Electoral Bill which he failed to sign, Adesina quoted the president as saying, “Time is against us. We are extremely vulnerable, and need to be careful that messages are not hijacked and figures tampered with, while being transmitted electronically.
“Even the Russians were accused of tampering with American election. So, we will remain conventional, and use electronic transmission in subsequent elections.”
The statement added that the leader of the American delegation, Ambassador Linda-Thomas Greenfield, said they had met with the media, civil society, and political parties, and concerns expressed included fear of security agencies being partisan in the forthcoming elections, suspected non-commitment to free and fair elections by key stakeholders, delayed budget for the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the non-signing of the new Electoral Bill.