•Insists he has done his best, urges elites for fair assessment
•Narrates experience with Trump on alleged killing of Christians
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday said he had directed the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to ensure a timely release of the proposed N2.3 trillion for the implementation of economic sustainability plan (ESP) as well as funds for capital projects.
The president, at the end of a two-day “First-Year Ministerial Retreat,” yesterday in Abuja, said he had done his best for the country within the available limited resources and urged the elite to judge his administration with fairness.
He also said his administration has made progress in all fronts and charged his cabinet members to be alive to their responsibilities.
He demanded optimum performance from them so his administration could make Nigeria better for the people.
The president, who said his government had recorded some achievements, urged ministers and heads of agencies to “go on the offensive” to defend them.
Buhari also narrated his experience with the United States President, Mr. Donald Trump, when the American leader once asked him why he was killing Christians.
He said though he was pained by the allegation, he took his time to explain to his US counterpart that the killings of Christians in Nigeria “has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion.”
Buhari said all he wanted was a result of not only the ministers, but also from permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals.
He added that he was looking forward to a result-oriented second year in office that would bring about the desired change in the lives of the people.
“I hereby charge the ministers, permanent secretaries and all heads of parastatals to be continuously conscious of their commitment and responsibilities. On behalf of the people of Nigeria, I demand the utmost levels of performance, deliverables and results. I look forward to a result-oriented year with tremendous benefits that will continue to change the lives of our people positively,” he stated.
According to him, ministers are to ensure that released funds are prudently and transparently utilised for the purposes they are allocated in accordance with the federal government’s priorities.
He said: “I have directed the minister of finance, budget and national planning, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and all other responsible agencies to ensure speedy and timely release of funds to MDAs for implementation of the N2.3 trillion economic sustainability plan and the capital projects in the 2020 budget.
“I also enjoined ministers to ensure that funds released are utilised efficiently and transparently in implementing the programmes and projects under the line priority areas of government.”
He warned that bickering among ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) would no longer be tolerated and directed a reactivation of the coordination delivery unit in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to monitor their activities and performances.
He directed government officials to go on the offensive in the defence of the activities of government to guard against what he described as the spread of falsehood against the government.
According to him, information should be well packaged and government functionaries should deliver it.
He added that matters relating to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) should be directed to the SGF, while ministerial requests for meetings with him should be sought through the chief of staff.
“The days of insufficient collaboration, coordination and synergy among implementing ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) should be over. In this regard, I have directed that essential coordination delivery unit in the Office of the Secretary of the Government of the Federation should be revived to ensure we focus on results. The SGF is to ensure regular reports on progress submitted.
“I have charged all of you to defend the government vigorously and not allow any irresponsible and politically motivated statements to keep spreading falsehoods about this government.
“Information to the public should be better packaged, go on the offensive. We are proud of our achievements and we should blow our own trumpets. Let me also reiterate that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests should be channelled through the chief of staff, while all Federal Executive Council (FEC) matters should be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the federation,” he said.
Buhari Urges the Elite to Judge His Administration Fairly
The president also urged the elite to judge his administration fairly.
Buhari also spoke about his party, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and the promises it made to Nigerians when it was campaigning for election, pleading with the elite to be fair in their assessment of his government.
He asked them to reflect on the state of infrastructure and the price of crude oil in the international market before he came to power and what it was when he took over.
He told cabinet members to implore their friends to reflect on what his government has achieved, saying he’s doing his best with the two chances that God has given him to be in power.
He said: “The next problem I want to tell you is how we found ourselves; when I say us, I mean members of APC when we promised three things, security, economy and fighting corruption. We repeated the same thing last year.
“But I want the Nigerian elite to please encourage us and judge us fairly when we came. Between 1999 and 2014, I will like you to please check the average (crude oil) production was 2.1 million barrels per day, the average cost was $100 per barrel.
“When we came it collapse to $37 to $38 per barrel and the militants were unleashed on the administration, the production went down.
“I want you to please reflect what was the condition of the infrastructure then in spite of the earnings, the roads? There was no power and up to now, there is no power. Where did the money go?
“So, please encourage your friends the elite to reflect on what this administration has done, what APC has done, and what we have achieved. Well, I am doing my best, God has given me two chances.”
He cited his administration’s achievements in railways and the Second Niger Bridge, which he said has recorded 46 per cent completion, promising that it would be completed before the end of his tenure in 2023.
On corruption, the president said he was “doing” his “best” to fight corruption by “trying to follow the system” in contrast to his brief military regime in 1984 when he arbitrarily rounded up politicians, threw them in jail and required them to prove their innocence.
According to him, “I’m being called ‘baba go slow’ because I am now following the system.”
Buhari Narrates Experience with Trump on Alleged Killing of Christians
Buhari, who said he was put on the spot by Trump when he was alone with him, added that the American leader accused him of killing Christians.
He said the question startled him but he put his emotion under control.
The president, who deviated from his closing speech, said he was the only African leader from less developed countries that was invited by Trump at the time.
Buhari asked his cabinet members how they would feel if they were the ones put on the spot and confronted with such a grave allegation, adding that he told Trump that the conflicts were caused by successive Nigerian leaders who tampered with established grazing routes.
According to him, only Nigerian leaders in the First Republic kept grazing routes while subsequent ones encroached on them.
“I believe I was about the only African among the less developed countries the President of United States invited, and when I was in his office, only myself and himself. Only God is my witness. He looked at me in the face. He said ‘why are you killing Christians?’
“I wonder if you were the person how you will react. I hope what I was feeling inside did not betray my emotion. So, I told him that the problem between the cattle rearers and stagnant farmers I know is older than me not to talk of him (Trump). I think I am a couple of years older than him.
“With climate change and population growth and the culture of the cattle rearers, if you have 50 cows and they eat grass, any route to your water point, they will follow it, it doesn’t matter whose farm it was.
“The First Republic set of leadership was the most responsible leadership we ever had. I asked the Minister of Agriculture to get a gazette of the early 60s, which delineated the cattle routes where they used meagre resources then to put earth dams, windmills even sanitary department.
“So, any cattle rearer that allowed his cattle to go to somebody’s farm is arrested, taken before the court, the farmer is called to submit his bill and if he can’t pay, the cattle are sold. But subsequent leaders, VVIPs (very very important persons); they encroached on the cattle routes, they took over the cattle rearing areas.
“So, I tried and explained to him this has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. It is a cultural thing, which the respective leadership was failing the nation,” he said.
In his own speech, the SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said presentations from the retreat had shown that the team had the potential to transform the country and improve the living standard of the people.
According to him, independent assessment of the performance of mandates assigned to ministers from inception reveals five major issues.
“The need to review and reprioritise the interventions in the ministerial mandates to meet the new emerging socio-economic environment and deliver on presidential priorities.
“The need for Key Performance Indicators and annual targets that smartly define the success of interventions in each priority area for improved performance assessment going forward.
“The need for inter-agency collaboration to drive delivery and synergy among implementing MDAs.
“The need to accelerate the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan in order to respond to the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; and
“Adequacy and timeliness of fund releases to execute projects and programmes of the ministerial mandates,” he added.
Mustapha stated that the retreat had established the necessity for ministers and agencies under them to collaborate with one another “to strengthen inter-agency collaboration to drive delivery and synergy among implementing MDAs.”
He said his office would activate the delivery unit spoken about by the president “to ensure regular interface with ministers and ensure bilateral engagements are sustained between the desk officers and technical teams of MDAs on key performance indicators (KPIs) for tracking and selection of priority initiatives to deliver the probable pathway to achieving the nine priority areas.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also said the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had not only worsened poverty in the country, but had also distorted the economy and increased the level of hardship among Nigerians.
He reiterated the president’s order that ministers and heads of agencies should implement the N2.3 trillion stimulus package meant to cushion the effect of the economic crisis on the people, noting that the administration does not have the luxury of time.
According to a statement by his media aide, Mr. Laolu Akande, Osinbajo said: “We are already in day 67 since the plan. Nothing is going to happen by magic, we have to simply do this stuff.
“We have to ensure that we have the money and ensure that day by day, we are measuring our achievements and trying to ensure that we do the things that we need to do. And we simply are not favoured by time, every single day the poverty situation and the economic distortions deepen.”