Politics

Nigeria can’t afford 36 ministers, Buhari says

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday hinted that not all ministerial nominees sent to the Senate for confirmation would end up as ministers in his cabinet, as according to him, some of them would only sit in the cabinet in order to meet the constitutional provision for 36 ministers.

Buhari stated that the country would be lucky if his administration is able to have half the number (21) of the 42 ministers that operated under the last administration of Goodluck Jonathan.

He said he only sent names of 36 ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation because the constitution stipulates that each state of the federation must have representatives in his cabinet.

The president in an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority and Channels TV shortly before he left New Delhi where he participated in the third summit of the India-Africa Forum said, “Yes, there used to be 42 ministers, I think we will be lucky if we can have half of that now because we cannot afford it.

“There was no reduction (of ministers) to 36. What the constitution says, and we cannot work outside the constitution, is that there must be a cabinet representative from each state.

“Others may not be substantive ministers but they will sit in the cabinet because that is what the constitution says and we cannot operate outside the constitution.”

When asked specifically whether he will reduce the number of ministers, Buhari said, “Of course! Unless you can volunteer to be paying them (ministers).”

When asked the criteria used in compiling his ministerial nominees, the President explained that his three previous attempts at the Presidency afforded him the opportunity of knowing many Nigerians.

He said that experience afforded him the opportunity of knowing those who fell by the wayside when the journey became tough and those who soldiered on.

He continued, “I have just talked about Nigerians, especially the elite, sitting and reflecting on serious national issues.

“How many times did I attempt to be the President of Nigeria? How many times did I end up in the Supreme Court? Does is it mean every time, I don’t know people in this country?

“I know people who we were going together but fell by the wayside because it was too tough. You know I contested in 2003, 2007, 2011. I think Nigerians should stop taking things for granted as far as we are concerned,” he said.

When confronted with the fact that one of his nominees caused division among senators elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, the President said the nominee must be one of those suggested to him.

“This is a team work. I said I know people but there are people (nominees) that I accepted from other people in our team that I trust without even knowing them.

“Maybe the one that has problem in the National Assembly, I doubt if I have ever met him in my life.

Read also: News analysis … Nominees: Factors that influenced Buhari’s choices

“But then, I am working with others. I did not walk into the Presidency alone. I have to depend on all the other three tiers of government from all parts of the country.

“We thank God and technology that this time around, we are able to make it,” the President said.

When the President was asked to react to the claim that his administration is slow in the development of infrastructure, Buhari wondered where the government would get the money from.

He said he inherited a country that was vandalised materially and morally, and that it got to a stage that the government could not afford to pay salaries.

Buhari said, “Where is the money? You must have known that the Federal Government had to help 27 of the 36 states to pay salaries.

“Nigeria cannot pay salaries. The Federal Government itself had to summon the governor of the Central Bank to see how it would pay salaries not to talk of the agreements we signed with foreign countries, counterpart funding and so on.

“This country was materially vandalised and morally so and you are in a position to know even more than myself unless you are testing my knowledge whether I know it or not.”

When asked to be categorical on whether the country is broke, Buhari replied, “Of course, Nigeria is broke.”

The President denied allegation that his administration had been selective in its anti-corruption war.

He said he had not lost sleep on the allegation because those indicted would be confronted with documents that incriminated them.

Buhari identified unnamed prominent Nigerians as those constituting stumbling blocks to the anti-graft war, saying their target is to discourage the government from going ahead with the war.

He said, “I cannot tell you offhand how much we have recovered (in looted funds) but those who said we have been selective, if they have not been involved in corruption, they would not mind; they will even encourage us to get whoever has compromised his position in the trust given to them.

“So, I see it in the papers, I watch it on the screen but I have never lost sleep over it because those who are not corrupt should only encourage us to even do more.

“But those who are interested, those who have abused the trust will go to any length including bribing people to give false information.

“I have not been selective. Whoever is caught, the documents that incriminate him or her will be used to prosecute him (or her) for Nigerians to know really who has abused trust.

“The stumbling blocks are big, corrupt Nigerians that have the capacity to compromise the integrity of a lot of people, either the law enforcement agencies or journalists to make sure that they discourage the government from pursuing them and recovering public funds from them or punishing them. Those who aspire to public office, we will make sure what they are going to get is service and not looting.”

On the timeline given the Nigerian military to end insurgency, Buhari said he remained optimistic that the feat could be achieved.

He said it should be a source of worry to Nigerians that before now, Nigerian military and other law enforcement agencies were getting accolades across the world when they could not secure 14 of the nation’s 774 local government areas before a change in government.

“The main objective is to get rid of Boko Haram whether it is within the time limit we gave to the military or outside of it, we remain focused in our objective and we will support them.

“Government will support the military and other law enforcement agencies to make sure that Boko Haram is removed from Nigeria and from our neighbours in the Lake Chad Basin Commission countries.

“I am an optimistic person. I am sorry for those who have already given up. I remain confident that our military and other law enforcement agencies are more than equal to the task.

“Don’t forget that I made an earlier statement to the effect that the Nigerian military and police earned accolades all over the world: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, etc.

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“They earned international respect and then here you are, the Nigerian military and other law enforcement agencies could not secure 14 local governments out of 774 until the government was changed.

“I think Nigerians should sit and reflect about what they should get worried about and about how to support the administration,” he added.

Responding to a question on whether it is true that some looters have started returning their loot secretly to government coffers, Buhari said, “I do not want to let the cat out of the bag now.”

When told that his name sends shivers down the spines of some Nigerians, Buhari said he did not want to be feared but be respected.

“I don’t want to believe you. I will like to believe you if you say Nigerians respect me but I don’t want to be feared, I want to be respected,” the President said.

Buhari said he would like to be remembered as a leader who did not only fight the civil war, but one that also fought corruption to a standstill.

“If we survive it, I want to be remembered that Nigerians have found out that I was genuine; I was a real patriot, not that I only fought the civil war but that I fought corruption to a standstill,” he said.

He described a grant promised Nigeria by India during his visit as a great relief.

He said, “It is a major relief. It will solve our unemployment problems and if goods and services are produced, our foreign exchange will not suffer so much. All that the Indian companies will be asking for is the repatriation of their profit which is part of the agreement and then some essential raw materials which are not available in Nigeria.

“I think the benefit is very clear.”

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