- Discuss cabinet composition, number of ministries
In what appeared to be a last minute deal to mend fences, President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, yesterday, met behind closed door to, in the words of a senior member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, “take a last gasp decision on the ministers-designate and their portfolios ahead of their likely inauguration this week.
The source who spoke exclusively to Nigerian Pilot in Aso Villa yesterday said the meeting of the two leaders after the submission of the list of the ministers-designate by the senate president to Buhari, was to fine tune decisions on the composition of the new cabinet, the number of ministries that should be accommodated in the current regime as well as how to ensure the re-jigging of the economy and sundry issues staring the new administration in the face.
The president, who had received the list of the ministers-designate from Bukola Saraki earlier, reiterated that there won’t be portfolios for all the ministers who have been confirmed by the Senate. The President insisted that the nation’s economy is currently in shambles and therefore lacks the capacity to sustain all the ministers in substantive capacity.
He also denied a newspaper report that all the ministers will have portfolios, arguing that the constitution merely says there must be 36 ministers and not necessarily 36 ministries.
He, however, confirmed that all the ministers would be sitting in cabinet as the constitution stipulates, whether with portfolio or not.
Responding to Saraki, who had in his earlier remarks told the President that he came to formally present the list of ministers- designate to him, Buhari said “I thank you the President of the Senate for the work of the Senate leadership in our strive to follow the constitutional provision that states that the President should submit the names of those he wants to form the cabinet.
“If I can remember, there must be a member from each of the 36 states. That was why I limited the number of my nominees to that number, 36.
“The Senate worked extremely hard and they have passed all the nominees. I think there is some enthusiasm in some parts of the Presidency today that portfolios are to be given to the 36.
“The constitution certainly said there must be one member of the cabinet from all the states but the constitution does not say I must have 36 ministries.
“I will explain that details. Because of the economic imperative, to have a lot of ministers, substantive ministers, let me put it that way, whatever somebody speculated in some of today’s newspapers, I think that the economy as I have seen it now since my sitting here for the last four months, that we are so much battered; although some people are saying I am giving bad publicity and scaring away investors.”
Buhari faulted the allegation made by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that he was ‘de-marketing’ the country, insisting that he would tell the world the true economic situation of the nation.
He said, “Any investor who is interested in investing in Nigeria will seem to know more about the economy more than ourselves. So when I come and tell the truth about the position of the economy of the country, I am going out looking for investors.
“But I am confirming to them that we are truthful, that we need them to come and help us help ourselves by getting in industries, manufacturing and services.
“They know our needs. The economy of human resources, I believe will make them eventually come and help us.”
The Senate President while briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting with Buhari said the Senate never found the screening of the ministers arduous because the nominees satisfied the requirements.
He clarified that the division observed during the clearing exercise was mere politics as such were resolved at closed door sessions with Senators after negotiations.
Commenting on Buhari’s stance on having ministers without portfolio, Saraki said the practice was not new.
He said, “Well, I think before you had ministers of state in the past. I don’t think there is anything new. There was minister for special duties who really didn’t have portfolio. I think the key issue is being in cabinet; is being part of government and those that would have the responsibilities of ministering are those that at the end of the day would do that.”
He however cautioned that people should stop debating issues considered not germane to the development of the country but should dwell on challenges currently facing the country.
He continued: “Honestly I believe we need to move away from the small issues and begin to focus on the major issues. I think the country presently now is at a very trying time; no doubt about it. We have the challenges of revenue drop, challenges in trying to boost revenue and create jobs and you know we have some of these issues which we really need to address and I think that it is time for us to address them.”
Asked why he chose to personally bring the list of the cleared ministerial nominees to the Villa, Saraki said he came because he wanted to discuss some other important issues of national interest with the President.
He however confirmed that his discussion with the President had nothing to do with his present trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.