Buhari: Eschew impunity, drive change
Newly confirmed Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are to sign a Code of Conduct before they assume office, Nigerian Pilot can authoritatively reveal. The document which was prepared by the Presidency on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari forms part of the papers for the ongoing two-day retreat for the ministers which began yesterday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF.
The theme of the retreat is: “Delivering change from precepts to practice”. It is being attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with all ministers-designate and other presidential aides as well as top government officials.
Declaring the retreat open, President Muhammadu Buhari charged them to be honest, prudent in managing resources and serve as change agents for the administration.
He congratulated the appointees for passing the Senate’s screening, saying that the retreat was to keep them abreast of the administration’s focus, ease governance, and to enable them to key into the various programmes of the government.
Buhari asked the ministers to see their appointments as a privilege and exhibit selflessness and patriotism in their assignments, noting that government officials’ determination to succeed must be equal to the nation’s challenges.
He reminded the ministers that his election was hinged on his promise to tackle corruption, insecurity and improve the economy and they must work to assist in delivering on the mandate. Although none of the presidential aides we approached for comments was willing to either confirm or deny the existence of a Code of Conduct for the ministers, a minister-designate from the North-West Zone told Nigerian Pilot under condition of anonymity that such a document exists.
According to him, “we have been presented a document which we are expected to study and later sign to guide us in our daily dealings as ministers. You can call it code of ethics or code of conduct, what matters is that we are expected to abide by the provisions. Even the constitution made provisions for similar thing, so it is not new. When you take up a position of responsibility such as this, you should know that much would be expected from you and you must have a guideline. That is exactly what we have.”
Nigerian Pilot gathered from sources that part of the provisions of the code includes: (1) that Ministers should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
(2) Minister should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
(3) In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, ministers should make choices on merit.
According to our source, the ministers are also expected to at all times “act with honesty, whether in public or in private affairs, and uphold the highest ethical standards so that the public confidence and trust in the integrity objective and impartially of government are conserved and enhance.
“We have a responsibility to the public interest, which requires that we put to one side all personal, sectional and regional interests. We are accountable for our decisions and actions to the public and are prepared to be open to scrutiny by them. To facilitate and inform this process, we shall to the extent possible be open and transparent in the discharge of our public duties and encourage those whom we are responsible to follow our example,” the source stated.
In a bid to acquaint the new ministers with the procedure for procurement in government business, they were taken through the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, the expected relationship between ministers and their ministers of state, in a determined effort to eliminate the friction which had characterized such relationship in the past and ensure harmony in the discharge of their duties.
It will not be the first time since the return to democracy that ministers would be given a code of conduct. Former Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, Late Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 and Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 and 2011 all did the same thing.
Former Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, while briefing State House correspondents on the outcome of a presidential retreat in 2010 shortly after Jonathan reconstituted the cabinet said the meeting emphasized the way and manner the ministers were expected to conduct themselves while handling the affairs of government. She said the code was necessary to ensure that ministers played by the rule in the award of contracts, pointing out that sanctions already prescribed in law would be applied to anyone that ran foul of the law.
Yesterday, while promising that his administration would uphold the rule of law and ensure that impunity is removed from governance, President Buhari urged the ministers-designate to be ready to be vehicles to administer the change needed.
“We have already taken deliberate measures to plug leakages in government revenue and resources. You all know the steps we have taken to tackle Boko Haram. We have degraded them and in desperation, they are resorting to attacks on soft targets, killing innocent people. Diversification of the economy away from oil will be a major focus of this government.
“We will intervene in mining and agriculture and upgrade the country’s physical and social infrastructure, which will broaden our revenue base and significantly improve the level of employment, especially among the youth. Our economic focus will be policies that will ensure inclusive growth and we will count our achievements based on the number of Nigerians we move out of poverty.
“The objective of this retreat is clearly reflected in the choice of topics which you will be dealing with during the sessions. The need for observing the rule of law is being emphasised to ensure that impunity is removed from government conduct.
“You are coming on board the ship of governance at an interesting time. So much has been said about the state of our economy. It is expected that we make the running of Government at all levels as lean as possible, avoid waste and conserve resources. As Ministers, you must be the vehicle that will administer the change.
“Our main task is to turn our manifesto promises to practice and results. Over the next two days I expect you to have a better understanding of the context in which we have taken the challenge of serving our country, as well as the strategies we have adopted to tackle them. I would also expect you to be even more determined to work as a team, and to live up to the high standards of probity and integrity which Nigerians expect of us, the President said.
President Buhari stressed that clear and effective communication was important and urged that the ministers-designate should keep in touch with their colleagues and share information.
“You must keep in touch with your fellow ministers. Official channel of communication is through the office of the Chief of Staff, in line with the requirements of the Presidential system,” he said.