PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday stood his ground, insisting Nigeria is broke and that there was no need telling a lie about the economy. His stance on saying the truth drew condemnation from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This is even as he gave reasons for presenting 36 ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening and confirmation. He said if was in line with the Constitution.
The President spoke when he received Senate President Bukola Saraki who brought a report of the last batch of confirmed ministers.
Saraki, who arrived the Presidential Villa accompanied by the two Senior Special Assistants on Legislative Matters, Senator Ita Enang (Senate) and Sulieman Kawu (House of Representatives) at 2.55pm for the 3pm scheduled meeting.
Some of the presidential aides in the brief ceremony were Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari and the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina.
Buhari thanked the Senate leadership for its support for his administration as it strives 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 did not say I must have 36 minis- tries.
“I will explain 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 newpapers, 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.
“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 get- ting in industries, manufacturing and services.
“They know our needs. The economy of human resources, I believe will make them eventually come and help us”, he said.
President Buhari thanked the Senate President and members of the Senate for working hard technically within record time to confirm the ministers.
He assured that “we will fol- low the Constitution and all the 36 will be sitting in the cabinet as the Constitution stipulates”.
Earlier, Saraki told the President they were in the Villa to formally present the last batch of 18 names of nominees screened, having finished the exercise last Thursday.
“I want to formally present the list of the 18 ministers who have now been cleared to you and that makes a total of all your 36 nominees that have been cleared by the Senate.
“I was just engaging the SSA to check in the record when last that has happened. So, it must be credit to the nominees that were submitted and also credit to the Senate”.
Speaking to State House correspondents later at the end of the short ceremony, Saraki on the challenges of screening the ministerial nominees, said it was easy because all the quality of the nominees and with the confirmation of the nominees, the Senate has laid a solid foundation for the government to take off.
“As I said, the work was not difficult because of the quality of nominees that came in. Secondly, it is the fact that we put in the time to vigorously put the nominees to answer the questions and at the end of the day, we found out that most of them met the requirements and the Senate was satisfied.
“You noticed that in some cases we delayed the number of one or two,it is all part of politics, of behind the scene, but at the end of the day, we finished with them, that is all about give and take and eventually, I am happy with what the Senators have done. The entire 108 Senators, we have done a good job and I believe we have laid the platform for the government to fully take off”.
On the concern of possible ministers without portfolio, the Senate President said: “Well, I think before you had ministers of state in the past, I don’t think there is anything new, there were ministers for special duties which really don’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.
“So, minister of state is not new. We had it before, if you remember that very well. Honestly, I believe we need to move away from the small is- sues 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 ad- dress and I think that it is time for us to address them and these are some of the issues we looked at as a Senate, that it is time for us to give support to the executive to move the country forward and I think all of us apart from those in the legislature and the executive and even those of you in the media, we must begin to prof- fer and put our country in a positive view otherwise, there is no way we are going to have those major issues addressed”.
On the criticism which the President’s statements has attracted, Saraki said, “As I said it is not new in having all not full-time ministers, but let us wait to see what portfolio or responsibility some of them will have. I cannot speak on behalf of the President on that, but we have done our own constitutional responsibility”.
On why he brought the letter personally to the President, he said, “because there were other things we discussed. As you can see after you left, we discussed for about 20 minutes on some major issues as well. So, it wasn’t just about the letter.
Asked to divulge the issues discussed with the President, Saraki said, “I think at the right time they will get to know. I have a constituency which is the Senate which I must first engage and I am sure with time…..the major issue has to with moving Nigeria forward”.
Asked if the issue of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) came up, he replied, “did you think that will come up in this kind of situation? No it didn’t come up,” he said.