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President Mohammadu Buhari

• Says constitution provides for 36 cabinet members not ministries

Tobi Soniyi and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

President Mohammadu Buhari on Tuesday dismissed the opinion of his critics who accused him of scaring investors with his pronouncements, insisting that he will always tell investors the truth about the nation’s economy.

Buhari, who reasserted his stance when he received a report on the confirmation of the last batch of ministerial nominees from the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, gave account of the economy since his assumption of office in May and submitted that “we are so much battered.”

According to him, “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 getting in industries, manufacturing and services.
“They know our needs. The economy of human resources, I believe, will make them come eventually and help us,” he assured.

Commending the President of the Senate and its leadership for supporting his determination to follow constitutional provision on the appointment of ministers, the President noted that though the constitution stipulated the appointment of 36 cabinet members, it did not provide for 36 ministries where the cabinet members would serve.

“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 ministries.

“Mr. Senate President, I thank you very much for leading the Senate to do this hard work technically within record time.

“I assure you that we will follow the constitution and all the 36 will be sitting in the cabinet as the constitution stipulates,” he further said.

Earlier, Saraki had told the president that the Senate concluded the screening of the last batch of the ministerial nominees last Thursday.

He said: “We waited for our vote of proceedings today (yesterday) which we passed this morning. 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 ministerial 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.”

While fielding questions from journalists after the presentation, Saraki spoke on the challenges of screening the nominees in the Senate revealing that the task of screening and confirming the nominees was not difficult because of the quality of the nominees that were presented by the president.

“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 requirement 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’m 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, Senator Saraki further said.

When asked for his reaction to the assertion of Buhari that there would be ministers without portfolio, he said; “well I think we have had ministers of state in the past. I dont think there is anything new, there was minister for special duties which really does not 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 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,” the President of the Senate advised.

Expressing the determination of the Senate to provide necessary support for the executive in its desire to move the nation forward, Senator Saraki drew the attention of Nigerians to the challenges currently facing the nation.

“We have the challenges of revenue drop, the challenges of trying to boost our economy. We are faced with the challenges of creating jobs and you know we have some of these issues which we really need to address. These are some of the issues we looked at as a Senate and we resolved to give support to the executive to move the country forward.

“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 proffer solution and put our country in a positive view otherwise there is no way we are going to have those major issues addressed, he added.

Asked why he chose to bring 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.”
He said: “I have a constituency which is the Senate which I must first engage and I am sure with time,the major issue has to do with moving Nigeria forward.”

When asked if the issue of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal came up, he replied, “Did you think that will come up in this kind of situation ? No it didn’t come up.

Informed Presidency sources told THISDAY last night that Buhari’s discussion with Saraki centred on the composition of the cabinet and allocation of portfolios.
The President was said to have been concerned about the position of the Constitution and sought to know the opinion of the Senate on the number of ministries that he could have.

Meanwhile, there was a mild drama earlier in the Senate when Senators of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) refused to second the motion moved for the passage of the Votes and Proceedings of last Thursday to make the confirmation of the ministerial nominees formal.

The PDP senators who were yet to overcome the the decision of the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled-Senate to confirm the appointment of former Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, as a minister last Thursday, unanimously withdrew their support for the approval of votes and proceedings of last week Thursday.

The opposition senators had staged a walkout from the chamber after all efforts to convince their counterparts to adopt the recommendation of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions which had recommended Amaechi’s rejection proved abortive.

The committee had recommended that Amaechi should not be confirmed because the matter contained in a petition against his nomination was already sub-judice and hence his confirmation should be stopped in accordance with Order 53(5) of the Senate Standing Rules.

The petitioners had alleged that Amaechi diverted N70 billion proceeds of the sales of four independent power projects belonging to Rivers State into his private account.
Consequently, they demanded the rejection of Amaechi as a ministerial nominee on the grounds that he had breached public trust and hence, lacked the moral fortitude to hold another public office.

However, the re-play of Thursday’s hostility began yesterday when Saraki who cleared the coast for Amaechi’s confirmation, called Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun West) to move a motion for the adoption of the votes and proceedings of Thursday October 29.

After the motion was promptly moved by Adeleke, Saraki in accordance with parliamentary procedure, called a PDP senator, Peter Nwaoboshi (Delta North), to second the motion. But in probably an unprecedented manner in the Nigerian Senate, Nwaoboshi politely turned down Saraki’s call and gave an excuse for his action.
“My president, I will not be able to second the motion because I was not at the plenary to know what was done,” Nwaoboshi said.

Therefore, Saraki perceiving that the action was a spill over effect of Thursday’s grievances, quickly turned to APC caucus and called Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto North) to second the motion. Expectedly, Gobir seconded the motion.

Then Saraki put the motion for approval of the proceedings of the last plenary to a voice vote.

Surprisingly, while APC senators chorused “ay,” their PDP senators, in an unusual manner, rejected the approval vote with a loud shout of “nay.”
But expectedly, Saraki overruled the PDP caucus’ rejection as he hit the gavel, saying the “ayes” have it.

It is an unusual episode in a parliamentary practice for senators to oppose the approval of votes and proceedings after the votes have been examined and found that they corresponded with the previous sitting activities.