The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, on Tuesday by hand submitted the list of 36 Nigerians cleared by the Senate as ministers to President Muhammadu Buhari in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Saraki’s gesture is about the first time a leader of the National Assembly will personally deliver a communication from the legislature to the President.
The standard practice had been that a presidential aide on National Assembly matters would serve as an intermidiary between sitting Presidents and the leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
When confronted by journalists to explain why he chose to personally deliver the ministers’ list to the President, Saraki said, “Because there were other things we discussed. As you can see, after you (journalists) left, we discussed for about 20 minutes on some major issues as well. So, it wasn’t just about the letter.”
When asked if his current trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false declaration of assets was discussed, Saraki smiled and said, “Did you think that will come up in this kind of situation? No, it did not come up.”
Buhari had sent his ministerial nominees’ list to Saraki through the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; and Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang.
Saraki had arrived at the Presidential Villa at 2.55pm for a 3.00pm meeting with Buhari and was ushered into one of the halls inside the President’s office.
He was accompanied by Enang and the President’s Special Assistant on National Assembly (House of Representatives), Suleiman Kawu, as well as a few of his aides.
The President was also joined by some of his aides, including Kyari; the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina; and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno.
The meeting started with the President’s arrival at about 3.01pm. The President, who probably thought Saraki had another matter to discuss, asked journalists to excuse them but the newsmen were quickly called back when the President realised that the Senate president had come purposely to deliver the ministers’ list by hand.
After the ceremonial presentation of the list to the President, all security and political aides as well as journalists again excused the two leaders, who met behind closed-doors for about 20 minutes before coming out for group photographs.
Buhari thereafter told Saraki that though the Constitution stipulates that each of the 36 states of the federation must produce a minister, the law does not make it compulsory for him to have 36 ministries.
The President said the current economic realities in the country showed that Nigeria could not afford a high number of ministers.
He however assured Saraki that all the 36 ministers-designate would be “sitting in the cabinet” as stipulated by the constitution.
Buhari said, “I thank you, the President of the Senate, for the work of the Senate leadership in our drive 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 ministries.
“I will explain that in 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, 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 also going out looking for investors.
“They know our needs. The economy of human resources, I believe, will make them eventually come and help us.
“Mr. Senate President, I thank you very much for leading the Senate to do this hard work technically in 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.”
Saraki had earlier explained to the President that the Senate finished the screening of the last batch of the ministers last Thursday and he waited for the vote of proceedings to be passed on Tuesday morning before he decided to bring the list.
He said the Senate cleared the nominees in record time and that the credit should go to the nominees and all senators.
Saraki later told State House correspondents that the screening was not difficult because of the quality of the nominees.
He said after questioning them, the senators saw that the nominees met the requirements and they were 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,” he said.
Saraki said the concept of ministers without portfolio was not a new one.
He said, “I think we had ministers of state in the past. I don’t think there is anything new. There was minister for special duties, which really don’t have portfolio.
“I think the key issue is being in cabinet and 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.”
Meanwhile, Buhari has been scheduled to hold a two-day retreat with the ministers-designate in Abuja.
The PUNCH learnt in Abuja on Tuesday that the retreat would hold on Thursday and Friday this week.
Already, notices have been sent to the affected ministers-designate, requesting that they make themselves available for the event.
The invitation, a copy of which was seen by one of our correspondents late on Tuesday, partly read, “I am directed to invite you to a Presidential retreat with Mr. President and all Hon. ministers-designate from Thursday, November 5 to Friday, November 6.”
The invitation letter was signed by one Mrs. Odusote, on behalf of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.