We must deal with Nigeria’s looming population explosion, Buhari tells ministers-designate

•Don’t speak publicly against FEC’s decisions, SGF advises

With estimated figures already put up to 200 million, President Muhammadu Buhari has warned of the impending population explosion in the country, saying that Nigeria cannot rely on foreign handouts to deal with the issues.

Speaking at the opening session of a presidential retreat for ministers-designate, presidential aides and other top government functionaries at the presidential villa, Abuja on Monday, he said the nation cannot afford to sit without doing anything.

He said: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are all aware of the looming demographic potential of our country. By average estimates, our population is close to 200 million today. By 2050, UN estimates put Nigeria third globally behind only India and China with our projected population at 411 million.

“This is a frightening prospect but only if we sit idly by and expect handouts from so-called development partners. The solution to our problems lies within us.”

He explained that the retreat was organized to enable the new officials to familiarize themselves with others they would be working with as well as to chart the way to go in the next four years.

President Buhari told them: “I welcome you all to this meeting whose purpose is firstly, to familiarize ourselves with our colleagues with whom we shall be working closely for the next four years GOD willing; secondly, to reflect and assess the country’s position in 2015 and today; and thirdly, to chart a course for the country for the foreseeable future.

“I congratulate all the newcomers who your country has chosen above others to join the first term Ministers whose performance has been outstanding. All of you are appointed to assist and advise the President in running the affairs of our country. At the end of the Retreat, it is hoped that all of you will be in tune with the roles and responsibilities of positions you will occupy in Government. Many national issues require unified decisions.

“It is a great privilege for you to be called upon to serve in these Great Offices of State and you must grasp the chance with two hands and put in your best efforts as Nigeria today needs top managers to handle our numerous challenges. There will be long hours and you must be prepared to live laborious days if we are to serve our people optimally.”

He recalled that his administration had promised to pursue three key programmes in the first tenure, saying that apart from partisan individuals, everyone had seen the progress recorded in the areas.

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President Buhari stated: “Honourable Ministers-Designate, in our first term we identified three salient areas for close attention and action, namely to secure the country, to improve the economy and to fight corruption. None but the most partisan will dispute that we have made headway in all three areas:

“First, we have rolled back the frontiers of terrorism; we are actively addressing other challenges such as kidnappings, farmer-herder violence, improving the safety of our roads, railways, air traffic and fire control capacities.

Second, we are steadily turning the economy around through investment in agriculture and manufacturing, shoring up our foreign reserves, curbing inflation and improving the country’s infrastructure.

“Third, on corruption, we have recovered hundreds of billions of stolen assets and are actively pursuing control measures to tackle leakages in public resources. We will not let up in fighting corruption.”

He said as ministers, he was counting on them together with advisers and Nigerians willing and able to contribute to building upon the administration’s road map of policies, programmes and projects that will lift the bulk of the people out of poverty and set them on the road to prosperity.

Buhari further said: “Our Administration’s eight years will have laid the grounds for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. This outcome will fundamentally shift Nigeria’s trajectory and place us among the World’s Great Nations.

“Honourable Ministers-Designate, you will be responsible for the development and implementation of policies, programmes and projects in your various Ministries, Departments and Agencies in line with Government priorities. You must also ensure that Agencies under your Ministries are effective, efficient and accountable in the discharge of their responsibilities.

“Honourable Ministers-Designate, we must work as a team. Although you have been chosen to represent your states as a constitutional imperative, it is vital for all of you to work as Nigerians.

“Furthermore, working as a team demands that we know what the next person is doing. You must open communications with your colleagues. Lack of communication leads to lack of cooperation and sub-optimal performance.

“Finally, although this is called a Retreat, I would like to think this is a preparation for an advance to the Next Level.”

In his welcome address, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, warned the ministers-designate that even though they may disagree with matters inside the Federal Executive Council (FEC), they cannot speak against such issues in public.

Citing Section 148 Subsection 1&2 (a-c) which defines the responsibilities of the FEC, he stressed the need for collective responsibility among council members.

He added: “Although an individual Minister may differ in opinion during deliberations on any proposal before Council, however, once a decision is taken, it becomes a binding Council decision, that no Minister can speak against either in public or private, no matter the argument he/she presented during discussion on the proposal.

“This principle of collective responsibility also infers that a Minister has responsibilities wider than those relating to his/her assigned portfolio and will, in that capacity, receive documents from other Ministers/Ministries, which do not concern the subjects under his/her portfolio, requiring his/her consideration and contribution during the weekly Council meetings.”

The SGF further explained that the retreat was packaged to set the tone for continuous and meaningful interaction amongst cabinet members, permanent secretaries and heads of government parastatals, agencies and commissions, which they supervise.

He stated: “We must ensure a consistent harmonious work relationship =to serve responsibly, transparent in our conducts and accountable to the people we serve, if this Administration must fulfil its promise of taking Nigeria to the Next Level.

“Honourable Ministers designate, let me remind us that the task of governance requires patience, dedication and total commitment to the objectives we have committed to pursue, especially in the realization of the yearnings for quick delivery of the dividends of democracy by the people.”

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