There’re no sacred cows in Tinubu’s cabinet – Umenzekwe

What do you make of the 2024 budget which raised hope for Nigerians at the time it was signed into law by the President given the present economic realities?

Yes, the President, on January 1, signed into law the N28.7 trillion 2024 Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly and tagged Budget of Renewed Hope. With that, the President has shown the way and I emplore Nigerians to key into his business-like spirit to inculcate a new mindset of doing things, so that Nigeria will be better for it. There is renewed hope everywhere, Nigerians are in high spirit and there is atmosphere of conviviality. What we need is peace for children to go to school, people to go to work, businesses to thrive and government to do the business of governance, nothing more. You see, when the President was campaigning, he was unequivocal in stating that he is ready to work. Ironically, naysayers continued to doubt him, some said he was sick, but today the whole thing is history. While people were enjoying the yuletide, he quickly returned to Abuja and started work immediately. Just the first week of the year, he indefatigably carried out commendable official assignments never seen before in the annals of this country He signed the budget, and later, he suspended the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Betta Edu, and Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, Hajiya Halimotu Shehu, over alleged financial misdemeanors. He banned the money-for-degree universities in Benin Republic, Togo and other countries; embarked on the clearing of outstanding allowances and other arrears of the Super Eagles, the same with arrears owed other national teams. The government has earlier started the payment of wage support benefits to civil servants, the disbursement of N105.5 billion for 266 road repairs, the launch of the automated passport portal and unfolded plans to build a new Chinese-funded plant in Nigeria, which was hatched during the visit to China by the Minister of Steel Development, Shuaib AbubakarAudu. Of course, the suspension and investigation of Betta Edu is indicative that there are no sacred cows in the anti-corruption war of the Tinubu-led government. The President has also cut cost of governance by drastically reducing the number of people in his entourage on local and international trips. He directed that top government functionaries, dignitaries and aides on his travels be slashed by 60 per cent. That is more than half. He ordered that in the area of security, his team should rely more on the capacity of the security establishment and existing protocols in the host states.

Do you see the slash in the President’s entourage impacting positively on governance?

The importance of cutting the number in the President’s travels, apart from reduction in total cost of the trip, is in agreement with the difficulties of the present time, when prices of goods and services have gone up owing to what many tie to the prevalent foreign exchange rate. More so, by slashing the presidential entourage, Tinubu has of course demonstrated leadership by example. The President has shown that he fully understands what the people are experiencing at present and shares in their pains, which he says will be temporary, according to his New Year day speech. There is no gain saying the fact that cost of governance in Nigeria is high and it has become imperative to bring it down. So, every possible avenue must be deployed to do this. According to the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the President, Tunde Rahman, it is estimated that the country spends over 75 per cent of its budget on recurrent expenditure, leaving less than 25 per cent for capital expenditure. The present administration is set to change this governance narrative. For instance, in the N28.7 trillion 2024 budget, recurrent expenditure was pegged at N8.7 trillion and capital expenditure at N9.9 trillion. Of course, there is every tendency that this trend is expected to continue for the betterment of the nation’s economy. Also, with Tinubu’s stance on ant-graft battle, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will grow, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will grow and I am sure with what the executive arm is doing the legislature and judiciary have no excuse than to key into his ant-graft stance.

President Tinubu was in Imo State for the Inauguration of the second term of Governor Hope Uzodimma. What does this portend to the APC in the South-East?

It shows that the entire SouthEast is collapsing into APC. It also shows that the few of us, who have been dedicated right from the time of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APC, have done a great job to have attracted the President to attend the inauguration of a governor, the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria. It equally shows that we have done a lot of work and that shows that the negligible number that voted him, he has put them into consideration. The President’s visit also showed that the governor being inaugurated is a goal getter and a trail blazer. With all these, it is hoped that more infrastructural development will flow into the South-East and that security in the zone will greatly improve.

The Supreme Court has ruled on the contentious Kano governorship election petition appeal. How would you respond to the claim by some people that APC traded-off to the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP)?

The speculation that APC traded-off Kano is absolute nonsense. The Court of Appeal saw it the other way, while the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the land and last arbiter saw it the other way round, and its decision is final. So, for anybody to say that APC traded-off the state is absolute nonsense. The President and the APC as a body are not known for illegality, so the claim is the hatchet job of the opposition. The opposition is seeking for cheap popularity, and such assertion cannot be sustained. The Supreme Court is the highest arbiter in the land and it has spoken and everybody must comply. I have said it repeatedly that people should stop accusing Tinubu of things he doesn’t even know about. They should allow the man and APC to concentrate on repositioning this country for better.

What is your take on the bill seeking to criminalize non-payment of salaries, which organised labour seems not to be giving much support?

You should know that our people most times only look out for wherever there is fault. When there is a little problem or mistake, they hyperbolize it and make it look larger than life. Look at such a marvelous bill that is aimed at taking care of the interest of the workers. I have not seen solidarity support for the lawmaker, who sponsored the bill or the entire lawmaking body that is looking at the bill. But tomorrow, you will see them calling for strike and all that. But that notwithstanding, I commend the National Assembly for at least going through the bill and it has passed the first reading or second reading or so, this bill is at the fundamental of the problem workers are going through and it should be passed and assented to by the President.

There seems to be mistrust against the APC-led Federal Government. Going forward, what is your advice to Nigerians?

Nigerians should be their brother’s keepers; Nigerians should be patient in all things, especially in dealing with government because government is not a private business that is based on the whims and caprices of the owner. Government pays attention to details. Sometimes due to bureaucracy, there is delay in bringing democratic dividends to the people but it will surely come, so patience is needed. As individuals, we must be diligent, make budgets before we embark on anything that has to do with money. Things are hard, so we must do things now based on our budgets, don’t imitate others, especially on things you know you can’t afford at the moment. Globally, things are no longer the way they used to be, recession, unstable exchange rate, crises, war between Ukraine and Russia and war between Israel and Hamas, oil prices. It is a global thing, so that nobody should think it is only in Nigeria. If you look at this year’s budget, you see that the President got approval for more money for capital expenditure than recurrent. In the past, we always had a situation where more money is in recurrent, paying salaries and all that. Tinubu is changing the narrative and instilling confidence in Nigerians. So, he needs our collective support. When our leaders do well, we must support them. If you hazard opinions, you will see that Nigerians are unanimous in commending the President on his prompt and decisive action on the Betta Edu case. The old ways of doing things must stop and Tinubu has demonstrated that Nigerians have a leader they can trust.


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