President Muhammadu Buhari has revealed that the failure of former President Goodluck Jonathan to give him handover notes before inauguration on May 29, 2015 was due to advice from his cabinet members.
Buhari said Jonathan had agreed to make the handover notes available to him on time only for his ministers to prevail on him not to.
In an interview to mark the first year anniversary of his administration, Buhari said Jonathan agreed at a meeting also attended by former Head of State, Alhaji Abdulsalami Abubakar, that the handover notes were crucial and he would thus make it available on time.
The President said when asked it he was satisfied with the performance of his team and if changes should be expected in the cabinet: “I expect to hear from you.
“But look at what has been happening: after the election, I went to thank Jonathan for what he did conceding defeat.
“A former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), told me he had an experience in handover and asked if he should advise me.
“I said, yes.
“He said committees in the ministries met and wrote handover notes and Obasanjo set up transition committees to work with each ministry and at the end Obasanjo took whatever he wanted from the reports.
“When I came to sit down, Jonathan’s ministers complained, saying: ‘Why would Jonathan allow Buhari to take over government before he is sworn in.’
“They refused to cooperate.
“So I took over without knowing what Jonathan’s government contained.
“After we were sworn in, I began to debrief the Permanent Secretaries, taking two ministries per day, to just try and find out what they had.
“They had 42 ministers; the economy had collapsed.
“We reduced 42 ministries to 24 and we had to ask some permanent secretaries to go on several grounds.”
Buhari also said that rebuilding the economy based on the 2016 budget might be tough because of the issue of budget padding, which he blamed on certain groups within the National Assembly.
With a budgetary allocation of N75 billion, both recurrent and capital expenditure, allocated to agriculture and far less to solid minerals, two areas through which the government hopes to diversify the economy, Buhari agrees that there will be challenges.
The President however explained his dilemma: “Well, you are absolutely right. “You are forcing me to go back to the issue of budget which was difficult to overcome. “I am sure you noted the issue of padding…
“I didn’t know of it until recently, although I started being in government since 1975.
“The Minister of Budget and Planning earned my respect during the budget sessions because I tried to follow up on what he was doing, taking presentations from each ministry.
“Having done that, he wrote a comprehensive memo to the council of ministers, which I presided over, and some corrections were made by the ministers.
“So, we thought it was completed and I was ready to go and bow and deliver it to the National Assembly as the constitution has directed.
“But what I did not know was that the real thing had been removed and that they (legislature) put their own.
“For instance, the Minister of Health was sitting before a committee (at his budget defence).
“I wasn’t even sure of the committee and they were very excited and happy with what they were doing.
“They then asked the minister to defend his budget.
“So they handed over to him his supposed budget and he looked at it and said: ‘I can’t defend what I didn’t present. This was not what I presented.’
“Instantly, I was alerted.
“Also a number of the ministers that were asked to defend their budget, it was not what they presented that they were asked to defend.
“So what happened is that some group somewhere at the National Assembly had done their own budgeting and they called it padding.
“Meanwhile, I became governor of the North East made up of six states in August 1975, later I went on to become the Petroleum Minister and then Head of State and I never heard of padding until now.
“So I said whoever is linked to the padding has no room in this administration.
“Even at that, the minister came back to ask me to sign it so that the government can move on.
“But I said I don’t normally sign what I don’t understand or what I don’t agree with.
“He said the government has to move on and I said okay.
“Before he left, I said: ‘If you insist, I would sign because I trust you. But I would put you in front of me (if anything goes wrong). So whoever wants anything, I would push to you.’
“So he went back (to the National Assembly) and not long after, he came and said I shouldn’t sign and that took us another six weeks before they brought back the paper and I signed.
“This was because the government decided that we should have at least 30 per cent allocated to capital projects.
“We can’t help our country and our state of development year after year with more than 90 per cent on overheads and no capital projects.
“So we decided to have at least 30 per cent on capital expenditure.
“So on the observation you made, don’t worry, the Central Bank alone has assisted by giving more than N200 billion to agriculture.”
On sourcing of funds for the implementation of the 2016 Budget, especially with dwindling oil prices, Buhari said: “That is a major challenge for us.
“It is not going to be easy to complement the revenue as we promised in the budget.
“I think I mentioned initially that the market plummeted from an average of $100 per barrel for crude oil from 1999 to 2014 and suddenly went down to $30 per barrel and now it is between $40 and $50 per barrel.
“I was constrained to approach the Governor of the Central Bank to find out how we spend our foreign exchange.
“When he went and checked the records, he found out mostly food bills such as wheat, rice, flour, bread and toothpicks.
“Nigerians are so sophisticated that they use only Chinese toothpicks!
“I was shocked.
“I didn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it because I think if we can sit down, reflect and try to be fair to Nigerians, people from the East, Eest and North…60 per cent of them eat what they grow, be it either garri, yam or grains.
“I know they also spend money on cooking oil.
“So who is taking all the billions of dollars in terms of foreign food imports? “What is happening is that people are just buying dollars and taking the money outside the country.
“My belief was strengthened when the price of oil fell and the marketers were insisting that they want foreign exchange to import fuel. “We tried to conduct a survey and we found out that one-third of what they were claiming was fraudulent.
“They just stamped papers and claimed the money.”