By Levinus Nwabughiogu:Vanguard News
ABUJA -President Muhammadu Buhari, Wednesday , said it was a national disgrace that most states of the federation couldn’t pay salaries of their workers. The President said this while addressing State House staff, who gathered at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to formally welcome him back from his vacation in London.
Vanguard learned that this would be the first time ever a President would be addressing State House staff. Giving highlights of the journey so far, the President told the workers that the economy was down and that agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the country was the only alternative now.
Blaming the failure of past administrations to save during the boom times of high prices of crude oil, the President decried the inability of many states to pay workers’ salaries, describing it as a national disgrace.
His words: “27 out of the 36 states couldn’t pay salaries. This is a disgrace to Nigeria. It is a disgrace. Up till now, most of the states cannot pay salaries. What happened to all we have got over the years? We look up and down, left, right and centre, what have we saved? There was nothing because we developed a consumption culture that we were not supposed to develop.
“Most of your colleagues that have left service, I doubt if they are getting benefits. That is the situation we find ourselves in.
“You know we have gone through a lot of change over the past year. We met 42 ministries and we found out the economy cannot take it because of the ineptitude in place. We have turned ourselves to a mono-economy, depending only on oil.
“Most people threw away their farms and solid minerals equipment and rushed to the city to collect oil money and enjoy. What used to be an average of $100 from 1999 to 2014 went down to $30. What should concern us and the rest of the Nigerian elite is how we can continue to sustain ourselves in terms of materials and security.”
Agriculture, our only alternative
“What I am asking Nigerians really is: What is our alternative? Our immediate alternative is agriculture and solid minerals.
“That was why we voted a lot of money for agriculture so that we can at least feed ourselves. Once we can feed ourselves, we can say okay, let the struggle continue. At least we can eat two to three meals per day.
“We have to quickly go back to the farm. It is too late for this year. But next year, we will make a better arrangement to make sure next year, we can feed ourselves.”
I’m allergic to corruption
The President also reiterated his resolve to fight corruption to a standstill, vowing that all fraudulent acts in Nigeria must stop.
Stern and unequivocal in his speech, President Buhari warned the staff and, indeed, Nigerians across all disciplines to cultivate the right attitude and eschew all manner of fraudulent acts, stressing that jail awaits anyone found culpable.
Recalling his days back in secondary school, President Buhari said he had always been allergic to corruption and will deal decisively with anyone who indulged in any illicit deals.
The President, who also emphasized personal integrity, urged the workers to be conscious of stigmatization which may bring shame to their families.
He said that ridding Nigeria of corruption was necessary to secure a better country for posterity.
He said: “I thank you for welcoming me back from my health break. You are the judges, perhaps I look healthier than I left or I came worse.
“All fraud must stop. If they don’t believe us, they should go, try and see those we caught red handed with public funds. This exercise will continue as long as this leadership is here. Whoever takes anything that does not belong to him or that he is not entitled to, it will be documented and the person will be taken to court. This is the only way I think we can bail ourselves out. I am asking you to dedicate yourselves more to your country because I said more than 30 years ago, there is no other country but Nigeria.
We must rehabilitate our country
“We are determined to rehabilitate our country for the sake of our children and our grandchildren. I have never in my life from class monitor to this place, twice in different forms, believed in corruption. In what we are doing, if we had made mistakes along the line, the country would have been further backward than this. But we don’t touch anybody who did not touch public funds.
“You should behave yourself. If you don’t have houses in Abuja and the whole of Europe, you will sleep soundly. You and your family will earn respect. But if you shortchange the treasury, you will be caught and I pity your family because people will be abusing them. People will be calling you big thieves, that how did you raise money to build all the houses in Abuja and Europe with your meagre salary.
“I think personal integrity is something to be encouraged. I assure you that I am absolutely dedicated to serve Nigeria. Those who behave themselves will never regret, but those who don’t behave themselves, na their problem.”
Change must come to Nigeria
Speaking on anti-terrorism war in Nigeria, President Buhari said remarkable achievements had been recorded so far.
He stated that the change his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, promised to Nigerians must eventually come, despite the present challenges.
“On the insecurity in the North-East, the army has made a lot of remarkable improvements, no matter what anybody wants to say. Unfortunately, there is the other unstable part of the country, the Niger Delta, with their myriads of organizations that are competing over which one can do more damage to the country and the oil companies and oil wells. For how long are we going to do this?
“It is not easy to preach change when people are used to something from 1999 till now. The change must take place because, as I said, we were used to getting $100 per barrel…this reflects on the economic predicament the country finds itself.
“This has affected the morale and integrity of a lot of people who bother to ask what is happening to their country. The fact that you work here, no matter what level, people expect you to know and they expect you to discuss with them intelligently and show your concern for your country and what we are going to leave for our children and grandchildren. Let’s not lose the opportunity for the future so that we can build infrastructure.”
Past leaders failed in power sector
The President who also decried the epileptic power situation in the country, regretted that past administrations failed Nigeria in the power sector.
“Look at power. How much did we spend on power? From barbers to factories, shops, we all depend on power. There is virtually no improvement from 1999 till now no matter how many billions they have spent,” he said.