Penultimate week, the National Economic Council held a two-day economic retreat with the theme, “Nigerian states: Multiple centres of prosperity” with state governors or their representatives and some other top government officials in attendance.
The NEC which is chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has all the 36 state governors and the Central Bank Governor as well as some relevant ministers, including the Minister of Budget and National Planning as members. The council members meet monthly inside the Villa.
Since the retreat which was held inside the old Banquet Hall of the Villa was designed to be an expanded session of NEC meeting, all state governors were expected to attend. But from the beginning, I was ready to stake my money that two state governors would not attend. I mentioned two Peoples Democratic Party’s governors -Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Nyesom Wike of Rivers State-as those that would be absent.
My reasons were simple. In the case of Wike, rerun National Assembly and state House of Assembly elections were held in his state the previous weekend. As of penultimate Monday when the retreat started, the Independent National Electoral Commission was still busy compiling results of the elections. I did not see the governor who is currently battling the All Progressives Congress for the soul of the state being tied down in Abuja, far away from the action spot, for any reason whatsoever. I was right. He did not attend the retreat but he was represented by his deputy.
In the case of Fayose, I thought he would not attend the programme because he had never hidden his disdain for President Muhammadu Buhari who was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the opening session of the retreat. I could not picture the Ekiti State Governor under the same roof with Buhari. I therefore held that he would not attend.
I was therefore surprised when a few minutes before the 9am commencement time, Fayose walked majestically into the venue. He exchanged pleasantries with some of his colleagues who had arrived earlier as photojournalists literarily fell over one another to take his pictures. He later sat beside the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole.
As it later turned out, the seat Fayose chose was located directly opposite the President’s seat on the high table, although there was a bit of distance between them. By the time Buhari arrived at the venue at about 9am and took his seat, the two leaders, being tall men, were able to see each other without obstacle.
My eyes were on Fayose. I wished I could read what was going on in his mind when the President mounted the podium to declare the event open. The governor set his eyes on the President. When he was tired of looking at him directly, he would switch focus to the large screen mounted inside the venue which was beaming the President’s image.
With the opening over, the time came for the retreat to go into closed door session and journalists were asked to leave. But not long after, Fayose came out. We initially thought maybe participants were going on tea break but it later turned out that the governor was no longer interested in the retreat and was leaving.
We quickly approached him for an interview and he obliged us. The man who had been criticising Buhari from the comfort of his state was not afraid of doing same from the President’s territory. He did not mince words in warning that any attempt by Buhari to declare a state of emergency in Ekiti or Rivers State would be resisted. He claimed he was aware of the fact that Buhari was planning a state of emergency in the two states. He said if he went ahead with the plan, Buhari would be taught a lesson that “power belongs to the people and not their leaders.”
The governor left after the interview and did not return till the retreat closed for the day. On the second day, despite that Fayose was still in Abuja, he did not show up at all. Rather, he met with some journalists in Asokoro where he again descended heavily on the President.
As if that was not enough, the governor later issued a statement describing the retreat as a mere jamboree and waste of over N250 million public fund. He said the retreat had further exposed the fact that the APC government lacked economic blueprint as the President was still talking the way he talked while seeking for votes from Nigerians.
The governor introduced another dimension when he said it was funny that the same set of people who as governors, ruined the economy of their states, were the resource persons at the retreat. “I was at the retreat and I can tell Nigerians categorically that it was just a jamboree. It was a waste of over N250m public fund because most of the resource persons were the same people who ran their states aground,” he said. Although the governor did not explain how he came about the N250m figure, he claimed that most governors, including those of the APC, were not happy with the economic retreat.
Notwithstanding Fayose’s position, the retreat was a success in the eyes of the organisers. That probably explained why they issued a communique of about 71 resolutions! Maybe because of the huge number of resolutions to be implemented, two different committees with similar nomenclatures were set up. They were the Implementation Steering Committee led by the Vice-President and the Implementation Monitoring Committee chaired by the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.
Nigerians are eagerly waiting to see how the outcome of the retreat will begin to have positive effects on the economy and prove Fayose wrong in his assessment of the event as a mere jamboree.
Will this budget be signed?
Since the 2016 budget proposal was presented to the National Assembly on December 23, 2015, it has been one controversy or the other. I have dwelt on this issue on this platform before now.
Those who however thought the controversies ended with the passage of the bill last week are suddenly waking up to the reality that the battle is not yet over. The Presidency had earlier in the weak said Buhari would only sign the budget when the details were made available to him.
But in far away Washington DC during a meeting he had with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, on Thursday, the President said he would only sign the document after a critical review. Without mincing word, he said he would not sign until he ascertained that what was returned to him was in line with the original document he submitted to the National Assembly.
For me, that will be a tall order because the federal lawmakers are not under obligation to just rubber stamp the document presented to them. It is also in public knowledge that in passing the budget, it was reduced from the initial N6.077trn presented by the President to N6.060trn, a difference of N17bn.
Will the President still go ahead and sign with this glaring difference? Enjoy your weekend.