President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday hinted that he has been trying to fend off mounting pressure as he tries to expand and reshuffle his cabinet.
Speaking at a banquet in his honour in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, the president said at a point he was forced to put aside his phones to avoid incessant calls or text messages from interested individuals.
He said, “I have been promising to reshuffle the cabinet, for how long and people are asking me. So I put all my three sets in the drawer and locked them. So no matter how you try you can’t get me on the telephone. You just have to go through somebody you think is in the corridors of power to speak to me.”
The president said if his telephones were seen with him, too many people may call or send him text messages. “But if they are locked in my drawer, you wouldn’t know where they (the phones) are and you can’t complain to the drawer,” he said.
Daily Trust learnt from sources last night that the move to expand the cabinet has reached an advanced stage. It is learnt that the minister of education and his judiciary counterpart are responsible for the compilation of a shortlist of possible nominees.
Earlier in the day, the president declared that the “Igbo is Nigeria and Nigeria is Igbo,” as he began a two day visit to heartland of Biafra agitation.
The President said the two are inseparable and therefore called on the people of the southeast to reject the “senseless propaganda on secession.”
The visit to the region, his first since he was elected two and a half years ago, came at time when the south east has been crying of marginalisation in appointments and the clamour for a sovereign state of Biafra by IPOB.
However, speaking at the Abakaliki Township Stadium yesterday, President Buhari said he had lined up various developmental projects for the zone in his 2018 budget.
He said: “For example, we recently mobilized the contractor of the 2nd Niger Bridge back to site. We have also made provisions in the 2018 budget proposal to ensure this project is completed as early as possible.
“We are also upgrading the Federal Medical Centre in Umuahia by constructing a Modern Medical Diagnostic Centre. This will further bring quality and affordable health care to the region.
“In the agricultural sector, the States in this region have participated in all Federal Government agricultural initiatives. For instance, Ebonyi was among the first few State Government’s to sign up to the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative. The program has already created thousands of direct and indirect jobs in this fertile part of the our country.
“For the South East, I am pleased to inform you that our 2018 budget proposal has allocated up to N10 billion for the development of the Enyimba Industrial Park and Nnewi Auto Park. Both projects will be implemented in collaboration with the respective state Governments and the private sector. Again, these are classic examples of the partnerships between the Federal and State Governments in the region to improve the livelihoods of Nigerians – politics aside.
“In October 2017, we commenced the payment of pensions to police officers who were granted Presidential pardon in 2000 after serving in the former Biafran Police during the 30 month civil war. These officers, and their next of kin, have waited for their pensions for 17 years since the Presidential pardon.”
The president assured Ndigbo that the welfare and well-being of every Nigerian was important to his government, saying “We stand for inclusivity and will not leave any section or citizen behind.”
He described his presence in Ebonyi as a demonstration of his strong belief in the unity of Nigeria.
He said as the most populous country in Africa, with over 300 ethnic groups, Nigeria’s diversity is almost unique among nations.
He urged the citizens to sustain national unity towards building a country where the aspirations of its people is guaranteed without prejudice to tribe or religion.
He said the task of nation building never stops noting that Nigeria’s founding fathers worked together to actualize the creation of one Nigeria.
“Yes, they had differences and varied opinions at times. After all, they were only human. And yes, they had moments of weaknesses and doubt. But again, no one is perfect. However, one thing they all protected until the end of their lives was having one Nigeria for all Nigerians,” he said.
At 57 Nigeria had gone through many pains but had also achieved significant successes, he said.
“But we rarely celebrate these successes more. Some misguided Nigerians would rather channel their energy to propagating negative stories and senseless rumours.
“Over 60% of Nigeria’s population is under 25 years old. They have little knowledge of Nigeria’s journey. They were not born during the dark days of civil war and the nation rebuilding that happened afterwards.
“The task of nation building is a continuous one. It relies on the successful transition of factual knowledge from one generation to another.
“This means it is our collective responsibility to ensure we do not betray our founding fathers as we transfer the Nigeria project from one generation to the next.
“So parents, speak to your children about the importance of their heritage, culture and being open minded. Teachers, teach your students about the history of this nation and how it was a coalition of diversity that brought it to existence. And leaders, we must lead by example and show tolerance and acceptance of diversity.”
Buhari said his administration was working aggressively to create jobs rebuild poor infrastructure.
“We are building roads, hospitals and schools. We are expanding our power transmission infrastructure while supporting the generation and distribution companies to ensure more power is delivered to our homes. We are developing agricultural programs that will create more jobs while making Nigeria food secure,” he said.
The South-East governors at the occasion include: Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State; Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo State;
Gov. Yahya Bello of Kogi State and neighbouring state to Enugu State was also present.
The ministers include; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama; Minister OF Labour and Productivity; Chris Ngige; Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Elenema; and Minister of State for Education, Anthony Anwuka.
Others were the National President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani and former Governor of Old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwabodo.