Ministers, Special Advisers, Permanent Secretaries and other political aides of President Bola Tinubu gathered in Abuja last week for a three-day retreat to chart an agenda for the five-month old government at the centre. Deji Elumoye Reports.
With the inauguration of his 48-man cabinet and hosting of four meetings of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) since his assumption of office on May 29, 2023, President Bola Tinubu last Wednesday declared open a three-day retreat for Ministers, Special Advisers, Permanent Secretaries and other political aides at the Conference Centre of the State House, Abuja.
The retreat with the theme, “Delivering on the Renewed Hope Agenda,” which was organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was
attended by the President, Ministers, Special Advisers, aides, Permanent Secretaries and other top government officials. The only absentee was the Vice President, Senator Kashim Shettima, who was away to Iowa, the United States to represent President Tinubu at an international conference.
The President set the tone for the maiden retreat of his administration with an opening remarks when he emphasised the need for him to succeed by all means to deliver on the expectations of Nigerians who voted him into office on February 25, 2023.
He, therefore, charged his ministers, advisers, aides and other government officials to help him in the realisation of the goal.
President Tinubu declared that he would not spare any resources in his bid to successfully redeem Nigeria from its current state and reminded all participants at the retreat that everything needed to lift the country are within government’s disposal.
According to him: “It’s our country, we have no other one, let’s be proud that we’re Nigerians and we can do it, you can show leadership. We can fight to make democracy a lasting reference for the rest of Africa.
“Don’t be afraid to take decisions, but don’t be antagonistic of your supervisor. If they are wrong, debate it. I stand before you and I have claimed several occasions and I’m saying today again, as the President I can make mistakes, point it to me, I will resolve that conflict, that error. Perfection is only that of God almighty.
“But you are there to help me succeed. Success, I must achieve, by all means necessary. We have great minds, great intellects and all that we need”.
The President also said he would not complain about the enormous task of piloting the country through economic and social recovery, saying he had accepted to inherit all the assets and liabilities of his predecessors.
Said he: “I accept the assets and liabilities of my predecessor, it is part of my professional background. You are in this ship, don’t wreck it. See the minister as part of a team that will navigate and take it out of troubled waters.
“Healthcare is priority, education is a must. No other weapon against poverty than education. You have the opportunity to change things”.
President Tinubu told the Ministers and other aides: “We are going through the reform, painfully, and we still have other challenges. Don’t be a clog in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress. Let us look forward. Let us be determined that corruption will go, progress will be achieved, better wages for our workers, and living wages.
“We will transform the economy to work for millions of our citizens. We must take 50 million people out of poverty. We must build healthcare that works for all. Look around. Don’t be wicked. Look at the standard of education, look at the classrooms, and look at the roads. We can only spend the money, we will find it, we cannot spend the people.
“No crime in borrowing. Thank you World Bank for being a lending friend, but let your achievement be homegrown. The determination that Nigeria can do it is here.
“If it had not started six months ago, we are here to switch off the light, make you included, and make all Nigerians included. Our path for tomorrow is charted for our children and grandchildren. Don’t be selfish about it. Poverty is not a shameful thing, it’s only unacceptable and we have to banish it because it’s unacceptable. Let’s work on other identifiable areas”.
The President also canvassed for unity among Nigerians, assuring that he is a President of all regardless of religious, ethnic, political or otherwise.
He charged the retreat participants to work towards a great Nigeria, reassuring them that a great Nigeria is possible and a greater Nigeria will come with their commitment, guidance and resolute to give the nation direction.President Tinubu stressed that rebuilding Nigeria is a collective responsibility and called on the members of the Federal Executive Council to join hands with him to renew the foundation of the nation and give hope to the near-hopeless.
“It is our country we have to build it, we have to renew the foundation. We have to give hope to the near-hopeless. With strong determination, we have brought together the best brains, and the best hands to navigate the future of Nigeria. We can’t complain and give excuses”.
The President who emphasised that no one succeeds alone assured the top government functionaries of his support in the discharge of their duties reaffirming the need for all the participants to be determined and collaborate towards the achievement of the eight-point agenda of his administration.
His words: “A great Nigeria is possible and a greater Nigeria will come under our commitment, guidance and resolute determination to give the country a direction. I am with you and please be assured that this great country is one family in one house geographically located partitioned and living in different Rooms but we are one family.
“And we are here to make allegiance and give direction to that one family, making sure that relationship can only be stronger if we give hope to our people and can only achieve our vision with boldness and strong determination with collaboration”.
He charged civil servants to positively contribute to the success of the Renewed Hope Agenda, cautioning that they must not see political appointees as opportunists.
According to him: “I am here to assure you that I will work with you, the best brain we can put to get in civil service, the best brains that we can put together in our democratic parliament and has been chosen for us by the public.
“Don’t see the minister as an opportunist but a partner that you must take this ship forward. Navigate it through turbulent and clear weather. But you are in this ship, you will make good of it but not wreck it.
“We are lucky we have a nation, the challenges are all over the world, you can see the chaos all around you, but be focused and be committed to the values and principles of results that will affect you, your neighbour and the entire nation”.
President Tinubu added that all participants at the three-day retreat will, among other things, sign the Ministerial Performance Bond, which will periodically be reviewed.
The President also announced the establishment of the Result Delivery Unit (RDU), to be headed by his Special Adviser on Policy Coordination, Hadiza Bala-Usman, to measure the performance of ministers and other top government officials serving in his administration.
He said all ministers and aides as well as other top government officials serving in the present administration would sign a bond of understanding with him to enable the government measure their performance with key indicators and reference to objectives of the Renewed Hope Agenda.
The President assured the Ministers that he would grant significant level of autonomy, provided that they demonstrate intellectual curiosity by asking questions about the reasons, methods, and timing of tasks assigned.
“At the end of this retreat, you’re going to sign a bond of understanding between you, the ministers, the permanent secretaries, and myself. If you are performing, nothing to fear; if you miss the objective, we’ll review; if there is no performance, you leave us. No one is an island, and the buck stops on my desk.
“I assure you, you have a free hand. You must be intellectually inquisitive to ask how, why, when, and why it must be immediate. You have the responsibility to serve the people.
“I’ve taken a young lady very dynamic, Hadiza Balla Usman, to head that delivery unit. If you have any complaints about her, see me. If you’re ready to work with her, stay there. Delivery, yes! we must achieve it for the sake of millions of our people”, he said.
President Tinubu also explained that the evaluation of the officials will be across the eight priority areas of his administration which include food security, economic growth and development through job creation, and to end Poverty.
Other focus areas include Inclusivity: Drawing on all Skills bass—To prominently feature women and youth in national activities; Security—To defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality; Fairness and rule of law—To be impartial and govern according to the constitution and ensure the rule of law and Anti-Corruption Stance—To discourage corruption whilst strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of various anti-corruption agencies.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, while delivering the context setting earlier on his address, said the retreat will provide the opportunity to deepen the understanding of participants in best practices in conducting government business.
Akume also noted that the retreat will specifically the keep members abreast with essential government matters procurement, budgeting anti-corruption drive as well as exposing the executives to federal executive councils, roles of the Ministers and the Perm secretaries in managing Ministries.
“It will also discuss critical enablers for robust management of relationships with stakeholders of government relating to addressing any tasks and expectations of the President may highlight and direct”, the SGF further said.
By the time the retreat ended on Friday evening, a number of presentations had been made by resource persons as well as Ministers and Permanent Secretaries present.
Speaking at the close of the retreat, President Tinubu who sat through the three-day event charged his Ministers, advisers and other aides to put aside their personal interest and focus on his government’s immediate concern towards pulling Nigeria out of poverty.
He told the participants that they have the responsibility to change the narrative about the country, noting that if they have any problem about Nigeria, they should have a conversation about it.
The President stressed the need for the officials to bond together and ensure that the country recovers from “elephantiasis.”
President Tinubu posited that his appointees cannot make any excuses just as himself will not be giving Nigerians any excuses.
He prided himself for contesting and winning the 2023 presidential poll as well as all the cases in the courts.
According to him: “We have gathered here to sharp the future, no threat about it. The responsibility we bear are not just titles, they are hope and aspiration of millions of Nigerians.
“You might be ready to forget about the rest of the world but as a Nigerian, let’s go out there, let’s bond together and make sure our country is fully recovered from elephantiasis. “Let me remind you that you are not here to make excuses neither am I. I’m your friend, your brother, a father and grandfather.
“You must put outside personal ambition and focus on the progress of our nation. It is through this that we can be truly proud. “I am proud standing before you. I’m very very proud of everyone of you. And I am proud of myself too. I went for election and won with your support, they took me to court and I won.”
The President also extracted the commitment of the ministers and other government officials to work together as a team to achieve the goals of his government asking: “we are about to close this three-day cabinet retreat, are we proud that we are Nigerian? Are we sure that we’ve done this? “Is the responsibility of the permanent secretary clear In partnership with the Minister, is it clear? Are we one family? “Since we are one family and one nation and we are in this vehicle together to change the narrative and bring about economic prosperity of our country, are we ready?”
The President further told his ministers and other aides: “We have a responsibility to our country to make sure we change completely the narrative about Nigeria.
“If we have problems, let’s talk to one another, let’s have conversations, gentle conversations about our country. It’s not about just leave me alone I’m going home, you may not have a home.
“There’s nothing you can do successfully without good healthcare, reduction in poverty. Like I said before, poverty is not a shameful thing but it is not acceptable. Are we going to dig our people out of it?
“If you look at your background no matter where you are today, there’s a trace of poverty beneath. So it’s left for you and I to navigate this ship out of poverty.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, I am confident now with the attendance, concentration, you’ve seen the quality and the character of ministers, you’ve seen it.”
Outlining the key recommendations from technical sessions of the retreat, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, earlier announced that the retreat has raised the approval threshold for public procurement and encouraged open bidding for transparency.
It recommended formulation of a standardized checklist detailing appointment criteria for Ministers and Heads of Agencies and also, improved alignment of the budget for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to the president’s vision, strategic goals and relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Other key recommendations are to evaluate the efficiency of previous federal government Intervention programmmes and conduct of proper pre-and post-project assessments to determine the efficacy of the programmes.
Improve judicial process by allowing promoted judges to complete pending cases in their new positions.
Revive the executive-legislature conference/tripartite meetings to discuss pre-budget issues ahead of time and to define consequences and accelerate prosecution of individuals, including lawmakers, who do not complete contracts awarded to them.
On policies and priorities for the Renewed Hope agenda, the presidential retreat recommended reforming the economy to deliver sustained inclusive growth; reforming tariff structure to enable trade, while still supporting domestic production.
Other recommendations are: Incorporate more equity financing, rather than debt financing for fiscal operations and to ensure annual budget is aligned with strategic priorities, among others.