Some of the 36 new ministers assumed duties few hours after they were inaugurated on Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The ministers were at their various ministries where they pledged to bring about ‘change’ promised by the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, assured the ministry’s officials who received him that he would reduce the $32 billion Nigeria spends in importing food yearly.
Mr. Ogbeh, who was accompanied by the Minister of State, Heineken Lokpobiri, said following the dwindling oil revenue, there is now pressure on the agricultural sector to earn foreign exchange to replace the resource.
He stated that there was an urgent need to intensify research and marketing for food.
“Oil and gas has served Nigeria well. We did not manage the resources well. We can’t blame oil and gas. Now the pressure is on agriculture. How we are going to make it work to ensure yield and harvest is a burden all of us will carry together,” he said.
“We are going to face very serious challenges. We have to earn foreign exchange to replace oil. The demand out there is very high if we can produce the right quantity and quality.
“We have to intensify research, marketing of food. We have to deal with reducing the import burden of food of almost $32bn a year. I don’t know how somebody can explain importing bananas to the country or Irish potatoes from South Africa or vegetables from South Africa into our shores.”
Mr. Ogbeh, a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, assured that during his tenure the problem of high rate of malnutrition in the country would be tackled.
He said that cancer, liver and kidney failure had increased by 25 per cent in the last 25 years due to food poisoning.
“What is even worse, which we will together deal with, is the nutrition problem. Cancer, liver and kidney failure have increased 25 per cent in the last 25 years. A lot of poisoning is getting into our food system simply from packaging,” he said.
In the Ministry of Transport, the new Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, who said he would fully assume duties on November 17, assured that he would complete all the rail projects began by the previous federal administration.
Mr. Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers State, urged parastatals and agencies under the ministry and the aviation sector to cooperate with him to move the sector forward.
He said he would commence work by looking at the ministry’s budget and its level of implementation.
“Rail transport is the easiest thing to achieve if you get capable hands. We are going to work towards completing abandoned rail projects,” he said.
“They will help create employment and ease mass transportation of people. Our mandate is to deliver quality service to the people in accordance with the change agenda.”
On personal principles, Mr. Amaechi added, “If you come to me to gossip about anyone, be rest assured that l will tell the person concerned that this is what you said and you will be there to defend yourself, wrong or right.
“I am not as bad as they say. A lot of names have been given to me but I believe in principles. I don’t like protocols. When I say I hate corruption, I mean it. I don’t give bribe and I don’t take either. If you want to relate with me don’t give me money and don’t ask me for money.
“Just do your job creditably. Don’t see me on the road and run away. I am not as bad as they paint me. I don’t steal and l don’t befriend thieves and don’t put me in a position that l will not be able to call a thief, thief. Let us be friends because l am here to learn.”
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said whatever promise that had been made would be fulfilled and that the era of talking tough without acting had come to an end.
He assured that the new federal administration would deliver on its promises because it was aware of the high hope and expectation of Nigerians.
On his part, the new Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, said he would tackle unemployment effectively during his tenure.
“We will be at the forefront of the battle to stop the scourge of unemployment in the country,” Mr. Ngige, a former senator, said while addressing the workers of the ministry.
“We must, as a people, put on our thinking caps so that we can chart the way forward for employment generation.”
Mr. Ngige, a former senator, said although the new federal administration might not provide jobs for all unemployed people, it would provide the enabling environment for all the sectors to thrive.
According to him, efforts were already on to block all leakages so available resources could be committed to development.
He said, “We are the catalyst, the change agent of the change era; if we block leakages in our system, the country will be better for its resources will be made available for economic growth.”
The new Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who was accompanied by the minister of state, Mustapha Shehuri, said he would bring together processes and activities of all the three ministries under his supervision.
“We are here to work with you in solving problems on ground as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We want to know if some of those problems are man-made or systemic. We want information on what has been done, what remains to be done, and what are the future plans. We want to continue from there.”
The former governor of Lagos State assured that he would harness the available human resource assets in the ministry and the physical assets, ‘’as all these information will assist us as we hit the ground running. We need to do more so as to regain lost time.”
Mr. Fashola said he would ensure there is improved power supply across the federation.
Mr. Shehuri, on his part, asked for a detailed ministerial briefing document to serve as a guide, adding that it would ensure proper take-off of duties.
The Minister of Environment, Aisha Mohammed, said she would achieve the mandate given to the ministry by Mr. Buhari.
“As the minister of state has reiterated, there is a time frame and within that time frame we have to deliver the dividends of this administration to our people,” she said.
“The one commitment that we can make is that as we read through this brief that you’ve got here, it is about us building on the successes that we have in this ministry and ensuring that the teams that we have are working effectively with the skills that will take it to another level.
“It certainly can’t be business as usual because the President has said it and I hope that the Ministry of Environment will give the support to the Minister of State and myself to make real difference and to be a role model for what we mean by that in the country.
“The country has environmental issues everywhere. There is no part of this country that is devoid of the challenges that we have and what we need to do is to find the resources, those that are within the country and the other two tiers of government, the resources that are outside the borders of Nigeria to make sure that we make a considerable impact with what we have.’’
The Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, appealed to the workers to cooperate with him and the minister.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Emmanuel Kachikwu, said the outstanding subsidy payments to oil marketers approved by Mr. Buhari would be paid immediately the government gets the approval of the National Assembly.
He assured of constant fuel supply across the country.
Mr. Kachikwu, who said he would continue in office as Group Managing Director of NNPC, added, “One thing is certain, whatever time I spend here, it is going to be spent with a lot of respect for the dignity of people. I am a very respectful person and I give as much as I expect to have.”
He said he would soon engage the executives of the various parastatals with a view to finding out if they have the capacity and ability to deliver the change mantra.
On the pending Petroleum Industry Bill, the minister said: “Government believes in the bill still. Government wants to see the PIB come through. However, government has indicated that there is a need to look at the PIB as was submitted to the sixth assembly and try and tinker with it.
“There are all kinds of issues. One of them is whether we need to yank out the fiscal terms and develop them into a different law, rely on existing laws, amend them or whether we do that as a separate component of law.”
“We will be at the forefront of the battle to stop the scourge of unemployment in the country. We must as a people put on our thinking caps so that we can chart the way forward for employment generation.”
On her part, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adesosun, at a meeting with senior officials of her ministry, said the federal government had a clear direction towards returning the nation to the path of growth.
She however said that would depend on the management and staff of the ministry.
Okechukwu Enelamah, the minister of industry, trade and investment, who was accompanied by the minister of state, Aisha Abubakar, to the ministry, pledged to start work immediately.
Mr. Enelamah revealed his excitement over his new assignment and asked for the cooperation and support of the officials of the ministry.
The new minister of Solid Minerals, Kayode Fayemi, also assumed duties at the ministry’s headquarters, in Abuja shortly after the inaugural meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday.
Mr. Fayemi who was received by top officials of the ministry, held a meeting with them.
In attendance at the meeting were the Minister of State for Solid Minerals, Abubakar Bwari, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, and some directors.
Mr. Fayemi told the officials of government’s plan to re-position the ministry as a major contributor to the economic growth of the country, adding that no stone would be left unturned in the bid to achieve the set goals.