The president smiled. He did not wear the hard mien with which he has been associated as a retired general. What drew the smile from President Muhammadu Buhari was a joke by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige.
“When I tell people that the president cracks jokes and laughs raising his legs, many people don’t believe me, having the memory of a tough military officer he used to be,” Ngige declared.
He threw a challenge to the president.
“I suggest that the president should organise a social gathering where he will crack jokes, laugh and raise legs.”
This was the joke that drew the smile from the president.
This was a way by which Ngige was saying that he enjoyed his almost four years of serving the nation with the president.
As Buhari presided over the last session of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of his outgoing tenure, other ministers, like Ngige, recollected their memorable moments with the president. For them, it was a time to show gratitude to the president who gave them the opportunities to serve. They also seized the moment to give their scorecards.
The meeting, which commenced at exactly 11:00 a.m. at the Presidential Villa, Abuja came a few days to the inauguration of President Buhari on May 29 for another four-year term.
Although the entire session yesterday was expected to be valedictory, the FEC went behind closed doors shortly after the arrival of Buhari. Virtually all the cabinet members were in attendance.
The president later invited Ministers of Environment, Suleiman Hassan and Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani, to say the opening prayers, after which journalists were directed to leave the venue and as the meeting went into the closed-door session.
The valedictory session notwithstanding, President Buhari, after eulogising the ministers at the meeting, directed them to return to their offices and continue to work until Tuesday next week. He further directed them to hand over to the permanent secretaries in their ministries on May 28.
He instructed the ministers to forward their handover letters to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) before leaving office.
“Although today is the last Federal Executive Council meeting, I expect all of you to continue working until Tuesday May, 28, when you will officially hand over to your respective permanent secretaries. Your handover notes should be submitted to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,” he said.
President Buhari had earlier paid glowing tributes to a cabinet member, James Ocholi, who, with his wife, Blessing, and son, Joshua died in an accident only four months after being sworn in as a minister.
“Today’s FEC meeting is the last time we will meet as a cabinet before the commencement of the second and final term of this administration.
“Our first meeting in this chamber was in November 2015. Over the past three and a half years, we worked together to deliver our campaign promises. I strongly believe that it is this teamwork that led to the successes recorded during our first term.
“Some of our colleagues, with whom we started this journey, unfortunately are not here to join us in celebrating our successes,” Buhari noted.
While also acknowledging the contributions of other council members who resigned before the completion of their tenure to pursue other opportunities, President Buhari explained that he retained the ministers throughout the lifetime of his first tenure because of their qualities and commitment to service. He commended the cabinet members for their patriotism and wished them success in their future endeavours.
On the journey since 2015, Buhari said: “You will recall that when we started this journey, our country was facing numerous challenges. We inherited a broken economy which eventually went into recession in the second quarter of 2016. The situation was further compounded by insecurity and massive corruption.
“Many would have given up. Indeed, many outside commentators said our situation was well nigh hopeless. However, we all came together and pushed forward to deliver our campaign promise to rescue our country
from its parlous state.
“Although we all had a common vision, we frequently had heated debates in this room on the best way to achieve our goals. These differing views are what made the decisions we took all the more rational.
“It is this quality that made me retain my cabinet for the full term. Each of you in this room has a unique skill and strength. We are a reflection of the Nigeria we aspire to achieve. A diverse but tolerant nation where no one is silenced and where every opinion should be heard and considered. I want you all to leave this meeting proud to have served your nation to the best of your ability.”
Buhari said the cabinet members “should be proud to have been part of the government that liberated the local governments previously under Boko Haram rule.
“You should be proud to have contributed to our food security and economic diversification agenda which led to the revival of our rural agrarian economy.
“You should be proud to have been part of the team that developed the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan which led Nigeria to exit its worst recession in decades.
“You should be proud to have introduced the social investment programme that enhanced livelihoods of millions of Nigerians.
“You should be proud to have participated in settling outstanding pensions of many senior citizens abandoned by previous governments while supporting state governments to meet their salary arrears.
“And of course, you should all be proud to have overseen the most ambitious road, rail and airport rehabilitation programmes in the history of our country.”