Notwithstanding the success of President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the United States of America last month, the US government was said to have informed him that it would not start to address the requests brought by the Nigerian government until Buhari sets up his cabinet, THISDAY has learnt.
Buhari had gone to the US with a number of requests including seeking assistance from America in Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram, support in the reconstruction of the North-east, support in the war against corruption, assistance in tracking down Nigeria’s stolen funds by past corrupt government officials, and increased trade and investment between Nigeria and the US.
But he US government made it clear that while it was willing to help Nigeria address some of its challenges, its officials advised Buhari during his three-day visit to the country to set up his cabinet and put in place a crack team that could help address the multi-faceted problems of the country.
THISDAY learnt that the issue was raised during some of the meetings the US government officials held with Buhari and his team, when the US, led by its president, Barak Obama, said it had expected Buhari to come to Washington with crucial members of his cabinet in order to hold fruitful and productive deliberations.
According to a source at the meetings, the US officials were somewhat disappointed with the president’s team during the visit, which comprised mainly civil servants, adding that the US reckoned that the civil servants would not be able to address any of the country’s requests or provide policy direction until Buhari sets up a team that would help him realise his plans for the country.
Although the source maintained that Buhari’s US visit was “highly successful”, given the renewed relations between the two countries, he stated that Nigeria should not expect much from the US until Buhari’s cabinet emerges, adding that the US was quite emphatic on Buhari’s team before lending support to Nigeria.
He revealed that the position of the US was reiterated during Buhari’s meeting with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Buhari has defended the delay in appointing a cabinet, stating that it would neither be prudent nor serve the interest of Nigeria for him to have formed his cabinet soon after his inauguration.
He argued that it was necessary for the country to first put new rules of conduct and good governance in place before making critical appointments in his government.
He restated his position in a Washington Post Op-ed article during his US visit, adding that a cabinet would not be in place till September.
In the meantime, as part of efforts to reduce corruption in the civil service, Buhari has ordered that all audit queries must be answered within 24 hours.
The president also directed the Auditor-General of the Federation to ensure that all outstanding audit queries are resolved within 30 days.
Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, who confirmed the development, said the order was a fallout of the president’s displeasure on hearing that audit queries remained unanswered for long periods, sometimes running into years, under previous administrations.
Shehu said Buhari was irrevocably committed to tackling administrative and bureaucratic corruption head on.
“The era of impunity is gone. The president is taking the war against corruption to the civil service. He is not happy that standard operating procedures and financial regulations are no longer being observed as they should.
“President Buhari will ensure that public officials and civil servants in the service of the federal government pay a heavy price from now on for violating financial regulations or disregarding audit queries,” Shehu said.
He added that the president was determined to bring to an end the present situation in which, rather than respond to legitimate audit queries, violators of financial regulations in the federal government resort to threats, bribe or mount other forms of social pressure on auditors.
“On his watch, Buhari wants to see firm action against those who violate extant financial regulations, not the prevarications and shenanigans that went on in the past in the form of endless probes and public inquiries,” the presidential spokesman said.