President Muhammadu Buhari again on Thursday berated the Peoples Democratic Party, saying that in 16 years, the party squandered Nigeria’s wealth irresponsibly and in an unprecedented manner.
The President noted that the party still owed Nigerians explanations on why its successive governments accumulated such wasteful expenditure.
Ahead of Saturday’s (tomorrow) governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections, the President called for an end to violence during polls.
Buhari spoke in Abuja during his meeting with the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress.
The delegation from the two unions was led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, on a visit to the Presidential Villa to congratulate Buhari over his re-election.
Buhari maintained that he had not seen any long-lasting infrastructure bequeathed to the nation by the PDP, adding that the welfare of workers also took the back-seat.
The President claimed that the poor state of the finances he met on assumption of office in 2015 was part of the reason his administration had to keep explaining that it would be a challenge to pay a new minimum wage of N30,000.
Buhari spoke in detail on his grouse with the PDP and why the party must explain to Nigerians the expenditure it incurred in those 16 years.
Buhari said, “During your negotiation with the Minister of Labour (Dr Chris Ngige), and when he briefed us in council on N30,000 minimum wage. I gave an analogy of a mad woman, who went to fetch firewood but then she realised it was too heavy for her to carry. Instead of reducing it, she added more.
“I said, we are struggling to survive as a nation. You (workers) knew what this country was earning between 2009 and 2015, you knew the state of infrastructure when we came in; God gave them (the PDP) 16 years of unprecedented earnings.
“Multiply 2.1 million by $100 by 16 years. I don’t think the PDP has been able to successfully explain to Nigerians what they did with that money. Because some of the roads, especially the main ones, from here to Onitsha, to Port Harcourt (were not done) since Petroleum Trust Fund days, let alone construction of new ones.
“They earned money from petroleum in 16 years. You know the railway was virtually gone and power; I asked where is the power? They spent $16bn on power and Nigerians are asking, where is the power? It was unprecedented, irresponsible expenditure.
“Most of you are unanswerable to Nigerians, I appealed to you through our mutual friend, the minister of labour, to tell you where we found the country, where we are, and what we have been able to do with the resources available to us.
“Oil production from 2.1 million barrels per day went down to half a million. The militants were unleashed on this administration, and yet as confirmed by your leader, we had to ensure that pensioners were paid their entitlements. So really, there was terrible management of this country in the last 16 years and we are just trying to make (it) up.”
Seeking the support of the organised labour, the President added, “We cannot succeed without your cooperation. I appreciate the pressure you are under from your respective constituencies, most especially if you have to submit yourself for elections, you have to prove to your members that you are with them rather than with the government and we understand.”
On the role the unions played during electioneering, the President said he was impressed with the manner they encouraged Nigerians to participate by voting during the presidential and National Assembly polls.
He called on all Nigerians to ensure that tomorrow’s elections turned out to be violence-free.
The President added, “On behalf of all Nigerians who benefited from your kind support, I want to say thank you. As a result of what you did, many citizens were able to travel and vote. I am also aware that many of your members were very active in voter education and promotion of peaceful elections in your various communities. Thankfully, the presidential elections were conducted peacefully in most parts of the country.
“As we go to the polls this weekend, my prayer is that we also conduct elections in a non-violent manner.”
Stop lamenting, face your work, PDP replies President
But in its reaction, the PDP said Nigerians should ask the President to sit up and face the job he begged Nigerians to do instead of lamenting on the things that had been consigned into the dustbin of history.
It said it was disheartening that instead of facing state matters and paying attention to solving economic and other problems facing the country, President Buhari had devoted more time at “lamenting and degrading the governments that laid the foundation” upon which his (Buhari’s) government was building.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, also said, “I think by now after almost four years in office and as a former minister of petroleum and current minister in charge of the same ministry, the President ought to know that he was not correct when he said a barrel of crude oil was sold for $100 for 16 years.
“That is wrong statistics. The President, if in doubt, should ask for facts instead of dishing out propaganda. The records are there.
“Instead and having studied what was on the ground, he started working by assembling a first-class team that travelled round the whole world and restored the lost glory of the country.
“If the President was elected to come and make a positive change, when would he do that when all what he does is to lament wrongly about what he met when he assumed office?”
Our finest hour under Buhari is payment of salaries, pensions – NLC
However while speaking earlier when the labour leaders met the President, Wabba said the public workers and civil servants’ finest hour under Buhari was his decision to give bailouts to states to clear backlog of salaries.
Wabba had noted that for any government to succeed, it must have a synergy with the workforce.
He recalled that Buhari took the right step by giving bailouts to states to clear backlog of salaries.
He said, “We all remember the special bailouts, the Paris Club loan refund and budget support package you introduced to support state governments during the recession. Your directive during this intervention was that state governments must offset accumulated arrears of salaries and pension liabilities.
“I remember you publicly and openly asked state governors, ‘how do you manage to sleep at night when the salaries of workers in your state are not paid?’
“For us, that was one of the finest moments we have had with any President in this country. Your Excellency, I can stand here today and say your intervention was the difference between life and death for many workers.
“We also commend you for paying off the pension and accumulated entitlements of disengaged staff of the Nigerian Airways and many other pensioners whose pension had been left to accumulate by successive governments. Despite the recession, you did the right thing.”
For the labour policies he introduced to outlive him, Wabba advised Buhari to inaugurate the Boards of National Pension Commission; National Insurance Fund Trust; the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies; and the National Labour Advisory Council.
He also appealed to the National Assembly to hastily pass the National Minimum Wage Bill, while Buhari too should not hesitate to sign it into law.
The labour leader also urged Buhari to ensure that his ‘Next Level’ agenda focus on job creation and putting the economy on a sound path of growth.
While appealing to the National Assembly to pass the National Minimum Wage Bill urgently, Wabba also enjoined the President to thereafter sign it into law within the shortest possible time.
The labour leader pledged to remain “veritable partner in progress with the government.”
He, therefore, called on the President to continue to “make the Nigerian people, especially the poor, the centre-piece of your policy initiatives and actions.’’